Enter at Your Own Rift: Zero-sum game

Ever since I started following RIFT, I've been entranced by the wide-open -- but not limitless -- class system. After all, the virtual world and everything populating it is only half the game; the other half resides in the avatar that sticks with you while you explore it all. Many MMOs have interesting ways of letting you build and grow your character, but sooner or later they come to a point where there's little more to be done other than incrementally increasing your stats by gaining better gear.

Not so with RIFT, as even a level 50 can drop a few coins to shape a completely new build from scratch. No longer are we bound to a rigidly defined creation; we are free to experiment, tinker, and try out these roles to our hearts' content.

With RIFT's soul system, there are a few ground rules that everyone learns early in the game. You can have up to three souls in your archetype active at any one time; you can only spend as many points in a build as you have in levels (such as 10 points at level 10); and you'll end up with 66 points at level 50, which means that you'll at least dabble in a second soul tree with every build. And while you can certainly spread soul points across all three trees, today I wanted to look at the benefits of a zero-point soul, the "third wheel," if you will, of builds.

The zero-sum game

We all like to get something for nothing, right? It always makes me feel like I'm getting away with robbery when I get something good in exchange for no effort or money on my part. In Dungeons & Dragons I liked the freebie cantrips, likewise in Magic: The Gathering. Even if they weren't that powerful, the free cost behind them made them incredibly attractive. So I'm definitely in love with the fact that zero-point souls still have a lot to offer any build and can in fact be a great blessing as a "splash" soul.

Typically -- but not always -- you benefit the most from investing all of your spare (i.e., non-primary soul) points into a second tree to get as many good skills and talents from that as possible. This means that there's usually room for a splash soul on the side, and RIFT has a few that stand out above the rest for each archetype. Souls with no points put in them can also be changed on the fly without your having to visit a trainer, which is useful if you want to juggle some of these abilities. Let's take a look at which of these zero-point souls are helpful for most builds and why you shouldn't ignore a handout when the game is offering you one.

Warriors

I'm going to say this with every archetype, so I may as well lay it out up front: You simply can't go wrong -- at least not in the early game -- by selecting a pet class as your splash soul. For the Warrior, that means the Beastmaster soul, which delivers a pet and a skill that increases pet damage. Pets are perfect for the early game as they help you out with tanking and supplemental DPS, and to get all that for no points invested? Awesome. Pets can also be a wonderful distraction for the enemy in PvP, as any time spent attacking it is time not spent attacking you -- and players will engage pets more often than you'd think.

The only caveat to the Beastmaster is that by mid-game your pet will stop leveling up and become weak and useless (since the tree is designed for you to invest points to get better pets). Still, up to then, it's a terrific pick.

Other solid choices for Warrior splash souls include the Champion (which gets Bull Rush, an insta-charge to close distance with the enemy), Reaver (Soul Sickness is a handy ranged DoT pull), and Riftblade (for a nice one-hour weapon buff). Void Knight has an OK 5% absorption ability against non-physical attacks, although that's highly situational.

The Paladin is an interesting third soul, but only if you have a build that includes a weapon-and-shield combo. Aggressive Block -- which does a bit of damage while buffing your ability to block for 15 seconds -- could be an excellent way to give yourself some additional survival early on in the game when Warriors tend to be weakest. I think Warlord would be better for defense anyway, as it gives you two stellar debuffs that take the sting out of the enemy and lets you choose any weapon build you desire.

So my choice would be Beastmaster for the early game, and Warlord after that.

Rogues

As are Beastmasters for Warriors, so too are Rangers useful for Rogues. Unless you're a Riftstalker, you just don't want to get hit that much as a Rogue anyway, and a pet tank can help greatly in that regard.

The Assassin's Virulent Poison provides an attractive weapon buff that goes with any build, while the Bard's Motif of Bravery can give you a short-term boost to attack and spell power. The Riftstalker's Shadow Shift is a cool little teleport, but it really doesn't help much in combat and is on too long of a timer to be used as often as you'd like.

If you're a melee Rogue, then the Bladedancer's Side Steps comes highly recommended, as you can increase your dodge chance by a whopping 50% for 15 seconds. I shouldn't have to tell you that this could be a lifesaver in many situations. Ranged Rogues may want to look into the Saboteur, as its Adhesive Bomb is a good way to slow down the enemy from closing to striking distance.

My picks? Ranger first and foremost, then either Assassin or Bladedancer depending on preference.

Mages

Mages have it a bit rough right now as Trion is figuring out just how to buff them to put them on par with the other archetypes, so survival is key. Unlike the other archetypes, the Mage has a couple of picks for a pet tank: Elemental Summoner and Necromancer. The Summoner's pet is probably more durable, although it's nice to have a choice.

The Archon is an interesting choice for its two buff-building attacks (which can be used to increase all of your stats for five minutes), but you'd have to work those attacks into your regular rotation. Chloromancers can throw Radiant Spores on the enemy to give any ally a chance for a free heal on attack, but at zero points the effect only procs 15% of the time, which isn't worth it in my eyes.

It seems like you can't go wrong with a Dominator, as its Transmogrify spell can take any enemy out of combat for a while. This would be especially useful in group runs looking to gain the advantage over packs of mobs. I also like the Warlock's Life Leech as a low -- but remember, free! -- self-heal.

I'd go Elemental Summoner until level 20 or 25, and then swap between Archon or Dominator depending on whether I was soloing or not.

Clerics

Unlike the other archetypes' pet classes, the Cleric's pet class -- the Druid -- provides not a tanking pet but instead a faerie that throws out long-range heals and attacks. Still, the Druid is a wonderful choice not only for the pet heals but for the passive Faith in Action skill that buffs all melee attacks.

Alternatively, you can eschew the pet and go Justicar for the same Faith in Action buff plus a one-hour Salvation skill that provides a hefty self-heal on attack. The same Faith in Action shows up with the Shaman as well, which also gets a one-hour weapon buff. If you're going melee with a Cleric and for some reason aren't investing in a Justicar or Shaman, then it's a no-brainer to include one as a splash soul.

The other souls seem to pale in comparison. The Purifier has a middling shield that absorbs some damage, and the Sentinel and Warden can heal others somewhat.

If you're making a melee Cleric, then make sure that Justicar or Shaman is in there at least as a zero-point soul. Healing Clerics should definitely take a hard look at the Druid, and I'd recommend either the Druid or Purifier for spell Clerics.

Of course, I'm interested to hear what you've discovered in your own experimental builds! What do you like to include as a zero-point soul and why?

Whether they're keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan and Justin Olivetti save Telara on a weekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, their column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Karen and Justin for questions, comments, and adulation.

This article was originally published on Massively.