When Scott Hartsman joined us on the Game On podcast in December, he made it clear that Trion Worlds intended to put RIFT back on track with the rapid pace of updates that so impressed fans at its launch. Since that time, two major patches have released, four since his return as CEO in August 2013. That puts Tripping the Rift in the unique position of being able to cover a major patch every two to three months. That was the plan today, as a matter of fact, but instead I decided to do a little digging. What has Trion been adding? What can it tell us? And most importantly, is it enough? Read on to find out.
In scouring through four major patches worth of notes, I had to have some kind of structure. The first thing I decided was that I was going to ignore class and balance updates. There is just too much nuance and too little know-how on my part to do that examination justice for each of the game's four classes. Second, I wanted to find out if the developers were focusing more on any one area. If they're leaning toward one type of content over another, that's a pretty clear indication of the current population. Third, how exactly do PVE and PVP stack up? Fourth, how much content is being rehashed and reworked for a second release? Are we really getting that much new content? How about new features? And finally, where does the RIFT Store fall in with all of this?
The answer to the first might surprise you. The single most consistent push in each set of patch notes is on performance improvements. Every single patch features a nice set of bullets intended to make your game run just a little bit better. Going back further, we can see this is a trend. Trion has been listening when we say we want our game to run better. But are their efforts working? If the forums and the comments on these columns are indications, not enough. I hope they continue to chip away but I think it's time we resolve ourselves, RIFT's engine will probably never be where we would like it to be. It's coming along but, well, if it hasn't happened yet...
Content-wise, there is absolutely and unequivocally and emphasis on PVE content. Shocking, right? Well, the level here really is pretty staggering. In the last seven months, PVPers have received prestige rank 90, ranked 5v5 warfronts at 60, improved warfront matchmaking, a new planar attunement tier, PVP dimensions, and a new battleground due to arrive sometime in the coming weeks. The most notable of these currently in the game is PVP dimensions which, in review, are an expensive flop based entirely on the cash shop. It's been a long eight months of balance updates for PVPers, so that new warfront couldn't come soon enough.
Compare that to the PVE content added to the game. Patch 2.4 added two new raids to the game, a dungeon and a chronicle. Patch 2.5 updated a classic five-man dungeon for level capped players on top of a brand new chronicle and four more updated chronicles, again, for players at the level cap. This latest patch dropped two new epically hard mode raid encounters against Greenscale and Akylios and promises even more in introduction to Tier 3 raiding.
There's more. Dimensions have seen lots of expansion, including new systems, items, and an array of new settings. Iron Pine Peak experienced a rework and level range drop. Other zones received similar revisits minus the level range reductions, most notably the former brick wall that was level 50-53 content derided in the months following Storm Legion. Quests have been retouched and added to the game through regular saga-line story updates. And let's not forget 2.6 with it's focus on artifacts, unstable zone events, and the Dreamweaving profession.
This clearly answers the third question – how do PVE and PVP stack up – but it doesn't answer the second on where the development thrust seems to lean. If we looked at Patch 2.4 and 2.5, I would say that chronicles are the clear winner but I'm not so sure that's the case. 2.5 was a patch of reworks. Since then, the developers have heavily favored raiders in terms of new content outside of saga quests and fluff events. Of which, there's been a lot, but we'll get to that in a minute.
While there's been a lot of new story stuff added, when it comes to real, meaty content, it's pretty clear that Trion has been leaning on yesterday's art assets. Reworks versus new content? Four recycled chronicles and one rehashed five-man easily trump the amount of instanced raid content in numbers, but I'm not so sure that's a fair measure given their size and complexity. But when you add in reused zone events and minor expansions to existing systems, even bounties and dimension interactables can't make up for it. Thankfully, these aren't reflections on quality or fun, just the mileage the team seems to be getting from each hour of development time.
Which leads us to the next question: when it comes to new features and systems, how many major systems have we actually seen added? Since September the game has seen: cross-shard instant adventures, the Dreamweaving profession, unstable artifacts and events, player-made PVP arenas, and four new souls – the last, albeit, at a hefty $30 buy-in price. This is on top of minor expansions such as international shards, a color-blind toggle, new tutorial quests, new hairstyles, and increased macro, dimension, and wardrobe slots.
And now we arrive at why you're probably reading this in the first place. How much is Trion focusing on the cash shop? Are they following the same pattern of games like Lord of the Rings Online pushing players ever more into their greedy, immersion-breaking clutches? Can you play the game without feeling pressured to spend money?
I asked myself these same questions as I looked over the patch notes. They are important, probably the most important questions to ask of a game this far out from it's F2P transition. While I would love to tell you things are all rosy, I'm afraid that there is a pattern here that is both good and bad.
On the good side of things is that Trion is leading the market with the amount they are providing you for free. Yes, you can play RIFT all the way through raiding and never spend a dime. You will see advertisements each time you load the launcher or visit a vendor but you can simply avoid these and accept your free (mostly artifact) daily gift. Each patch adds lots of new content to the game that never-payers can experience and plumb deep. That is a wonderful thing and makes RIFT one of the best values in all of MMORPG gaming.
The bad part of this is that it seems to have resulted in more and more systems being tied to the cash shop, subtly pushing players to spend more money. Dimension items abound in the cash shop, including the lottery-esque mystery boxes which recently saw an expansion in patch 2.7. Cash mounts have been made account wide. Patrons receive artifact buffs. Patron boosts have also been expanded to stack with other boosts in the game. There is also an increasing trend of “promotional” and seasonal events which push players into the cash shop for any real chance at acquiring the most sought after rewards.
In sheer development notes, expansions and additions to the RIFT store top out every other area discussed here (again, excluding class and balance updates and zone notes). Dye previews, new loyalty tiers and items, wish lists, new credit buying options... these notes line the patch records, to say nothing of the salable items and services themselves.
Worse, many of the non-cosmetic items are prohibitively expensive. The new souls, for example, are sold in a bundle priced around $30 (REX not withstanding). PVP dimensions have a $12 start up cost. Combat pet skins are priced at 400-800 credits, the latter amount only available by buying two $5 bundles, one REX, or whittling down a $20 purchase.
And with that, let's reflect on how much value RIFT truly offers. Yes, there is a cash shop, and, yes, they would like you to support their hard work, but in eight months we have received more content than most MMOs receive in full expansion packs. We have a core game that is fun, extremely well expanded upon, and is refreshed regularly with new events and holidays. The servers are electrically active, especially if you're a tank or healer. This is a vibrant game and one that's finally bringing PVP back into its sights. It seems that Scott Hartsman was telling the truth.
Christopher Coke / Chris has been an MMO player since the days of MUDs. He began writing about them in 2009 with his blog, Game By Night. He has played RIFT since launch and eagerly awaits the water and madness of 3.0. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight