[Rift] What next at level 50?

Note: fans of SWTOR will want to catch the new intro trailer which they released yesterday. It’s fairly awesome.

Note 2: For all the people searching for “Blizzard at E3,” you are wasting your time, they aren’t there. They only do Blizzcon.

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Hurrah, my mage reached level 50 at least. I queued up immediately for the level 50-only warfront (Port Scion) which I hadn’t seen before. As you can see from the screenshot, it’s set in a city and the Defiants occasionally launch strike forces.

OK, I admit, I don’t have a clue what was going on in that warfront. There is a bridge that one side or the other can hold and there are quests that you can do and hand in but I was mostly just following people around and trying to figure the whole thing out. (We lost this one, incidentally but probably not coincidentally.)

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Here is us riding through the streets on the way to … somewhere. As I say, I honestly do not have a clue what was going on in this warfront. But it seemed fun enough and city fighting is always cool.

Other than that, I’m trying to figure out what to do next. I’m saving up gold to pay for a faster horse, and there are various factions that you can earn rep with by doing daily quests. There are instances, which have expert and more expert difficulties (T1 and T2). Apparently my gear is good enough that the dungeon finder will allow me to queue for T1 but I don’t have the nerve to actually do it, I don’t know if the warlock spec that I like so much will live up to people’s dps expectations, and definitely not with my healing second spec in case people shout at me if I can’t keep them all alive.

(I think I may be being guided by experiences in WoW where it’s not fun to go into heroics as a newbie if you don’t know them.)

There are such things as expert rifts and crafting rifts, and a questgiver in Meridian gave me a lure for one of the expert ones (I think) so will be trying to follow that up with my guild later this week.

PvP is another option, and you can earn points which you can turn in for PvP gear — although most of it doesn’t seem to have specifically PvP stats other than a bit more endurance than usual. Or maybe I’m looking at the wrong vendor, there seem to be a lot.

I can’t really do much with crafting because the highest tier of materials are either rare drops or unavailable outside said expert instances and crafting rifts.

So unless this picks up or I somehow get up the nerve to try expert dungeons, I can see myself spending less time with this game. At least on this alt. I’d like to be keener because I do really like the game, but would it have killed them to make it possible to max out crafting without doing expert dungeons?

[Rift] And if you get bored with the fashion disasters, you can always go get dominated by a shagwolf

rifttown

I’m slowly making my way towards level 50 in Rift, and very much liking Stillmoor as a zone. It’s a classic “vampires and werewolves” style of fantasy zone, with several little towns/ cities to explore. I love urban environments in fantasy games, and I thought this was a nice example.

But Stillmoor is a zone with ISSUES. Or at least the NPCs have issues.

riftfunny1 In case you can’t read the text in that bottom picture, it shows me fighting a “dominating shagwolf.” Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

And because we haven’t had any screenies of Rift fashion disasters lately, I’ll make it up with some shots of an entire fashion disaster village that I came across.

riftfunny2 It’s not the skin I’m concerned about (although the gal on the end has suspiciously balloon-like boobs – maybe the defiants have invented plastic surgery) so much as how dreadful they look, especially the women. I mean semi naked men in long skirts is at least a LOOK, it screams ‘sorcerer from a Conan film’ but that’s ok.

Random thoughts on PvP, co-operative play, and fun

There is probably a word for the feeling you get on zoning into a battleground for the first time. Something that encompasses the existential angst of “Where am I?”, together with, “Where is everyone else?”, the panic of “What am I supposed to be doing?” and the frustration of “Argh, those bastards keep killing me! I’m really really bad at this.”

Amazingly, battleground-angst tends to clear up after you’ve run the battleground a few times. It’s amazing how learning your way around the zone and objectives will soon have you playing at a much higher level, even if you genuinely are rubbish at PvP/ duelling (which I am, incidentally). This is especially true in a well designed PvP zone where you’ll be able to use the terrain to your advantage.

Or in other words, the simple pleasure of being able to snipe at someone from cover.

I played a few rounds of PvP in Rift earlier this week with the delectable Hawley, and it was a very quick shift from, “Argh, I suck at this,” to “Let’s defend the flag. Hahaha, got them!” with achievements popping up all over the place. Part of this is due to being able to work together (everything is easier if you have a healer next to you in PvP) but mostly just getting more familiar with the goals and layout.

One of the reasons I like battlegrounds is that you can have fun and help your side win without ever actually having to be good at PvP. This works better if you are not playing against pre-made teams.

Portal 2 and Co-op

I was also able to play Portal 2 at a friend’s place the other week, and it looks great. Definitely on my list of games to buy when I have more time to play during the summer, along with LA Noir and (probably) Witcher 2.

One of the really fun things is that it works brilliantly as a console game. By that I mean when you have several people sitting on the sofa but only one person actually playing. It’s fun to watch people play Portal/2 and you can chime in with suggestions without ruining their fun.

The actual co-op mode involves two people with controllers, which we weren’t doing. But one of us with the controller and the other helping with ideas seemed to work really well as a fun social experience. I’m sure the co-op mode is good too, will look forwards to trying it sometime to see how that works as a social thing as well as a gameplay mechanic.

Quests, goals, and mechanical horses

rifthorse

Finally hit level 40 on my character in Rift (yes, I know most of the blogosphere is off in tier 2 expert dungeons, which is sort of equivalent to hard mode heroics), and was able to buy one of the coolest mounts in any game ever. This is why you roll Defiant. It’s all about the mechanical horse. This is a copper one, although you can’t really see that in the screenie, I call it Rusty. I always pick boring brown horses when I have the choice, there’s probably something Freudian in that.

Now the mechanical horse and my great desire to virtually own a copy of same has really made me think about how I feel about quests in games. Because even as a low level noob, you will get to see NPCs with mechanical horses, you will see the mechanical horse vendor when you first head into Meridian. And you will KNOW that one day, if you want one, it will be yours. You can browse the available mechanical horses and decide which one you prefer. And you also can easily find the requirements –- you will need to be level 40 and have 35 plat to spend. It’s not like having a quest pop up in your quest journal, but no less of a quest all the same.

WoW pretty much went the same route with their mounts. As your lowbie character travels out of the starting zones, you will encounter the mount vendor with all their ‘wares’ out on display. It’s just that none of them are as cool as a mechanical horse.

Wolfshead posts a thinly veiled screed against WoW and all it’s scions, specifically focussing on the evils of quests this week. I can’t really agree with him; whatever the downsides are to quests, I rather enjoy having a variety of short and longterm goals in game. Quests serve a useful storytelling purpose in many CRPGs. And if they didn’t exist in MMOs then all that would happen is that people would find the most efficient way to level via grinding and just do that – we know this because it’s how levelling used to work.

And yet, they can be improved. Quests like the unofficial ‘where’s my mechanical horse?!’ aren’t official quests, they’re more like game-specific goals which I make for my character. And they always feel more personal than a coded quest, even if every other player on my faction shares the exact same goals. (And if you don’t want a mechanical horse, then I do not know you.)

Sims Medieval has a good modern take on questing – you’ll have some immediate goals to be getting on with, and your characters will also have more longterm ambitions. Plus you as the player may also have some goals which aren’t codified, but will influence how you play.

I’m looking forwards at some point (ie. when I have more free time) to picking up LA Noir, which looks to mark a point where even Rockstar Games abandon the full sandbox in favour of more questing, to see how they handle giving the PC some goals and direction.

But speaking of WoW, the main issue I had with Cataclysm questing is best described as sugar rush. I liked the zones well enough (Vash’jir and Deepholme in particular are brilliant), but everything was so fast, so quickly consumed. My character was travelling quickly, killing quickly, finding things quickly – with no downtime it’s just a lot to take in.

I think the questing layout in Rift is better in general than WoW. Not because they’re more streamlined, because they aren’t. Not because the storylines or writing are better, because they probably aren’t. But because they seem to preserve a better balance between exploring a zone and zipping through it so quickly that you can’t really remember it a few days later. And also because there is a better mix of linear quests, hidden stuff to explore and dynamic events. The pacing seems to work better, for me. Plus it has mechanical horses.

So my view on quests as gameplay is that they’re a useful way to project linear storytelling into a virtual world, but that we’re not done with them yet. I hope to see more devs experiment with ways to encourage players to set and celebrate their own goals, formed through interacting personally with the game world and NPCs. Or in other words, it doesn’t start and end with the gold exclamation mark.

[Rift] Trion was able to build this in a cave … with a box of scraps!

Another day, another set of Rift patch notes. Trion have been adding stuff to their game at a fairly spectacular pace, and the next patch promises a slew of new types of rift, cosmetic clothing, and a massive amount of tweaks to classes, zones, quests, and instances.

Further in the future will be the Rift random dungeon finder, of which screenshots are here. Yes, it’s looking remarkably like the WoW version although you’ll note there’s the option of a support role in addition to tank/heal/dps. (Wonder who would use that, maybe off-healers and buffing souls such as Bard and Archon.)

Whilst all this activity is deeply impressive and makes you wonder what else they have planned, it’s also easy to feel overwhelmed by changes to the game. I don’t know how exactly they will be able to introduce all this new stuff to players in future, but it feels right that their main priority right now is throwing in more stuff for the first wave of players, be it endgame or fluff. Later in the game’s life, they may have to choose between maintaining this level of new mechanics and supporting newer players.

Still, the release rate is astounding compared to other MMOs I have played. They knocked up a whole cosmetic clothing system very quickly there, something which WoW still hasn’t done (and there was a suggestion at one point that Blizzard would do something along those lines for Cataclysm, so it isn’t purely on game design issues that it doesn’t exist.)

The one reservation I do have is on trying to figure out which way the game is going. If LFG going to be good for Rift in the long term? I suspect the answer to this really comes down to the player base and the instance tuning more than the random group maker itself. If players build a social expectation that LFG groups will be friendly and co-operative then it could work fine.

However, what we can’t see from the screenie is whether there will be gear requirements for the higher tier dungeons. Or whether people will queue for the best rewards possible regardless of whether or not they’re able to contribute …

But what do I know, I’m still just level 34 on my main and trucking along happily. May have to ease off a bit due to upcoming exams, sadly, which means that Trion will probably have introduced at least 17 brand new dynamic game mechanics by the time I reach max level.

Changing attitudes towards crowd control

Crowd control: the ability to take at least one enemy temporarily out of the fight by use of mind control, hypnotism, a cosh over the head, crazy transformation spell, rooting them to the ground, freezing them in ice – it’s as old as Dungeons and Dragons itself, which makes it rather older as a concept than any MMO.

In Rift this week we ran another 5-man instance in guild. This time it was King’s Breach, and when settling down at the start we discussed which abilities and offspecs people had available. I mentioned I could do some crowd control as well as dps, and so did Pewter. The rest of the group reacted positively, “Great, two crowd control spells available, let’s rock.”

This is part of the whole old school feel of Rift, because in my experience, as soon as people get more focussed on running dungeons quickly, CC goes out of the window. This is mostly because if you have strong (*coff* overpowered *coff*) tanks, healers, and dps with strong AE, then it’s just much faster to burn all the enemies down at once than it is to kill them one at a time with CC.

I was reading WoW forums this week and I saw a new argument against the use of CC in instances:

The thing about CC is you are doing it for the Healer, no one else. One mob less dealing damage makes the Healer’s life easier. However, for tanks (and DPS to a lesser extent), CCing makes their job HARDER. Making sure not to break CC distracts you from doing your proper job.

I think this shows part of the influence of LFD. It’s not so much about the group picking a tactic as, “oh, we only use CC if the healer needs it.” This makes CC sound more like a crutch in PvE than an interesting and valid tactic in its own right.

And more importantly, it means that if you do get a bad pull or an unexpected patrol, a quick thinking CC player is wasting their time, because the other players will either ignore it or simply not recognise the crowd control spell effects.

[Rift] What if you held an event and everybody came?

rift_liferift random picture of a life rift, it’s pretty cool though.

If you have been following the Rift gossip, you’ll know that the River of Souls live event that they had been running recently came to a head and an abrupt end.

The first stage of the event lasted for a couple of weeks, involved daily quests that everyone could get involved with, as well as encouraging people to focus on death rifts. You could end up with some shinies like pets and mounts and trinkets. This part seemed pretty successful to me, everyone knew that there was something going on and players did get enthusiastic about chasing all the death rifts down.

The second and third stage took place over a couple of hours that may have been announced on the bboards, but were a wash to me. Plus the last one was in a high level zone. And then the servers crashed.

Oh well, better luck next time, Trion. I’m sure it was a learning experience for them, and this was Scott Hartsman’s initial feedback. My immediate reaction was that because stage one had lasted for a fortnight, I’d kind of expected stage 2 to last for awhile as well. I also assume there was some storyline, but have no idea what it was.

Still, never mind. That’s how the cookie crumbles with dynamic content and players need to stop saying, “I must see EVERYTHING” and start saying, “OK, I can’t see everything but was the thing I was doing fun?”

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(a quest with a cat)

What I did do last weekend was run Foul Cascade (one of the instances) with a guild group, which was loads of fun. Oh how I’ve missed instances where you had to explore for an hour before you were able to find the entrance! (OK, not really but it was kind of cool the first time that we had to all explore around the place to find the entrance for this one, it’s a bit remote.)

They don’t drift far from the WoW instance model – there are a few groups of adds, and then a boss fight of some kind which may require some tactics. Rinse and repeat. And then finally you can unlock the end boss of the instance. There are also patrols.

People having access to a variety of souls and builds makes building the group much easier. I could see how in harder content you’ll often have a choice of which character should tank and which should heal and might want to tune it to the specific fight.

One of the issues though with this level of flexibility is that people haven’t always had a lot of practice with all their variant builds. I’m not really sure what the answer is to this, there’s only so much you can practice solo and with no damage meters it’s hard to gauge whether you’ve got a dps build right or not. But in friendly guild groups it’s less of an issue, and if one healer is struggling to solo heal an encounter, chances are someone can respec to help.

I still feel that people are unduly harsh on Rift’s PvE game. I do really enjoy exploring the zones (they’re quite generous about letting you run up steep slopes), gathering, and following the various storylines.  I was amused this week at the bareknuckle fighters in my current zone, where you can keep challenging all comers to a fight. Eventually there are achievements you can get if you don’t get bored of it first.  Or alternatively you could team up with a friend or two and go hunt the named mobs who are scattered around the vicinity to get special hunter tokens.

I thought they were both cool examples of random stuff to do that was scattered around the world. It’s something that WoW very much lacks these days.