Without A Soul… Train

I have no excuse for doing this.

 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.

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7 thoughts on “Without A Soul… Train

  1. I consider Rift in the top MMOs I’ve ever played, for all kinds of awesome reasons. I played for a while — longer than most of the MMOs I’ve played — but I am cursed to never get into level 40s without some serious moral support from friends. The ‘soul’ is part of what I think drove me away from Rift when everyone else I knew had been long gone. Someone said (I’m not sure who) that there’s nothing in the game that doesn’t serve the purpose of their storyline war, and I think that touches on pretty much everything you mentioned above. I LIKE fluff like housing and stuff, but it’s certainly not a necessity to me. I DO, however, like being able to stop doing the majority activity (killing shit) and maybe take a break to do…something else. Re-arranging a house full of furniture may sound really stupid from an MMO standpoint, but it can relaxing, puzzling, and involved, for example.So I’m not anti-Rift by any stretch, but I agree with your points above.

  2. Absolutely agree with the assessment of Rift missing something. I’ve always chalked it up to the noticeable shift in the storyline/background/vision of the game that occurred when Jon Van Canegham left. Without his vision, the world never really came to life the way I think it would have had he still been around.

  3. Hi, found this blog via a link on Bio Break. I agree very much with this assessment. Rift was *almost* the game that reunited my old WoW circle of friends. We played for about 2 months very happily together, that’s longer than we lasted in SWTOR! As has been stated already Rift is a really great game, it has polish galore and innovated in very small ways with the UI (AoE looting!). It was a pleasure to play. But there is something missing. I think the lore being too subtle is a problem, not enough detail as well – I missed the point that the races had more lore to find beyond the starter zone racial quests completely because there were no hints that you’d find more in later zones. For me though the biggest issue was the mistake over the focus of the game. They could have eschewed the instanced raid/pvp endgame and really stuck to their guns on the open world dynamic content. Maybe gradually increasing the threat of invasion as you leveled through the zones, so that the bases in the earlier zones were much quicker to recover from defeat than those later on? Our love for the game diminished because the zerg of players had moved on to the cap and into the raids – the world emptied, the rifts and invasions slowed to a trickle and it was no longer the same game..

  4. #5 is what really bothered me about Rift. It made the game feel generic. I am coming from WAR though, where each career has a healthy amount of ‘character’. It just felt so generic :/

  5. This is a really good write up and I agree with most of the points, a lot of my friends from eq2 have sighted at least one these things as being why they don’t play. I love the game, but I find myself disinterested in the lore because mostly i don’t read quest text, I really wanted to in the begining, but of course no one in my group of friends does so I didn’t want to be that guy holding up the party cause I’m reading. So I lost a lot of the lore in the world. It is so obscure. The main events…like the live events you can kinda get whats happening…oh ok Maelforge and Laythis want to get it on and are teaming up…got it. But all the intricacies of the story in general no…they really need to put it more in your face and I’m hoping that storm legion will do that. There is no real sense of urgency because you always feel like in the end Telara will win anyways so why should you care? I miss the days of invasions destroying quest hubs and staying around. I think they should do as someone earlier posted, and slowly scale up the invasions as you level…maybe in the 1-30 or 1-40 zones they don’t take over hubs, but in the 50 zones there should be some danger involved I think.

  6. @WeritThat’s the nail on the head, really. For all its faults, WAR had some of the best classes in any game, because even the mirrors felt substantially different from one another because the aesthetics and the general feel of them was so vastly different.This is what really annoyed me in Rift, in that everything felt like they’d taken the easy way out (in much the same way the TESO devs are doing now). Why did we need a Paladin soul? We have Clerics and the Justicar soul, and that could have easily filled that niche rather than having two souls that are pretty much identical in their role and theme. Why not have more souls like the Riftblade, the Saboteur, the Warlord, the Archon? Why not have a soul who drew from a single plane’s power, say an Earthwarder or something, who was a tank that worked with the powers of the plane of Earth? Why not make it so that the abilities were iconic, rather than 10-to-a-macro?

  7. I think those that played WAR are tainted…those classes had REAL identity. I think that’s the thing with WoW too, I played a mage, I identified with that toon. Sure we all have alts, but there was that one toon that was our favorite. SWTOR took it too far though, after the story was over…that was it. Sort of like an UBER Tortage in AoC. Also extra points for a pic of my man Don….”Peace, Love, and Sooouuull”

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