It was a quiet weekend in Telara.
While I have only my own server, Shatterbone, on which to base my observations, the weekend before last instant adventure groups at prime time were nearly full raid size affairs.
This past weekend though, the numbers began to falter. After a reasonable start, things began to fade. The biggest instant adventure group I saw starting Saturday afternoon had all of six people. And four of them were the instance group, which joined together. More common were groups of 2-4 players.
A small group is still manageable. The requirements for each instant adventure quest gets scaled somewhat based on group size. Twice though I walked away from groups because the size was too small for the task.
Once it was just my warrior and a rogue, and we could not take down the “one in seven” boss encounter. Another time there was a zone event in Freemarch and there were just enough people to prolong the whole thing, but not enough to defeat it. More wipes on the first boss in the event made me walk away again.
Of course, I imagine that the Guild Wars 2 “make our most dedicated fans suffer” pre-launch weekend had something to do with this. And I also suspect that the impact of GW2 is being magnified somewhat by the fact that, at least here in the US, school is starting up for the fall quarter/semester. Every district in my valley either started last week or is starting this week. The universities are warming up as well.
And while the school starting won’t stop anybody from playing their favorite game, it does place time demands on both parents and children such that you might not spend time with your second best MMO.
So Rift is in a bit of a bind.
Sorry, the wall of text was beginning to take over the front page, so I went for a cut.
So Rift has some serious competition launching in the near future… GW2, Pandas, Rohan, and maybe even Torchlight II… while its own expansion plans, as interesting and ambitious as they are, still do not have a date.
Trion played the commitment card, giving away Storm Legion if players would commit to a year-long subscription to the game. I have no doubt that will help bolster the subscription numbers, but as we saw with Blizzard’s own pact with Diablo, just because people subscribe for a year for a special mount and “free” software does not mean they will log in and play. And in the long term, a healthy population of players in the game is what keeps an MMO viable.
So Trion has been putting things in place to help minimize the impact of this drain in hours committed to their game.
Mentoring was introduced just about a month and a half back, allowing players to mix across a broader range of the population.
Auto-mentoring, low level instant adventures came along as well, so not only could players across a range of levels mix, but the game would actively mix them if allowed. And, as I noted above, this lead to some sizable groups rampaging in Telara. But Rift clearly needs more to keep populations viable in the face of what might be the Winter of Trion’s discontent.
And so it looks like they will essentially abolish most of the dividing lines between the Guardian and the Defiant factions.
Those lines were already blurred somewhat by the mercenary option for warfronts and the new tricorn Conquest PvP feature, which players discard their Defiant or Guardian affiliation to join one of the three factions vying for control. While it has its issues, it was clearly a sign of things to come.
While the removal of the faction barriers have been mentioned already, there are now some in-progress patch notes for what will be the Rift 1.10 patch spelling out the details of what we might see when this drops on the live servers.
CROSS-FACTION GAMEPLAY CHANGES – “FACTION AS FICTION”
* Much has changed for Telara since the Ascended first appeared. Ideological differences still exist, but the greater threat to all has required Guardian and Defiant strength combined to defend their land from the dragons. Old disputes have been put aside at times in order to join forces in a much larger, much more necessary fight.
* Guardian and Defiant characters who choose to take on the Planes together may now do so with the below changes to cross-faction game mechanics on PvE shards in 1.10!
* PvP ruleset shards will also gain the cross-faction group changes for dungeons via LFG.
* Guilds can now contain both Guardian and Defiant members.
* Guilds can now accept Guardian OR Defiant guild quests.
* Player-formed and Public Groups may now consist of characters from either faction who are not PvP-flagged.
* Dungeons now support cross-faction groups, and the LFG system now forms groups of mixed faction.
* Instant Adventures now support cross-faction groups and raids.
* If you are part of a cross-faction group queuing for Warfronts, you will be queued as the group leader’s faction. On joining the Warfront, it will automatically mercenary anyone in the group who is not naturally of the leader’s faction.
* Characters can now trade with members of the other faction.
* Mail (and attachments) can now be sent to other-faction characters.
* PvP-flagged characters will not be able to group cross-faction while flagged; they can still group with members of their own faction any time.
* Defiants and Guardians can now marry!
* Public chat channels are now shared between both factions with the exception of the World Defense channel.
* Players from a PvE shard joining cross-shard chat hosted on a PvP shard will still join faction-specific channels.
* Cross-shard tells should now always be allowed between any two characters.
* The Friends list also allows friends of either faction as long as your character is not on a PvP shard.
We are clearly no longer in Azeroth.
I cannot imagine Blizzard ever being able to take such a step. Despite the unified Horde/Alliance efforts in Burning Crusade and Lich King, which brought us the shared home towns of Shattrath and Dalran, there was still a very solid line. Lore and tradition will probably keep Horde and Alliance from ever truly joining together. Certainly Cataclysm brought the dividing line back into sharper relief at times.
But Trion wants to have it all in a single game. A two faction divide with a unified PvE playerbase that can join either side in battle grounds and divide up into the trinity deemed perfect over the years for siege and conquest style events. The only thing missing at this point is a unified cross-faction auction house… though for all I know that might already be in the game.
Does an MMO even need the friction of competing factions? Can we all just group up at random to not get along?
I admit the faction divide in Rift has never really meant that much to me. But I cannot really tell if that is because it wasn’t a compelling tale or if after all of these years I cannot buy into yet another far too convenient “Us vs. Them” scenario.
There were the evil vs. good races in Toril MUD which were translated wholesale to EverQuest and which became the on again/off again conflict between Freeport and Qeynos in EverQuest II.
There was the orc vs. humans divide of the original Warcraft series that was expanded to rope in the races of Azeroth in WoW, though I have never been convinced that the Tauren belonged with the Horde. Certainly all the gnomes add to the Alliance is and endless series of short jokes. Haven’t the foresaken screwed over/been screwed over by just about everybody else in the game by this point? And what of the pandas, a race so cute they can opt in to either side? How can pandas be both Horde and Alliance? What kind of God would allow that?
And somewhere along the line it was written down that there had to be two opposing factions despite the fact the success of games with three factions (DAoC) or no real factions at all (UO). The success of EQ and WoW at work there I suppose.
So the question comes down to, can they have it all? Can they have, at the same time, three PvP factions, two player factions, and no real factions at all? Will this work? Or will this dilute the game?
And can we endure the mental imagery that the inevitable Bahmi/Dwarf wedding will bring?