Not free-to-play, more like a free trial
Let's face it, free-to-play is all the rage these days, and there has even been speculation that RIFT would eventually join the crowd. But RIFT Lite is more like a free trial, and the game is still secure in its subscription-based category. As Trion CCO and RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman said, "In the past ten months, RIFT has evolved at a breakneck pace, through seven massive updates that set new expectations for live MMOs, in features, in content, and in service. We think a Lite edition with no time limit is the best way for players to see what an amazing experience RIFT continues to be."
In short, if you have a Trion account, you can play the game for free up to level 20, and you can take as long as you want. With multiple titles on the horizon, that means fans of Trion's other titles can sample RIFT while they wait for their game of choice. Players can work their way through the zones of Terminus, Mathosia, Freemarch, Silverwood, and also visit their faction's capital cities.
What this basically means is that all of the promotions and free weekends are now going to be the norm. That's not surprising, given the fact that free trials and promotions have been a common occurrence already. As mentioned in a previous column, RIFT fans have had a steady stream of emails advertising free weekends, free game time, or a heavy discount on the sale of the game, so the move to making the game free for levels 1-20 isn't that far of a stretch.
But if you think this is the first sign of a larger free-to-play transition, that might be a premature assumption. Given the fact that RIFT has pulled in $100 million in revenues, and that Hartsman has said several times that their game isn't designed around a free-to-play model, it seems unlikely that we'll see it go beyond the 1-20 trial right now.
The one thing that's not clear from the press release is whether they'll keep the RIFT Lite players on the trial-flagged servers. In theory, that's how these servers would be used, in order to prevent heavy lag and long queue times for subscribers. But being surrounded by just trial players might take away some of the lure to subscribe -- after all, its often the community that causes a player to keep playing when the game begins to get long in the tooth. Right now, it looks as if the trial servers would be sort of a farm system. If you want to play levels 1-20 for free, you'd start on a trial server, and if you want to subscribe and keep playing, you'd transfer off your server to join the "big leagues." Hopefully we'll learn more as the team releases all the details of the plan.
The update that arrives today brings lots of new changes that target players' quality of life. One of the bigger changes is to loot, and current players will notice a nice little boost to items level 45 and up, as part of a plan to make endgame content a bit more accessible. In the past, MMOs usually make raid content more user-friendly by toning down the mobs, but RIFT is taking a different route by boosting up stats on gear and making high level content something that more people will be able to do. In addition, they took the Tier 1 dungeons and merged them into Tier 2, meaning there are now just the normal dungeons and the Tier 2 dungeons.
Speaking of dungeons, there is a new dungeon on the way, called Caduceus Rise, and it's Master Mode, so it's meant for highly-geared and highly-skilled players at the level cap. And if you're more of a solo player, there's a new Chronicle available, called the River of Souls. It features lots of undead, and good old Alsbeth of course. As with the other Chronicles, it's meant for solo players or small groups. Meanwhile, PvPers will see some welcome changes, as they removed prestige from gear, changed the ranks from eight to 40, and created a new Planar tree for current PvP abilities and benefits.
And of course, there's the new wedding instance, complete with outfits and cake. If you plan on tying the knot, you'll definitely want to plan on doing it Valentine's Day, because RIFT is attempting a Guiness World Record for most in-game weddings in a single day. Keep your eye on the livestream schedule, because I'll definitely be there for the moment!
All of this comes as RIFT nears its first birthday, and in a few weeks, the Carnival of the Ascended will bring lots of fun gifts and quests to celebrate the occasion. As we've learned from past interviews, Guardians and Defiants will even be able to engage in drunken revelry and duke it out in a chaotic brawl.
What's nice about Update 1.7 is that it has a little something for every type of player: mostly "quality of life" improvements. The game is in great shape as it reaches the one-year mark, and this update is like the candle on the cake. With this new announcement of RIFT Lite, I'm sure there will be lots of new players on hand to join in the festivities!
Whether she's keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan saves Telara on a biweekly 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.