Rift: It’s a carnival atmosphere at Wyrmbane Spyre…

Waiting for Phase 2

I’d been playing around on EverQuest II this afternoon after spending the past few days fervently leveling to 48 on Rift. I was just about to explore Nektropos Castle on my flighty berserker when MMO Gamer Chick reminded me, via Twitter, about Rift’s Phase 2 event!

So I logged out of EQ2 and logged right into a queue on Rift. Half an hour later, I finally spawned in Meridian, ready to go do whatever it is one does on Phase 2 day. A system message helpfully informed me that the system was coming down in 25 minutes for a brief update to smooth things for the event.

GAH.

They couldn't find a mailbox.

By craftily listening to guild chat, I found that the Phase 2 event would be starting at Wyrmbane Spyre in Shymmersynds, a portal I had found on my own By Exploring even though sub fifties like myself have no business there. I did that event daily where you fight three shades in Meridian real quick and then headed over to join the party.

It was a crazy, carnival atmosphere there. I thought I looked absolutely dashing in my new tunic and glowy weapons, but I have no illusions I’ll be able to contribute to whatever is going to go down. I just want the adventure and, you know, the loot.

Taking some shade while waiting

With people chatting and trading and showing off their gear and chatting about the event, there’s a real air of excitement on the edge of the dragonbone sea. In ten minutes I’ll be back in the queue and, perhaps, your faithful reporter embedded with a legion of hopeful heroes.

I’ve got a macro waiting, just for the event. It spams the NEED button on any loot window.

Rift vs Sliced Bread: A one month retrospective.

Harlan's Vista

Rift’s “Droughtlands” is the kind of land only a wily coyote could love, filled with dead-end canyons and high, high mesas. Harlan’s Vista rises from a sticky sea of tar and rifts. On the very top is an ancient wardstone. I was doing quests around the Vista and noticed that the wardstone — far above me — was taken by the Guardians. As a good Defiant, once I’d finished my tasks on the ground, I scouted the twisty, mobby path up, found the wardstone and got an achievement! Yay! A picture was duly taken of this momentous moment and sent out through Twitter, where it was ignored by everyone. Some followers may have unfollowed me at that time.

The wardstone was guarded by a single Guardian NPC. I killed the NPC, destroyed the wardstone, and when it popped back up in a minute as a neutral wardstone, I claimed it for the Defiants. A low level Guardian NPC duly popped out to guard the wardstone as ineffectually as its Guardian counterpart. But it ALSO triggered a local public quest, “Never Say Nether”, which promised to fortify the Defiant position on Harlan’s Vista if I gathered twelve bits of nether energy from the base of the mesa. A helpful teleport circle would give me quick access to the base without having to fight my way up and down.

No instructions on where the energy was or how to collect it. After bumbling around for a bit, I figured out that I was supposed to walk into one of the wispy balls of light in the tar pits, which would turn me into a wisp that was non-aggro to all the shadow critters and other NPCs, then take the teleport circle back to the Vista, walk into the wardstone to deposit the energy. Repeat twelve times. After a few rounds of this, another Defiant started helping, and together we filled the wardstone up. The Defiant outpost then respawned with more NPCs, some barricades and a special Rare Planar Goods vendor.

This is Rift at its strongest, when it departs from the status quo and sends a little bundle of fun your way. There were a bunch of quests for that same area, but I don’t remember any of them (I know I had to kill stuff). But that “Never say Nether” one — that stuck with me.

Dina the Rogue

More than a month in, and I still haven’t hit max level. I just haven’t had as much time to play as I’d have liked. I’m a level 47 rogue, and have done all the normal dungeon instances except Realm of the Fae (newbie Guardian instance) and Charmer’s Caldera. I did Abyssal Precipice last night for the first time, even though I was a level or two too low and entirely unprepared. That got me my first couple bits of gear I’ll need (including a dagger with the necessary HIT stat) when I hit 50 to start on the Expert T1 dungeons, which prepare you for the Expert T2 dungeons, which prepare you for raids.

I was lucky to get that group. I am a slow leveler. A month to max level IS slow in Rift. I am being lapped in the guild by peoples alts. My guild has zoomed past me and have been in T1 Experts for awhile. In the midlevel zones in which I adventure, it’s hard to find enough people in the same area to take down the persistent elite rifts. You can’t do those with just two or three people and there never seems to be a critical mass unless there’s a full on invasion, which focuses players and allows a raid capable of clearing major rifts to form. And THEN everything swims along nicely.

When I started my character, I leveled her balanced as both bard and ranger. When I got into my twenties, I shunted the bard into its own spec and moved the ranger into a secondary soloing spec. I figured out the macro system in the thirties and was able to successfully meld ranged and melee abilities so that they would trigger with the same key presses depending on the range to the mob, basically turning the now ranger/assassin into a one-key ability spamming machine. (One key for the spam combo builders and reaction abilities, the others a wide range of situational special moves and finishers).

I decided a couple days ago to come up with a pure melee/stealth build. I spent a few hours in the ZAM Soul Builder, read through the forums for advice, and came up with a pretty decent assassin/bladedancer/riftstalker build that combines devastating damage with some self-heals and good defense.

This would have been three entirely separate and distinct classes in EverQuest II — a troubadour, a ranger and a swashbuckler would be the closest analogues. World of Warcraft doesn’t even have a support rogue class like the bard. It really seems like I have three different characters in my back pocket when looking for dungeon groups.

I joined the Abyssal Precipice group last night in my melee dps spec (my roles are: bard, melee dps, ranged dps, and this is how I advertise). Seeing my relatively low level, a higher level bard in the group suggested I take the bard slot and he would shift to dps. We both shifted specs and breezed through the dungeon in our new roles.

This, again, is Rift at its strongest. It’s not quite yet to the level of “bring the player, not the class”, but it’s closer than many games.

A River of Souls event rift

Dynamic events and the soul mechanic are Rift’s bread and butter. There’s room for improvement in the other areas.

Dungeons: the dungeons are fun, yes, but are tuned for such a narrow level range that most dungeons you can run only a couple of times before they just have nothing for you any more. Since a player even a level too high can breeze through a dungeon and get no xp from anything except the reward for finishing the instance quest, it is difficult to effectively build groups the further along you get. I’ve gone along on lower level dungeon runs just to see the places again, but the game did nothing to reward me for that.

EverQuest II started, a couple expansions ago, tuning the instanced dungeons to the levels of the players. They ALSO have a mechanic that lets players temporarily drop their level to the level of another player in the group, and they will get xp and other rewards commensurate with this level. Doing a lower level instance dungeon in EQ2 in this way still gives players rewards for helping lower level players out. I really miss this in Rift.

If all I did in Rift were the rifts themselves and dungeons, I’d have no complaints. But where it seemed in beta and when I was lower level that I could get through the game just via rifts and dungeons, that’s evaporated as the player base spreads out. I had to turn back to questing as my main method of gathering experience.

It’s just the same old, same old. Collect quests at a quest hub. Follow the map markings and click on the sparklies or kill what it tells you to kill. Return for the reward. I hate the artificial quest mechanic, which has as its only purpose giving you something to do when you can’t do something fun. I say I don’t, but I really usually do read the quest text, and the quest writers have obviously tried their best to fit bits and pieces of lore where they can. I now know why the Golden Maw hates the Storm Legion. Me, I hate them both and kill them when I can because I am a stone cold killer. The only real fun is trying to kill them in different ways.

I really like Rift, I do. But then, I really liked World of Warcraft, too. I was an absolute fanatic about that game for a long time. Thing is, I’ve DONE WoW. All I want from Rift is stuff I couldn’t do in WoW. I’ve already forgotten most every WoW quest, long ago. I will have no recollection of any Rift quest I’ve done more than a day ago. They are empty experiences no matter the game.

Cloning EQ2’s mentoring system would be a great improvement — or they could come up with another way that players of all levels could work together. When Rift releases its first expansion, I hope they find some way to work the quest system so that there’s fun involved.

Am I unhappy that I chose to spend my time in Rift vs, perhaps, EQ’s new progression server or one of the other new MMOs? Not at all. But I did think it would be more fun, all the way through. That was naive of me. Underneath it all, Rift is much the same animal as WoW, something that couldn’t escape anyone’s notice from their first moment in the game. It’s the same sort of brainless, autopilot fun as WoW, and it isn’t as innovative as it wants to be.

However, this is JUST a month in. Where Rift takes a chance and departs from the norm, it shines. Rifts and soul tweaking are genuinely fun innovations. The dungeons and quests are generally non-dynamic, though well-polished. Still, why borrow from WoW when you could do something new?

Rift had a great launch, but if it wants to become legendary, it will have to take even more chances and craft something truly unique.

Rift: Imagine a world without quests…

Droughtlands

Pictured is the Droughtlands, from a high vantage above the desert floor on a plateau called Lantern Hook. There’s a neutral city within it, and a dungeon (“The Fall of Lantern Hook”) beneath it. I had no idea where this place was until a crafting daily sent me here, but it’s a nice place. The area is around my level (39) and I could skip the Moonshade Highlands and work on Droughtlands quests, just like I skipped out of Scarlett Gorge to work on Scarwood Reach quests, and Scarwood Reach quests to work on Moonshade Highlands quests.

And why not? Aside from the experience, there’s little reason to do quests. The nigh-inevitable destruction of the world is only a handful of years in the future. In the original timeline, the Guardians had the upper hand against the forces of Regulos, and THEY LOST. They were destroyed while undead swallowed the world. Only a last few Defiants, by sending reincarnated heroes with borrowed souls into the past, threw the dice of the fate of the world one final time…

… so that I could pick mushrooms around a lake.

Just like World of Warcraft, every living thing you see has a quest to kill it, so you don’t WANT to kill anything or do anything until some NPC tells you to do so. The difference is with the rifts, invasions and footholds; when you see one of those, you drop what you’re doing and wade in, because THIS is the fight against the future, THIS is you doing what you are meant to be doing.

Then, unless you find yourself in a dungeon (and this past weekend, I have both main healed and main tanked a dungeon, as bard and riftstalker), you look for a bunch of NPC chumps with green punctuation over their heads, find out which local fauna they hate or flora they need gathered, and set to your task.

Doing pointless boring quests was half the reason I left WoW. The other half was being abused by the so-called “community”.

Here’s an example — a quest series I did, as a ranger, with a random bard (yay public groups).

There’s this village of dead dwarfs. You can tell they are dead because they have their opacity set to 50% and their colors are desaturated, but they don’t bemoan their fate or give dark warnings of the hereafter or fear that their soul will be swallowed up by some needy Guardian Ascended or something. In fact I’m not sure what they were about. They just stood around, except for a couple who patrolled, and you just know death hardly interrupted their routines.

Anyway, there are three treasures in this village that we need to burn, for some reason. These treasures — a chest, a book and a doll if I remember right — are on the front stoops of the houses, because you can’t ENTER houses in this game; like WoW, there are no doors, which is an innovation Ultima Online delivered in 1997 but has been slow to make its way to newer games. There may have been a reason why we needed to antagonize these dead dwarfs, but I can’t imagine it really was a turning point against the forces that would destroy the world.

Seriously, I’m trying to save your lives, NPCs. If you have a trinket that will help in that fight, JUST GIVE IT TO ME.

The quest hub mechanic is Rift’s weakest point. What would the game be like, I wonder, without quest hubs? Where what quests did exist, were integral to the plot of the game? When I get sent into a fairy wood to pick mushrooms, I’m not thinking “Yay! Bringing the fight to Regulos!”. I’m thinking, “this quest sucks. I am wasting my time.”

A big gun

Quests are not meant to challenge players. They are just meant as busywork to keep people in the game while they are waiting to do something fun. They could be removed and just replaced with a mechanic that would deliver XP, coin and the occasional trinket to you as long as you were online with no difference to total enjoyment of the game.

Except when quests go BAD.

There’s a quest chain in Moonshade Highlands where the Defiants and Guardians are fighting over the control of a few cannon and some monitoring devices. As part of this, you (the Defiant player) capture a Guardian NPC and bring him back to Timberveil (Defiant outpost) for torturing. You then torture the NPC until he commits suicide rather than reveal more information, after which you skip merrily to a ridge and fire cannon at Guardian emplacements.

I was so shaken by this quest that I almost stopped playing. Did Trion think that American players would be so blasé about torture after Guantanamo that it means nothing to us any more? I did the quest hoping to see some sort of repercussions for this, some feeling or sense that we, as Defiants, perhaps have gone too far, that we must not become the monsters we fight. But, no. There was nothing. It was just another stupid quest. Burn a child’s doll, pick a mushroom, torture an NPC to death. I proved I will do absolutely anything if an NPC asks me to.

Take away the quests hubs. Replace them, perhaps, with set pieces that advance the plot of the game, or fer chrissakes help the Defiants and the Guardians set aside their differences so that they can band together to SAVE THE WORLD. The reason everything fell apart to begin with was Defiants and Guardians seeing the conflict against Regulos as a zero sum game where they could not win unless the other lost.

I won’t even get started about what the Warfronts say about the motivations of the two sides, while the true darkness gathers unchallenged. Not this post, anyway.

Rift: Sealing the King’s Breeches.

Scarwood Reach is safe again

It’s important to remember that in Rift, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry. (Men drop cloth when they die. Mice drop tears). Oh, speaking of mice, my cat decided she wanted some attention today, while I was wrapped up playing Rift, so she laid on my mouse pad and stared at me, challenging me. So I used her as my mouse pad. There’s a lot of cats in Scarwood Reach; when they see a pig, they attack it. On the way to King’s Breach — KB — you’ll pass a lot of cats and pigs fighting each other.

I’m pretty sure they’re fighting.

That paragraph went places I didn’t really expect — but that’s the Rift experience. You log on thinking to do some crafting or maybe grind some quests or try out a new build, and then a rift happens, or an invasion happens, and you’re going around the zone madly whacking stuff as fast as you can, and then you bump up against an instance, or decide to do some open world PvP by taking out some border Guardian footholds, or just start exploring the corners of the zone… I found an artifact somewhere, or well, I found one but couldn’t figure out how to get to it. I freed some prisoners nearby. I dinged 35 in there somewhere.

Where does the time go?

I love rifting, but I do dungeons whenever I can. It’s the group dynamic that really defines MMOs for me. I know that isn’t universal; hell, it’s practically an aberration these days to admit you prefer to group for experience. But it’s only in dungeons that I can define myself as a character. When I solo, I switch specs to fit my mood, but I always have to end up with a balanced spec with buffs, heals, damage, some sort of crowd control and so on, or I’m going to die. Die more often that I do already, because soloing Guardian footholds in the middle of Guardian controlled lands does tend to anger people.

I really thought they wouldn’t notice. Time for another King’s Breech picture.

Rushing to adventure!

It looks like we’re running toward some sort of massive place of mystery, but really everyone was taking a quick AFK except me, and I just kept running forward and backward to make a dramatic screenshot. You gotta stage these things.

I’ve been doing Foul Cascade a few times (Foul Cascade is not the subject of this post), and I begin to learn my role — I’m a ranger/bard, with big points in ranger, small points in bard. I don’t really need the bard points, but I just feel uncomfortable with giving up my small ability to heal (with an off soul) and have some buffs. That’s just a bit of control I need. And it’s also a reminder to my group that at ANY MOMENT, I could just stop a second and ZING, I’m a bard. I don’t just WANT to be DPS or support. I want to be dps –and– support –and– a healer. I really just want to do it all.

King’s Breech was different. It’s nominally a level 35-37 dungeon, but when a call went out for a level 34+ dps of any class, I put my name in the hat and I got the invite. THEY had no idea what role they wanted me to use, so I opted for … pure bard.

You see these nasty suckers everywhere in KB

Up through about level 30, I went with a bard/ranger spec everywhere. It was decent dps, came with its own tank and so on. Post 30, I swapped that around with most of my points in ranger because I really needed a lot more stopping power, a better pet, and significant healing power for when I got crushed by mobs or decide to open a planar tear (most solo rogue builds mix in bard for this reason). So when I go back and do older dungeons like Deepstrike Mines or Foul Cascade, I go ranger. Ranger has a couple of cool AEs which keep you in the gold while rifting.

Since I no longer used the Bard/Ranger role for soloing, I decided to swap things up and make it pure bard, absolutely with no survival or parser potential, about as pure a support class as you can make with a rogue. Pure bards even have their own colors in the raid window — pink.

That’s what I took into King’s Breech. Bard. Four strummed 30 second buffs. A strummed power chord followed by a channeled fingerpicking with one of various strums for finishers — or a toot of the horn if I wanted to toss in a direct group heal. When I play my ranger in dungeons, sometimes we wipe. It happens. When I’m full bard, nobody dies. I should use that when I call for groups.

New clothes

I guess I should talk about the instance itself. Like Foul Cascade, it’s an outdoor zone, and like Foul Cascade, it’s attacked by rifts. Foul Cascade is anchored by an enormous death rift, but King’s Breech has a life rift at the beginning and a death rift at the end. The life rift area is the domain of King Hylar of the Aelfwar — he whose story dominates the Guardian zone of Silverwood. He is the king whose britches we are pursuing. He is, if I remember this correctly, trying to keep undead out of Scarwood Reach so that he can make it his own. Scarwood Reach is, like King’s Breach, split north and south, Guardian and Defiant, Life and Death. When the zone wide invasions start, it’s not unusual to find yourself rifting with the opposite faction, and perhaps accidentally plinking one with an AE, and perhaps starting a war that has nothing to do with a planar invasion.

I’d leveled my outfitting up at great personal hardship to outfit myself in some really sweet looking gear, most of which got replaced in the last couple dungeon runs. So there I am, in a tunic from the last boss of King’s Breach, leggings from the planar vendor in some zone, with my raptor pet.

That raptor pet is the laziest pet EVER. People in guild chat go on and on about the damn thing, but while he’s good at dps and pretty good at AEing, he absolutely refuses to do anything like a taunt unless I give him a really long time to build aggro.

So… I’m thinking of maybe trying a riftstalker/ranger build. Tanking, self heals, and that raptor biting stuff in the butt.

Just before I logged off, some NPC asked me to test out their teleporter and it zoomed me to the Moonshadow Highlands. I leveled through Scarlett Gorge without doing more than a fraction of the quests, because of my love for rifts and dungeons. I’ve gotten a little further in Scarwood Reach, and now I’m halfway across the world.

Rift could drop 90% of its quests and I promise, I wouldn’t miss them.