Category: Rift


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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I’ve not had much to say on my gaming blog for a while, not least because I’d run out of content to do in WoW. I’ve been playing Rift again over the summer, and really enjoying that, not least because of the player housing, which I’ve really got into. Well, player housing is rather a misnomer, as what you get in Rift is not exactly that. You get areas of land called dimensions, which are segments of the actual game world, some large, some fairly small, that you can build upon and transform – in some cases people have done so radically. These dimensions are instanced, but you can set them so that the public can view them, or just friends. Some amazing artwork goes down in these dimensions. I’m only a noob at it; some of the pros, who’ve been doing it for years, are amazing. Yes, you can have a house in your dimensions, which you can build and furnish yourself, but the best ones are when players do things with the landscape, or dream up incredible scenarios, illustrations from books or films, or just their own dreams. So, while WoW has been quiet, that’s been my interest – both building dimensions and spending a lot of time viewing other people’s.

Last week saw the prepatch to Warlords of Draenor arrive, so I’ve been drawn back to WoW, but at the same time (or rather this week), Rift released its new xpac, Nightmare Tide. So plenty to do now in both games. I feel I made rather a mistake abandoning Rift while I threw myself into WoW’s Mists of Pandaria, not least because I used up all the content in Mists and was left with months of nothing to do. When I went back to Rift, there was some catching up to do and I’d cancelled my sub at founder member rate, so would never again be able to have the risibly cheap 5 quid a month sub. Even though Rift is now free to play, I did resubscribe, because the privileges for ‘patrons’ (or subbers) are just too great to do without. If you can afford it, go for it. I believe it’s still a bit cheaper than a WoW sub. I cancelled one of my WoW accounts, just keeping one going so I could visit the guild now and again and meet up with friends. I think now if I’d kept both games going and had divided my time, both Mists and Rift’s xpac Storm Legion would have lasted me perfectly until the games had new content to offer. It’s my plan now to do that. I don’t play as much as I used to, so keeping steadily at both games when I have the time seems best. I enjoy both of them equally, but for different reasons.

Anyway, my thoughts on the WoD prepatch and also Nightmare Tide in Rift.

I’m happy with the changes to my classes in WoW, which in some cases are quite radical. The only one I had any trouble with when doing the new Iron Horde quest chain in Blasted Lands was my priest – but I think that’s down to the fact I don’t play him much anyway so I’m not familiar enough with the playstyle. However, that said, my shaman, who I hardly ever play, did well and seemed far hardier and more powerful than before.

There’s divided opinion over the character model revamp for WoD, which of course came in with the prepatch. I play mainly Night Elf males and Draenei females, and out of the crop these seem to have drawn the short straws with the new faces. Bodies and animations are fine but… I suppose I’ll get used to them. I’m not disgusted enough to turn off the new models and go back to the clunky versions, even though I did prefer the faces.

It’s great we can now go into raids like Firelands and Dragon Soul and zip through them quickly and easily with just a couple of players in a team. Some classes can even solo them. As the mount runs for those raids are on my list, this is a welcome innovation. I’ve done the Iron Horde quests on my main account so now just waiting for WoD to drop. Debating whether to revive the second account, but it seems a bit lavish when I’m playing Rift too.

So on to Rift’s Nightmare Tide. The xpac was delayed a couple of weeks, partly because players on the PTS (public test shards) reported on tons of bugs. I went on there myself and fell foul of a few, literally falling through the world on one occasion! But the bugs seem to have been ironed out. Playing in the first zone hasn’t yet thrown up any horrors to me. Rift’s main theme has always been interaction with the elemental planes, and NT’s theme is the Plane of Water. Those who disliked the zone Vash’jir in WoW’s Cataclysm probably won’t feel entirely comfortable in it. Not all of the zones are underwater, but there are underwater parts to them. And for those who hate the camera giddiness of 3D water combat, never mind edging yourself close to NPC’s and objectives would no doubt hate it. I don’t mind it. The first zone is beautiful, a realm of exposed coral reefs and deep dark pools and grottoes. There are several new water-themed races to encounter, one of which is mer-people, somewhat prettier than the Naga of WoW. Their realm is under attack and we’re there to help them, not least to prevent it drying out completely. (Think WoW’s BC Zangarmarsh type of scenario.) If you bother to read the quest text, the new races have some witty banter about us hairy dry skins! The game play is evenly paced, not too challenging but interesting. Rift was once a PITA for questing, sort of old fashioned in that it was often too difficult with far too much you couldn’t solo. That has changed now, and I’m glad, even if hardcore players whinge about dumbing down. When I’m questing and levelling, I just want to work alone, although it’s fun to group up with others for rifts and other world events. The only gripe I have is that a few quest objectives, such as interacting with certain objects or collecting them, aren’t plentiful enough. This has happened often in WoW too, and is especially annoying at the start of an expansion when hordes of players are about in the starting zone. However, in Rift you can ‘shard hop’, which means crossing from server to server instantly, so on the most problematical quests, I found myself an object I needed to collect/interact with and simply parked at it and shard hopped till I fulfilled the objective. Cheating a bit, but beats riding round and around and around, searching for coral polyps and such like when every other player is doing the same. I’ve really enjoyed the questing so far and annoying quests have been few. The first city you come across, an underwater one, is pretty awesome.

Another new thing in Rift is minions, which is similar to the Garrison followers that will be coming to WoW in WoD. Minions go out on missions for you, such as gathering artifacts (similar to archaeology in WoW), gathering crafting materials, earning notoriety for you (reputation) with game factions and collecting items for your dimensions. I’m only at the start of it, with low level minions who don’t have the most exotic abilities, so not sure if gear rewards come later on. Missions come in various lengths – just a minute to get minion xp, 5-15 mins for slightly better missions, then 8 hour and 10 hour ones, with the longer missions obviously giving better loot. So far it’s been great fun to claim all the rewards. Looking forward to this in WoW also. The game gives you one minion to start off with, but you can buy others in the game store – not expensive either. There’s also an NPC in the game who sells one of each elemental type for 1 platinum each, so again not expensive. Others can be picked up from quests and random drops in the game world. The idea is to match minions to all the quests that pop up in the Minion Window, which are random. You might get a quest such as gathering artifacts from a graveyard, which is a Death mission, so would be best to send an undead minion on that to get the best rewards. If you haven’t got a Death minion you can still do the mission, but a Death minion would be more likely to bring better rewards back to you. The quests and minion matches get more complex as time goes on, so that a mission might do best with – for example – a minion who gets dimension items for you, who is also fire. Some minions have the diplomacy skill so are better for sending off on missions to gain notoriety with the various factions. If the notoriety faction offered for the quest is water-based (very likely at the moment), your best option is to send a minion with both diplomacy and water affinity to complete it. I imagine the trick is to build up your minion collection to match all quest objectives to ensure you reap the fullest benefits from the quests. You start with the ability to send two minions on missions at a time, but can buy extra active minion slots from the game store. You can have as many minions as you like but if you’ve only got 2 slots for missions, only two can be out doing things for you at once. However, if you’re not impatient, two is enough to cycle through the random quests and get nice loot.

Anyway, in summary very happy with both the WoD prepatch in WoW and Rift’s new Nightmare Tide expansion. Can recommend both.

A lot of us are struggling to find things to do in WoW at the moment. I’m not at the point where I feel I have to cancel my sub, because we’ve started an alt raid, treating SoO as new with a different bunch of characters, some of us in completely new roles. And while this has injected a bit more excitement into raid nights, it’s only for a couple of evenings a week. Those of us who habitually log on most nights, if only for an hour or so, have found there’s no reason to do so. All our alts are 90 – and the few that aren’t we don’t have the enthusiasm to finish off – reputations are done, gear attended to. Transmog sets are completed, and rare mounts and pets have dropped obligingly. I have no desire to run LFR, starved now as it tends to be of competent players, in order to gear up alts I’ll never raid with properly. The ones I’ve already geared a bit will suffice for our guild alt runs, and the rest just have the odd piece here and there, plus Timeless Isle stuff, to take them into WoD leveling without too many tears. Yes, I’m ready to move on.

We’ve recently merged with another guild on our server – a bunch of great people who are much like us, being older players with busy real lives who just want a comfortable home in Azeroth and laid-back raiding. We were really lucky to join with these people, since if you hunted on your server to augment your roster by other means, I imagine it’d be nigh on impossible to find nearly a dozen or so individual players you get on with so well. But even with this influx we’re fed up with the dearth of new content in WoW. A lot of us dribbled over to Diablo to play Reaper of Souls together, but most of us have now got bored with the constant grinding to improve gear, which comes desperately slowly at top level in that game.

So, what to do? After Blizzcon last year I was convinced we’d see a Beta for WoD by January 2014 at the latest. All that buzz, that build up… the excitement. Yay! But now it’s May and not even a whiff of the Beta, and many of us are beginning to think it’s going to be the end of the year before we’ll see any new content. As a guild leader, that worries me. We’ve run out of things to do… almost. Is it feasible to run a third SoO alt team once we get to the end of it on our second? I think realistically we’ll be looking at a gradually diminishing roster until pre-patch 6.0 at the earliest. I think something went wrong with WoD, or changed drastically, and this unknown thing has caused the delay. Given the atmosphere at Blizzcon, (which I attended ‘virtually’), I’m quite sure Blizzard themselves intended for WoD to be nearer to release now than it’s turned out to be. But I doubt we’ll ever get to hear what caused this hold up. Once 6.0 hits, I expect people will be back in droves, but if that’s not till after the summer – well I’m sure many guilds and their officers are a bit concerned about the health of their guilds.

Like me, a lot of my WoW friends are reluctant to try other sub-based MMOs. Because we *are* still raiding a bit, and therefore don’t want to unsub from WoW, for many it’s not feasible to pay monthly for more than one game, and in any case, from experience I know it’s not easy to fully immerse yourself in more than one MMO – the games aren’t really designed for ultra ultra casual: you have to invest a fair bit of time to get the best out of them. But maybe… for a few months… it’s worth dabbling in another one, while we wait for WoW to be lifted out of the doldrums. Diablo was great while it lasted, but as that’s now petering out, I’m looking at other things to keep our group of friends entertained and playing together.

I’ve played a fair few of the ‘free to play’ MMOs, and most of them haven’t held my attention for very long. Some were just far too reliant on the misnomered ‘micro transactions’, which usually means you end up paying more than you would than if you paid a sub. Measly inventory and bank space, slow leveling… etc etc. In many F2P games, you have to pay real money to free yourself from such inconveniences. The best of the crop were Aion and Rift, and I know some people loved SW:ToR (although just about everyone I know who started playing it no longer do so. I never tried it myself, not being a fan of the franchise.) Aion – for me – lost its appeal when my characters reached around level 30 and I realised that PvP is forced upon you, with players of the rival faction literally dropping out of the sky to slaughter your lower level chars. No fun. End of Aion for me. Which was a pity, because I liked the way the game played and the way it looked.

I’ve dipped in and out of Rift since it was launched a few years ago. I lost interest when I reached top level in the original game because I couldn’t raid in there – not having the time to get my characters raid-worthy, or being in there enough to warrant joining an active guild. Sadly, the best of the MMOs seem to model themselves on WoW – end game is forced teaming if you want anything to do. When Rift went free to play, and their new expansion came out, I started playing again, and after a juddery start got back into it. Then there was a new content patch for WoW, and there was plenty to do again in there, so I stopped playing Rift. I’d always subbed to it, since I had a founder member’s really cheap deal, but I even cancelled that. Now, because on some nights I really feel like I want to potter around in a virtual world, I’ve gone back to Rift and taken up where I left off. It’s quiet in there. I’ve only seen a handful of other players, but then I am in the starter areas of the expansion and the majority of players will have long moved on. The original cities are full of tumbleweed, but the new one, the Dalaran of Rift, is buzzing. As all the crafting dailies are now based there too, it’s obvious why the old cities are empty. Tempest Bay is the new central hub, for players of both factions.

As it *is* now free to play, and after I’ve given it a few days to see whether my interest keeps up, I intend to tell the guild about it on our forum, and see if any of the bored people want to come and dip their toes into Telarian waters too. Yes, there is a game shop, with many enticing things in it, but it’s still possible to play the game without touching it. If you ever subbed to Rift in the past and come back, you’re given a generous amount of free tokens to spend in the shop, which could net you a mount or two, or a couple of armour sets (the transmog of Rift). The clothes department is massive, and the armour sets fairly priced. I worked out that a single piece of armour in the Rift shop works out at about 38 pence, as opposed to the £15 Blizzard tried to charge for those hats some time ago (do you *ever* see people’s characters wearing those?) There is also a very big mount store, including a great deal of the ones available in the game (not extremely rare ones, of course). However, in game they cost a fairly big chunk of platinum, yet some are sold for mere pence in the shop. As player housing is quite a big feature in Rift now, there are also lots of items to buy for your ‘dimension’, as the housing is called.

But anyway, cosmetic temptations aside, Rift is genuinely free to play. The two new continents are each around the size of Pandaria, so there is a ton of content to take you through to whenever Blizzard get their act together. While there are ‘story’ quests to reveal the ongoing plot line, just about every creature on the map has a kill quest associated with it. This means there are oodles of quests all over the place. You only need to kill one creature for a quest to pop up to kill some more of that type. So while you’re doing the regular quests, and killing mobs to get at your objectives, you’re also doing these secondary kill quests. Lots of experience, and loot to sell, or to salvage or equip. The one downside I’ve come across is that is that some of the dynamic quests, such as defending outposts from invasions, aren’t easy to do on your own, if not impossible. As few players are around in the areas I’m questing in, this means I have to ignore those quests and leave the outposts to their fates. Again, this might be down to the gear I have. I don’t do dungeons and I don’t raid in Rift, so my gear is only adequate at best, picked up from quest rewards and from crafting. Admittedly, crafting is really good and actually useful in Rift, but still not as good as gear you would get from multi-player activities.

This brings me on to something I’ve thought about concerning *all* MMOs. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s more relevant now than ever. MMOs, by their very nature, are games designed for group content. But the problem is, group content is only viable while a particular zone or patch is current. Once the players have moved on, the content needs to be soloable, otherwise it’s redundant. To a large extent, this has been addressed in WoW, concerning earlier areas of the game, but more solo content would prevent much of what we’re seeing in the game now. Just because players are offered this kind of play doesn’t mean the social side of the game will be detrimentally affected. You’re still playing in a virtual world full of people, but are free to do things on your own if you want or need to. In Diablo, for example, players still talk a lot to each other in the general chat channel, even though the majority are playing alone. In an MMO, solo content would prolong the life of a patch or an expansion, and people would still interact, either in their guilds or, as now, in General chat. If you’re restricted by needing more players to do anything interesting, and those players aren’t available, or simply don’t want to do what you want to do, then that means you’ve got nothing to do at all, so just log off. Not everyone wants to risk teaming with strangers, offered by the various tools for herding random people together. You could end up with incompetents who can’t play properly, social inadequates whose only relief in life is to insult others, or elitists who call you on your actions every moment of the way, unless you conform to their unrealistically high standards. Or – most likely of all – you could just a get a silent group who blast through the activity without any communication, so you might as well be on your own. Faced with that, I’d rather go play another game, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I don’t know why MMO developers are so hung up on forcing people together, even when it’s unreasonable or impossible. Solo dungeons, (as seen in a couple of other MMOs I’ve tried, though not in plentiful enough supply), or dungeons for two or three would be great. Yes, scenarios are for three, but there’s no loot from mobs, and once your character is geared up and you no longer need valor points, there’s no incentive to visit them again. They are, in fact, rather boring. The ultimate MMO would have group content that’s accessible to *any* size of group, whether that’s a person alone or a group of 25. Of course, the mechanics of working out that scaling in terms of loot might not be easy – I’m no game designer so can’t say – but the minute some game cracks this perennial problem of content running out, simply *because* you need other people who aren’t there, will be the game that everyone will want to try. I wonder what the result would be if, on WoW’s log in screen, every player had to answer the question of whether they would like more optional solo content or not? I’m betting the vast majority would opt for ‘yes please’.

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.