First impressions of RIFT’s Prime progression server

The best word to describe what was happening on the launch day of RIFT Prime was “surreal.” It was absolutely surreal to see crowds of players running around in the low-level zones, and more than one person made the observation that it felt like the original launch day all over again.

I had to concur. With guilds forming left and right on the new progression server, players scrambling over each other to try to grab quest objectives, and fishing lines as far as the eye could see, it was a sight not seen in the beginning zones of RIFT since March 2011. And also as in 2011, everyone here on this progression server was paying a subscription to be a part of this new, tailored experience.

It’s a weird bird, too. RIFT Prime isn’t exactly vanilla, but it does offer a way to go back to the core game without some of the “fast lane” features (like instant adventures) to zip up through the levels. It strips all players of their extra starting bonuses, save for the special cash shop packs that kind of ruined this pristine level starting field.

It was a good, strong start, at least as far as my limited observations perceived, but what was playing RIFT Prime really like? After a couple of days on this new server ruleset, I have a few thoughts about both the good and bad of RIFT’s stab at a progression shard.

The good: Community engagement and excitement

Granted, any time you launch something new (or at least refurbished) after a period of hype, you’re going to get a crowd that’s initially buying into the enthusiasm and generating even more. It was so cool to see people simply on fire to play RIFT and buzzing to talk about it.

Having a critical mass in a zone transforms RIFT’s gameplay to a different level, thanks to the dynamic world system that includes invasions, rifts, and zone-wide events. With so many people in a certain level bracket, there were more than enough people to trigger these extra activities and respond to the dire threats that arose. It might only be something that exists in this short time window before the community gets spread out once more, but still, it’s pretty amazing to witness.

I was perhaps the most encouraged by just how many people I talked to who said that they had either not played RIFT since vanilla back in the day or were coming to the game as complete newbies. There’s something here that definitely has appeal outside of the core RIFT community, and one of my guildies even noted that he was a World of Warcraft refugee who thought that this would be a good way to pass the time while waiting for that game’s expansion.

Also, having everyone starting out on a level playing field created a lot of quick bonds through our shared experiences.

The bad: Slower XP gain, tougher mobs, and undocumented features

While I was riding high off of the initial rush of this project, by the second night I certainly noticed something that a lot of others were pointing out as well. Leveling wasn’t quite going the way that we had expected. Mob health pools were higher (or we were hitting for less), while XP gains (especially from quests) were reduced.

The end result was a much slower pace of leveling and some bouts of rising frustration as we ran out of on-level quests and had to grind mobs just to make up the gap. This makes playing more of a slog and a chore than it should be, and while challenge is all well and good, this feels broken or artificial rather than engaging.

Perhaps the most aggravating part of this was that nobody knew at the start whether this was an intentional — if undocumented — feature of the server or if something got messed up in pre-production.  Trion often frustrates me with its haphazard communication over systems and ideas, and Prime is a really good example of this. The whole progression server idea feels rushed without as much advance information and details as it should have had.

There has been miscommunication, silence, or ambiguity over specifics, such as the length of the server (a year-ish?), the schedule for releases (none so far), what exactly will happen to our characters when the server ends, if the server will end at all (because they’re leaving some wiggle-room there), how players unlock additional souls, when the newer souls are coming, if the anniversary event was planned, what unlock rewards we’re going to be working on for the main servers, and so on.

Intentional or not, it gives the impression that none of this feels very thought through, rather just thrown together and activated with a spirit of “we’ll figure it out along the way.” That… isn’t good design planning and it doesn’t inspire confidence among paying players who will be deciding in a month whether or not to re-up their access.

To Trion’s credit, the team did listen and respond to the community on the XP issue and promised to take action as soon as possible to adjust the rate of gain from quests, rifts, and other sources. It’s kind of strange this got to launch without anyone noticing that there would be questing level gaps, but oh well. What’s done is done and we can move forward.

The good: Starting all over again

Even with RIFT originally launched back in 2011, I wasn’t left with such a bare-bones inventory as I was with Prime. Back then I had my starter pack with the famous double-headed turtle mount, a bigger inventory bag, a pet or two, and some other niceties. Over time my starting bonuses for new characters grew to a ridiculous amount as I unlocked all sorts of mounts and gear and currency and buffs.

Now, apart from whatever daily rewards the system throws my way, I have nothing but what I gain in the game from my own efforts. I had no way to buy more inventory bags from the get-go, and I had to jog everywhere like a savage. Saving up enough money to buy a basic mount became one of my first priorities, and I cherished every cosmetic unlock that started to fill back out my inventory.

While I bemoaned the loss of my precious Ducklar pet and my racing snail mount, having no trust fund of goodies at the start made this whole experience feel brand-new. I had to forge my character from gameplay alone, and there was real satisfaction to be felt in each milestone achieved.

The bad: Butting heads with other players

Another way that progression was slowed was the bottleneck of players trying to rush through and do the same quests in the same order as everyone else. We were fighting over clickable glowies, scrambling to hit the same mobs, and triggering the same escort quests.

It’s here that I think RIFT could use an upgrade of its tech to allow more natural sharing of quest objectives as we see in other MMOs. Perhaps even an extension of the easy group feature that rifts use would go a long way to helping disassociated players team up to accomplish tasks together.

I didn’t like seeing my fellow players as competition in PvE, but we were rubbing shoulders too closely for my liking.

The good: Getting to know RIFT all over again at a slower pace

The slower pace, intentional and not, gave me a RIFT experience that I haven’t had in years. It’s one thing when you know that you’ve got the full base game, some additional zones, and three expansions to blow through to catch up with everyone else. It’s another when you’re told that you only have the base game and that you have a good while to get through that content before more unlocks.

All of my previous returns to RIFT have been rushes through zones that everyone else had long since beaten and deserted. Now I was given the opportunity to slowly progress through the game with the crowd thanks to time-locked gates, and that made a huge psychological difference.

There is a lot that I want to do and accomplish in the weeks ahead, and if this XP issue is cleared up, I’m looking forward to doing it. It could be a pretty amazing journey ahead, and it’s an inspiring thought that I could be a part of it.

The bad: Uncertainty about the future

But speaking of the future, there’s a note of uncertainty that’s running even through the excitement of the current RIFT crowd. Nobody seems to know what’s going to be happening or when it’s going to be happening, because Trion’s not saying. What kind of time table are we looking at here? Nobody knows. Some are treating Prime like a race even so, pushing hard to get to 50 just in case the next part unlocks faster than anticipated.

I was talking with my guild leader and said that the real litmus test is how the server will be doing three months from now. At that point, we’ll see if there’s a real sustainable crowd here once the tourists drift away. We’ll see if Trion is going to step up with a more definitive schedule and better communication. We’ll see if the appeal of this server is long-lasting or a flash in the pan.

I have my hopes, my worries, and my questions. For now, I’m on board. But it’s going to be a busy year, and RIFT Prime can’t survive on hype alone.

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