RIFT is making a critical mistake with its Prime server

Ever since the announcement of RIFT’s Prime server started to sink in, I found my excitement and enthusiasm rising over the idea of experiencing a progression server in one of my favorite MMOs — and one that I haven’t played for several months now, which may be ripe for a reunion. I’d even eat the subscription cost, at that.

And then Trion had to dump a cold bucket of water all over my hype by sharing some not-so-great details about this new server ruleset. Actually, most of the details I can get behind — the duration of about a year feels right, I guess, as does the steady rollout of content, the limited storefront, and the fresh start. But then we got confirmation on what will happen to our characters once the server ends, and it isn’t the good kind of confirmation:

There is no crossover of character or account-wide data between Prime and Live. Prime progression will not carry over to Live servers. What we’re discussing for Prime players who also play on Live is to provide a cosmetic trophy/participation reward for their accomplishments on Prime – such as a title, a cape, something like that.

The bongo-like sound you are hearing right now is that of me striking my head against the desk in a hypnotically rhythmic pattern. This is, in the parlance of a gradeschool kid, dumb. It’s just dumb. It’s raising hopes among the community in one breath and then dashing them to the ground in the next.

Why? Seriously, Trion, WHY. Why on God’s green earth wouldn’t you carry over characters? If your world isn’t going to be persistent, you can at least extend that courtesy to your characters! But no, they’re all gonna die, any accomplishments gone, and in exchange you might get a title.

A TITLE.

Sorry, time for more bongo noises. Just tap your feet and go with it.

I swear, no other MMORPG progression server would do this. No other progression server DOES do this. Either they just keep the server running indefinitely (transitioning it to its own regular server) or they allow you to bring your characters over to another server at the conclusion.

This is what EverQuest does. And EverQuest II. And Diablo III. And Path of Exile. And even the brand-new Age of Conan “saga” server, for pete’s sake. But RIFT? Nah, there’s no hope for your characters.

Explain to me how this works to the advantage of such a server, because I can only see drawbacks. Persistence — at least in some form — is the hallmark of MMOs and is being destroyed here. Why would you be enthusiastic about playing a temporary character on a temporary server with the grand goal of a piddly title or cape? You get the experience of the play, sure, but, to be blunt, we kind of need more than that with MMORPGs.

It’s why I’m playing live games and not beta. There’s so little interest on my part to spend time in online games that doesn’t even have the appearance of persistence. If RIFT Prime goes ahead with this format, then I predict it really won’t have the crowd it could. Some won’t like the idea at all, while others may come for curiosity’s sake but not stick around because there will be little motivation and point of doing so.

There may be hope here. I was griping about this on Twitter last Thursday and received the following response from the studio: “Stay tuned, because the RIFT team is actively discussing this & other features as we develop the RIFT Prime service. We’re looking for more feedback from all quarters, so thank you for this!”

Course correction? Sooner better than later, I say.

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RIFT Prime is an interesting idea, but will it get me back?

I wasn’t anticipating thinking about or even playing RIFT right now (I always am in a process of drifting away or toward the game, and right now am probably somewhere in the middle of that), but yesterday’s announcement of a new RIFT Prime server for this spring kind of caught my attention.

If you didn’t see it, the idea is to create a new type of subscription-only server that won’t have most of the F2P elements (like lockboxes) but will feature special achievements and rewards, accelerated progression, monthly milestones, zones scaling to characters’ level, level-appropriate loot in all dungeons, a cap on professions, and a trip back through the game — with a server conclusion at some point.

It’s not quite a vanilla server, but it is a definite change from the current server status quo: “We plan to present RIFT at its roots as much as is possible to do, and look forward to sharing details over the coming weeks. The Prime server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch and will eventually come to an end in spectacular fashion.”

So as a former RIFT player, the question in front of me is, “Is this something that raises my interest and will it be compelling enough to call me back to the game?” I would say that “yes” and “maybe” are my answers.

I think we’re seeing a small but noticeable revolution among MMOs to present classic, legacy, progression, and other alternate ruleset servers. The EverQuest games have been doing this for years, of course, but now we’ve seen how popular Old School RuneScape is and are drooling for World of Warcraft Classic. It’s a good idea for RIFT to look into this, because the general perception of this MMO is that it was incredibly fun in vanilla, suffered over the rollout of expansions, and was dragged down by the overly aggressive F2P business model practices. Now Trion can offer two versions of the game to players and see which appeals more.

I have reservations. I have questions. We obviously need a lot more specific details here, and I am wondering the most about the pace of progression (will it be a stressful race?) and the decision to give the Prime server a definite conclusion. Even with rewards porting over (to characters I don’t play at the moment), having a looming end date does sap enthusiasm. And housing! Why would I engage in dimensions if it is all going to end, unless I can take that dimension with me? Housing is one of the best parts of RIFT and it would be a shame not to partake in that because I was afraid of assured demolition.

But will there be a restart of a second prime server? That was the idea with the challenge servers that Trion presented last year, and if the studio can come up with a format that encourages subscribing players to reroll while keeping the interim experience fun and enjoyable, it could go a long way to taking the stale feeling out of the endgame.

I’m going to think on it, especially as more info comes in. I could very well see myself subbing up for a month to see how this goes, especially if there is a groundswell of community excitement over it. There are so many things that I love about RIFT, and I do miss it a lot sometimes — especially how it used to be in those first couple of years. What about you? Did this announcement have you mulling over a return to the game? Is this a good move to offer a lockbox-free, sub-only solution?

6 of my favorite pets from RIFT

Time for another installment of Syp’s favorite MMORPG pets, with a focus on RIFT. I am particularly fond of this game and its array of non-combat pets (combat pet choice is another deal), with so many to collect and really fun ones to employ. Here are the six I tend to favor the most!

1. Bernie

Bernie is one of the ugliest and oddest pets in the game. He’s a reward for doing the Ember Isle puzzle quest, a feat well worth it to get this weirdo. Bernie is pretty big for a pet, a lumpy and vaguely Kung Fu master-looking guy who smokes a pipe while you’re not running and wheezes loudly if he’s asked to jog anywhere. His huffing and puffing are probably what endear him to me more than anything else.

2. Ducklar

I got Ducklar from a convention code several years back, and for a while after, he was one of the more rare pets in the game. Kind of a neat feeling to have a pet that almost no one else does (although this has undoubtedly changed in the meantime). Rarity aside, he rocks because ducks are wonderful and he does this little waddle dance that never fails to make my kids break out in giggles.

3. Courage

In my opinion, there are never enough dog pets in MMOs (cats seem to have better agents). But RIFT has a well-known obsession with corgis — blame Scott Hartsman, who reportedly owns one — and for a while they were (are?) the unofficial mascot of the game. I just like this little guy. He’s cute, he’s always wagging his tail and lolling out his tongue, and once in a while he scratches his ear with his hind paw. Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?

4. Harbinger of Regulos

This is one of the earliest pets that I got — and one of my earliest rares as well. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek joke, that the Harbinger of Regulos (the big bad guy of the game) is… a little purple bunny. A glowing bunny, glowing with evil no doubt, but still. A bunny. Probably a nod to Monty Python too.

5. Spirit of Tears

I’m not a cat guy in the least, but I went out of my way to get this pet because its acquisition process is darkly hilarious. The ghostly Spirit of Tears can only be obtained by killing an array of specific defenseless critters — squirrels, cats, deer, etc. — and harvesting their tears to complete a morbid artifact set. If you have this pet out, it’s like you’re painting yourself as an animal killer. But in a fun way? I guess?

6. Winston

Honey badger memes aside, I simply like Winston. He’s cute, he paws at the ground, and he’s fiercely loyal. Wish he was a combat pet that I could fling at an enemy’s face and enjoy seeing them flail about while he mauls into their eyes, but at least I can imagine it while he’s trotting alongside of me.

Could RIFT’s challenge servers draw me back?

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.

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

RIFT, I want to love you, but you’re making it hard

syp

It’s been a good long while since I talked about RIFT here, and that isn’t because I’ve been so enraptured by Starfall Prophecy that I couldn’t bear to rip myself away to jot down a few words. Morelike, it’s been weeks of logging in to do minion quests and then getting quickly frustrated with the combat and then logging out. Rinse and repeat.

I swear, if it wasn’t for one of the warmest and friendliest guilds I’ve ever been a part of, I probably wouldn’t log in at all these days. Genuinely great guilds aren’t always easy to find and I do enjoy the companionship that they provide. So I keep making an effort to love this game, but RIFT seems bound and determined to make it hard for me to do so.

The core problem isn’t the story of Starfall Prophecy, which is — to me — somewhat interesting and occasionally surprising. It isn’t the smaller scope of the expansion. The problem is that, as I’ve said before, the mobs make standard questing onerous and a chore. Every time I play I feel the urge to rant about how simple it would be to fix this: decrease the mob density and cut mob health down at least by a third. Packed-in mobs with huge hit point pools equals no fun for anyone.

It’s not the first time that RIFT started in with the mob HP inflation; the past two expansions were guilty of this too. But it seems really, really high here and mobs take wayyyy too long to kill. My highest DPS build on my Cleric — a primary Defiler build — takes about 20 seconds to down a single mob, and that’s after putting about 10 DoTs on it. 10. Every fight, I have to punch about a dozen separate buttons, and my hand does not thank me for that. And that’s my hardest-hitting build — the build I actually like takes a half-minute or longer for a single mob. And it’s not that the mobs are too difficult otherwise, just that they have enough hit points to rival other MMOs’ raid bosses.

Early on in RIFT, it was a sheer joy to play these classes because no matter what your build, you could have a lot of fun mowing down packs of mobs and gradually improving your spec. Now, as I’ve said before, this might be a result of the increasing difficulty of balancing the game as players get access to more powerful and diverse abilities and equipment. But wouldn’t you think that making the basic questing experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible would be a priority? That the devs would err on the side of making mobs too easy to kill rather than too tough?

I know there are greater issues with this expansion and that Trion is still dealing with a lot of stuff. But for me, this has pretty much killed all enthusiasm and interest I have in playing Starfall Prophecy. I have a choice of many MMOs at any given moment, and most of them have found a far better balance with high-level mobs than what’s here. I don’t often call for nerfs, but for the love of all that’s holy, Trion, nerf these mobs and nerf them now. I can’t be the only one who has gotten turned off from the expansion for this issue.

My guild was talking about how in the next patch, you pretty much HAVE to have a 61-point build or otherwise you’ll lose a massive chunk of your DPS, which takes hybrid builds off the table. RIFT has been going down a depressing path as of late where most everyone plays very specific cookie-cutter builds to be able to quest/raid/DPS decently, so one of the game’s biggest strengths — the flexibility of make-your-own builds — is all but gone. It’s aggravating and I just don’t know how much more I’m going to hang onto this game when it obviously doesn’t want to hang on to players like me.

Here’s hoping that Trion Worlds might one day remember what used to make this game really fun to play and return back to that instead of pushing down this path.

RIFT: We regained our faith, and we had fun doing it

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For someone with a general dislike of the overuse of dragons in MMOs and RPGs, I’ll take the solace provided in getting to harpoon one multiple times through the heart. Thanks RIFT!

We made art, built workable ballistas, forged big harpoons, and cast magic spells that made people explode on contact. ~ Veist

Last week I finished up Gedlo Badlands — zone two out of five in Starfall Prophecy — and came away from the experience feeling strangely thrilled. Oh, I’m not changing my mind on how I feel about desert zones in the least; Gedlo Badlands is extremely dull to look at and quest through, from a landscape perspective. And my guild heartily agrees that the mob density is stupid high.

But! But. But the writers managed to craft a story that was definitely odd and engaging, one of a tribe of kobolds looking for redemption, fighting against the rise of a dragon, and forging a culture in the midst of a wasteland. There were prophecies galore, a tour of public displays of art, and in the end, an epic showdown.

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The ending caught me off guard, too, as the kobold tribe were all (SPOILER) promoted to ascended status. I couldn’t help but feel proud and happy for these ugly underdogs that they finally were elevated to a higher status.

I actually almost missed it because of very long speeches that I thought I could just tab-out of. Cyrill isn’t that great of a character (particularly in comparison to a certain other king), but at least he shows a bit of creative thinking and a desire to grow as a person and understand other cultures.

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It’s time to move on to zone #3, which is a Very Green Swamp. My companions this time around are Tasuil (who is apparently bored of being a leader in the forest) and Red Eye Girl. Oh, she has a name and a backstory, but I missed both of those and now am saddled with an NPC who I know virtually nothing about.

Here’s the thing that I wish developers would understand. They are saturated in the game all the time and know its lore back and forth, particularly thanks to having design documents and lore bibles lying around. And sometimes I get the feeling they think we pick up on all of this just as easily and deeply as they do. Yet we don’t — or at least, I don’t. If I miss something or don’t remember something, the story is broken for me and I have to muddle through either not caring, or hoping that someone will fill me in later on what’s going on, or have to research it outside of the game.

What I truly wish developers would do is give us some sort of ongoing in-game journal that would summarize what my character has experienced or at least let me reference past conversations. Single player CRPGs are usually great at in-game journals, yet so few MMOs have them. What gives? Do the devs just assume that player-made wikis will compensate? That’s pretty lazy if so. I’d rather get my lore info in-game than out of it.

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Anyway, I had a brief interlude back in the town of Alittu, which I still consider to be a rather beautiful and strangely high-tech hub. This lady up here looked really shifty with her body language. I think she’s about to steal some art.

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The dark tower constantly looms over all, a sober reminder that if Ahnket gets her way, this comet would come roaring down on Telara and force an extinction-level event.

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To the swamp! First stop is a market where the bad faerie folk are selling unicorns and elves and bunnies to the highest bidder, usually for a sacrifice. I’m just trying to get excited about exploring a swamp. Those are often fun biomes, right?