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What Gaming Should Be

As an avid lifelong gamer, I try to describe what has worked well and poorly in games I've played, and in any given gaming scenario, to define how it could best be handled as a result.

Author: reillan

A Fully Armed and Operational MMO

Posted by reillan Sunday February 13 2011 at 8:24PM
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I wrote the following after Beta 5.  It still holds true:

This week’s 5th beta test for Rift has shown that the game is ready, at least in its early-game content, for its March 1st release.  Those anxiously awaiting it can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that nothing in the game is so horribly wrong that there’s any obvious functional reason why it should be delayed. 
Throughout my beta experience (and I was online almost every hour of this event), my server only crashed once: on Wednesday night at about midnight Eastern.  The server was absolutely packed at that time – mostly with people who had low-level characters thanks to only having started playing in the previous 24 hours – and an NPC invasion in the starting area was meeting with a larger force of players battling it back than I have witnessed during any other part of beta.  Only a handful of servers crashed at this time, and, to Trion’s credit, they came back up fast – it took so little time that the timestamp on my postings on Rift’s official forums, the first to say it was down, and then the next to say it was back up, held the exact same time.  Less than a minute of downtime for a server is an absolutely astonishing turn-around.
I did notice a few minor bugs during that time that should not greatly affect playability, including some minor pathing issues.  At one point, for instance, I soul-walked over to an area and the game was happy to let me do so – but when I came back to life, I was actually trapped behind some objects and couldn’t get out (jumping repeatedly against the objects led me to clip through them).  Once when fighting a minor boss, the boss spawned halfway inside a pillar and could see me to target me for his DPS abilities, but my own couldn’t hit him because he wasn’t in line-of-sight.  Moving around a corner made him follow me and resolved the problem.  Overall, however, pathing seemed to be working well and line-of-sight was never broken by unseen objects.  Even resource nodes – the bane of well-established games – were spawning in their proper places rather than floating in the air or being buried beneath rocks.
The 5th beta only allowed us to level to 30 (I made it to 28 between Tuesday night and Saturday noon), but in that range all the content seemed to be available.  I was able to level my crafting skills to the point where I was crafting equipment I couldn’t use yet (because of the cap), I was buying and selling merchandise at auction regularly, my bank vaults and bags had no glitches, I was able to buy a mount in Sanctum and ride just about everywhere, and at least to lvl 27 I was able to keep questing the entire way without having to resort to any other kind of grind. 
That said, around level 17 I began to run out of below-level quests (there are more than enough early on) and I couldn’t find higher-level ones.  This occurred, it seems, because of a problem with quest chains.  Not a bug, but rather an issue that the developers may not have considered.  To get a quest telling you where to go for your next quest hub, you often have to complete a lengthy chain of quests, some of them fairly difficult.  The result is that the entire path from 1 to 27 felt like a predetermined chain that could not be broken.  I finished off one quest hub to get the quest to go to the next hub, and repeated that process until I ran out of quests.  This was true of the Guardian side, at least – I did not play the Defiant side so that I would have something to do when the game comes out. 
There are also not enough solo quests to go from 1-30 questing on-level.  As I described, before level 17 or so, I had to do below-level quests just to unlock new ones, and at about level 21 I had to start questing above my level.  This latter part seems to be not an attempt to force players into group instances, but rather an attempt to force players to utilize some of the other questing options available to them.   While this may not bother some people, it causes me to have two significant concerns: firstly that I might not be able to solo the entire way to 50 (I’m one of those players who finds grouping to be a waste of time until 50, as instance rewards aren’t necessary except for other instances); secondly that I might not want to level any alts, as I’d be doing exactly the same quests in exactly the same order a second time through.  The lack of variety and unidirectionality of the quests prevent customization in a game that, I think, will become known exclusively for its level of customization.
While solo content, group instances, crafting, equipment, the auction house, and the talent system (with a notable exception) all look like they came straight out of WoW, Trion also took a few pages out of Warhammer’s playbook.  This was already evident to me the moment I walked into the starting area, as it looked so similar to WARs Chaos starting area (the quests felt alike, too), that I thought for a moment I was playing the wrong game, but it was especially noticeable within two systems: PvP instances called “warfronts” (similar to WAR’s “Scenarios”) and open-world group quests called “rifts” (similar to WAR’s “Public Quests”).  Warfronts felt entirely identical, including using the same types of objectives and a ranked favor/experience system based off of how well each person performs certain roles such as healing, DPS, and tanking.  Rifts are significantly different from their WAR counterparts, although they still use a similar system to the Public Quest system to divide out rewards, including barter tokens that are useable to barter with certain vendors for equipment that is better than most other items available in PvE.  Rifts are most noticeably different for the way in which they might sprout up as part of an invasion – during an invasion, dozens of players will need to work together to close rifts all across a zone and stop small groups of mobs from completing objectives; once players’ objectives are complete, a named boss will appear somewhere in the zone for players to hunt down and destroy, and it’s no easy fight.  Such zone-wide chaos can quickly lead to people grouping together who might otherwise have tried to stay solo, and seems like a great way to remind people about the “multiplayer” nature of MMOs.
The Ascended system is the only thing I saw in the game that I would consider truly unique, but this worked flawlessly as well.  The only “problem” I had with it was that I didn’t have enough research or experience with it early on to know what I was doing, but this problem was relatively minor and easily corrected.  I started as a Paragon and quickly picked up Riftblade and Beastmaster, slotting all 3 souls, and I leveled to about 23 with this setup.  But all the while, I felt like the latter two were not helping me in any significant way, and I worried I had made a mistake.  This mistake was easily correctable because I was able to pick up the Champion class as well, and by simply clicking on the icon for Beastmaster, I was able to change it.  I later picked up Paladin, Void Knight, and Reaver, and put these in an alternate soul configuration for tanking.  The attached screenshot shows my zeroed-out skill trees at level 28, with the button to switch to my Paladin-based tanking setup at the bottom.

All of these systems worked flawlessly during the beta.  Despite my concerns about its lack of content and similarity to previous games, the game is enormously fun (especially for the customization level of its classes and their ease of switching between wildly divergent roles), and this 5th beta event was sufficient evidence to convert this long-time LotRO player. 

(A post-beta note: Beta 6 was even more stable, and didn't crash once despite having more players on and a contest during that time to try to get as many as possible on at a single time)