There’s no sense in denying the fact that Rift has an uphill battle over the next six months or more. Not because the game’s not a solid piece of entertainment software with an excellent foundation to build upon, but rather because at least two of the most anticipated games in MMO history are likely to drop before the spring of 2012. And while there’s no solid release date in place for either Guild Wars 2 or Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s hard not to imagine that at least one of them will drop around the holiday season. That said Trion Worlds seems to know that its game has enjoyed a nice early head-start against the other up and coming behemoths. But things are about to get hairy and they’re not about to rest on their laurels and hope people keep with them in the face of the newer and shinier games on the shelf.
Update 1.4 just hit the servers with probably one of the game’s more controversial but potentially most needed additions: cross-server queuing. But more than that, patch 1.4 brought a brand new form of open world PvP into the mix: PvP Rifts. Basically, these Rifts can be activated by players and once live the entire zone is informed of their presence and you wind up seeing hordes of players from both sides rush the event to try and win the spoils within. It’s a little early to tell for me, and our readers can probably impart more, but it seems to be exciting and ticking off a fair number of players… always the sign of an oft-used system.
But it’s what’s coming down the road this summer that could help Rift fight off the onslaught more than anything in 1.4. Further into the summer and fall months Trion is going to be implementing an alternate advancement system. Rather than just a way to get more skill points on your main soul trees, the idea is to let a player attune themselves to one of the six planes and thus open a whole new tree of skills. The experience you then gain at level 50 will go towards earning new points to be used in these trees, further fleshing out your character at the level cap: something just about every game could use more of. Though I’m sure gear will still play a huge part in the raiding and PvP of Rift, it’s nice to know that my Cleric doesn’t have a dead-end waiting for him when I finally manage to get his tiny dwarven butt to level 50 (yes, I’m that slow, sue me).
On top of the AA system, which I’m sure will have a different name from EQ and EQ2’s famous level-cap expanding feature, Trion’s also going to be adding “Instant Adventure” events. From what we could gather during our July call with Scott Hartsman, it sounds as though each player will be able to tell the game that they want to partake in some sort of event, and based on the number of people queuing up for this, the system will place you in groups and create havoc for you. I could be completely wrong, but it almost sounds like ordering something off of a menu. While it may not be the most immersive thing in the world it sure beats sitting around waiting for stuff to happen.
Lastly, and probably most importantly for a great many people out there, The Chronicles of Telara will be Trion’s answer to all those people who are dying for more solo and small group play. Essentially, Trion is painting these adventures as a way for everyone to experience the extremely detailed lore of Rift, while not forcing them to be in a raiding guild to do so. They won’t just be “raid-lite” either, and will serve as entirely unique experiences for solo and duo groups looking for both challenge and reward (and some decent loot to boot).
Trion knows what they’re doing. Just as they know they’ll undoubtedly lose some subscribers to the next crop of AAA games in the coming months. But if there’s one thing this young company has going for them, it’s their resolution to listen and react to their customers’ desires. Rift is growing faster than just about any MMO we’ve seen in recent years, and if they can keep up this pace it may be hard to deny its place among the elite games on the market, even in the face of the Second Coming and the Sith Lords.