First off, rifts have changed quite a bit. Originally, they were all about the wardstones, but it was hard to tell which wardstone was under direct attack, so players often just zerg-rushed the invasions and ignored healing or upgrading the wardstones. And if we failed a zone event, it became a huge pain because we couldn't sell or turn in quests once the wardstone was taken. Heck, even as the invaders moved in, we couldn't talk to NPCs because they were all running around in panic. I recall beta events with dozens of planar invaders sitting on top of the wardstone in Freemarch, soggying up the ground and going nowhere fast. People tried to pick one or two off but ended up getting smacked down.
Thankfully, that was toned down in time for launch, but there were still plenty of invading patrols running around and harassing the quest hubs, and the rift events tended to always follow the same pattern of "close X rifts, defend X wardstones, and kill X boss."
In the months that followed, the system underwent significant changes. The token rewards were streamlined and revamped, making it clearer to manage when scoping out upgrades. I regularly cross paths with well-geared veterans and regular raiders, so there's still plenty of reason for players to participate. Meanwhile, new types of rifts, like raid rifts and crafting rifts, were added to the game. There were better cues to help understand zone event objectives, like world announcements of zone events, clearer map markings, and voiced-over directions during various stages of the event. Heck, I can even fire up the mobile app on my phone and watch for alerts on zone events. And there have been changes to keep a nice balance between challenge and pacing, like beefier NPC defenders that hold their ground better and give players a bit more time to travel to objectives on the map.
But most importantly, there are now some really creative zone events that are a lot of fun to play. Objectives have evolved from "defeat 10 rifts" to things like collecting resources to build a golem or firing a cannon at flying scerrion. One minute, I'm over at Ember Isle building turrets and buffing arches, and the next, I'm in Shimmersand escorting caravans to Fortune's Shore (and feeling a lot like Daenerys Targaryen marching across the desert in the process).
The next step for rifts
When it comes to zone events, players at the level cap benefit from having more choices than those who are lower-level. At level 50, players will find level-appropriate events in Stillmoor, Shimmersand, Iron Pine, and Ember Isle, although in reality, they can participate in any zone event in Telara. Not so for a low-level player, who initially has to hope for an event to trigger in the one or two zones that are accessible. Although it is possible to reach a higher-level zone with help from some friends in high places, it's unlikely that a low-level player will be more than a speedbump, especially when faced with the dangers of having to travel around the zone to different objectives.
However, the upcoming mentoring system and lower-level instant adventures should help liven up those zones and bring in many higher-level players to increase the chance of zone events triggering. The flexibility of a mentoring system means that old content has value for those who outleveled it, and it helps break the barrier between low- and high-level characters. In short, there's a good chance we'll see those rampaging armies of players more often in zones like Freemarch, Gloamwood, Stonefield, and Silverwood.
Basketball vs. baseball
My two favorite sports are basketball and baseball, and I think there's an interesting parallel between those two sports and MMOs. Baseball fans have grown up appreciating a good curve ball, an amazing catch, and a monster home run. But for every incredible play, there sure is a whole lot of standing around. Meanwhile, basketball is a much more active game. There is a lot of motion, it's much more fluid, and the game as a whole is more like a symphony, with lots of crescendos along the way to a grand finale. That powerful slam dunk one minute will end up getting overshadowed by the buzzer-beating three-pointer from the half court line the next.
Traditionally, MMOs tend to be a lot more like baseball. The moment of joy from downing a raid boss requires months of gear grinding and raid wipes. The amazing PvP gear took hours and hours of grinding faction or competing in matches. Even reaching a master crafting rank took ages to skill up. In other words, there was a whole lot of proverbial "standing around" before that moment of success was reached.
I think MMOs are moving closer toward gameplay that more closely resembles basketball, and rifts and zone events are a great example of that. I can hop into a zone event as easily as I join a pickup basketball game and join the borg-like herd as its participants run around taking on objectives. And along the way, there are several moments of excitement when I have the potential to play the hero. I don't have the best gear on my characters, but there are still plenty of things I can do to help along the way because there are more non-combat duties available to players these days. And that's what stands out the most for me when I look at rifts over the past year. Yes, there are more extrinsic rewards to entice players to participate in rift invasions, but it goes further than that because rifts are more than just vanilla hack-and-slash DPS-fests. The bottom line is that there's more strategy and better pacing to make them much more enjoyable. It would have been easy for Trion
to focus on new content and leave the system of rifts as is, but I'm glad the studio didn't do that because rifts, and zone events in particular, strike a nice balance of pacing, problem-solving, and inclusiveness.
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.