Wings Over Atreia  Aion rifting ain't what it used to be
So there I was, halfway through penning a guide to Aion's spy quests, when it really hit me -- boy, rifting sure has changed. And not just a little bit, either; we've seen a complete reworking of some of the fundamentals. Because rifting is a major component of spy quests and I wanted to help Daevas better prepare for the experience, I went about adding in a section detailing these drastic changes that exist on the North American servers for the benefit of new and returning players alike.

Ironically, by adding in a discussion on the current state of Aion's rifting system, I soon discovered that there was little room left for the actual spy quests! So we'll table the guide until next time and just focus on rifting to give players the chance to understand the system before embarking on those missions into enemy territory.

But for the record, I've got to tell you -- all change is not good.

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Now some of you very astute Daevas might be thinking to yourselves, these changes are not that new. And that's true: The latest round of rifting changes came with the 3.7 patch, which went live back on December 5th. However, not having had much occasion to even use rifts as a level 55+ character meant that I really didn't pay them much mind. I knew that the level cap was removed from rifts, but that was the extent of it; after that, I guess my attention wandered to other things like the new Hexway dungeon. I really had no idea about the scope of the changes until I tried to rift over and grab some new screenshots for the spy quest piece.

In the beginning

In order to see how drastically rifts have changed, we need to look at how they worked when Aion first got going. For the real old timers, this will be a walk down memory lane; for the newest Daevas... well, I am sorry to have to tease you like this.

When rifts were first implemented, there was a set number for each zone, and each had its own spawn point corresponding to its level range. Rifts had the chance to appear every two hours on the hour and last until the next spawning or the maximum number of uses was reached, whichever came first. However, which rift spawned when was totally random. Sometimes no rifts spawned, and sometimes many.

If a rift did pop, the game notified players via text and the portal was visible in the sky. This gave players the heads up to go hunt throughout the lands and find which rift opened, be it a portal out of your area to enemy zones or an opening allowing the enemies to pour in.

Aion screenshotIn the meantime

Fast forward to the expansion Assault on Balaurea. Some rifting changes came along with that, including moving rifts to hourly timers (yay for more chances to get through!), forcing players back to their home obelisk when logging in enemy territory (no more perma-camping by an enemy who levels over the zone's range), and the controversial damage reduction debuffs (ouch, rift killer!). Unfortunately, because of the latter, rifting fell a bit by the wayside as rifters were at a pretty severe disadvantage.

Over time there came various rifting events, removing the debuffs on multiple occasions and even once opening rifts for four hours every night. NCsoft even sent out in-game surveys to gauge player feedback.

After a while, the next big expansion/update came along, Aion: Ascension. This 3.0 update brought with it a new map, one that actually showed the position of any and all active outgoing rifts with just a simple click.

In the here and now

That brings us to today. Until this point, I'd been fairly happy with the overall changes, with the exception of the overkill debuffs. However, update 3.1 and the introduction of the Fast Track server erased the need for that aspect of rifting that really needed work. It also removed the level cap of rifts, allowing Daevas to continue their jaunts into enemy territory. Both worthwhile changes, no? If only that were the end of it.

As it turns out, there were more changes brought to rifting than I realized. The most significant -- and in my opinion, the most damaging -- one is that rifts are now on a schedule. Literally! All randomness is completely eradicated; rifts are on a prescribed timer. And when rifts open, all rifts in the zone open for one hour, all without the level cap. Eltnen rifts opening up to Morheim are active from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Sundays (all times EDT). Rifts between Morheim to Eltnen and between Heiron and Beluslan are similarly slotted to a rigid timetable.

Time out! This is not a good thing. I, for one, really do not like this change and feel that it spoiled some of what rifting was all about.

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Two steps back

Back when rifting was random, there was definitely a feel of adventure to seeking them out and using them, almost like searching for treasure. Of course, it was slightly annoying when you really need a specific rift to complete a specific task, one that put you where you needed to be and allowed your level through (hello Xeno weapon quest!). Without the randomness, rifting takes a couple of serious blows.

For one, it dampens the thrill of it all. I'd much rather chance coming up empty-handed at times than the ho-hum boredom of knowing exactly what to expect. Life isn't all about schedules; there needs to be some variety, some risk involved! Why do people gamble? It's because of the thrill that comes with the chance of lucking out and winning. In Aion's case, lucking out would be finding a usable rift and succeeding in getting through. I'm OK with rifts showing on the map because folks have the option of turning that feature off. But all opening on a predictable schedule? No thanks.

Two, it sets people up for some serious failure. No longer do lower-level Daevas have a chance at stumbling upon a rift in hopes that the enemies haven't yet found which was active. Instead, the enemies know exactly which rifts are open (all) and exactly when, so they can just camp out and quickly dispatch anyone who deigns to come through. When rifts were random, you knew there was risk involved, but you also knew there was a chance you'd slip through undetected. And the once lowest-leveled rifts are the worst! Trust me, I took an AP beating testing this theory out.

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But it's easier, you say. Poppycock! I no longer have to put effort into it or think for myself is more like it. It's not easier; it's just plain lazy. Enough with the easy buttons; enough with spoon feeding us! I say this change has damaged one of the greatest elements of rifting. Rifting is about the unknown, about that thrill of going into unscripted situations and not knowing what to expect. NCsoft, you've stripped us of that. We've gone from the joys of spontaneity to "Here, dear, it's time for your meds."

Rumor has it that Gameforge is skipping the 3.7 update precisely because it doesn't want to add that predictability of rifts into the EU servers. Lucky them. Hopefully, they won't find their rifts on a boring old schedule as we are stuck; hopefully, they will be free to continue living the freedom that comes with randomness.

I can't say for sure how this has affected the long term rifting health of our NA servers, but I know my excitement for rifting (which i was fully planning on doing plenty of when I can finally make my new Bard in 4.0) was seriously deflated. A part of the fun is gone. I will still aim for completing my spy quests, but I don't think I will revel in just randomly popping over anymore and exploring or testing my PvP mettle. Oh, that's right -- I can't just randomly pop over anymore! A shame. Truly, a shame.

Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down biweekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to mj@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.