Enter at Your Own Rift Dungeon review, part 1
I don't hide the fact that as an MMO gamer, I probably fall into the "casual" category by many of your definitions. Even so, I probably go dungeon diving in RIFT more than in other MMOs because of the game's silky-smooth LFG interface and the generally quick pace of the instance runs themselves. Hitting a dungeon while you've got one or more counters on the reward page is added incentive because you're at least guaranteed a solid loot drop of your very own (or plaques).

I'm still getting a feel for Storm Legion dungeons, but when it comes to the core game, I've run those instances more times than I can count. I figured I might as well share my thoughts on the first four dungeons you're likely to run in the early and mid-game to see if they pass muster. While I'm at it, I might tell a related story or two from my runs. Gather 'round, children, as Papa Olivetti smokes a stogie and tells you a tale you're unlikely to forget.

Enter at Your Own Rift Dungeon review, part 1
Realm of the Fae

There's so many great things that gel together to make this not just my favorite early game dungeon but my favorite in the entire game. First of all, the theme of moving through four seasons is pretty neat and a cool way to measure your progress ("Hm, we're only halfway through summer right now..."). Second, the art team really rose to the occasion to provide a mystical garden that flows between spring, summer, autumn, and winter without making the transitions jarring. It's a beautiful place, is what I'm saying.

Finally, it's a low-stress dungeon when you first encounter it. The boss fights aren't tricky at all, and the mob placement is quite forgiving. Even a scatterbrained newbie team can muddle through it as long as the players don't go pulling all willy-nilly.

Probably the chief reason Realm of the Fae is so beloved by me is the inclusion of Battlemaster Atrophinius, the autumnal boss. Atrophinius is a hard-partying satyr who is at first pleased to see you. Well, that's a refreshing change from the norm, isn't it? He attacks only when he finds out you've killed his mead-producing minions, an attack that's preceded by one of the funniest speeches of the game. I always have to mimic the way he says "MEAD!" whenever I'm in voice chat.

Iron Tomb

The game must know how much I love Realm of the Fae because of how often it shoves me into Iron Tomb instead. Where Realm of the Fae is airy, beautiful, and thematically awesome, Iron Tomb is grungy, depressing, and visually bland from start to finish.

It also feels like a really long dungeon, especially at the start. I always arrive at a point where I'm so ready to be done with it and then realize that we still have a quarter of it left to go. Maybe it's the effect of being in a dimly lit underground catacomb. Actually, there's no "maybe" about it.

AoE is king of this dungeon, so making sure that you've got a multi-mob attack or two is key to contributing to the group (assuming you're DPS or support). Practically every pull involves three or more mobs, and that's not even mentioning those skeleton-spewing anthills.

The chance to do some ghostbusting after the second fight is kind of interesting (at least the first few times), and I do kind of like the furtive dashes from orb to orb that your team has to do in that dim pit right before the end boss. And since we're talking about that endgame boss: If you're not getting into the light when the game all but drags you by your ears toward it with visuals and an NPC that's waving you in, then I have no pity for the smoking corpse that you're about to become. No pity.

The one positive thing I can say is that Iron Tomb, like Realm of the Fae, is not difficult in the least. Sure, you need to be on your toes if you're going after the anthills, but it's really hard to fail here unless your team is talented in faceplanting.

Enter at Your Own Rift Dungeon review, part 1
Darkening Deeps

Darkening Deeps is not only the first dungeon I ever ran in RIFT but the first piece of content I ever experienced. I was thrown into a group doing this at PAX Prime a few years back, and while I was panicked trying to figure out how to best heal, it was a fun experience overall.

So maybe I look upon this instance with nostalgic fondness, but I genuinely like it from start to finish, top to bottom. It's such a varied dungeon, going from a wide-open goblin city on a spiral to a wide-open cave to a spider nest to sewers. Even better, the last few bosses come really quickly with little trash mobs separating them.

The werewolf fight is probably the highlight of the entire dungeon. There's a little side play put on by the captives ("We be safer in here with that thing out there!") and a fun mechanic that makes it incredibly urgent to pull the werewolf out of the moonlight as soon as possible. Besides, beating up on werewolves is always enjoyable, second only to vampires, elves, unicorns, and any other Trapper Keeper critters.

Interestingly, I've found that the spider boss is the real make-or-break fight for your group. I've seen so many groups wipe on her, even groups that were up to that point professional and ruthless. It's a quick, nasty fight with a periodic cocoon taking players out of the scuffle, and one wrong move can result in a complete wipe within seconds.

Deepstrike Mines

I have a weird confession to make: I have absolutely no idea how to navigate this instance. That's because I've never led it; I've followed the leader as a healer or DPSer. I do know that there's some jumping down off of bridges onto each other, but after a while I feel so turned around in here that I couldn't tell you where we were even if our lives depended on it.

It's not a bad run; actually, it's kind of easy. The boss fights, all of them, are insultingly simple. In fact, the biggest danger to your health is falling off the platforms or bridges and becoming separated from the group.

I always hope that I end up running this because the bats at the bottom of the mine have a chance to drop a ghost bat vanity pet. I've snagged this on my Rogue, but my Cleric would dearly love one as well.

Enter at Your Own Rift Dungeon review, part 1
Parting thoughts

All four of these dungeons are generally excellent (even with Iron Tomb's dull nature) and perfect for beginning adventurers to cut their teeth on the basics of RIFT instancing. A good group can breeze through any of them without much downtime, leading to a fluid and enjoyable experience.

I like how much Trion does with such a limited space. These dungeons aren't about making you run all across eternity; instead, they pack in a lot of detail in a confined play area. Space is used, not wasted, and care has been taken to provide many of the bosses with memorable personalities and tactics.

A couple of weeks ago when I was running these with my lowbie Mage, I was surprised by the number of players I kept encountering who hadn't ever gone into these dungeons. Sometimes I'd be the only person out of the entire group who knew what was coming, and so I took up the role of an adviser for the most important aspects. Those runs were among my favorite not because I got to be a smarty-pants but because I got to see these dungeon runs through the eyes of a first-timer. That's always special.

Out of these four dungeons, which is your favorite and why?

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.