It seems an eon ago that Rift first came out. Of course, we are speaking about Internet Land and the fact that the passage of a week seems an eternity as well. Still, it’s hard to believe that Trion Worlds’ inaugural title is already two years old and counting. Many of us who are rabid MMO players watched eagerly as Rift came down the path to release and pre-ordered our copy of the game and ponied up for the monthly subscription.
And we weren’t disappointed either. Rift was a terrific game that was much more polished and interesting than even most jaded players expected. There was something exciting and shiny about the whole idea of rifts and zone invasions that Trion Worlds did extremely well. It was great fun to log in on a daily basis and play the heck out of our first characters and most of us did so religiously until hitting the level cap. It was there that we discovered Rift’s shortcoming: There wasn’t enough to do at the top end unless players were part of a very active raiding group. Sure, there were artifacts to collect and places to explore and PvP to partake in but still, it wasn’t enough.
It seemed that within three to six months, most servers were ghost towns and it didn’t take long for server mergers to start happening. Granted, that’s not always a bad thing, but it’s also usually symptomatic of players leaving the game for the ever-increasingly broad greener pastures that had come along, many of them subscription-free. While Rift proudly billed itself (and still does) as something of a World of Warcraft killer, the staying power and longevity that it manifest as a subscription revenue model title simply didn’t happen.
There is no denying that the Rift team did much to make the game better for end-game players and to keep the content fresh by adding new zones and Chronicles and dimensions, among other things. But in many ways, it was simply too little, too late for many players. Guilds became vacant and server chats remained largely silent for a long while, though the core base of players maintained its stubborn determination to keep spreading the good word about Rift. Perhaps much of what has transpired of late is due to their love of the game and the sheer will to see it survive, regardless of the shift in the revenue model.
It was with great fanfare that the Trion team announced that Rift would be going free-to-play in mid-2013 and many former players looked on the transition as a sign that a good and decent game was headed the way of so many others and in less time than many would have ever imagined.
Contrary to that opinion however, Trion boasted that the game would ultimately go free to play without restrictions and that nothing in the game would be unattainable by those who choose never to place a dime into it.
Have they succeeded in that declaration?
From my perspective, they have indeed. Logging into Rift with my free to play character was absolutely the same as logging in from my (former) subscription account. There was no “BUY NOW” spam, no gaudy ads for purchasing REX, the real-world money currency used to trade for credits, the other in-game currency that is used to buy item mall goods for your own characters or items that can be traded/gifted to other players.
I look back on my days in Star Wars: The Old Republic and the frighteningly zone-locked Lord of the Rings Online for horrendous examples of free-to-play transitioning gone bad. Trion doesn’t shove the F2P topic down players’ throats but maintains a modest and understated tone, with a tiny shopping cart on the bar at the bottom of the page and relatively infrequent reminders that certain perks can be purchased in the item mall (at vendors, for instance). What’s in the store appears to be truly for convenience, some players’ thoughts to the contrary. Yes, items can be purchased to speed up certain processes such as XP gain, etc. Yet those are not necessary and do not give any statistical advantage to players who use them other than the fact they arrive at level cap before others who need to gain that prestige the old fashioned way. Unlike Neverwinter, Rift’s cash shop doesn’t seem outrageously over-priced though there are expensive items, again, unnecessary for anyone to buy. The only caveat I have here is that there is a chance at getting epic orange gear from a $10.00 box purchased in the item mall. Players have cried foul on this particular issue from the perspective that this makes Rift "buy to win". However, while it seems a bit out of line given the amount of time it takes a raid player to attain all purple gear and then upgrade it to epic, it's still something that can be done, at least theoretically speaking, without spending any money. The issue is time and effort, it seems.
What makes Rift’s F2P conversion so amazingly special is the fact that servers are once again packed. Granted, there are fewer servers but that’s a good thing as the populations are consolidated making PvP better, raiding better, rifting better and more.
Chat channels are humming with activity, enough so that I turned of global chat to be able to avoid some of the overly exuberant chatters in the game. The auction house is full, the rifts bring in the players from around any zone. Invasions are well-attended. Players are being shepherded along by those more advanced in levels.
In short, Rift is alive again and, at least to my view, shows health and vigor that was missing for so long after the initial six months of the game’s life. The real question players will have to ask themselves is whether or not Rift is a game that will be able to hold their attention beyond the initial “HOORAY” moments of the first 30-40 levels and as other AAA free to play titles come onto the market.
The question that developers will have to ask themselves is whether or not they can keep up the content additions to keep players interested in coming back for more. It’s a question that the two groups together will be able to answer together as time goes on.
The bottom line is this: Rift is a classy, fun theme park MMO. There is a metric ton of stuff to do and, at least right now, quite a few new and returning players to experience it with. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It’s the right price and the purchase items aren’t shoved in your face every ten seconds. If you sat on the fence and never gave Rift a try, now is your chance. It’s highly doubtful that you’ll be disappointed.
What about you? What do you think about Rift F2P? Let us know your thoughts in the comments?
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom