Monday, March 12, 2018

Lost Time Is Not Found Again: Rift Prime

Rift Prime launched last Wednesday, with the traditional log-in queues and lag. Or so I read. I wasn't there. I'd forgotten all about it.

It wasn't until Wilhelm posted the day after that I remembered one of the things I was supposed to do on my week off work was decide whether or not to give Prime a try. I was leaning very strongly towards not bothering until he pointed out that the required Patron status is purchasable with Trion's funny money rather than real cash.

Like Wilhelm, I'm still sitting on a huge pile of credits from the F2P conversion years ago. In what was the most ill-judged purchase of my MMO carreer, I pre-purchased the first Rift expansion, Storm Legion, in the version that came with a full year's subscription. When Trion later decided to drop the sub they gave cash shop credits.

That wasn't the ony reason I felt I'd made such a bad decision. There was some odd background to it that I'd like to record here for posterity.

The Background Story

Mrs Bhagpuss and I played Rift for around six months from launch in 2011. We had a good time for a while but only a year later we were already playing GW2.

Although we took to GW2 immediately, at the time the first Rift expansion was announced, GW2 was having huge - really, really huge - problems with bots. Just a couple of months after launch those issues were so pervasive and unavoidable that we discussed our options and decided that, if ArenaNet couldn't get things under control, we'd quit and go play the Rift expansion instead.

So I bought two 12 month packages, which seemed like the best deal. Then we went on holiday to Spain for a week. When we came back ArenaNet had cleaned house. The bots were gone. All of them. It was like magic.

I never heard exactly how ANet did it but overnight they either removed the entire population of bots or made it so we never saw them. In a matter of weeks it went from being the number one issue that threatened to destroy the entire game to something no-one even mentioned. Now the whole episode is utterly forgotten.

So there we were, with a year-long sub to a game with a new expansion and no real desire to play it. When it launched we didn't even log in. We probably never would have, only a friend, who was also in both our GW2 guild and our old Rift guild, left GW2 for Rift so she could build houses with the new Dimensions feature.

Her positive feedback eventually convinced Mrs Bhagpuss to go take a look at the housing there, which happened to co-incide with the F2P conversion in 2013. I went along to try Storm Legion. It was dour and dull. I lasted less than two weeks. Mrs Bhagpuss spent all her free cash shop credits on fixings and furniture, stayed for about a month , then left, never to return.

Since then I have dipped in and out, now and again, on a new F2P account and on my old one with all the perks. I never spent any of my store credits, all 19,290 of them. On Saturday, I logged in and blew a couple of thousand on the shortest period of Patron Status available, two weeks.

Two hours would have been plenty. One, if I could have skipped the tutorial.

The "Review"

Rift always had a terrible problem with its opening act. The tutorial is numbingly tedious, full of technobabble and lore twaddle that makes no sense, plus a lot of shouting and yelling and explosions. It's supposed to create a sense of excitement and urgency but it just makes for an extremely annoying roadblock to the game you came to play.

A few years in Trion added an option to skip the Tutorial but that seems to have been removed for Prime. Unless I missed it. Anyway, I slogged through the tutorial for the umpteenth time, rolling my eyes. I think they might have shortened it a bit. It only took me half an hour.

All the time I was "entertained" by a perpetual stream of moaning, complaining, swearing, boasting and arguing in the default chat channel, which seemed to be set to Level 1-29. To call it disheartening would be a major understatement. It was grim.

There appeared to be a very large number of players with nothing better to do than talk incessantly about what a bad time they were having, how Trion could have done it better or what great things they would do when they got past all the annoying leveling stuff to the Raids they came for. That stream of collective consciousness continued unabated for the entire two hours I played. If anyone who was actually between levels 1 and 29 ever spoke about the content in those zones I must have lost it in the static.

Rift's scene-setting problems don't end when you get out of the tutorial. The game dumps you at the wrong end of the starter zone and throws a whole lot more lore nonsense at you before offering you the first of what will be a seemingly endless series of the most mundane, trivial quests ever seen in a major MMO.

At root, Rift is a very old-school quest-hub theme park MMORPG, extremely closely modeled on WoW but with absolutely none of WoW's elan or imagination. I honestly think I have never seen so many lacklustre quests in one game. Even the dullest of imported F2Ps has more to offer in terms of wit or imagination than this.

That doesn't matter as much as it should because no-one comes to Rift for the questing or the lore or the story. These days they might come for the Raids, I guess, or the Dimensions. Back at launch everyone came for two things: the Rifts and Invasions and the flexible, innovative"Soul" class system.

It always took too long before you found your first Rift or got run over by your first invasion. This time I almost logged off in frustration before - almost an hour and three-quarters after I left character creation - I heard the familiar blast of brass that signals a major invasion.

I'd found a couple of Rifts by then. They were disappointing. I did one with two other people and one in a duo. Both failed. There were scores of players all around but no-one seemed interested. Rifts, apparently, were giving really terrible xp when Prime launched and everyone had immediately learned to avoid them. Trion buffed that xp but from what I was getting it was still very poor.

The invasion, when it came, was better. People did join in to do that and I got a very brief and faint reminder of how exciting it used to be. Even so, there was none of the genuine thrill we used to feel, no hint of players co-ordinating defence or working towards a common end. There were no call-outs in chat, no-one organizing groups, none of the desperate racing from Rift to Rift to close them down before the event failed.

By the time the Invasion ended I was just shy of Level 8. I finished a couple of quests to ding just out of a sense of tidiness. Then I logged out. I haven't logged in again.

For me, the lure of Rift in those first few months was always the Rifts and Invasions. For as long as the community was focused on those, taking them seriously and responding to them enthusiastically, I remained involved and committed.

As the months passed, Trion made numerous changes to both Invasions and Rifts that made them less appealing, less exciting, less essential. By the time we had Raids and Crafting Rifts and PvP Rifts and Lures the whole point of the exercise had been lost, for me anyway.

ArenaNet took the concept that Trion had borrowed and expanded from Public Quests in Warhammer Online and blew it up into an entire gaming eco-system with GW2. Going back to Rift now, even a highly populated Rift Prime with actual Rifts and Invasions is like going back to watching television on a 12" B&W portable when you're used to a 48" plasma screen.

I still would play Rift again, if the game could guarantee a steady stream of those zone-wide Invasions along with a population of players ready and willing to do battle with them. And that might happen - for a while - in the mid/end-game zones, Iron Pine Peaks, Shimmersands and Stillmoor. I'd love to see that but I'm not going to grind through forty levels of brain-sappingly boring quests to get there.

Whether Rift Prime will be a commercial success for Trion the way Progression servers have been for SOE/DBG I very much doubt. Rift simply doesn't have the depth or breadth of content of either of the EverQuest games, nor the nostalgia factor. Trion, as Brasse's comment on this Massively OP thread confirms, are well aware that interest in Prime may not be sustained.

Mine certainly wasn't. I might log in again before my two weeks Patron access expires. I won't be buying any more. Not even with credits.

P.S. For a much more detailed and considered review, try this at Endgame Viable. It wasn't up when I wrote my post or I'd have worked it in!


  1. I'll be posting about my own experience in Rift Prime tomorrow, but I do have to say that turning off the level 1-29 chat channel improved the experience dramatically. The complaining is not unexpected. We've seen it before with EQ and EQII retro servers. I think Trion is just getting a hold on what this sort of experience is really like, what they ought to change, and how they ought to communicate better. The run up to the server launch seemed a bit rushed. I follow Trion on social media and never knew, for example, that there was a vote happening on the server name until the vote was over.

    Also, looking at your screen shots, I gather you started on the Guardians side of things. While I was not fond of either side's tutorial, I always found the Defiant post-tutorial areas much superior to the Guardian counter part. Freemarch, as I have oft said, is a lesson in making a small zone feel big. I don't even mind tromping about on foot because as far as things seem, it always turns out where I want to go is just around the corner or over the next hill.

    1. As you were commenting, I was reading UltrViolet's post (which I just retro-linked at the end of mine because it offers a much fairer and more detailed overview). It seems he found most of what I was looking for but couldn't locate. I suspect the reason may be time zones. It's an NA server and I played on Saturday morning in the UK, which would be the middle of the night to before breakfast across the USA. I had absolutely no log in queue for example - went straight in. It seemd busy enough but it wasn't heaving. If I'd played on Saturday evening I suspect my experience would have been better. I also agree on the starting zones. I always preferred Freeemarch. I only started in Silverwood because I remebered the 24/7 invasion trains at Argent Glade...

      On a more general level, though, I'm wondering if I may be done with New Start servers in general. I tend to get the feeling on all of them that I could be spending my time better on my already-existing "Live" characters. I fear the nostalgia seam may already be tapped out in the mine of my MMO soul...


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