Enter at Your Own Rift: The burden of leveling

Enter at Your Own Rift The burden of leveling
I've seen a lot of positive comments about RIFT: Storm Legion so far, many of which are praising the expansion's zone designs, the new classes, and especially the Dimensions housing system. However, it seems that there's another comment that pops up frequently that's not as kind: It takes way too long to level from 50 to 60.

For some of you, this may be moot. You might already be level 60, have multiple 60s, or have been 60 since the day after Storm Legion came out. For others who aren't even level 50 yet, the expansion might sound a bit intimidating because of the hefty XP requirements to move that level marker up one number. In any case, I think that a good number of us can agree that it's definitely a slow process that detracted from rather than added to the experience of Storm Legion.

I've got several thoughts about how leveling in RIFT has become a burden instead of a blessing, how Trion is reshaping the XP game, and what this might portend for the future of the title.

Enter at Your Own Rift The burden of leveling
Gimme the numbers, Frank

If you've been harboring a suspicion that it's taking a lot longer to level in the 50s than it was in the 40s, your hunch is correct. Trion provided a steep jump in the amount of XP required per level starting with 50. From level 49 to 50, it takes just 446K XP. From level 50 to 51, it's 2.1 million XP. Following that, the game increases the amount needed by about 10% per level, finally culminating with 5.1 million XP required to go from level 59 to 60.

As an aside, after you go through the ascension ceremony, you ding a new planar attunement level every 500K XP.

The effect of this huge jump in XP requirements feels like the game is slamming on the brakes and forcing you to drive Miss Daisy through a school zone. I know that I did a double-take after I finished the first zone in Dusken and realized that I had barely cleared a single level. As the next zone in the area was effectively level 52+, I found myself scooting over to the other continent to do that beginning zone as well just for the experience.

The cause here is two-fold: The XP needed per level was really ratcheted up while the speed of accumulating said XP remained more or less the same. Intentional? Oh, definitely. Trion put a lot of work into these new areas and probably winced at the thought of players whizzing through them on an express train to the new endgame. "Take your time!" the XP requirements beckon. "Smell the decaying flowers!"

But is this slower speed really best for the game right now?

Enter at Your Own Rift The burden of leveling
Vertical vs. horizontal progression

Again, it might seem strange to whine about this, since 35 million XP (what it takes to go from 50 to 60) isn't insurmountable and RIFT is definitely not shy on providing avenues for XP gain. But it does cause some problems that go beyond mere irritation at a slower leveling pace.

The first problem is that merely following the standard quest line of a zone and doing most of the other hub quests simply isn't enough to level up smoothly. As if they were getting a second job to supplement a weak income, RIFT gamers have to either jump between zones, engage in a lot of the kill quests, or really devour IAs and dungeon crawls to make ends meet. It's jarring because we haven't had to do that in the past, and it creates somewhat of a new paradigm for the high-level game.

The second problem is that Trion's answer to providing more XP has come in the form of a bazillion (actual number to be determined later) piddly carnage and onslaught quests that you end up accumulating during the course of questing. On the surface, these may look good -- rewarding a player for killing critters she might have killed anyway -- but they end up looking like a lot of busy work to cover poor quest XP rewards.

Finally, I genuinely believe that it was a mistake to introduce additional levels past 50 at all. Pre-Storm Legion had the PA system to provide alternate advancement, and there's no reason that PA couldn't cover the increases to stats and the additional soul points that traditional leveling does. Sure, some players would have had a head start over others, but so what? Ten levels eventually comes to an end, while planar attunement is meant to be a constant, ongoing source of character growth. More attention should've been given to the latter, in my opinion.

Horizontal progression felt a lot better to me than more arbitrary levels that exist solely to force me to harvest many zones for necessary XP instead of just enjoying those areas for the story, rewards, and achievements. The fact that Trion had to add so many daily quests to cover the XP deficiency should've been a huge red flag that the leveling progression was off in a big way. The easiest solution would be to go back and jack up the core storyline XP rewards so that players have more of a choice and less of a hardship when it comes to leveling.

Expansion #2 and beyond

With Storm Legion, Trion set the precedent that a new expansion would follow the traditional model of tacking on more levels, vastly increase the XP required to traverse those levels, and be more of a bother than a blessing to its players. Without getting all doom and gloomy, I don't think that bodes well for future expansions.

I think it's going to be a lot more difficult for the studio to say, "You know what? With this new expansion, we're keeping the level cap the same and are going to explore other methods of advancement and character growth." I think it'll be a lot easier to just fling out staggering numbers in a desperate attempt to slow down future player progression instead of merely focusing on what is immediately fun, enjoyable, and beneficial.

There are a lot of tweaks that Trion can perform
to turn this leveling burden into a whirlwind ride of joy. I really hope we see that it happens because I'd love to go through zones more out of a desire to see what's over the next ridge than a sense of obligation to my XP bar.

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.