Second Wind: RIFT's Storm Legion

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Second Wind: RIFT's Storm Legion
Screenshot -- RIFT
Trion Worlds' RIFT is still a relative newcomer to the MMO space, released a mere two years ago in March 2011, but in that time it's made quite a name for itself as one of the premier AAA titles on the market today. Since the game's release, Trion has built a reputation for putting out frequent, quality updates, and in the time since launch, RIFT has continued to grow with the addition of new features and content.

Last November, Trion released Storm Legion, the game's first expansion pack, which bumped the level cap up to 60, tripled the size of the in-game world, and brought player housing to the masses in the form of dimensions. For my part, I used to be an avid RIFT player, but despite the game's unique soul system, there just wasn't enough to differentiate itself from the myriad other similar MMOs on the market, and I never managed to make it to max-level before I let my subscription lapse out of boredom. So for this edition of Second Wind, I picked myself up a copy of Storm Legion and jumped back into the world of Telara once again to see just how far it has come.

Let's start by taking a look at what, to me, is probably one of the most game-making (or breaking) features: the interface. The UI is probably one of the trickiest aspects to nail, largely because when it's done right, people hardly notice, but when it's done poorly, it can absolutely destroy an otherwise high-quality game. Thankfully, RIFT's UI is spectacular. Even with the default settings, RIFT's UI is simple, clean, accessible, responsive, and largely non-intrusive, but the true beauty comes from the fact that the entire interface is fully customizable from the get-go.

No mods or addons are needed (though they are available for those who desire them) as UI customization is built right into the game. Adjust the scale, rearrange the windows, or remove them from the UI altogether; it's entirely up to the player. Admittedly, this isn't really a change from the game's original state, but I feel it's still worth noting.

Screenshot -- RIFT
When I picked up Storm Legion, I had originally intended to pick up my level 40-something High Elf Warrior where I left him long ago, but I decided to browse the new souls that were added in Storm Legion to see if any caught my fancy. However, nothing really jumped out at... hold on a second. Is that a melee Mage with a badass energy scythe? Sold! So with that, I started fresh with a Kelari Mage focusing on the new Harbinger soul.

The game's leveling experience is, by-and-large, nothing to write home about. It's exactly what you'd expect from a themepark MMO: Go to quest hub, gather quests, complete quests, turn them in, head to the next hub. There's a decent amount of quest variety, but most things still boil down to kill X mobs, gather X items, report to X NPC, etc. It's nothing special, but it's not particularly awful either.

I do, however, have to take a moment to address the fact that most of the low-level zones are pretty much dead these days. This wouldn't matter much in most other games, but in RIFT, uncontested planar invasions can lock down an entire zone, making it impossible (or very, very difficult) to turn in quests due to invaders occupying quest hubs and towns. It was rare that I was able to rally other players to help quash these invasions, mostly because the other players left those zones behind long ago and have better things to do. As a result, I often ended up simply quitting out of frustration due to invasions rendering me unable to continue questing.

Unfortunately, things go from tolerable to slightly unpleasant in the Storm Legion leveling zones. Now, here are a couple of caveats: First, as of this writing I'm only level 51-and-change, having made my way through the entirety of Cape Jule and part of City Core, so my impressions may not be indicative of the entire Storm Legion leveling experience. Second, I'm largely a solo player. That dreaded real-life thing often interferes with my ability to play without interruption, so I'm more likely to hop on for an hour or two of questing than I am to commit myself to group content. After all, who wants to be "that guy" who drops out of a group halfway through an instance?

TScreenshot -- RIFThat being said, I'm finding myself increasingly reluctant to continue questing through the Storm Legion zones due to the direction Trion decided to take things in the expansion. Justin has written a more in-depth analysis of the current state of questing in Enter at Your Own Rift, but here are my tuppence on the matter:

In Storm Legion, Trion introduced a new type of quest called Carnage quests. In theory, Carnage quests are actually a wonderful idea: There's no questgiver; you simply acquire a quest by killing a certain type of mob. Killing that mob will provide you with a quest to kill a certain number of those mobs within the given area, and they often coincide with "real" quests. For instance, you may be given a quest to go into a certain area and gather a number of different items, and the mobs in that area will give you a Carnage quest to complete while you gather said items. In theory, this is a great idea; after all, you'd be killing these things anyway, so who would turn up his nose at some extra XP?

The problem with the way these quests are implemented is twofold: For one, you often have to kill far more of the mobs to complete the Carnage quest than you normally would throughout the normal flow of questing. In most cases, I gathered the required quest items within five or six kills, but the Carnage quest required me to kill 15-20 of the buggers, so the Carnage quests ended up feeling more like an out-of-the-way grind than a bonus for killing mobs you'd be killing anyway.

Secondly, one would think that Carnage quests would be optional; that is to say, that their completion would not be required to keep on Trion's intended leveling path. One would be wrong in thinking that, though, because the actual storyline quests of the zone hardly provide any experience at all. By the end of Cape Jule, I had completed all but one Carnage quest in the zone and all of the storyline quests and sidequests, and that was barely enough experience to put me on-level for the next zone. I felt as if I spent more time mindlessly killing mobs for Carnage quests than I did on story-driven quests.
Screenshot -- RIFT
"But Matt," you might say, "there are two different continents in which you can level, so why not just quest on both continents and skip the Carnage quests? You could also do Instant Adventures, Warfronts, or Chronicles." This is true; I could, but why should I have to? For the entirety of levels 1-50, simply following the game's questlines throughout the world will smoothly take you through the levels with little (if any) need to stop and grind for extra experience. It's rather jarring to know that if I want to remain on a smooth leveling path, I have to either go out of my way to complete dozens of kill-20-mob Carnage quests or play multiple different zones (or numerous IAs, Warfronts, or Chronicles) to do so.

But that complaint brings me to RIFT's greatest strength: sheer breadth of content. There's always been lots to do in RIFT, and Storm Legion continues that tradition. No matter what your playstyle is, RIFT has something for you. If you're into PvP, there are Warfronts, PvP rifts, the Conquest system, and so forth. If you're more of a PvE type, you can quest, take part in Instant Adventures, join up with a small group for Chronicles, tackle instances and raids (or raid rifts), go rift-hunting... the list goes on.

But as I'm a roleplayer, what truly drew me back into RIFT was the new dimension system. Dimensions, essentially, are traditional player residences on crystal meth. Rather than simply giving you a single house or interior space to decorate, dimensions provide a huge variety of places for players to call their own. Perhaps you'd like a lovely waterside villa, or maybe you want to live it up in a sprawling estate. Dimensions make all this and more possible by taking existing in-game locations and modifying them into smaller instanced areas that players can decorate as the mood suits them.
Screenshot -- RIFTDimensions are amazing for a number of reasons, but for me the largest draw is the sheer potential they provide for roleplaying. Already on my server (Faeblight), if you browse the public dimension list, you'll find dozens of amazingly detailed and painstakingly decorated dimensions designed as gathering places for the RP community. Taverns, teahouses, barracks, and guild headquarters are just a few of the myriad locations that can be fashioned with the dimension system, and many creative players have discovered new and interesting uses for the many available decorations.

Dimensions also serve the important purpose of giving even the most casual of players something to focus on at endgame. Many players don't have the time or inclination to seriously raid or PvP at endgame, but almost anyone can find time to jump on and earn some cash to save up for that one must-have dimension decoration (or new dimension, which can cost up to thousands of platinum) that he's had his eye on. It's true that many games offer player housing in some form or another, but no game's housing system can match the scale and flexibility of RIFT's dimensions.

Putting aside my frustrations with Storm Legion's less-than-ideal take on traditional questing, I think the expansion is clearly a winner for RIFT. I will freely admit that I've recently made myself at home with a lovely guild (hi Magitech!), and I have no intention of leaving anytime soon. It's not perfect, by any means, and dimensions aside, most of RIFT's features are far from revolutionary. What it lacks in innovation, however, it makes up for in polish and execution. I do wish Trion would consider implementing more of a horizontal progression system (for which it already has a solid foundation in the form of planar attunement) rather than following in the tradition of bumping up the level cap with each expansion, but if the game's future expansions add as wide a variety of content as Storm Legion did, I think RIFT has a solid future ahead of it.

MMOs are constantly changing, and our opinions can change with them. That's why we're here to give some beloved (or not) games a second (or third) look. Has that game that was a wreck at launch finally pulled itself together? How do the hits of yesteryear hold up today? That's what we're here to find out as Massively gets its Second Wind!
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Second Wind: RIFT's Storm Legion