Of course, Trion was all-too-ready to help influence that decision. With a one-two punch, the devs unveiled two big events this past weekend: The River of Souls world event and The Allies of the Ascended weekend. The world event highlights RIFT's first major game update, and it unfolds in a series of phases over the next couple of weeks. Allies of the Ascended was essentially a "recruit-a-friend" trial weekend, and players were given codes to pass along to their friends and guildmates. It's probably not a coincidence that these two events were launched together at a time when MMOs normally start to face a dip in population.
So did these events deliver? Read on for a closer look!
Alsbeth and her minions are one thing, but get that level 50 out of my rift!
If there's one thing that surprised me about the world event, it was the fact that it started off so quietly. As I patched the update, I had visions of the map exploding with invasions, like that famous screenshot from beta. I was ready for the cries in chat begging the GMs to shut off the rifts. Instead, players were knocking out the repeatable quests and running all over Telara in a futile hunt for death rifts. On the first night of the event, the most common complaint wasn't that there were too many invasions but that there weren't nearly enough death rifts. And amusingly, players were bypassing all the other rift types in order to focus on farming Otherworldly Sourcestones. So far, the world event isn't exactly what I was bracing myself for, but then again, we're only in the first phase. The second kicks off on April 9th, and if the glowing sky is any indication, we're due for a flood of invaders.
The second thing that surprised me is the issue of high-level players in low-level rifts. There seem to be several reasons for this, some good and some not so good. But what really strikes me is how offended lower-level players are to see high-level players in these rifts. One huge problem with MMOs today is that things are so tiered and so linear that new players and veteran players hardly ever have a chance to do things together. If you're new, you need to ride the rails and do your time before you can play with the big boys. RIFT bucks the trend in that it's much more inclusive. Features like open grouping, a flexible level range, and dynamic events go a long way toward bridging the gap between highbie and lowbie.
There are many benefits to having high-level players participating in low-level areas. It helps prevent that empty feel of starter zones that tends to happen the longer a game is around. It helps pull new players in and make them feel like part of the community. New players also get a chance to see what's on the horizon for them if they stick with the game. By now, many are familiar with how MMOs generally work -- you level, you gear up, you get rewards. But when you actually see a high-level player sporting great gear and destroying mobs left and right, it makes leveling up that much more enticing.
But of course, the big issue right now is the fact that the presence of high-level toons skews the rewards. Players who are low-level are concerned that a level 50 can waltz into the middle of an event, one-shot all the mobs, and shut everyone else out of a chance at loot. That's completely understandable, and hopefully the team at Trion can find a way to keep things fair when it comes to rift rewards. The most recent game update has already tweaked things a bit, and player participation is no longer based on how you do compared to others in the invasion. I'm all for adjustments to keep things fair for lower-levels -- a great example of that is how low-level players in warfronts are buffed up to compete with higher-level players in each tier. The idea is that it's both fair and inclusive, because that's what makes things fun.
If the low-level zones were any indication, there was a fairly good response to the recruit-a-friend weekend. On my server, the early zones were definitely buzzing with activity, and I got to meet one player who chatted with me a bit. I helped her fend off an invasion force, and she sent me a thank-you tell afterwards. As we chatted, she said that she and her husband were participating in the Allies free trial weekend. I asked her how she liked it, and she said they both purchased the six-month subscription plan and were having a blast. She went on to say that she's having more fun than in her previous MMO. When I asked her what other MMOs she played, her reply was "Just WoW." You could practically see her avatar cringe and brace itself for the dressing-down, and she was probably happily surprised to see me answer "Very cool."
That leads me to one final observation about the RIFT forums. Abigale and crew do a great job of keeping it civil, but they can't work miracles. If you're a prospective player who's curious about the game, the last place you should go is the official RIFT forums. It's not that the forums are uncouth or rude; it's that they're shockingly negative, and it's not nearly an accurate reflection of what's really going on in-game. Yes, there are issues in-game that are worth bringing up and discussing, but you'd think by the sound of it that we were playing Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Sorry Vanguard fans, and yes I am one of you, but let's put things into perspective: One month after launch, Vanguard was advertising double experience on a game that had no solid content past level 35.
I know forums, and I know they're dicey, but the main problem with the atmosphere on the RIFT forums is the meta-posting. There's absolutely nothing wrong with strong opinions, and there are many threads that contain fiery debates on game issues. Locking horns about soul balance or dungeon difficulty is perfectly fine and can actually be constructive. But those threads are getting lost in the sea of theorycrafting on things like RIFT's chance of success or why the "We're not in Azeroth" advertisement is a sign of the apocalypse. Hopefully that will settle down now that players have to make the choice of committing to the game or moving on.
In the meantime, watch out for the Endless Court, and please, whatever you do, pull the werewolves to the activated obelisks!
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.