Making my way through RIFT Prime’s progression server

    
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It has been a month since that fateful day back in March when the MMO collectively lost its mind by rushing back to play a seven-year-old game as if it was new again. I was among the crowd that eagerly signed up for a month’s subscription to try my hand at RIFT’s very first progression server, Vigil (or as I will always be mistyping it, Virgil).

It was, in a word, bizarre. It was bizarre to see such enthusiasm for an MMO that many had abandoned or forgotten about. It was bizarre to see beginner zones packed with players — several of whom were completely new to the game — doing quests and rifts like it was the first days all over again. It was bizarre for me to be this excited about playing a game that I have played many times over the past seven years.

Now we’re a month in, the initial hype is past, and some reflection and evaluation is required. Is RIFT Prime still worth playing? What’s going on with the progression schedule? How has Trion Worlds adjusted to the feedback and issues unique to this shard?

Strong and confident

Let us begin with my conclusion, because I’m ornery that way. I’ve subscribed for a second month because I am still having a good amount of fun going back through the game. Still, I’m wavering a little bit now that the initial enthusiasm for this project has faded, and I’m thinking more and more what I am getting out of this subscription that I couldn’t on the normal free-to-play servers.

I think that a big part of the appeal here is moving through the game with a community, and that’s where I’m starting to grow concerned. Doing public events in the first two zones was downright commonplace (and a blast, I might add), but they’ve started to become few and far between in the “middling” zones now that I’m approaching level 30. It could be that more people are at the level cap and doing content there, and if that’s the case, then I have that to look forward to experiencing. But that virtual immediancy (is that a term?) is important to me, and I worry a bit when I’m not getting that daily.

Another appeal is a more back-to-basics approach, where we don’t have the shortcuts to level or the slightly overpowered Primalist calling. I’m generally fine with this, although I do miss the group fun of instant adventures. Instead, I’m going through the same questing track and sprinkling that with dungeon runs and rift fights when I can. Now that I have a mount, some money, and some talent points under my belt, I feel more confident in making my way forward.

The seas are calming down

Two overriding problems were at the top of many players’ concerns during the first few weeks, starting with some severe ability lag. Despite Vigil being the newest server hardware that Trion had, apparently it wasn’t good enough to handle the glut of players crowding into zones and doing events. I had nights where I logged off in frustration after not being able to play effectively at all. Fortunately, I’ve seen this situation improve since, and that’s a relief.

The other major problem was that of the XP rate and “leveling gaps” between quests. Trion had initially launched the server with XP turned way, way down for quests and rifts, forcing players to grind to make up the difference. While this may have been pleasing to some, I was among the crowd that was irked at suddenly finding that the next quests available to me were two or three levels higher.

Over the course of a few hotfixes and patches, Trion nudged the quest and rift XP higher to what now, at least to me, feels like a good rate. It’s not flowing in super-fast — and I always worry about those higher levels in the upcoming expansion packs — but right now I’m able to make progress at a noticeable rate and not have to grind or PvP to simply level.

Looking for details

I would say that most of the time I’ve spent on RIFT Prime has been to get to know the game again from a slightly different perspective. It has been years since I slowly went through these zones and stories, and I’ve amused myself a lot by taking close-up pictures of mobs, trying out different strange builds, and finding all of the zone puzzles I could.

RIFT always seems to straddle the line of ugly and pretty for me. Depends on where I’m at in the game, really. Some mobs look ill-defined and washed out, and there are some areas that are repulsive to experience. Yet there is also a lot of beauty in this game, and I’ve filled up a folder with scads of screenshots documenting small and large details, from the spell effects that my Bard puts out to the gorgeous sunsets over Scarlet Gorge.

I’ve made a concerted effort to read and not skip the quest text, because there is some clever and weird writing tucked in among the “kill ten rats” rationale. Rediscovering past favorite features, such as certain well-designed dungeons and the fun of hunting around for artifacts, have enhanced my joy during this run.

Communication and progression

I want to end by saying that over all of this has loomed one thought that affects every play session that I put into RIFT Prime. And that thought is, “How’s this progression server going to, well, progress?”

Here’s where I feel torn in my feelings toward Trion. On one hand, it’s a studio that has a lot of very passionate, very dedicated devs and CMs who care about their games. I like talking with the studio every time I get the chance, and more often than not, a rep does respond when I ping them with a question. On the other hand, it’s a studio that continues to be so inconsistent in its communication and messaging that I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief.

RIFT Prime, from the initial announcement until today, has felt rushed and incomplete in both communication and execution. Instead of keeping the hype and discussion going in the lead up to the launch and after, Trion has handled this in fits and starts. A little here, a little there, but nothing consistent or dependable. A month into this game, and there is still so much we don’t know, including the rather major topic of the progression schedule.

Simply put, we need to know this. As players putting in a regular subscription, it’s of paramount importance that we know what’s coming and when it is coming. Keeping us in the dark makes me feel strung along, hoping that all will be OK but how do I know? I’ve felt genuine anxiety playing the server this month not knowing if I’m going “fast enough” to be ready for when the next stage of the server unlocks.

Trion did respond when I asked them about this, saying that it would be talking about a schedule later this month. While I appreciated the response, I have to say that it is not good enough. Trion, please be better with the communication. Be more regular, more consistent, and let players know what you’re thinking about this server’s development. I’m tired of not knowing, and it is becoming a mental drag to be invested in this server because of it.

I would love to see more dev blogs on the website about Prime and the Live servers. RIFT’s greatest enemy is perhaps its unwillingness to self-promote and inform the community, and that should be addressed.

RIFT, you got me for a second month. We’ll see if you earn month three.

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teppic

It’s been fun but as time goes on the more and more clear it is how utterly untested it was, and how the game is so not remotely tuned for vanilla content (or even the current game, according to many). Communication has been pretty bad – a month in and still no word on raids, no news on what is being done to fix class balance, if anything.

That being said, it’s still worth playing at the moment as long as you can just enjoy it for what it is right now. I think that if the balance isn’t there for the raids (which is seemingly very unlikely at this stage), it won’t last beyond that, as people won’t pay a sub for a progression server where the content is broken.

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Mallus

They failed by making the leveling experience a grind (it took me 85 hours to get to level 36, when most MMO’s take around 30 min to 1 hour per level on average) and by the time they improved the experience gains many people had already moved on, including me…

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Toy Clown

I enjoyed the first month of Rift Vigil. What drew me to the game, what I found fun, was there in droves as rifts were populated across the zones again. I did so much leveling off of rifts and the associated dailies!

But they began drying up and I no longer had teams of people to play with anymore as I moved into my 30’s. I settled into straight questing, but realized my levels started falling behind again without the rush of rift dailies. I tried soloing some and failed several miserably. Then I just sort of started losing interest.

I can’t help but wonder if that is where some of the problems lie, in that Rift is fun to play with a lot of people, but begins to pale when there are no people around. That was something I also loved about GW2, is that I didn’t have to deal with people’s anti-social behaviors in order to do group content with them. But GW2 maintained their populations and buffered their content where they needed to, whereas Rift developers didn’t quite do that.

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Coldrun ??

I enjoyed my start on the server but got quickly frustrated as I found this incarnation of Rift to be more of an EverQuest-style grind than the themepark MMO I remember. Stopped after that.

It sounds like they improved quest experience since, but I’ve moved on.

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Neurotic

I’ve no intention of playing on the prog server myself, but I do hope it’s a success for them, because I want the regular servers to live forever! I like RIFT because it comfortably straddles the line between EQ depth and WoW usability, but Trion’s low-key approach to comms does make me nervous sometimes about my continued commitment to it. :D

dixa
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dixa

CoH progression server, please.

Celestia
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Celestia

/em holdtorch

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A Dad Supreme

Just as “Battle Royale” has been the new thing with psedo-MMOs for the past six months, “progression servers” is the new thing with old MMOs.

The thing is, you never want to be on the back end of a trend (see: MOBA failures) because by the time you figure out people are willing to pay for X, they’ve moved onto Y and you’ve missed easy “take my money!” cash.

I think Trion saw EQNext making money with it’s progression servers and the generally good response and crowds that came with them, then saw the buzz around WoW’s announcement and Hartsman said “Look, I don’t care if it’s ready or not, if we have it fleshed out or not, get it out the door now before heads roll.” I’m sure he knows he’s in a great advantage spot to get Prime out now and if he would have waited another couple months to make it right, then he would have possibly lost a lot of money.

That’s why you don’t see a plan going forward announced with any detail imo; they simply haven’t thought that far ahead and it’s all about getting the product out of the door before the fad fades, or before WoW redux hits.

About the game itself, the thing that helped kill Rift was went the fun from doing rifts faded. They were new and people were excited. Later once people got used to them, it was just ho-hum. New people now haven’t seen them so they run them a lot. Vets know that’s where XP used to be in original launch so they hit them.

Now that XP is adjusted I think people will start ignoring them again and just like around level 40+ in original Rift, people will not be found later caring about “rifts”. Then the game turns back into what it was before, raiding, raiding and raiding. The problem is you have to train a bunch of new people (if they make it that far) and Vets will wonder why I’m busting my ass forming raid teams when they are already established on the regular servers where you don’t have to retrain anyone.

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Leiloni

Well there are good reasons to do Rifts at all levels. For one thing some of the best gear comes from Planarite vendors as you level. The 3 additional souls also cost Planarite (2k, 20k, then 50k which are all a bit of a grind). I’m not sure what you get at 50 for them since I haven’t gotten there yet, but 50’s run them non stop. As of a day or two ago they now have raid rifts, so people are doing those and they also have some nice gear drops in them. So they’re incentivized a bit, but I think people enjoy having open world group content. I did them at launch and so did a lot of people I see, but they’re still fun and rewarding as well.

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teppic

No levelling gear comes from the planarite though, it’s from void stones, which is only obtained in dungeons or invasions. Since dungeons are much easier, that’s what people do. Trion basically killed any reason to rifts by including tons of planarite in the login rewards, since then they’re all basically dead.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

What all these new progression servers tells me, and perhaps should be telling the MMO industry, is that end-game is not where it’s at.

Everyone knows that the best part of the love story is the Meet Cute. The falling in love part can be fun, but the after the wedding is generally boring, unless the whole point of the story is to blow up the relationship. But if it’s a love story, cementing the relationship is the END. There’s nothing after the end, because the good stuff is over.

It’s the same way with MMOs, getting started, learning the game, figuring things out, acquiring skills and gear, progressing, getting better: That’s all the good stuff.

Being at level cap, unless you love to raid or do challenge dungeons solo, is boring. So for end-game raiders we now have Battle Royale or whatever the latest FPS/TPS/TS is and for everyone else we have AoC, Rift, Ultima, etc. progression servers.

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Leiloni

I’m having fun with this for now. In terms of seeing less people in zone events, I think that’s due to a few things. It’s a progression server so those that hit 50 are mostly focusing on their mains for now and less on alts. Secondly since leveling takes longer, if you’re not leveling along with the biggest crowd, you’ll miss out.

Right now I think most are in their 40’s or already 50, so those of us lagging behind are in the minority. I’m 35 on my Cleric, but also leveling a Rogue who just hit 25, so doing two at the same time is slowing me down. Plus, I only started a couple weeks ago so I had a late start. However I’m in a large guild and I see people posting about zone events in higher level zones all the time, putting down flags to summon guild members to them. So I know these are happening frequently and that people are attending them, just not at my level.

I’m not too concerned about when they come out with more content because right now there’s not enough people at 50 to worry about it. There’s enough still leveling at various levels that I think we could wait 2 more weeks to get content. And they did just release – even if accidentally – raid rifts to keep people busy. I do think some indication of their plans would help, but I don’t think they’re late on anything. I’m guessing they’re so focused on fixing lag and DC issues, fixing WF balance, and fixing class balance, that communicating their progression plans is lower down on the list. They have bigger fish to fry first before they can think about releasing more content.

But I did get the feeling this article was a bit rushed because there are two obvious mistakes that stand out for me:

virtual immediancy (is that a term?)

I think you mean immediacy but even if you didn’t know that, a quick Google search pulls that up.

Depends on where I’m at in the game, really.

The phrase “where I’m at” always makes me shudder. My parents heard it from my brother’s middle school English teacher during a parent-teacher conference and sent him to a private school a year or so later. I think you mean, “Depends on where I am in the game” in this sentence.

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Greaterdivinity

That last section has been my hot-take from the outside. It all just seems so hurriedly rushed without any concrete longterm plans from Trion in the slightest, and they’re making their lack of longterm planning really obvious with their communications. Tack onto that some of this urgency to rush the servers live seeming to cause predictable issues that it feels like the team should have caught and headed off early if they’d really sat down to plan and test everything out and it makes this whole affair look more like a cynical cash-grab than a genuine passion project for Rift fans.

It’s a shitty view to have, but my opinion of Trion remains pretty dismal and their handling of this server hasn’t really improved it much. I hope they can turn things around and start forging a clear path forward for everyone’s sake.

I will say though, I’m shocked at how popular it’s apparently been. And it’s been nice to see a little bit of optimism and excitement about Rift outside of the obnoxious hardcore white knights for the first time in a long while.

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teppic

I think originally it was intended as a cash grab for a few fans who’d happily throw cash at Trion to play a fresh server, so they didn’t really bother testing anything, and very few resources were put into it. It was hugely popular though and now they’ve found themselves with thousands of players, and a game with no balance, no tuning, not enough hardware support, not enough devs, and no real solutions. It’s a shame as if handled properly it could do extremely well, but Trion’s management is generally the worst out there.

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Tulerezzer

Both of these comments are pretty much exactly how I feel as well. I didn’t even make it a whole month.