I doubt this will become a RIFT blog, but one never knows. In any case, I finally picked up the RIFT beta
over the last weekend and gave it a go. In the past I’ve tried Warhammer, EVE Online and had a brief stint in LOTRO, but none of them ever clicked and I was never able to put my finger on why. In Warhammer my computer couldn’t handle the level of graphics required to make the landscape truly stand out. In LOTRO the Tolkien geek in me was sobbing quietly in the background. EVE Online just…I have no emotional connection with a spaceship, sorry.
As things stand, I’ve ordered a copy of Rift.
I plan to play I am playing on the RP server ‘Argent’, and will likely be playing Kelari and dwarf! have Kelari, Bahmi and dwarf characters.
Immersion and Lore – how does it work?
I’ve heard a large variance of opinions on game lore. At first glance the game feels like a very amateur fantasy novel, with your usual big bads, traitors, heroes, grey areas and unpronouncable names. I’ve seen a lot of to-do about how the lore is bad or how people just don’t care about any of it. I mentioned LOTRO earlier because for me this is relevant: when developers take an existing IP they are necessarily going to end up with confrontations with everyone else’s imagination. LOTRO Middle Earth, while beautiful, was not the same as the one I’ve been carrying around in my head since the age of seven. That’s a tall order for any company to compete with, even though an existing IP comes with a built in fan base. Triton start themselves off at a disadvantage precisely because we have no context for all this stuff happening on Telara. However the lack of preconceptions may, in the end, work in their favor when competing against big brand MMOs.
As far as I know, we knew nothing about the World of Everquest, and once upon a time even Azeroth was relatively unknown to us. All these extensive IPs were brand new once, and the best ones have taken time to develop a loyal fanbase. The closer I look at the starting areas, the more interesting and intriguing they become – it’s well worth reading up about them in detail after you’ve played through them, and Covenant of Telara has great lore summaries of Mathosia and Terminus. Asha, Orphiel, Shyla and Cyril *coughwhydidtheycallhimthat* aren’t interesting to us yet, but Trion have put some great characterisation in the game, the further you get it.
What at first appears to be a cut and dried ‘straight laced religious fanatics’ vs ‘cool steampunk atheists’ is a lot more complicated than that. The ‘lore’ presented in both starting areas is told from a biased point of view, and the development of these storylines really benefits from playing both factions and paying attention to the quest lore. The zealotry of the Guardians as presented in the Defiant starting area is tempered by their pragmaticism and the dark edge to the Vigil. One of the things I’ve noticed a lot in Guardian lore is the use of chain imagery, which suggests something altogether more brutal than the pretty silverwoods suggests.
The Defiant are, of course, not evil. They’re desparate and have a willingness to do some very sinister things. One of their leaders actually helped the guy who unleashed Regulos. Cut scenes in the Defiant Life Factory bear witness to a gruesome scene where many souls are combined into a single body, creating the Defiant Ascended from the souls of the Guardians. The technicians definitely have a preference for Defiant souls though.
Immersion is the wrong word
It may be pretty easy to see that I’m immersed in the world of RIFT. This is partly because I can pick it up and put it down with very little pressure. Warcraft involves officering and raiding, two lots of responsibilities that are weighing too heavily for me to do much with them right now. Real life has been much more hectic and exhausting than usual, and so casually levelling through a brand new world is more relaxing than doing my duty in WoW.
I think immersion is the wrong word when it comes to MMOs. MMOs should be engrossing. They should take your attention and make you think. RIFT has definitely managed to do that with me – both about my calling choices, my immediate plans in-game and the way rifts interact with local zone lore. Rifts in a given zone have lore and objectives tied into that particular zone. Then there are what are called ‘story’ quests that are more about history than they are about killing ten rats. Although there is plenty of killing ten rats, you can end up translating troll petroglyphs, or searching for puzzles, or reading journals. Questing is broken up by diving off the path after an artefact balanced on a high ledge, defending a quest hub, or sending a troll to kill elementals.
Spiders here, spiders there
Or hiding in a cave to escape a spider swarm. I wish I was kidding. In Scarwood reach there is a quest hub that gives you 2-3 quests that involve counting spider grubs (involves going into spider infested caves), killing particular types of spiders (hello caves) and curing poisoned soldiers (hai caves.) Outside the caves are dotted ‘ripening pods’, and I discovered that these periodically burst and spawn many many tiny spiders. Most of which are 2-5 levels higher than you. And they all tend to burst at once and the only safe spot seems to be…uh, those caves I mentioned.
So I cowered in a cave, considered corpse running and then watched open mouthed as a level 30 NPC soldier ran out from the cave I was standing in and aggroed a mob of spiders. He died pretty fast. I took the opportunity to run past the second time this happened, and went on my merry way. So, my cleric is apparently scared of spiders now. Later on, after an epic quest involving a permenant air rift nearby, I noticed that the spiders had gone and went in to complete another quest. 30 seconds in, SPIDERS EVERYWHERE. Questing nodes are littered with these extremely dangerous events and moments, a great variant on the traditional patrol.
Another thing that engrosses me in RIFT is running across the landscape. Even as a level 30, those low level mobs still matter. Maybe it’s different on 90%+ mount, but even low level mobs have a high chance to dismount you and force you to turn around and deal with them. Attempting to run from a single mob invariably means aggroing a second and third mob. Highly annoying until you learn to path around them, or how to use your abilities to train them in the traditional EQ sense. Either way, for me it engenders respect of the environment around my character and so careening around Freemarch in search of death rifts is a mini-adventure that requires knowledge of the landscape. It also helps that I adore the horse mounts and the riding animations.
It is entirely possible for the map to light up with 10+ rifts, invasions, and Guardian invasions as well – do you attempt to keep questing or flee the zone? Do you join in, and where might you be most effective? Lowbie melee DPS will find their first few rifts beyond King’s Retreat extremely hazardous – should you just stand back and lob a few ranged abilities? That is, if you have any?
The tethering of crafting abilities both for gathering and crafting profession results in yet more - such as the need to find the nearest porticulum as quickly as possible in order to empty bags or levelling crafting. Add this up with random spawning invasions of spiders, and hordes of elemental invaders sweeping through the land, artifacts on high ledges above you and random explosions (mainly in the secondary newbie areas) and there’s a whole wealth of things to consider. Rifting enables you to open new rifts (on top of guardians), summon allies, empower and enhance quest hubs (through wardstone technology) and boost your abilities against plane touched creatures. Creating wardstones in Scarlet Gorge spawns daily quests, and if one of the factions creates enough of them a raid boss spawns.
Building to a crescendo
Now, it’s been said before that RIFT is nothing new. It really isn’t new, but then how new is the latest fantasy novel? I love World of Warcraft, but I wouldn’t say it has better lore than Eddings Belgariad/Mallorean series, or better lore than a Pratchett novel. Assessing the quality of lore and writing in MMOs is extremely difficult when the number of writers involved in everything from websites, comics, novels, in-game quest texts, in-game books, to raid cut scenes is massive and not necessarily interconnected. Lore often falls by the wayside in order to serve the dramatic moment or power an encounter for the player.
Warcraft, for all it’s nuances and richness, is still a juvenile world, as much about the pop culture references as it is about the dramatic. It has power because the writing is teamed with fabulous artwork, and criticially acclaimed music and sound work. RIFT is an older creature, and I find the humor and whimsy a lot more subtle. If MMOs were Terry Pratchett books, WoW is the Colour of Magic and RIFT is Night Watch. This doesn’t make one better than the other, but if you’re looking for more of the type of the thing you like, then RIFT is great. If you’re looking for game changing and completely new, then it’s going to disappoint. My first impressions are good, but I really hope they give people another chance at a free trial.
All the little elements I’ve mentioned – the lore that gets deeper as you look, the rifts themselves being connected to the zones, the ability to skip quests you really don’t like without losing the greater thread, the artifacts (what archaeology should have been) it builds up to a satisfying whole. The game has heart.
Hopefully WoW blogging will resume shortly, but this has been sitting in my queue for a good 3 weeks now and I wanted to publish something. Jury is still out on whether I will make this a more general gaming blog atm.