I’ve noticed a common complaint of people recently returning to Rift is that the game is nice, and polished, and has everything they can think of, but it’s missing something. They can’t tell you what that something is specifically, so it’s just referred to as the soul of the game (the irony is not lost on me as the game has more souls that you can shake a stick at). Being the Rift fanboy that I am, one would expect me to immediately come out and defend my precious with some degree of vigor, however I’m always hot in the britches for a bit of bitter cynicism. I agree for the most part that something fundamentally intangible is missing from the game, and there might not be a single simple answer for it, so I may have nailed down a couple.
1. Noob Status
You’ve come out the gate swinging, knocked the biggest kid in the schoolyard flat on his ass (see receding WoW sub numbers (related or not, they’re dropping)), and have been polishing your fancy bits at such a vigorous rate you’re due to explode by the end of the year with yet another splurging load of content. No game in the history of MMO’s have done what you’ve done, BUT, you’re still a noob. The other shoe has to drop eventually, right? Surely this pace cannot keep up forever, right? You’ve barely passed by your first year, you’re practically a new kid on the block. Who the hell do you even think you are? It takes time for people to see you as a person, notoriety is not something you can develop on launch day.
2. Story Time
There’s so much depth to the world of Telara, but you have to go digging for it to develop a solid understanding of the world. Some might think of this as a strength, but others just don’t like to read and prefer complaining instead. Even if all you do is go through all the main characters on the Notable Figures page, the world becomes much more decipherable and meaningful. Otherwise, the questing doesn’t do a great job at really embedding you in the world. It often feels (another intangible) that you’re just an errand runner instead of an Ascended hero. The Chronicles have done a fair job at combating this effect, but there needs to be many more with less grind involved. Just let us advance the story, not wade through the bodies inbetween. There’s plenty of daily quests out there we can do if we want a grind. I think fuller, richer, more story-based chronicles that explore the various high level zones with a lower replay value would do a better job of hitting the mark.
3. They’re all PEOPLE! (but where do they live?)
The majority of the protagonists are anyway. You’re constantly being held in the realm of feasibility by helping your fellow Telarans throughout the story. This is a matter of taste, as I’ve seen some games go off the wall and start introducing all sorts of odd ways to pick up a quest, but the point that you lose it is when you look around at the living arrangements. A supernatural creature can be expected to live in the wild, or with no apparent home. People? We require shelter, food, industry, and something to occupy our time. There’s a disconnect at some of these quest hubs when you look around at the scant shelter and imagine, where the FUCK do all these people sleep at night? What the hell do these guys DO during the day besides stand here? Is it telling that creatures like goblins seem to have better living arrangements that the Telarans you’re constantly fighting for?
4. Perpetual Victim-less Wars
This is nothing uncommon to our landscape of MMO’s, and Rift does their best to combat this with dynamic events. If you look back from a far enough distance, every zone is the same. Rifts come and go, zone events start and finish. All mostly without significant consequence. For as much as people complained about quest hubs being overrun by invasions in the early days, it really WAS the shining example of dynamic content. Slowly eroding difficulty over time has done it no favors, in my opinion. Who knows what’s really coming up in the massive expansion on the horizon, but hopefully it addresses this age-old issue in MMO’s somehow.
5. You Lack Character
Four classes throughout the entire game and 8 skill trees they can level through (essentially), all changeable pretty much on the fly. This is amazing in theory AND practice, but it tears at the fabric of what makes each of these classes special and identifiable on the battlefield. Each class has it’s sets of armor, but each class can pretty much perform ANY given role on the battlefield. Is that a stealthy rogue or a healing bard? Is that a support cleric or an AOE DPS cleric? Can I expect to cut that mage in half, or will it shrug off half of my attacks? Warriors in plate with two daggers and a pet? WAT IS GOING ON? Good or bad, it’s confusing, and adds to the general lack of definition the game needs to wrap a soul around.
What the community has been noticing is not something that specific to Rift, but that MMO’s in general really go through at different paces over time. Some games are a flash in the pan where the character flaws are quickly exposed as structural and written off to the pile of failed games. Others show promise, somewhere deep inside, and these flaws are superficial at worst. It’s all in the eye of the beholder unfortunately, and if you want to be the biggest and best, you have to appeal to all of those eyes at the same time. I think Rift has done the best at this so far, but by stretching itself thin, it becomes transparent and soul-less. Each well-done piece of it lacks the amount of depth needed to really be THE thing that a particular person is looking for, and in the end you have a lot of almost-there’s for people to play with.
I believe, over time, Rift will eventually be able to give enough depth to the various aspects of the game to rival other long standing games, if they just keep at it. I would bet a majority of the people returning to the news of an expansion are unsettled just due to the changes over the past year. Maybe it’s that return to a nostalgic place that’s strangely different which adds character, just another intangible un-programmable factor in the search for a soul in Rift.