While WoW is the game I play the most, I also dabble in Rift – less so since WoD as I’m kept busy in WoW with what game time I have. I’ve kept visiting Telara, the world of Rift, over the past six months; tinkering about because I do love the atmosphere of that world. Nightmare Tide, Rift’s latest xpac, came out a short while before WoD, so I played it pretty relentlessly during the weeks I was waiting for WoW’s new xpac to hit, knowing I wouldn’t be spending as much time in Telara thereafter. I didn’t manage to get a character to level cap in that time, but recently – having levelled nearly all of my 20 Nordrassil WoW characters to 100, and a bit quested out with Draenor – thought I’d grind out the last two levels on my main in Rift with the benefit of some hefty experience potions.

One thing that struck me when I went back to Rift to level was that I didn’t feel as immersed in the game world as I do in WoW. I think this is partly down to the nature of the Nightmare Tide xpac – we were carted off to the dimension of Water to help out with various calamities, but our faction leaders and familiar figures from Telara didn’t come to fight alongside us or appear constantly as such figures do in WoD. Consequently, you feel sort of isolated from the main world. In WoW, we have a lot of well known figures from Azeroth making the journey with us to Draenor – some of them lose their lives for it – but as a Defiant player in Rift, I missed those old faces, such as Asha Catari and The Faceless Man. It didn’t feel like the faction was doing anything *together*. The new races in the Plane of Water don’t appeal to me that much. The mermaids are cool, and so is the strange aquatic beast, Fenric, who isn’t quite what they appear, (that character is probably the best), but there isn’t much characterisation otherwise. Fenric is the only NPC who travels with you throughout the story, changing and growing themselves, much as Yrel does in WoD. But Fenric is a one off. The ruling class in Draumheim, the major city hub, are all bonkers, living in hallucinations and delirium, and their madness started getting on my nerves rather than amusing me. I didn’t warm to any of them. The baddies are just out and out baddies, generic RPG almost, spouting clichéd lines and lacking the nuances of the Draenor warlords, with their distinct characters.

I also missed the levelling experience of WoD. We take so much for granted in WoW. Rift sometimes seems like the retirement home of all the disaffected WoW players who complained WoW was too easy. Levelling in Rift isn’t. Yes, you can pick your way around carefully and not get into too much trouble, but much of it seems geared towards group play – even during questing. You can’t just plough in and take on multiple mobs and expect to emerge unscathed. With questing gear alone it takes a while to kill things and while mobs aren’t as sensitive as they were in earlier days of Rift, they still get annoyed with you at a fair distance. You often have to search for quest objectives that might be in difficult to reach places; constant lengthy fights with irrelevant mobs gets tiresome after a while. Even without flying (and regular readers of this blog will know my feelings on that!), levelling in WoD was – and is – fluid and satisfying. You don’t get stuck in bottlenecks of difficulty where you can’t progress alone. In a game of this type, I think that’s the way levelling should be, an interesting, colourful journey – save the hard stuff for level cap.

So, going back to Rift has made me appreciate WoW more. I realised how much of WoD I like. One thing I’m utterly satisfied with is the garrisons and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get something similar in the next xpac. But I can’t help thinking that due to the fact a lot of players seem to dislike garrisons, Blizzard might possibly jettison them, rather than tweak them carefully to iron out their weaknesses. Such is Blizzard’s usual response – go to extremes. For me, garrisons have enabled my army of alts to have purpose again. The follower missions are great for getting them gear, so it’s possible to raid with them, with premade groups, not just LFR. My warlock and mage are both around the 660 ilevel mark, with others not far behind. I like the fact that if I haven’t got time to go out farming for mats, (without flying, a vile chore), I can just send the alts round their mines and herb gardens for a while, gathering enough to support those who need mats for their professions. The only farming I tend to put off, even when it’s needed, is trapping beasts for my barns – one each on Horde and Alliance. That’s a chore, because we have to taxi to Nagrand for it, and with some classes those elite wolves must be pretty annoying, as they pack a punch. I have Hunters for both barns, which makes the job easy enough, but even so, lengthy. It’s fine for passing the time when I’m in a queue for group content, but that’s about it.

Prior to WoD, I’ve always had my two mains, a Druid healer and a Hunter, who’ve stepped in to work as our raid team required them. I’ve had a couple of tanks, who are not needed at the moment, so would, but for WoD, be languishing doing nothing. My next two characters – semi main – were the warlock and the mage, but often they didn’t get much to do, if anything. Now, with the boost of follower missions, it’s possible to have multiple characters capable of end game. I can pick and choose which ones I’ll do LFR with each week – there’s no rush after all . These occasional visits help augment their gear. If there’s ever a situation where we need one of these classes present in our raid team, I have a fairly decent character waiting in the wings, who can be brought up to scratch without too much effort. With my mains, at present I’m healing in our guild raid team exclusively, but have kept my Hunter pretty much on par, should I need to swap to him at any point. I adore this flexibility, which we’ve never had to this extent before. Other guild members have also got a couple or more characters at a decent level, which helps with team formation when members fluctuate. Blizzard have got this aspect just right. Small and medium sized guilds need this flexibility, and the ability to gear up a character to an acceptable level pretty quickly in a personnel emergency is great.

Going back to garrisons, another thing I love about them is the followers themselves. If you bother to ask one to help when you’re defending a garrison invasion, some of them have cool animations and spell effects, as well as great-looking armour and weapons. A friend of mine had the gnome warlock Ranni Flagdabble along the other night when I went to help him with a garrison invasion, and this little gnome spontaneously erupted into a huge demon form to fight. I also particularly like the priest Rorin Rivershade, and her gorgeous armour has tempted me to brave pvp so I can farm honor points for a similar set for my own priest. (There are a lot of older pvp armour sets on sale for honor at the pvp vendors on Serpent Spine wall in Pandaria, many of which are stunning.)

In a way, Rift has player housing with the dimensions, but those buildings you create, and the landscapes you can transform, are empty. There are no NPCs, so they’re like ghost towns, as if everyone has just left. Rift players who are into dimensions plead for some life in the form of critters and humanoid NPCs, but Trion don’t seem keen to devote time and resources to granting that wish. In WoW, we have life in abundance in our garrisons. When all your followers are at home, the garrisons are busy and full of residents. Nor are they just static – they appear to be getting on with their lives, talking to one another, wandering about, going for a drink in the inn… Rift dimension addicts would kill for that!

I’ll really miss my followers when we leave Draenor. They’ve become as familiar as my actual characters and I enjoy seeing them mooching about the garrison. I came across two having a row the other day, and one of them burst into tears as I passed by. I wondered what they were arguing about! I like the way Blizzard has made an effort to give these 100s of NPCs their own little character traits. I don’t want to leave mine behind, and would happily take all of them with me into whatever adventures we have next. I wouldn’t mind levelling them up again, in the same way my characters will have to level, perhaps swapping in some new team members now and again, if someone interesting pops up in the inn. But I’m more or less resigned to the fact they’ll remain in Draenor. I can see myself going back to visit them, once they no longer have to work by going out on missions and are always around the garrison.

Another thing I think Blizzard has done really well is the changes to the subsidiary professions. While the crafting professions have become a bit tiresome, Cooking, First Aid and Fishing are now easy to level. It’s possible to get all your alts to top Fishing without too much effort. That has never happened before, mainly because Fishing was such a grind and so time-consuming. Now, it’s a great thing to do (along with barn stocking) when you’re queued for a dungeon or LFR. Passes the time and is very productive (even more so when you have Nat Pagle ensconced in the Fishing Shack). The more proficient fishermen and women can provide the fish for the daily quest for alts, which awards a whopping 15 points, so you can steadily advance everyone’s Fishing level without having to pay too much attention to it. You need *something* to do while you’re queuing, after all. Cooking and First Aid are also mainly levelled by fish, so Fishing helps max them quickly too. I’m still surprised that it’s most likely all of my alts will have top Fishing by the end of the xpac. That’s unheard of! I still think Archaeology needs some work (shudder), and in the next xpac I hope Blizzard makes changes again to the crafting professions, but they shouldn’t touch the subsidiary profs now – they’re perfect as they are.

One thing that most players seem to agree on is that the levelling aspect of WoD is really good. It’s polished – no other word for it – and I really can’t see it can be improved upon. There are shaky areas in the game, which I’ve talked about on this blog, as have many others on their own blogs and on forums, but really when you look at the competition, WoW still deserves its crown. I’m fond of Telara and my characters in Rift, but if you think crafting profs are now grindy in WoW, go there for a bit. It costs a fortune to level them and they’re really fiddly. All of them. There’s no fast track method to gear up alts, even if crafting materials are easily acquired through minion missions. But those minions are just pictures on a mission Window, they’re not there with you inworld.

I’m not sure Blizzard will ever be able to perfect such aspects of the game as raiding, dailies, class changes, and pvp, since players have so many different requirements, and what pleases one lot of players greatly disgruntles many others. But the aspects that are constant Blizzard generally does well. Crafting, hmm, still needs attention – finding that balance between commitment and result without making it too fast or too slow. As for the story, whether you like the way it’s done or not, there *is* a story, a history, and people within it. It’s not just tacked on as an afterthought.

People tend to look back on earlier days of WoW as some kind of Golden Age, but the improvements to the game and quality of life changes have lifted it miles above its formative years. We just tend to forget all the bad stuff and concentrate fondly on what is perceived as good. I think it’s time we reflected on just what’s so good about WoW *now*. I can remember thinking I’d never get to see places like Black Temple and Serpentshrine Cavern, but now every raid is available to all – at different levels of difficulty. I can remember thinking I’d never be able to afford the faster ground mount in Vanilla. It took me months to grind the gold for the slowest mount. Now, gold comes easily and there is an abundance of mounts – account wide. I won’t go further with the comparisons because it’s old news, but it’s also good to remind ourselves of the changes. WoW is never going to be the perfect game we’d all like, because there are millions of visions of that perfect game. But despite its shortcomings, there’s no doubt: it’s a damn *good* game.

Coda: as Blizzard are renowned for their spectacular pendulum swings, are we looking forward to an xpac that’s flying only? 😉

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