Enter at Your Own Rift: 'Role' play

In retrospect, it was all my fault. I had gotten too used to just throwing RIFT dungeon groups together and assuming that with the flexible soul system we'd be able to provide everything necessary no matter what archetype mixup we had. I suppose it's a testament to Trion Worlds' design that an exact group composition wasn't a top concern -- the goal is just getting five willing players together for a fun run.

We were running Darkening Deeps, and I decided to start a group so that I could show off the dungeon to Rubi. We had two Rogues, two Mages and a Warrior, and I felt pretty confident going in that we would prevail. And while the Warrior stepped up and said he would tank -- taking the burden off of my Riftstalker build -- everyone else was curiously quiet when I asked if there was another healer who could back up my Bard heals for boss fights.

Nothing. Not a peep. The other Rogue didn't have a Bard spec, and the Mages were whistling innocently when I asked if they happened to have a Chloromancer role tucked in their back pocket. Oh crud. This was going to hurt. Six trash pulls into the dungeon later, I called it and said that we simply didn't have enough healing power to make it through the bosses. My bad, I said, thanks for playing!

Role-ing with my homies

But was it really all my fault? In simple 5-man dungeons, I generally like letting everyone pick what he wants to do as long as someone steps up to tank and we have a good healer. With RIFT's multiple roles, I've been assuming that everyone has at least one group-friendly build on standby, whether that be support, healing, tanking or off-tanking.

Maybe that was a wrong assumption to make, especially this early on in the game's life. For one thing, some people -- for whatever reason -- only want to play DPS, and they scream and kick if asked to do otherwise, even if it's just for one dungeon run. It's just not what they want to do, and if it's a choice between stepping up to do a crucial job and not running the dungeon at all, they might well go with the latter. These players may have multiple roles, but they are all different flavors of DPS, and that makes them happy.

For another thing, not everyone knows about roles. I found this out when talking with Rubi afterward, who admitted that she had no clue -- by level 25 -- that you could have multiple roles in this game. I don't mean to pick on Rubi here at all; I am just using her as an example of how RIFT may be failing to educate and promote the role system strongly enough. The game doesn't really prompt you to get another role or lead you through the process of doing it; it just leaves you to discover it on your own.

So let's take a quick run-through of how roles work, how you get more of them, and how they can greatly enhance your gaming experience -- both solo and in groups.

Buttering up your roles

A role is a saved soul tree build, using up to three different souls to create a customized class. Everyone starts out with his first (default) role but can quickly add more from there. Getting a new role is ridiculously simple, to tell the truth. Just talk to your trainer and select the option to purchase a new role. A second role isn't too expensive, so you should be able to afford it by level 10 if not sooner. The third and fourth roles cost exponentially more, but my personal opinion is that they're worth the coin as soon as you get enough.

Why would you want another role? Well, let me ask you this: Do you enjoy forking over money again and again to constantly reset your soul points so that you can rebuild your spec? Roles help save you money and time by giving you an array of alternative builds that you can swap between on the fly. And when I say "on the fly," I mean "literally any time you're not in combat."

If each soul tree combination build is designed to do a specific task well, think of the role system as a Swiss Army Knife that pulls them all together.

Once you purchase a new role, you'll want to go into your abilities panel and pull the role buttons down to your hotbar (each role has its own icon, which will change according to the primary soul of that role). Click on the empty role and go into the soul tree to create your next build. Once you've saved it, don't forget to arrange your hotbar with all of the new skills, and always, ALWAYS make sure to talk to your trainer to train up the related skills. Because the trainer will only let you train up in skills for that role, it's good to get into the habit of shifting through all of your roles while talking to him so that you're sure you're up to date on everything.

Role reversal

The beauty of roles is that your character can shift into different talents, skills and abilities if the situation calls for it. For example, my Rogue has three roles currently: a tanking (Riftstalker) build, a support/healing (Bard) build, and a fun DPS (Saboteur) build. Nothing original, but I find that I move between these roles all the time while I'm gaming. If I'm doing simple quests, I'll most likely have my DPS role active. Sometimes I hit on a much tougher quest and will need to go into my tanking build to make it out alive. Or perhaps I come across a rift and want to help out -- this is when I'll go into my healing mode.

A couple of days ago, I was attempting to tackle a minor rift all by my lonesome. I had no difficulty with it until I got to the final boss, who kept wiping the ground with me in my DPS spec. So I figured that tanking was the answer, but without a healer at my back, I couldn't damage him down enough before I fell. Two deaths later, I came back with my healing role enabled, determined to keep my pet up while we slowly but surely made the bad guy pay for his arrogance. It finally worked, and I loved the feeling of having an assortment of tools at my disposal that I could fiddle with until I found something that brought me victory.

So this brings us back to group content. While nobody really cares what you're doing in rifts and invasions for the most part, dungeon runs are a different animal entirely. We may have more flexibility to work around the holy trinity, but we still need to bow to its conventions even so.

I've been in terrific group runs where players work together by shifting between roles depending on what we're facing. It's absolutely glorious to come up against a really tough boss and have two previous DPSers step up and tell the healer that they'll give her a hand during this fight, or when tough trash mobs get a lot easier when a team player sacrifices the glory of damage for the group-friendly role of off-tanking.

And while I won't be standing at the top of the mountain telling everyone that he absolutely has to have at least one group-friendly role in his arsenal, I'm starting to get the feeling that players are going to become more and more demanding that this is the case. After all, RIFT isn't the same old game in all respects, so we need to change our mindsets when it comes to how things used to be done vs. how they're done in this game.

You're not just one role; you're all of them. You're not stuck doing just one thing for your entire career; you now have options. Groups should encourage teammates to experiment and explore how their roles work together to find unbeatable combinations instead of everyone sticking to one set approach no matter what. We'll see how this pans out in the months to come!

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.