When it comes to Asha vs. Cyril, the scales tip in Asha's favor. Asha said no to Regulos and (more or less) lived to tell about it. She's the first Ascended Defiant, and she answers to no one.
Cyril, meanwhile, is a valiant warrior but has lost a bit of momentum after the corruption of Aedraxis and then the fall of Port Scion. He's regrouped in Sanctum but looks a bit out of his element just standing there at the throne with Floop the squirrel occupying his seat. He might have nicer hair, but Asha's guard bot is a bit more imposing.
I really like the fact that the two sides not only have different points of view but actually come from different times in history. As a Defiant, you have fled the collapse of your civilization and traveled back in time to hopefully change the future. Meanwhile, as a Guardian, you arrive in Telara 20 years after the gallant battle against Aedraxis.
The battle over sourcestone really reveals a lot about each side. Both Defiants and Guardians want to defeat the planar forces and repair the tear in the protective ward that surrounds Telara, and both rely on sourcestone for aid. But while the Guardians use it to pay tribute to the Gods of the Vigil, Defiants use it as a power supply for their magitech. It's a conflict between the faith of the Guardians versus the self-reliance of the Defiants.
This one's a toss up, but for me, the background story for the Defiants was a bit more compelling, and I really enjoyed the plot twist at the end, when you discover that you didn't save the day and that the only option left is to abandon your time and attempt a "do over" of history. In MMOs, you're set up to be the hero so many times that it ends up feeling mundane. So it's refreshing to start off in Telara on the heels of a crushing loss.
The higher-level zones tend to be shared by both Defiants and Guardians, so I'll focus on the two low-level zones: Freemarch for the Defiants and Silverwood for the Guardians. Both have plenty of quest content and do well in leading you through the zone and revealing the storyline. In Silverwood's favor is the fact that it contains two ports, while there's only one in Freemarch. I also really enjoyed the school in Argent Glade, where players get to meet Scotty and see him take his first steps toward his heroic destiny. On the other hand, the little tests outside Denegar's Stand in Freemarch, like the foot race and the eating challenge, were a lot of fun. It's a close comparison between the sprawling fields of Freemarch and the lush woodlands of Silverwood, and in the end, I'd vote this one a toss-up.
Chances are, low-level players are probably not going to travel to the other faction's starting area to do the dungeon located there. So while Iron Tomb and Realm of the Fae are open to all, they're mostly completed by players of that particular faction. Iron Tomb, the dungeon in Freemarch, hits all the notes of a classic dungeon crawl. Dark stone hallways open up to larger rooms with various named mobs and some interesting fights. Meanwhile, Realm of the Fae is outdoors and leads you through the four seasons as you face off against Lord Twyl. As much as I love a good old fashioned dungeon crawl, Realm of the Fae is my favorite, and the final run up the mountain as fall turns to winter is one of my favorite in-game moments overall.
Meridian vs. Sanctum
Even though Sanctum impresses with the huge, floating lion's head in the middle of the building, it's hard to beat the technology of the Defiants in Meridian. Everywhere you go, you run into plenty of examples of magitech, from the city portals to the towering guard bots. However, I think Sanctum is a bit easier to navigate than Meridian. Important NPCs seem more spread out, and often you need to navigate through the winding tunnels under the main city in order to find the right location.
Each city, however, has some colorful NPCs. You might enjoy the odd ramblings of Poor Tom and be inexplicably obsessed with visiting Joseph, but neither is a match for Meridian's Faceless Man. In the end, though, I think Sanctum wins by a nose.
Overall, there are several factors that go into your choice, and this is hardly a black-and-white, good vs. evil match-up. In Telara, there are actually two types of war taking place: the war to save Telara from planar invaders and the civil war between the Defiants and the Guardians. And it's interesting to see how the in-game events nudge players to focus on one more than the other. Sometimes, we're all working together to fend off a rift invasion or drive back formidable enemies in world events. Other times, we're competing directly against each other in zonewide events. Down the road, I'd love to see more opportunities for players to work that into their characters so that we can have a Guardian who is sympathetic to the Defiant's cause or a Defiant who decides to earn favor with the Vigil. Until then though, let the battle rage on!
Whether she's keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan saves Telara on a weekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, the column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Karen for questions, comments, and adulation.