If you took all the bullet-point features of Rift and compared them against all the bullet-point features of World of Warcraft as it was before its first expansion — Rift comes out fairly well. The appearance armor and dye systems which lets my rogue look like I want her to look STILL haven’t made it to WoW. And the rift system itself is a real game-changer, and there still seems to be plenty of room to experiment when building a role from souls.
But, I have my vanity pets. There’s the mount collecting. There’s the warfronts I’m grinding for PvP gear because I can’t queue for T2 expert dungeons for reasons unknown to me. There’s grinding dailies in high level zones in order to build some faction whose only purpose is to let me buy better stuff. Crafting is the usual AFK system. Macros simplify combat and healing. If add-on support is added on, we can expect Rift to instantly become just as agonizingly simple as WoW, not that either game is all that challenging to begin with.
I have no problem with that. MMOs are really intended to be social games first, and since you can’t ship an MMO these days that doesn’t cater to solo players of all abilities, challenge had to be left out of the equation.
This last weekend I took a nostalgia trip, in EverQuest, from Qeynos to Freeport, walking the entire way. I wasn’t level five like the FIRST time I did the run, back in 1999. I brought my level 58 shadow knight along for the trip. It was a fun romp, took a couple of hours (stopping to see all the sights along the way), and I even died once, in Kithicor, because I just didn’t expect anything to be able to harm me. I was wrong, so very, very wrong. In keeping with the theme, and being bound in the Nexus, I took the Nexus portal down to Antonica and retraced my steps for a corpse run. This time I kept to Kithicor’s edges.
Look, I was just wondering if the dark elf camp in the middle of the zone would like my character, since she was ALSO a dark elf and a shadow knight besides? Short answer: No. They chased me back to Rivervale and I apparently died while zoning into the city.
While documenting this journey on Twitter, Justin Sanchez and I were discussing how Rift failed in capturing the EverQuest feel. EQ had meaningful faction, unique starting cities for every race (Erudites had two — Paineel and Erudin!), and starting experiences that soaked you in the lore of your particular race before you would ever come to meet someone of another race. The starting zones were built to naturally guide you up through level ten or so, but after that, the whole world opened up. Pick a direction and see what you could find. The first thing you would want to find would be friends.
Rift has taken enough from WoW. If it plans to be inspired further by another MMO, it should turn back to EQ.
Factions. The two faction system is particularly artificial. I know the lore — the pantheon of the Vigil brings back Guardian players, while the technomagic of the Defiants resurrects Defiant players. But both sides have the same roles and abilities and armor and everything else; it’s an entirely artificial distinction, especially considering the game lore states that both sides were equally at fault in bringing about the current state of the world, and if the sides sat down and worked things out, they could probably get an understanding, resolve their differences and, you know, save the world.
Properly, players should be able to switch sides or even join a neutral side. EverQuest allowed this through factioning (on the non-race based PvP servers, anyway). EverQuest 2 even has a formal system for betraying your faction, including the addition of a neutral faction AND a neutral faction city. Well, more of a hideout.
Cities. On the heels of objections to the two party system comes amazement that there are only two major cities, Sanctum and Meridian. This could (and hopefully, will) be solved in expansions. Even WoW only started with four cities, Orgrimmar, Undercity, Stormwind and Ironforge. EverQuest, started with how many? Felwithe, Kelethin, Ak’Anon, Kaladim, Freeport, Neriak, Oggok, Grobb, Rivervale, Erudin, Qeynos, Surefall Glade, Halas — I feel I am missing some. To those were added Shar’vahl, Crescent Reach, Cabilis, Thurgadin, Kael, Skyshrine, Plane of Knowledge, Katta Castellum, Sanctum Seru, Shadow Haven, and I know I am missing some. Does the castle in Twilight Sea count? The Outpost at Firiona Vie and the matching one in The Overthere. You could even bank and do some other business in Runnyeye if you built up your goblin faction.
It was these wide-ranging cities that gave the world of Norrath much of its charm. You’d leave your racial home, and the beasts would get more dangerous, the world a little darker. Eventually your cheery mood would turn to caution and terror — and then after a long time, the monsters would get manageable, and you knew you were coming back to civilized lands. If the locals liked you, you could have a new home for awhile — and if they didn’t, you could decide to start helping them and earn admittance and their grudging respect.
Rift’s world is torn apart by the intersection of the planes. There are no truly safe places. But as players push back against the darkness, couldn’t more cities be uncovered from newly recovered lands? Rift is enough like WoW already. It needs to open up and become a world, with meaningful factions, and varied starting experiences.