Rift carnival
As I ran around smacking loot piñatas (finally, someone acknowledges these things for what they are), I wondered how on earth RIFT's first year went by so fast. The Carnival of the Ascended is just around the corner, and on March 1st, the game officially celebrates its first birthday.

In just one year, RIFT has seen seven game updates, a handful of world events, and all sorts of new additions and improvements to the world of Telara. Rather than being a straight-up retrospective, this week's Enter at Your Own Rift is looking back on the first year with a Justin-style list of highlights and even a glimpse of what's coming in 1.8.

The changing face of rifts

Rifts were the centerpiece of the game, and it's been interesting to see them mature and evolve over the past year. One of my favorite memories was running around in beta and suddenly seeing the map explode with planar invasions. You could barely see anything through the mess of rift icons and invasion arrows. Over time, though, players tended to drift away from rift-hunting, and it wasn't unusual to end up going solo if you wanted to take on a rift.

Through the year, the team has tweaked rifts quite a bit to make them more intuitive and more popular. Rift events had clearer icons on the map, and they're now announced both in chat and on the mobile app. The rifts themselves have moved away from simple ring events and now offer a variety of interesting objectives to keep them from seeming grindy and monotonous. Also, they're often tied to world events, so players of all levels have motivation to track down rifts for special currency and unique rewards. Rifts have come a long way, and they still feel like a work in progress to some extent, but it's nice to see that the team hasn't given up on making them a core part of the game.

Rift beta invasion
Soul searching

Another cornerstone of RIFT is the soul system, which gives players lots of flexibility in swapping out different builds and different roles. With one refreshing click, a heal-heavy Cleric can jump into the role of tank, and each class has lots of options when it comes to soul builds. Of course, that means there's a lot to balance as well, and we've already seen several tweaks to keep things in harmony. In fact, Update 1.8, which is just around the corner, contains quite a bit of change to many souls. In particular, the Saboteur has been adjusted to be more of an AoE DPS soul; Stormcallers and Warlocks were bumped up in DPS; and Warriors have a new buff that gives increased attack power contribution to finishers based on the number of action points used. There are many other soul changes coming with 1.8, and it looks like just about everyone will see some differences once it goes live.

In fact, the soul system and its iterations can sometimes feel daunting to new players or those who have returned from an extended break. Luckily, soul presets were added recently, giving players some handy templates to choose from. It's a nice way for players to quickly sample different builds and make it easier for them to eventually branch off and customize it the way they like it.

Content, content, content

If you took a few months off and returned to the game, it would take you a bit to recognize things. In this first year, there were five new raids, two master mode dungeons, a new warfront, and the enormous overland zone, Ember Isle, which also contains a group dungeon. In addition, features like instant adventures and crafting and PvP rifts add new ways to play in the original zones.

Ember isle
Community connections

Those first few weeks after launch were a bit stressful, as players quickly were hit with hacked accounts and theft. Trion Worlds was hit extraordinarily hard, and while the team quickly added in the coin lock system and the authenticator, it was actually the community that helped locate one major source that the hackers were exploiting. Thanks to community input and good communication with the team, vulnerabilities were shored up and the hackings settled down.

That community connection continued to grow over the year. Shortly after launch, Trion released the data files to the public, giving fans the ability to build all sorts of cool apps, tools, and website utilities. The team also worked closely with players to create an addon library. More recently, there was a roleplayers summit, during which player feedback was sought on ways to make the roleplaying experience in RIFT more enjoyable. Over the first year, there has been a nice relationship between the team and the community, and it's nice to see the team make the effort to seek player input and use it to make the game better for all.

Quality of life

From world events to shinies to the wardrobe feature and even the soccer ball, there are lots of nice touches in game that add a little extra fun while you're not killing stuff. It's a sign that the game is healthy enough to not have to deal with bugs and content and that the team can afford to add in fun little details that add to the quality of life in game.

PvP

When it comes to PvP, I tend to dabble in it, but I prefer the carebear stare in the safe confines of my PvE server. Having said that, I know how important it is to have things properly balanced because even one small imbalance can affect the outcome of a match or a duel. PvP in RIFT has evolved quite a bit over the year. Along with the new warfront, the team added weekend bonus warfronts and alternative warfronts. The devs also introduced accolades, which give bonuses when players complete special feats in warfronts, and more recently, they introduced a mercenary system, which fills in shorthanded warfront parties with members of the other side to keep numbers equal and keep the queues low. And the team added a PvP planar attunement tree and reworked prestige ranks to smooth out progression and provide some nice PA experience with each increased rank.

Level-capped but not neglected

Often when players consume the 1-50 content and hit the level cap, there's not much new stuff to do other than raid. RIFT, however, added several new features for those who hit 50 but didn't necessarily want to just raid and do dailies. The planar attunement system was introduced a few months ago, giving players a secondary path to character progression. Master mode dungeons gave elite dungeon-crawlers a chance to grab their friends and tackle some very challenging content. Meanwhile, soloers and duos could see the endgame storyline through the new Chronicles, and those who liked the borg-like flash mob feel of rifts early on could jump into an instant adventure and chase down some fun experience.

Rift cake
Happy birthday, RIFT!

It's hard to believe that just a year ago, we were sweating bullets, hoping our pre-orders would arrive in time for early access, and feverishly waiting in queues to reserve our favorite toon names. It's also hard to believe how much the game has changed in such a short time. I've listed a few of the major highlights, but I've barely scratched the surface and haven't even mentioned things like veteran's rewards, the big in-game wedding world record, or the mobile app. And then there's all the exciting stuff that Trion CCO and RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman alluded to in his recent producer's letter. It's been a busy year, and there's no indication that things are slowing down any time soon. When the Carnival arrives, I'll definitely drink a toast to celebrate a great first year in Telara!

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.

This article was originally published on Massively.