With only three expansions so far, it’s probably too early for RIFT to consider the notion of progression servers, a la EQ/EQ2. But the SOE-derived team seems open to the idea of alternate-ruleset shards, which is why the producer’s letter back in March teased a slightly different idea: challenge servers.
Between this letter and a recent survey sent out to RIFT players on the notion, we have an inkling of what Trion Worlds is thinking with these servers. The details, nebulous as they may be so far, include:
- Fresh-start servers
- Level cap set at 50 (vanilla RIFT limit)
- Challenge servers could host crazy rulesets, such as super-hard difficulty
- Or rulesets that overcharge your character, making them super powerful
- Such servers would have a limited duration set in advance
- If you achieve a certain goal(s) during this time period, then you would be rewarded with something on your main server
- Possible rewards include “amazing new armor, weapons, new *cough* race *cough*”
- It’s a major project for the team and might or might not happen
- It’s all subject to change (of course)
The survey shows that challenge servers might be more than just an idea right now, but could be in full-scale production. And after letting it swish around my brainpan for a while, I have to say that my gut feeling is that this is actually a pretty great idea.
That seems weird to say. I mean, MMORPGs are about persistence, and time-limited characters and servers seems to go against that. It’s why permadeath is only a conversational centerpiece for us gaming geeks rather than a standard staple. We don’t want hard work to go up in smoke.
Yet the way they’re talking about doing this kind of works. The team is right to note that special server rulesets get a lot of publicity and popularity at the start, but both of those factors nosedive soon thereafter. Creating a server that gives that sweet hit of nostalgia and novelty and then putting a cap on it before it gets old might be for the best.
And even with the server’s end, creating a reward that is persistent — armor, weapons, race, etc. — on a regular server provides a goal that goes beyond “experience for the sake of experience.”
I also like that the limited runs of these servers allow for much more extreme and creative rulesets than we’d normally see. It might well take the sting out of a challenge server’s finale if the community is immediately looking ahead going, “I wonder what’s next!”
In many ways, it reminds me of Diablo’s seasons or Path of Exile challenge leagues, which have proved to be popular among those communities. It’s not a perfect parallel, but the appeal of rerolling for a reason — for rewards, for new rules, for a different challenge — without stringing players on forever is a smart format.
There’s one more angle that appeals to me here, and that’s the repurposing of older content in a funky new way. MMOs have so much land and content that gets “used up” in most theme park leveling schemes that it seems a shame they grow desolate save for the odd player doing catch-up. Reuse that content!
Other MMOs have had some fun fiddling about with official rulesets. TERA had a bizarre server experiment a little while back, and I know that Allods just launched a bonus experience that awards three times the XP per mob kill than normal servers. For older games like RIFT, going gonzo might be a survival strategy rather than an odd distraction. RIFT needs the players, needs the income, and needs the attention. Challenge servers could do all three.
But to answer the titular question, would challenge servers prove a personal temptation to return? It depends on the challenge in question, but I think they very well could, depending on how “grindy” the goal is for these. It’s a solid game that was much more interesting pre-expansions, and I’d love to see that again, if only for a short time.