Rift’s new expansion, Storm Legion, was heralded wherever it was possible to herald. Lots of new features were trumpeted and I must confess I was taken in. I bought the new expansion, and at first, exploring harmless things like player housing and the soul tree revamps, all was good.

My Defiant Ranger’s action bars are now clean and mean, and there is less of the bewildering host of skills that had blighted his bars before. Advice is given from the start on how to distribute points and how best to use skills. This is great for a more casual player.  I’ve played Rift since pre-release, when I was introduced to it because I was reviewing it for a webzine, and liked it so much I stayed. But I’ve only played casually on it, since WoW is where I raid, and do all the serious stuff, and I don’t have time to play more than one game at that level. Even so, I’ve enjoyed all the hours I’ve spent in Telara, up until some of my characters hit top level (50 then) and there wasn’t anything interesting for them to do. The idea of a new expansion was great – more content to work through that I could mostly do solo or with public groups.

I can only compare Storm Legion (as an expansion to a major MMO) to Mists of Pandaria. I’m not a blinkered WoW fangirl. I’m quick to complain when I don’t think Blizzard get things right (or make things worse), and perhaps I am sometimes more of a critic than is fair. But Storm Legion to me, in comparison to MoP, is a huge disappointment. It started off well, with a couple of introductory quests in the new zones. I can’t remember how I got there, since later I discovered breadcrumb quests designed to lead a player there, but because I went through a porticulum I found in Ironpines, these quests now don’t work for my main character. So first downside, intro to the new content isn’t that great or that much of a fanfare. We get this new NPC, some queen of something, but frankly I don’t care about her; her goal and schemes haven’t grabbed or interested me at all; she’s just a typical female fantasy NPC in a needlessly skimpy outfit in what appears to be a fairly cold climate. In comparison to what we got in Mists in WoW, this is rather an anti climax, to put it mildly – well except for the boys who are rather turned on by the new queen in the minimal bikini! That aside, the paucity can’t be down simply to money or resources on behalf of the developers, but also creativity, flare and care.

The new landscape I’ve seen in Rift so far is unspectacular and the one Defiants start in is also kind of bleak. The quests don’t involve me in an expanding drama; it’s just down to ‘kill so many of these and these’. Plus, at level 50 with only quest reward gear from previous content, my Ranger is like a wet tissue. His pet is almost dead after two hits from a regular mob. If I get more than one mob on me at once, it’s most likely a case of ‘hello, graveyard’.  I’ve been playing MMOs for eight years or so, and other kinds of RPG and RTS solo games for far longer than that; I’m not a total noob and have got characters to 50 in Rift before this. I just don’t have the time to raid on Rift or to risk dungeons with PUGs (WoW’s community has irreparably scarred me for that), so my gear is hardly the MMO equivalent of designer label, but surely it’s better for all types of player to enjoy as much of a game as is possible for their play time and style? It’s not the difficulty of the mob fights that annoy me in Rift, but simply that I don’t have the gear to survive them easily. OK this is an MMO that’s set itself up to pleasure raiders, the hardcore players, and that’s maybe why its cities are so empty nowadays. We know hardcore players are the minority in the world of MMO gaming. Rift is trying to compete with WoW, by the look of it, but we all know how well pandering to the hardcore went down in WoW. Basically, it lost the game a lot of customers, more customers than most games would consider themselves lucky to have in the first place. If Rift *also* (please note the also), catered for a more casual market, we might not see Free to Play staring us in the face in the not too distant future, which I feel is a distinct possibility, given what appears to be the size of the community. Only a week or so after release of the xpac, the first new zone was empty when I visited it, but perhaps the players are all hidden in raids. As it stands a casual player is going to say ‘oh fuck it’ after dying multiple times on the first quests of the xpac, beneath that dull, lowering sky. They’ll just go back to WoW or other MMOs.

When we started in Jade Forest in WoW, the first quests could be tricky. It got a lot easier 10 or 12 quests in, but even so, it was colourful, story-filled and – most importantly – doable in average gear.  There were even vendors to help players kit themselves out to have more survivability in the new areas, if they lacked it. Storm Legion just feels like a bland blanket of over-tuned mobs, and gods help you if more than one gets to you, unless you’ve been playing Rift since release and are equipped with raid gear. It’s not fun, it’s not even beautiful. Rift excelled in zones such as Gloamwood in the initial release. I’d never seen such a gorgeously executed MMO zone. OK, all I’ve seen of Storm Legion is the first zone, but it’s dull. Just a few treeless hills and some rocks, that’s it.

As a friend said to me as I was moaning about how I’d wasted my money on Storm Legion, that Rift is, and always has been, not that friendly to the casual player. It’s a shame, as there is a lot about the world of Telara I love, and as the sub fees are so reasonably priced (only about £5 a month if you take out the annual sub package), it’s not that expensive to keep up. But if I can’t play the new content, or have to graveyard crawl my way forward slowly in the hope of getting enough quest reward gear to survive better, that’s not going to be a lot of fun. I don’t expect to raid in Rift, but do at least expect, seeing as I bought the game and pay the sub, to be able to do the basic PvE content without too much annoyance or pain, especially when starting off in a new expansion.

No game can get it right for everyone. For those who like their questing tough and challenging, Rift will be perfect, and these are no doubt the kind of players who are part of that world already.  They would inevitably pour scorn on everything I’ve said here. For me, gaming should be fun, and perhaps in that respect I’m a bit lazier than others. When I log on, I feel questing shouldn’t be a constant wipe-fest; save that for raiding.

My sub for Rift runs out in January, and I’m still undecided whether to renew it or not. But ultimately, is it worth paying £5 a month simply to level alts below 50, or hope for some kind of nerf to content if the game does go free to play at some point? I hate to turn my back on virtual worlds where I’ve spent many enjoyable hours, but with games such as GW2 offering such a vastly more pleasurable time, I have even less inclination to visit Telara now. Perhaps this world is where all those disgruntled hardcores ended up, who wept and lamented so vigorously about WoW ‘dumbing down’ and cancelled their subs. If so, I have no reason to be there, since a game catering to that kind of player isn’t going to be my kind of game. Perhaps I just have to accept that, and close the doors on Telara. Part of me will still feel sad and a bit reluctant, though.