I ran into a dilemma last night in Rift, the likes of which I had been hoping the game would avoid. But alas, itemisation has reared its ugly head Godzilla-like above the bow of the good ship Carefree Entertainment, and as I stare up in slack-jawed awe at the beast, with a cascade of sea water falling around me from off of its scaly hide, it ruptures the air with a soul-sheering bellow before thrashing once with its tail and obliterating my boat, dumping me into the spirit-sapping cold of the Sea of Grind.
I’d made it all the way to level twenty and out of the first playground, joining the group of slightly older kids who were now getting a bit too big to play nicely with the newcomers to Telara. That’s what it’s like, isn’t it? These neatly zoned areas of ‘exactly this level to exactly that level’ in MMOs, they’re like playgrounds at primary school, where the range of ages of the children is such that you can’t let the oldest kids play in the same area as the youngest kids because the disparity in size and strength is such that Painful Things were likely – unintentionally or otherwise – to happen to the smaller children. When you see a level-capped character come into the starter zone that you’re levelling through there’s just the briefest moment of awe as they one-shot most living things in their path, before you quickly realise that the things they’re one-shotting are the things you need to finish your quest – they’re stealing your lunch money – and you try to compensate by grabbing one of the mobs for yourself before the Big Kid AoEs the entire zone into bones and coin, at which point you over-pull, get six mobs on you, promptly die, and as the Big Kid runs past they give your corpse a wedgie, just to rub it in.
Regardless, I’d progressed up to the next playground, and in all this time itemisation hadn’t been a problem. The most I’d had to worry about as a Warrior was the fact that I needed to keep a one-handed sword and a shield in my bags in case I needed to tank, because my levelling role focussed on damage with a two-handed weapon. This wasn’t a problem in the main because most quests would reward one of a shield, a one-hander, or a two-hander, for a Warrior, while also offering a single item for each of the other three classes, Mage, Rogue and Cleric. Armour was never an issue, as each piece was generally an upgrade on a fairly predictable path of itemisation, incrementing the basic stats required by the class, while boosting armour level some more. However, some of the best gear outside of dungeons and the aforementioned basic questing ‘greens’ can be found on the Planar Rewards vendors, these folk offer various blue and purple weapons and armour in exchange for shards which are earnt as rewards from closing rifts. Upon entering Gloamwood for the first time last night, I made my way to the first quest hub and found the reward vendors in order to drool over the shiny gear that was on offer, as you do. Also I like to try the outfits on in advance in order to preview just how much cleavage will be on display in this season’s latest armour set, and whether my character needs to shave only her legs, or whether there will be so much flesh showing through her heavy plate armour that an all-over body wax is required. Actually I have a theory that fantasy female warriors have evolved as a sub-species separate from other members of their race, and are actually entirely hairless apart from the hair which they grow on their head, which is often a veritable mane, long and luxurious enough to make male lions weep and the TRESemmé marketing department drool; they’re like a sort of semi-hairless cat, only less wrinkly, and not so prone to licking their own genitals, despite the hopes and desires of many a randy male gamer, I’m sure.
And there on the vendor in Gloamwood were two pieces of armour for the warrior class, one which had all the right stats for my DPS role, and another which had all the right stats for my tanking role. And this simple thing suddenly makes the game a chore. The joy in Rift, the thing they absolutely nailed on the head, was the fact that players want to be able to pick the right role for the moment. I’m perfectly happy to bundle into a rift using my DPS spec and just spam damage attacks with the best of them, but I’m happier knowing that at the throwing of a switch – well, okay, it’s a button, but you have to picture it as one of those big ol’ circuit closing switches from many a mad scientist movie, otherwise you’re just not trying – I can turn into The Hairless Cat Tank, and admirably pull aggro and hold it in the finest of ‘Yo mamma’ taunting traditions. Of course World of Warcraft had this already with its dual talent specs, but itemisation was something that made it merely passably useful, and generally only to those who were happy to add yet another cog to the grind machine. In Rift, up until now, I hadn’t had to worry about switching all my armour and jewellery over as well, and this made the system dynamic. Fluid. Almost organic: my character could grow into the role that the moment demanded. You could say that one was able to ‘role’ with the situation. Ah ha ha! But then you’d probably get groaned at, or pinched on the arm.
I’m hoping this is just a blip and that itemisation between roles isn’t a concern in the later levels of the game, because otherwise it seems to me that Trion have included one of the most flexible and forgiving multi-role setups in an MMO to date, and at the same time included a time-honoured tedious MMO mechanic which entirely undermines the point of it.