Enter at Your Own Rift: Song of a superhero

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|02.20.13

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Enter at Your Own Rift: Song of a superhero
Enter at Your Own Rift Song of a superhero
When it comes to fantasy MMOs, we've been there so long and done that so often that we hardly think about the framework that supports these worlds and our assumptions about them. This is doubly the case when it comes to who we are: We are always talented warriors or wizards who are out to do noble good deeds and get all, like, awesome and stuff. But we are mortal. We are people, just the best of people. We have adventuring spirits.

Except that this doesn't quite apply to RIFT. When you really look at it, our characters in RIFT aren't generic adventurers. Who we are is not only clearly stated time and again but made an integral part of the game and its story. It's an important distinction that's worth examining. We are Ascended.

Another word for that is "superhero."

Enter at Your Own Rift Song of a superhero
Origin stories

Right now, you're probably thinking that I'm a crazy guy who's done a recent marathon of X-Men films and is in need of tranquilizers. That's all true, but I beg you to hear me out. The more I think about it, the more I really do think that RIFT asks us to step into the boots of "fantasy superheroes" that follow the same tropes as the comic book crusaders.

Let's start at the beginning. Every superhero has his, her, or its origin story: how that superhero came to be. Usually, but not always, the hero is an average person who has incredible powers bestowed upon him or her by outside forces. Call it mutant slime, gamma radiation, or a spider-bite. There's a catalyst that sparks a transformation from zero to hero, and it's at this moment that the character realizes his or her destiny.

Tell me that the tutorial zones in RIFT aren't just another origin story. They totally are. You are a regular person until, ONE DAY, you either are touched by the gods or have advanced technology bring you back from the dead. You are pronounced something more than ordinary; you are an Ascended.

You stumble into the sunlight facing an immediate crisis in either the past or future. Slowly, you explore your new powers and lay waste to the enemies before you. And eventually your origin story comes to a head as you're flung into Telara's present age, when your greatest challenge lies.

Saving the world, one day at a time

It's always seemed weird to me how in most MMOs NPCs just randomly approach you and are OK handing you tasks of utter importance despite not knowing who you are. Those games just expect you to connect the dots on your own time instead of giving some sort of logical reason why a stranger would trust you to save the world.

RIFT gives you that connection and -- here's the kicker -- it totally makes sense. Imagine that your sister was kidnapped by goons. You've appealed to the local militia in vain and are feeling completely helpless. Then a superhero walks by, an immortal with fantastic powers whose very purpose is to right what goes wrong. That's whom you're going to approach, which is why it's only logical that we constantly have NPCs begging for our assistance. We're experiencing what Spider-man and Superman do every day: the cries of the desperate in need of saving. The quest marker is our Bat-Signal. And we can't help but answer that call when it goes up.

And need I remind the class that we are fighting invading aliens and demons from another dimension? Seriously, doesn't that sound just a little bit familiar?

Enter at Your Own Rift Song of a superhero
Death need not apply

As is well-known, death is anything but final among superheroes. Even the lousiest and least-liked are always prone to being resurrected when a new writer comes around or the company needs a "shocking" twist. Death therefore loses its meaning because resurrecting is more common among superheroes than for us to begin the day with an Egg McMuffin at the drive-through.

What's the one thing that really sets us apart from the rest of the populace as Ascended? We cannot die. Sure, other games keep inexplicably bringing back heroes from defeat, but the explanation of the inherent qualities of Ascended in RIFT address this full-on. It's woven into the game; one NPC in a tavern laments that the Ascended are asked to do all of the dangerous dungeon diving since they can risk getting killed while he can't.

The Highlander nature of our characters lends another layer of superhero-ness to us. We continuously claw our way back from the grave because there is work left to be done. We are touched by the divine and by machines and as such have broken free of the chains of mortality. No wonder the population looks at us in awe.

Earning your wings

What sealed the superhero argument for me is when I hit level 50 and went through the Ascension ceremony. Mechanically, it's a way to trigger the addition of planar attunement to characters, but the meaning behind it is pure superhero lore.

Superheroes often reach a state in their development when they jump to a higher level. They gain additional powers, grow in stature, master their abilities, and even make the jump to becoming an ethereal being. It's Jean Gray becoming The Phoenix or Spider-Man taking on the Venom suit. OK, these aren't great examples of positive transformation, but you get the drift.

The Ascension ceremony marks the moment when we finally arrive. When we stop being fledgling superheroes and make the jump to superstar status. Then we suit up and save the world from destruction all over again.

Is it any coincidence that Trion had to introduce capes in the expansion? I think not.

We are superheroes, just in a different genre than normal. I see that as pretty cool, and it really did give me a different perspective on the game once I started looking at it from that angle. Maybe I'm completely off-base on all of this, but it's worth considering.

Whether he's keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Justin Olivetti saves Telara on a weekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, his column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Justin for questions, comments, and adulation.
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