Wow -- it's been a year and a half since I last sat down to pen this column. Obviously, around that time I had left the game and focused on other writing projects here at Massively. It wasn't a bad break-up with my former stomping grounds in Telara; it was a "goodbye for now" type of situation. There were other vistas to be viewed and other worlds to conquer.
Yet RIFT has this power to eventually pull me back in. I'll admit that I hadn't even thought of the game for the most part in 2014 until one fateful morning at PAX Prime in September when I sat down with Trion's devs to get an overview of the new expansion. The more I watched, listened, and asked questions, the more I groaned inwardly because I knew that my carefully tuned play schedule was about to witness another upheaval. I knew I'd have to go back to RIFT to experience Nightmare Tide.
In less than a week, Nightmare Tide will roll into this game, bringing with it several new features, zones, and most likely fellow lookie-loos who will be equally curious how the game's improved with its second expansion. For this returning edition of Enter at Your Own Rift, I want to highlight four factors that were instrumental in grabbing my attention and convincing me to come back for another go in this fantasy world.
I'm a huge fan of time-based gameplay systems that allow you to set up tasks and then leave it to the computer to execute them without your direct attention. Growing virtual gardens, ordering around duty officers in Star Trek Online, sending crew members to fetch me mats in SWTOR, and queuing up loads of recipes in Fallen Earth all fall under this style of minigame. Queue and play? I guess that's a good term for it. It doesn't have a lot of meat to it, but as a side distraction, it doesn't really need to.
From what I understand, the minion system takes queue and play while adding on a collection and leveling component. You'll start out with a single minion to boss around by sending on quests in real-time (whether or not you're logged in). After the time is up, the mission succeeds and the minion returns with some sort of reward for you. As the minion levels up and you figure out which minion is best for which type of mission, the chances of better rewards increase. The rewards aren't armor and weapons but fun stuff like artifacts, dimension items, and crafting mats, so whether you participate in this system probably won't have a meaningful effect on the overall power level of your character.
This system hits all of my buttons that it's not even funny. I love collecting in MMO, but far more so when those collections have a purpose. Minion cards will be added into the game as drops (among other ways) and will offer the chance to do something useful with that collection item. There is some limited strategy in the form of figuring out which minion is best for which mission, and there's the feeling of being able to do something in the game even if I can't log in much that day.
My hope is that minions won't be terribly hard to collect (there will be around 100 of them at launch). I know we get one minion mission slot for free with others being pay to unlock, which seems fair and in line with how RIFT structures its free-to-play offerings. As a player who decided to roll up a fresh character for his return, I'll be seeing the minion system well before any of the other new content in Nightmare Tide. Expect a more detailed report on this post-release!
2. Finally taking the fight to the planes and getting a better story
From almost my first steps into this game, I was badgering the devs as to when players would stop being reactionary in regards to the invasions by planar forces and turn the tables by jumping into the planes. It looks as though that day has come at last, and I'm really eager to see what the plane of water (messed up as it is) will be like.
Probably one of the most persistent criticisms of RIFT is its lackluster storytelling, especially in the pre-expansion content. While I think that your mileage may vary on this, I'll agree that the ever-present text boxes are no match for the game's use of scripted scenes and instanced content to tell a tale. Storm Legion had far better stories, and from what I'm hearing, Nightmare Tide will be even better than that. If Trion can deliver a strong story to counter the reputation this game has developed in terms of its narrative, that will be a joy to see. Plus, I love a good story!
Rifts are mostly optional public quest content that generally (at least for me) don't tend to offer decent enough rewards to justify sticking it out. Plus, with rifts popping in and out all of the time, it can feel as if you're on a task to endlessly sweep up the mess that the planes are making instead of being at the front lines of the battle. While I still do rifts when I come across them, I've always been wishing for better rewards and a new type of experience.
So I'm quite intrigued to try out the new nightmare rifts. These will be at all levels, meaning that us mid-bies can check them out well before hitting level 60. They'll essentially be old school Atari games, where you'll face off against endless waves of bad guys that get increasingly harder until you are overwhelmed and die. The point isn't to win; the point is to make it as far as possible before losing. Trion's mentioned a lot in terms of rewards for these, which has definitely perked my ears up. As with the casual, accessible fun of instant adventures, could endless rifts be another avenue of content for the player who just wants to get in the fight right away and earn sparklies?
4. The mentoring system goes both ways now
There's a lot else to say in favor of Nightmare Tide's attraction. The underwater visuals look fantastic, the level 61 through 65 masteries will be great carrots at the end of the leveling stick, and there are new instances and equipment types to encounter. However, probably the one feature that made me stand up and applaud the devs outright is the decision to extend the mentoring system so that you can not only artifically scale your character down (as is currently in the game) but jack it up as well. Now we'll be able to quest and dungeon dive with our friends in the game regardless of level, and that, my friends, is so very, very awesome.
One of RIFT's greatest assets is its variety of accessible content, both in solo and group varieties, and by expanding the mentoring system, Trion removes the obstacle of level gates without negating the progression that leveling provides. It also will make players who aren't at the endgame feel less pressured to power level just to catch up with friends. I want to experience the game at my own pace and yet engage in activities with my guild when the opportunity presents itself. Now I can have both.
Enjoy the expansion's release on October 8th, and I'll be back after that to talk about my first impressions of Nightmare Tide!
Whether he's keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Justin Olivetti saves Telara on a biweekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT from solo play to guild raids, this column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Justin for questions, comments, and adulation.