RIFT: Cthulhu Toolkit

I was listening to Massively Speaking yesterday where they interviewed Scott Hartsman, head honcho at Trion Worlds. It’s a great MMO podcast to even begin with, but it was also a great interview. One of my big concerns with Rift, coming off of a lot of play time during Beta 4, was the mushiness of the invasion system. Players need focus and sense, and the middle portion of the dynamic content system seemed to lose both. Hartsman eased my fears in the interview because he talked about how we were seeing the early use of tools in their dynamic content system, and there was a lot more to come.

In Beta 4, there were two extremes to the dynamic content system. On the simplest end, a rift would open. The rift would bring with it a few waves of mobs, and then it would close. To add a twist, the rift could send invasion groups to quest hubs. This end had focus with only one rift and sense because players knew that it would stop if invasion group was beaten and the rift was closed.

The other end were the massive Events. I only was able to participate in the Battle for Freemarch, but it was great fun. In the Battle for Freemarch, tons of death rifts opened up. The Defiant set up two weird devices to collect Shadestone. Shadestone dropped off of powerful invaders, and when the collectors received 200 and the Event boss was killed, the Event ended. If the two devices were destroyed the zone lost the Event. So, even though the zone completely and radically changed, players had focus to kill stuff to get Shadestone, and they had sense because the Event had a win/loss conditions.

The middle was where it got mushy. At one time I remember the southern half of Freemarch was flooded with water rifts and invaders. There was no event happening. It was just that the zone was doing poorly against the onslaught. I joined up with a small ten man raid, and we did our best to whack-a-mole the invaders, footholds, and rifts.  I have to say after 20 minutes, I didn’t feel like any progress was being made. It was easier just to ignore the water rifts and hope my questing area was “safe” or to just log off and come back later when the zone wasn’t flooded. In other words, there was no focus because there were too many to handle, and there was no sense because it did not seem like we could strike back in a way to win.

In the podcast, Hartsman said that what we saw was just the beginning of their dynamic content system. The rifts, invaders, footholds, and events were just tools in a large toolkit, which was growing every day. Due to their tech stability, Hartsman said they were able to focus much attention on the front end of gameplay, which the players saw in the change of soul/point distribution between the beta events. The dynamic content system was also getting a lot of focus.

I actually saw this in the middle of one of my times with the Battle for Freemarch Event. It seemed that in the middle of the Event, the Plane of Life decided it would also be an awesome time to launch their invasion with half a dozen rifts on the west side of Freemarch. It was apparent that things were going wrong, players didn’t know which was the greater enemy, invader mobs were piling up on each other in weird ways, and Trion eventually just nuked all the rifts and invaders. I didn’t see any similar pileups in the Battle for Freemarch Event the rest of Beta 4.

Hartsman also hinted at quite a few undisclosed tools in the toolkit. I had honestly written off their dynamic content system as PQ 2.0, which is really a good thing, but now I am wondering if they actually do not have the ability to be “revolutionary” instead of merely iterating and “evolutionary.” I think that if they pull out the mushy middle and replace it with smaller, different Events that would help a long way towards that end.

I am heavily anticipating Beta 5, even though it seems smack dab in the middle of the work week. I won’t be able to put in as many hours, but I am looking forward to the couple hours I can. Trion is listening to our feedback, and they are showing us.

wgah nagl

12 thoughts on “RIFT: Cthulhu Toolkit”

  1. Good post – I enjoyed a few times stopping to watch two rifts beat each other up – but I felt exactly as you did a few times. I will say it got to out of control a few times it was not safe anywhere on the map to go so I just stayed in the city and qued up for warfronts.

    A few of us like you did try to quell the onslaught of rifts and we were left with the same feeling like we were getting no where.

    I hope things are a bit more balanced this go around.

  2. I listened to that interview and in addition to what you’ve described I was glad to hear they’re taking a look at rift consumable loot. There are items you get as rewards that can help you fight rifts but I think most players aren’t really paying attention to them. Wardstone buffs, stuff that spawns defenders and so forth.

    I do think there’s a delicate balance between too many “pointless” rifts and not enough. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll be able to find a happy medium.

  3. I’ll be curious to see how RIFT evolves. I agree that the rift/invasion system is indeed positioned to be potentially revolutionary – I think they did a great job of under-promising and over-delivering on this one – but I’m worried (as I’ve said elsewhere) that it will be held back by the game’s other design decisions. Specifically the ultra-generic questing, combat, and progression systems underlying everything.

    Frankly however amazing the Rift system is, however polished the UI and graphics are, and however cool the world and art design are, I find the actual game systems unexciting. Frankly DC Universe has done a much better job of grabbing my interest – despite my active dislike of super heroes – with its action-MMO combat system and novel class design.

    Now obviously this is more a matter of my taste than anything else. But for me at least, it’s much more important for MMOs to find new and interesting gameplay models, than to plug 10-15 year old combat and progression systems into a slightly more dynamic world.

    Although in all honesty, I’m really only interested in Guildwars 2, which looks to be the best of both world. However, it is tempting to find something else to play for the next year or so, while we wait for ANet to get everything just right. :)

    1. Rift’s other strong draw, besides the rift/invasion system, is the Soul system with the potential promise of designing one’s own class for the situation. I think this will ultimately make or break them in the long run, depending on how the developers “adjust” the skills towards or away from certain playstyles, revealing their own design philosophies in the process.

      For myself, coming from CoH’s non-holy trinity playstyle (but with both specialized and hybrid classes), GW’s design-your-build-to-counter-specific-situations, and Lotro’s balance of specialized holy trinity plus semi-decent option for hybrids, I admit to some personal ambition/hope that Rift may be the game to slowly open the minds of the WoW trained that there’s more to MMO tactics than holy trinity.

      Seeing rogue tanks, mage healers and cleric dps may already be earthshaking enough for some folks. I don’t know if they’ve realized yet that split aggro is one of the means in which spontaneous rift groups manage to defeat those “impossible” seeming rifts where 5+ elites converge onto the first guy to aggro.

      What I would really love is to see groups of hybrid classes take on the dungeons and do just as well or better than the typical main tank-main heal-dps situations (whatever the arrangements of Callings involved). If Rift can bring acceptance of groups like 5 Mages (with pet tanks, heals, some going cc or dps or aoe) and 5 clerics (justicar tank or two, everyone producing heals, and some specced for aoe dps) alongside the standard arrangements, then I think we truly would have evolved to the “next-gen” of MMOs. If the devs tweak towards a vision of level 50 raids being tackled by the same WoW tactics, and here’s some pity specs for your solo leveling and pvp needs, but swap over to these specialized builds when we’re raiding, that’s what class trainers are for, kthxbai… Then alas, we’re back to generation version 1.5 or so.

      1. Sorry I wasn’t very clear. I think the soul system has a lot of potential and is well implemented, but I worry that the fundamental design of the abilities themselves are all getting dated at this point. It feels like these are all skills and spells that might have felt slightly neat in vanilla WoW, but don’t even feel cool or evolutionary to me, now.

        For example when I made a warrior, I picked 3 souls that sounded cool to me – and wound up with 9 skills on my bar that all basically did the exact same thing – “Do a little damage and apply a DOT. Also debuffs enemy in this minor way”. There was no real order I needed to apply them in, and no real advantage to using one skill or the other. None of them were exciting or interesting, they didn’t offer me any interesting choices or require my attention.

        I feel like I’m being a bit unfair, honestly – I didn’t play to a particularly high level, and maybe I just got unlucky with my warrior. But these days I want to see some really original combat, and I’m not willing to wait until endgame – you need to impress people early on. I want combat like GW2 or DCUO have, with skills that hit multiple targets in a line or area, have some actiony feel, need to be aimed – you know, I want some more direct control over the combat. I don’t want it to just be about math and DPS rotations anymore.

        But to be fair to RIFT, I do think they did a really good job in terms of implementing their design goals. I understand not everyone wants action-based combat, and I can deal with that. RIFT just might not be the game for me, which is also fine.

        And as I say, I didn’t play very long in the beta, it might be that I’ve just not seen the cool stuff yet.

  4. I enjoyed it far more when rifts were opening up everywhere. I think it challenges what has become the standard in modern mmo’s of solo questing and grinding for xp. Everyone excepts the need to form a good group to take on an epic dungeon. Rift is bringing back the idea of forming those types of groups to get xp and level.

    It challenges the solo mentality of modern mmo’s and thats something I like. I find the idea of logging in and joining a rift closing group more appealing than solo quest a – kill ten rats, solo quest b – kill 11 rats.

  5. The Rifts similarity with public quests start with the fact they use the same progress scale to show what stage you are on that War did..they really should use something a bit different..unless they want that familiarity.

    I enjoyed the beta 4 but I’m concerned the Rifts are a one trick pony and that the world beyond the Rifts is static and lacks immersion. When I compared the dynamic quest plan from GW2 with Rift rifts on the beta forums I actually got a warning and the thread was delete. Ignoring the competition(or not discussing them) is a big red flag in m book

    Here is my review of Rifts beta 4 if you are interested


  6. The more chaotic it became, the more I liked it. I didn’t think it was “mushy” at all, rather I thought it represented a much more convincing state of desperation and the impending destruction of civilization than could be conveyed by any set of victory conditions.

    I’d be quite happy to have gameplay consist mostly of trying to survive.

    1. That’s a really fascinating and insightful point, actually. It could borrow from the conventions of the post-apocalyptic and zombie genres!

      That would transform the periods between invasions from passive on-rails questing, into a sort of frantic scavenger hunt for materials, artifacts, and other items to help stave off the next invasion. It’d really change the tone of the entire experience – with minimal changes necessary to the underlying quest structure.

      Even something simple like replacing vendor trash with items you trade into NPCs, in order to improve the fortifications of your quest hub would do it. Maybe “collect 10 wolf flanks” would be a little more exciting, if doing so rewarded us with those items that let you summon an NPC ally to fight the invasion – if it was tied into the dynamic content in even the most tenuous way possible.

      It’s very interesting to consider how even little changes in the lore and quest text would make such a huge difference…

Comments are closed.