I was a little bit slow to roll into Rift Prime. As noted, I set myself up with 30 days of Patron status using the abundance of credits I had in the game and rolled up a character on the new server when it launched last Wednesday.
Still, I had some trouble building enthusiasm for a fresh start in Rift. I haven’t really touched the game since the Free to Play conversion a little over four years ago. But it wasn’t the conversion that damped my enthusiasm for the game, but the first expansion, Storm Legion, and the design philosophy that seemed to bring to the game. Not everything about it was bad. The expansion did have some good ideas. But the “more is better” philosophy about the size of zones let me down after the awesome tight “less is more” zone design that went into the first 50 levels of the game.
It didn’t help that Rift felt a dated even as I started to poke my nose into it. The character models, never a high point of the game, seemed even rougher and uglier than I recalled. It doesn’t help that I favor the Defiant side of the game, which features purple elves, purple… uh… big people, and gray humans that seem to have some rodent mixed into their genes somewhere.
Character models aren’t the most important thing ever for me, so it takes something for me to be put off on that front. And while the Guardians side of the house has better models, I dislike their post-tutorial zone, Silverwood, with about the same intensity as a I love Freemarch, the Defiant post-tutorial zone.
So I rolled a big old Bahmi (which always makes me think of banh mi, which are not purple at all) chose the cleric’s path, and headed out into the tutorial. And then, almost immediately logged off. Clearly I was not excited to play.
I logged back on later and rolled through the starter zone, took the portal back in time, and landed in the corner of Freemarch where you start in the game world, and logged off again.
I wasn’t put off by queues or the horror of the level 1-29 chat, which I turned off fairly quickly. Many dumb things were being said there. Freemarch chat was better, but had its moments as well.
Rather it was my inability to quickly match my fond memories of the game with my current experience. I can prove I was fond of the game because I leveled up one of each of the class archetypes to level 50 before the Storm Legion expansion.
That I played a mage up to level cap says something. I almost never do that and, when I do, it tend to be via some off-the-main-path mechanic. For example in WoW I will shortly have a level 110 mage. But he got level boosted from 60 to 100 and his experience from level 101 to 110 will be almost exclusively from pet battles.
But how to get there? How to find whatever it was that got me hooked back in the day?
It is different when Daybreak rolls up another EverQuest retro server. There the draw, the nostalgia, is almost wholly concentrated in the first 20 levels. Killing things in front of Qeynos, roaming into the Qeynos Hills and Blackburrow, ranging out into the Karanas, and then making that first run across the world to Freeport and Faydwer, that about covers it. Find a few groups, camp some spawns as I go, and nostalgia objective achieved.
It is clearly different in Rift for me, where my memory of the initial tutorial zone ranges from bland to negative. It is also before the fun of the soul system starts to kick in. The soul system can be one of the highs of the game, enabling players to create some very fun setups to play. Of course, it can also be a curse as you are more likely to make an unfun setup if you’re not on top of the whole thing.
Fortunately, one of the post-launch updates Trion kept for Rift Prime was the suggested soul templates for people like me who want a fun setup, but who will screw it up if forced to make their own. I am enjoying the cleric template I picked, but it took a while to get to that.
You have to go through the usual stages of running up to mobs to beat on them with your one attack, to getting a ranged attack, to getting a good close up attack with a cool down, to getting a better ranged attack, which took a few levels.
I played furtively off and on until Sunday when I started to hit my stride. The tipping point seemed to involve fishing. I was stumbling along from quest to quest, knocking down a rift now and again, but not really feeling it. Then I arrived at Kelari Refuge, a village on the coast of Freemarch and found a mass of people hanging around fishing.
There is a trainer there for fishing, as well as some of the other trade skills. But, as if my wont, I went for fishing, hanging out on the coast for a stretch. Fishing quests give experience after all.
That seemed to get me into the vibe of the game. Fishing in Rift is a pretty decent implementation, a little more old school than the current WoW mechanic, more useful and well integrated that what you find in LOTRO, but not as clunky as it was way back in Norrath.
I hung out and finished up the fishing quests, earning all the Freemarch fishing achievements along the way. It was about then that it started to look like we might have enough people interested in playing that a guild seemed appropriate. I had already ditched the default guild the server sticks everybody in, tiring of an eternal stream of messages about achievements and who just logged in or out, so was set to make a new one. Fortunately, guild creation in Rift is an extremely frictionless process. You essentially open the guild window and press the button. None of that collecting signatures in blood or petitioning for a GM to create you guild. You want a guild, you got a guild, so I created a guild with what I felt was the theme of the moment.
I then set about inviting people and promoting them. The default guild structure in Rift has… a lot of ranks. I set about making everybody an officer and then, on discovering that the default officer rank was actually pretty far down the hierarchy, went and gave officers the ability to essentially do “all the things” so people could get in the guild.
I also found that the only title I had accrued in the game so far fit the theme as well, so I displayed that.
That done, I set about not fishing anymore, but headed off into the Freemarch quest line again, stopping along the way for rifts and invasion events, which seemed to be quite frequent.
And from that point on I started to get into it.
Part of that was starting to get into my class/role, which included realizing I left a couple of key abilities off my hotkeys. Once correctly, or at least better, setup, I realized that I was pretty strong out in the field.
Part of it was reaching that point of immersion… as defined by my own odd parameters last week… where I was just playing the game and enjoying it and not thinking about anything else.
Then there was the feeling of life in the game, with lots of people around and public groups to join and things just happening everywhere. Sure, once in a while that leads to a competition over quest objectives, but it is mostly a very good thing… as long as you turned off Level 1-29 chat.
And finally, part of it was a sense of nostalgia. Having, as noted above, run through the game with four Defiant characters previously, questing through Freemarch was a long string of “Oh yeah, I remember that!” moments as I traced a path across the zone. It had been a while, so details were fuzzy, but I always felt like I knew where I was headed and if there was some other quest I ought to pick up before headed to a certain point.
Add in the random element of rifts and invasion events and I was having a good time. I logged into Rift and let WoW be for the day.
Of course, I saw a lot of complaints about Rift Prime. But complaints always bubble up because people happy with things tend to just play.
I think part of the problem is that Rift Prime wants to be several things. There is a hint of it being retro server in its own way, limiting content for a bit and dialing up the experience slope some. But it also wants to be a live server while, so it doesn’t limit things that came later in the game. And there was also a thread in the message from Trion about simply wanting to give people a non-cash shop, non-loot box, old fashioned subscription style experience.
So, as happens when you have multiple threads in your message, people hear the one that appeals to them and ignore the rest, the complain when they figure out that the focus wasn’t solely on what they expected.
Of the complaints, I think experience might be the thorniest of the bunch. Part of me sees the problem, and I am far enough along to see it happening, where if you just run the quest lines, the quests chains level up faster that you do. On the flip side, something in the back of my brain recognizes that very same issue from starting out playing years back, that if you didn’t spend time doing rifts and invasion events you would find yourself in that situation.
So maybe a too literal recreation of the original?
It is annoying to find the quests out leveling you. On the flip side, I don’t want to rush through the game to level 50 in a week or two, I am fine doing the side tasks, and I am obsessive about doing all of the quests, even the ones you can safely skip or might not find if you’re not careful.
But even then I have found myself about a level or two behind the levels of the quests being offered and I haven’t gotten all that far into things. So maybe some adjustment is needed. I will say that I was pleased to find my character was powerful enough to handle mobs 2-3 levels above him. At about 4-5 levels things get dicey.
For the moment though I am enjoying myself. Rift has its charm and the reasons I enjoyed it back in the day still seem to exist. And, with a guild, there is a chance of getting together to do things. Instances would be cool, but just running around and closing rifts can be fun.
I am not ready to renounce all other games and swear to play Rift forever more, but I am good for the next month or so. As with EverQuest retro servers, there is something of a built-in expiry for me. After a certain point I lose interest in the expansions. The problem with Rift is that I lose interest with Storm Legion, the first expansion. There isn’t even a Ruins of Kunark to keep me going. Oh well, I will enjoy what I enjoy and move on when that enjoyment stops. For now I’m good chasing the next rift on the horizon.
Others writing about Rift Prime this week: