I headed away from Scarlet Gorge finally in a bittersweet decision. I really had wanted to defeat the zone boss, Urthura, who is spawned when one faction controls all the ancient wardstones in the zone. The Guardians did get to the point where all the ancient wardstones were controlled, and we even saw the Urthura spawn text flash across the middle of our screens. And then… nothing. She apparently poked her head up but then went back to sleep, or she figured the failed death invasion event detritus could have Scarlet Gorge, or we lost a wardstone, or something. Hopefully, next time I visit Scarlet Gorge I can kill her.
Still, I am thankful to go. Scarlet Gorge seems like an experiment gone wrong. The zone extends along a river that flows North to South, and in comparison to the other square-ish zones, Scarlet Gorge is a thin rectangle. Each faction holds an opposing end of the long rectangle. Traversing the zone is a pain as both the river and the road are full of mobs in many areas. The few zone events that we were able to win had the boss of course spawning on the Defiant side, which forced a long run across dangerous territory if I wanted to participate. Ironically, it was usually the Guardian wardstones that kept the event from failing.
The ancient wardstone content is also unusual. The goal, of course, is to control all the ancient wardstones for the faction, which will spawn a boss that drops purple tokens. It is slanted towards PvP and in a sense the prisoner’s dilemma. If every ~20 hours a faction let the other faction take all the ancient wardstones, then both factions could work together to kill Urthura (and get purple tokens). Obviously this requires a little more control in a PvP server. The part I really didn’t like was the lack of information regarding ancient wardstones. They are scattered throughout the zone, and unless the ancient wardstone is held by the enemy faction, it simply will not appear on the map as a normal allied foothold. When an invading group attacks a controlled ancient wardstone it will appear on the map.
I have to say, the zone feels poorly designed for a mid-level zone. It is clear that the developers put in a lot of effort to make this an interesting, exciting zone, but given the lack of ancient wardstone information, the poor zone traversability, and the pressing need to move on from a zone with a lower population, it just amounts to one strike too many. It feels like a good zone to become attached to at a higher level.
I do want to return to one topic before moving on to Scarwood Reach and invasion events. I really do not understand why the mob density is so high in basic quest areas. I do like that at the end of each zone’s story the PvE content difficulty increases as does mob density, but for the basic areas I feel suffocated. Maybe it is just the action-oriented player in me, but I like to move. I like to be mobile. Much of the mob-filled areas feels like digging my way in one or two mobs at a time, and then digging my way back out. I really liked Lord of the Rings Online’s mob density in Southern Mirkwood, where it seemed they gave me just enough room to wiggle through an area. It required skill to find that mid-point between mobs to squeeze through without aggro’ing. In Rift, I really do not like the inability to traverse mob-filled areas without heading towards the edges, cliffs, and steep hills.
Anyway, on to Scarwood Reach. First off, the traversability of this zone returns back to what players were used to in the other square-shaped zones. I was having no trouble moving long distances as long as I was careful to skirt the mob-filled areas. I have more or less just started it at the third or so quest hub, but I do want to comment on one thing specifically.
Invasion events need to scale better. Even more than Scarlet Gorge, Scarwood Reach is lonely. In the first quest area, which is nearly the whole eastern edge of Scarwood Reach, I saw one other player on Sunday afternoon. She was in the opposing faction. Therefore, when invasion events begin attacking wardstones (quest hubs), it can be a challenge to mount up a resistance. Near the beginning of one invasion, I was helping one or two other players defend a minor quest hub (quest giver, merchant, and healer plus wardstone), and three elite invasion groups (boss + 4 or more adds) came trampling down on us. I just laughed because it was so ridiculous. In Scarlet Gorge, I found that we could eke out against maybe half of the invasion events, and usually the Guardian’s porticulum area was the last remaining wardstone up. In Scarwood Reach, every invasion event I saw fails in a short matter. It seems that the system is not fairly taking in to account active population when it sends multiple invasion groups to player-less areas.
I hate to have such a negative post for a game I am still thoroughly enjoying, but I am really in the mid-level doldrums. It doesn’t help when design decisions make it less fun. Still, this week kicks off Rift’s first big patch (1.1) with a world-wide event. I am pretty excited about it, even though I won’t be able to participate in the level-50 let-every-dungeon-boss-one-shot-you event. As crappy as these mid-level doldrums are, Trion Worlds is emphasizing the great parts of their MMO, and that keeps me a happy customer. (Still, another few passes at invasion event balancing might be nice.)