Enter at Your Own Rift: Enjoying the finer points of Storm Legion

Enter at your own Rift  Enjoying the finer points of Storm Legion
For the past two weeks, I've been sitting through panel after panel, keynote after keynote, and the constant message was about what the future of MMOs will look like. The big buzzwords from GDC Online and SOE Live were things like mobile gaming, user-generated content, emergent gameplay, and e-sports, but sometimes, it's the little things that make for a great MMO.

I'm still cutting my teeth on RIFT's Storm Legion, but there are several things that already get me excited about the expansion. We've heard a lot about the big things coming to the game, but in this week's Enter at Your Own Rift, I'd like to talk about a few of the little things that will make this a well-received expansion.

Play the way you want

RIFT touts itself as a game where you can play the way you want and still find a valid path to progression. So I was relieved when I could simply port to Iron Pine Peak, visit the port NPCs, and head right over to Cape Jule. I'm used to being required to do some sort of preliminary task or quest that presents the new lore and yanks me down a quest chain before I can actually reach the new content, but I didn't have to do that in RIFT. The story is there, and the quests are still there, but I didn't have to do them. I can explore, do some hunt rifts, or jump into one of the new zone events and not feel as if I'm missing out.

The tech

This actually isn't a little thing, but it's easily overlooked and actually should get more attention. No game is perfect, but RIFT does the tech side of things about as well as any game company can. I got the download client instantly after pre-ordering and was able to start playing within 10-15 minutes after beginning to patch. My character transfer was also instant, as were my veteran rewards. And the game works -- I'm not crashing, lagging out, or running into technical issues. This isn't necessarily just specific to the expansion because this is the standard in RIFT in general, but I think the expansion highlights the fact that the tech behind the game is so well done. It's something you don't notice until it's broken, but when something's not working, it's frustrating to the point of being a game-breaker. Furthermore, we've seen plenty of examples of really good games with high-quality gameplay run into problems with billing issues, performance issues, missing rewards, or transfers not working, so it's certainly not something that's easy to do.

Enter at your own Rift  Enjoying the finer points of Storm Legion
Dimension UI

There's no doubt that we'll see all sorts of incredible stuff through the Dimension system, but I think the part I'm most impressed with is the UI. It's amazing how much a subpar building tool can become a hurdle to creativity. I still remember in EverQuest II when I needed to put objects underneath an item in order to raise it up. And the thought of building a staircase out of shelves without the new housing editor still gives me nightmares to this day. RIFT's dimension UI is great because it covers the major stuff, like resizing, moving things around, and rotating them. But it also makes the finer points of decorating easier, like selecting and moving a group of items all as one or duplicating and quickly pulling out multiple items that you have in your bags. House decorating and building really is a form of art, but it's one where our hands aren't really able to get involved in the creative process, and it's as much about navigating the UI as it is manipulating the materials. When the UI gets out of the way, the players are able to devote more focus on creating, as it should be.

Exploration

I'll always have a soft spot for Vanguard because it's one of the few games where everything you saw on the horizon was an actual location that you could reach. I've had that same feeling about the areas I've explored so far in Storm Legion. Any time there's new content, my first instinct is to get out my mount and see everything, and not even worry about killing stuff or doing quests. Storm Legion has all sorts of landmarks and structures that you can't help but run toward to get a closer look. I feel a lot smaller in Storm Legion than I did in the original lands too. There's a vertical depth to the world that really makes you feel as if you're a tiny part in a very large story that's unfolding around you. The ambient music and sounds also seem even better than those of the older zones. The sound and visual effects heighten that sense of the world being on the edge of peril, and it makes you want to dive into the lore to figure it all out.

For the past two weeks, I've heard all sorts of ideas on ways to take the traditional MMO and reshape it into something completely different. To some extent, I think that has to happen for the industry to remain successful. On the other hand, there's something to be said for what RIFT does, which is taking the familiar, tweaking it, and making something that works and works well. Over the past year and a half, we've seen an update schedule that's about as fast as it gets. We've been treated to more content and features than many other games put out. But what impresses me the most is that it's so thoroughly done and that even the little things done well.

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.