This is going to be a short column because my point is pretty simple: Trion Worlds’ Rift, especially with Storm Legion coming out in November, is surpassing World of Warcraft at its own game. For what it’s worth, this is not a matter of liking one more than the other. I’ve spent plenty of time in both and enjoy each title for its own reasons. The theme park versus sandbox argument we see everywhere aside, both games are made quite well. Certainly WoW might have more personality in its IP. I can’t deny that. But what I see from my game pundit’s chair is that Trion is making leaps and bounds while Blizzard is content resting on their laurels. I’m not expecting a massive shift in subscribers anytime soon where Azerothians suddenly make an exodus to Telara. I’m merely making the observation that Rift is seemingly more adept at adjusting their game to fit the times than Blizzard has been or will be. I’ll give you just a few examples I can think of, and then we argue over whether I’m delusional or not in the comments below.
THAT DYNAMIC BUZZWORD
A perfect example of this is built into Rift since it launched: dynamic player-gathering content. WoW has long been a game that corrals players from one area to the next on a lone path of a hero, occasionally transporting them to instanced dungeons where a group can participate in content. Meanwhile, Rift has also followed this lone-hero model of questing from zone to zone… but the entire experience has been peppered with massive zone-wide rifts that engage players to work together in large groups. Rift’s titular feature was by and large a refinement of Warhammer’s Public Quests. And then Guild Wars 2 came out this year, and the buzzword is “dynamic” now more than ever before.
Content in the theme park is moving away from the static quest-hub design and increasingly moving towards the more emergent gameplay philosophy. Rift still has its quest hubs, but alongside that traditional model of play, it also has zone events, instant adventures, and so forth. All of which are getting a huge makeover in Storm Legion to give players even more options to enjoy content. Meanwhile, World of Warcraft is just chugging along with even more restrictive hub-based quest design.
OF HOUSING AND “SYSTEMS OVER CONTENT”
One of the things said at our recent “Future of Online Gaming Panel” at PAX Prime, by none other than Trion’s Scott Hartsman himself (and I’m paraphrasing here), is that it’s becoming more and more apparent that the best way for developers to make MMORPGs that last is to give players systems that last instead of giving them content they’re going to chew through in weeks. Now, we’ll see what the future holds for WoW’s Horde and Alliance war in patches 5.1 and beyond. But I highly doubt the game will ever escape the content and dungeon treadmill it’s been running since 2004. And surely, most of its ardent players will be content with this.
But while Azeroth keeps its sights on dungeons and repeatable content, Rift is working more and more towards features that will keep Telaran citizens enthralled and driving the game world’s growth. Housing or “Dimensions” are a perfect example of this. It’s nothing new to MMOs. Many players love getting a virtual piece of real estate in their game of choice. And it’s just one of many “systems” that allow the players to perpetuate the game’s content instead of relying solely on dungeons and gear grinds.
Don’t get me wrong. I know Rift still has its raids, dungeons, and token systems. But it’s clearer to me with every passing patch that Trion is not content to just do more of the same and call it a day. They want to give their players every feature from every game that’s ever been enjoyed. It may seem like I’m kidding, but in time I wouldn’t be surprised we’re going to see Minecraft-esque construction of buildings, player-created dungeons and quests, or even player-made zone events and rifts that the community votes on. If you can name a feature you liked in previous MMORPGs, I’m betting it will make its way to Rift in a new and improved form.
All of this is because Trion genuinely wants to give its players what they ask for. And that’s the big difference between Rift and World of Warcraft. Telara’s shape is being defined by the cooperation between development and community. Azeroth’s growth is a much more one-sided affair. This column isn’t about some “fight” between the two games. AsI stated at the start of this column, I really do enjoy both for their own unique takes on the theme-park design. I just think it’s interesting to see how each studio builds its world and reacts to consumer desire. If you were forced to choose between the two: would you choose the game that seems content with more of the same, or the game that’s constantly (and at breakneck pace I might add) adding to its world?