Wings Over Atreia: To rift, or not to rift, that is the question

While discussing first impressions of the expansion and exploring the year in review in previous weeks, we touched on different changes brought about in Aion's Assault on Balaurea. From new lands, to solo instances, to increased kinah and XP rewards from quests, many changes have been heralded as positive and are enjoyed by the majority of Daevas. After all, who doesn't love more money?

However, one specific change stands out as an exception to this happy consensus: rifting. To say players have been expressive about the significant impact of one of the more unique and (dare I say) integral mechanics in Aion is putting it mildly. In game, on legion forums, and on the official boards (where the request for feedback thread stands at 96 pages and counting), Daevas are conveying their delight and their anguish, as well as playing a few rounds of the ever-popular blame game.

Has rifting gone the way of the dodo, or can it be brought back from the brink of extinction? Rift past the cut to see some thoughts and ideas on the matter and chime in with your own.
Despite what you may think, opinions on whether this change was for the better or for the worse are not necessarily drawn along the lines of PvPers vs. PvEers. True, a number of PvP-centric players have cried foul and left the game. Then again, a number of PvE-centered folks have returned. However, many people (myself included) have a middle-of-the-road approach to Aion, enjoying both halves of the PvPvE equation -- including rifting.

While I didn't buy Aion for the PvP aspect (wooo wings!), I nonetheless knew about and accepted it as a part of the game. In fact, I quite enjoy a good, competitive bout of PvP -- just not all the time. The concept of rifting really intrigued me; it was the implementation, however, that left something to be desired. I enjoyed the thrill that came with entering hostile territory as a low-level character seeking to complete a spy quest or grouping up to fend off an invasion on your home turf. Sadly, like players in many games, some Aion folk mistakenly equate PvP (a challenging test of skill against others) with ganking (one or more higher-level players slaughtering lowbies who don't stand a chance) and griefing (repeated harassment with the obvious purpose of ruining the gameplay of another for your own personal enjoyment), and their actions often lead to reform.

That was then

Here was the idea: Rifts (portals) randomly open between the homelands of the Asmodians and the Elyos, allowing each to venture into hostile enemy territory. NCsoft even gives quests with nice rewards to entice players over into those less-than-safe lands. Each rift only allows a certain level of Daeva to travel through -- the easier the rift, the lower the level cap for passage. As the locations of the rifts move outward from the fortresses, the level cap increases, until you reach the final rifts farthest out in the most dangerous places. In theory, this will allow more even match-ups as you rift into like-leveled areas, right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, the concept of equal match-ups just didn't transfer into practical application. It was not long before ganking became much more prevalent than PvP; super-geared level 40-45 players would prey repeatedly on those fresh-faced level 20s just coming out of the lower zones and equipped in their whites and quest-greens. When did these players ever offer a challenge, let alone any AP? But that didn't stop the practice. Professional rifters would then kisk in enemy territory and remain there indefinitely, express-mailing new kisks and supplies to themselves via their alts. For those who vehemently deny the existence of said ganking (possibly the most self-delusional statement I have ever heard), I would like to know which magical fairyland you are in so I can see for myself.

That is not to say that all who rift go specifically to torture lowbies. I have seen the flip side of the "red is dead" mantra shared on both sides of Atreia; I know I personally would avoid the little guy and even break off an attack if I realized my opponent obviously didn't stand a chance. I have watched as higher-level players left rifters alone to be dealt with by those closer to the rifter's level. The implementation of the player con system (pink, red, and purple) really benefited the PvP crowd who followed this same mantra. I have also been witness to members of the other faction leaving harvesters alone -- until one of their own was touched, of course. Vinna-gathering Asmo dance parties are a highlight of my memories!

This is now

No one really disputes the positive change of forcing those who log out in enemy territory back to their home obelisk. What's a little more work to find a new rift and venture through it? Putting rifts on hourly timers was also beneficial, as it allows more opportunities for rifters to get to the other side. However, the consensus is that rifting for those under level 50 has been all but smothered. Damage reduction debuffs are placed on zones, with Eltnen and Morheim having the most significant debuff (80%) and Beluslan and Heiron sharing a slightly less-hefty one (40%).

With the current across-the-board damage reduction, the playing field wasn't leveled -- it was plowed under. While some still venture across the border, completing spy quests or hunting for some meaningful PvP through rifts appears to be next to impossible as even those low-level pink enemies are a significant threat. While I am all for enforcing more even matches and fostering some challenging PvP, the current system is akin to telling a soldier to strip down naked, leave his weapons on the ground, and then march into enemy territory to fight. This isn't any more fair than what the gankers were perpetrating on the lowbies. If the goal is to build challenging PvP while still protecting the gaming experience of the PvE set, this new system missed the mark -- a fact even the non-PvP crowd will attest to.

To infinity and beyond

Where should NCsoft draw the line to balance things and make both sides of the PvPvE equation happy? Obviously, alienating one-half of your target market doesn't seem to make good business sense, a fact recognized by both sides. How can we fix this latest "fix," to appease all sides and bring together both elements of the game? The community has offered some suggestions for balancing this aspect of the game that initially drew so many.

  • Dropping gear upon death. Been there, done that; I stopped playing Lineage II for a reason! In my opinion, this will really only encourage people to gank those who have no chance whatsoever, instead of encouraging people to fight in more even match-ups.
  • Rift timer. This idea basically suggests putting a limit on how often you can go through a rift, as well as how long you can be in enemy territory.
  • Buff activation. The basic premise of this idea is that the defensive buff should only activate when a player is actually killed by another player. The killed player would then get the buff for a period of time, and the time would grow for each successive death. This could help prevent repeated griefing/ganking of select targets over a period of time.
  • Level-based buff application. As it stands, the level discrepancy within Eltnen and Morheim is fairly extreme -- a level 25 stands no chance against a level 40. So why not make the damage reduction debuff dependent not on the zone, but rather the level disparity between players? Go ahead and give the pink folks a significant buff, but reduce it for closer match-ups? Of course, if a pink attacks a purple, all bets are off!
  • Gear-based defensive buff. While I think this idea for encouraging more even match-ups is admirable, I actually do not want to discount the work that people have put into acquiring their higher-level gear. Someone who spends the time to equip himself well should have an advantage compared to those who haven't done the same.
  • Level-based PvP instances for the under-46 crowd. Ground abyss. Battlegrounds. Dredgion. This idea has been put forth in different forms -- the main plea being give those under 50 another way to earn AP other than flying around a seemingly empty abyss. Unlike the level 46+ crowd who get a Dredgion run three times a day, those who are lower-level have almost nothing. Why, exactly?

Few of us actually want rifting to end, even a majority of those whom the gankers call carebears. It is a fun mechanic of the game, both to be able to sneak into enemy territory and to feel the apprehension of looking over your shoulder in your own land. It is a basic feel of the game, lending to heightened awareness and a rush that cannot be matched in a full-on PvE game. However, what most of us do not want to see again is the unmatched gankfest that drove people out by the scores. Fewer people playing is a lose-lose situation for everyone.

So what ideas do you have for improving the rifting mechanic? Or are you content with the state of things now? Chime in and share your thoughts!
Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to mj@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.