Conventional MMO wisdom says that one should stick to the roads as much as possible when questing. Roads have become the "safe zone" of online games, a place where mobs are less likely to attack and adventurers are less likely to become lost. RIFT, however, turns this MMO convention on its head and does everything it can to break us of this predictable -- and boring -- habit.

For one thing, the roads in RIFT are not safe. At any moment, a rampaging invasion or event boss may be wandering down them, looking for easy prey. I've seen more than one jaded MMO vet express a type of dawning pleasure when this has happened, especially considering the reputation modern games have for coddling their populations.

For another thing, there are a lot of incentives to strike off the beaten path and explore the world instead of staring at a packed trail that's been walked a million times before. RIFT encourages players to do so in subtle ways, ways that I deeply appreciate as an explorer type.

In today's Enter at Your Own Rift, we're going to look at three reasons that blazing your own way in the wilderness is more fun -- and even beneficial -- than sticking to the highway. Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

The goodies

Probably the most obvious incentive that Trion Worlds uses to ween players of road-walking is the abundance of free goodies in the world. When I first started playing RIFT back in the beta, I decided to poke around as much as possible to see whether the game would reward my nosiness. Lo and behold, not 10 minutes into the game, I found a weapons cache for the looting tucked behind a building where most players didn't even bother to check.

And if you've ever tuned in to one of my RIFT livestreams here on Massively, then you'll know I'm absolutely bonkers for the game's sparklies (aka artifacts). If I see a sparkly in the world, I have to get to it, and that's led me on many tiny, harrowing adventures as I leap from cliff to cliff, scale trees, and plow my way into a dense pack of mobs just to get my hands on the shinies before anyone else does.

Artifact collecting is a long-term investment, but if you're into fluff like pets and mounts, it's certainly worth the effort to participate (and hey, it's not like it takes that much extra time to click something while you pass it). And let's not overlook book collections as well; tomes are scattered throughout the world with lots of additional nuggets of lore to digest.

In fact, if you're an avid collector, you'll want to be going where few others do, simply because that's where you're going to find most of your books and sparklies. When I need to go from point A to B, I usually to do so in an unusual way unless I'm in a hurry -- and I'm rarely disappointed if I do so. I've found sparklies and free loot in all sorts of out-of-the-way places, so much that I'm not even surprised anymore when I discover that a Trion dev tucked something in a niche that players might not find for days or even weeks.

Achievements and puzzles

Exploring off the road and in non-questing areas isn't a waste of time for the achiever, either. Each zone has several achievements specifically tied to exploring, and these can range from fairly easy to devilishly difficult.

I loved one achievement in Silverwood that tasked me with finding the highest point in the zone. This turned out to be a mountain ridge right on the border, and I spent 20 minutes or so trying to find the right spot to ascend the steep hills to get up there. Once I did, I was certainly not disappointed. Not only did I get a neat achievement popup, but the view was spectacular and an ancient cairn of loot lay nearby for the plundering. It was one of those moments when I felt the spirit of adventure that is often lacking when you get so deep in a questing rut that there's no visible alternative.

It's also important to note that exploring can lead you to one of the worst-kept secrets in the game: puzzles. Each zone has a special puzzle that gives you a nice reward (which scales depending on your current level) and achievement. However, the puzzles are put in places that you wouldn't find in your typical questing experience; some are so hidden that getting to them is almost as challenging as solving them.

Of course, in this day and age, we can't have secrets that aren't completely spoiled way before the game's even launched, and RIFT is no different. If you're looking for guiding hand to point you to these puzzles -- or help you solve them -- then Rift Junkies has you covered.

The sights

While achievements, sparklies, loot, and puzzles are all well and good as incentives to wander off the beaten path, ultimately exploring in RIFT should be done for its own sake. This is the point at which the game world comes alive to me: when I deliberately set aside my advancement goals and just explore to see what's out there. I've spent loads of time scouring the bottom of the deep lake off of Freemarch, swimming out to islands to see if there's anything on them, poking about in houses to check out the decorations, spelunking in caves to see where they go, and climbing just about anything that will hold my weight.

And it's amazing just how fun this all is. RIFT doesn't get enough props for its visuals and art style, so I have to say that I'm really in love with the gorgeous, detailed touches that go into all of these areas. Because RIFT's characters move and jump somewhat more freely than characters in other MMOs, zipping around, up, and over environmental obstacles is more of a joy than a chore. I really like that the game often lets you climb up to the top of mountains, which are often just unscalable placeholder walls in other MMOs.

I think of it like this: If you walk by something often enough, you stop "seeing" it unless you make a special effort to do so. It's one of the problems of modern MMO gamers: We're so fixated on advancing quickly and getting to where we need to be for our next quest objective that we develop a constricting tunnel vision that stops us from really checking out these virtual worlds we inhabit.

So I don't feel like I'm wasting time by exploring, even if it's just taking the long way to get somewhere. When I find a hilarious detail or a breathtaking view or a fun waterslide between two waterfalls, it reminds me that I'm playing for something more than just accumulating numbers -- I'm playing to accumulate memories.

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.
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