It’s fairly easy for me to identify which game is holding a candle in my heart and gently warming the hearth of my affections, because I often find myself quietly humming one of the game’s iconic theme tunes throughout the working day. This morning, as I made a cup of tea in the office kitchen, I caught myself subconsciously humming the tune to a game which I’ve recently returned to playing — the gamer equivalent of catching yourself doodling the name of someone you didn’t realise you fancy, onto the cover of your exercise book during a particularly dreary double lesson in geography.
I had been playing the game, yes, but I didn’t realise that it had settled itself quite so highly in my regards. It’s no mean feat, because as anyone who reads this blog will know, when it comes to MMOs my Tower of Regard has but one heavily guarded ground floor entrance, and the only way to climb any higher is by way of a thin rope slicked with oil, covered by crossbowmen, with angry lions tied on every five meters for good measure. I had only intended to noodle around with the game in question, which I like to do in an attempt to determine further what does and doesn’t work for me in an MMO and why; so it was quite the surprise to find that it had slipped like a thief in the night up that perilous rope to a higher level in my Tower of Regard.
I’d had a hankering for playing another MMO, what with my enthusiasm for solo SWTOR being reduced to staring sloth-like at the screen –tongue hanging out and down to one side– as the game frantically clung to the bottom of the rope in the Tower of Regard, legs lifted and wrapped tightly around the rope near its head, such that its bottom swung pendulously a few centimetres above the floor. Meanwhile, static groups in various other games meant that my desire for playing said games outside of Group Hug Time was greatly diminished. So the choice was between EQ2 and Rift, seeing as both had options to play for free. Rift now offers a trial of its first twenty levels with some basic restrictions (such as not being able to equip items of purple quality or higher), whereas EQ2 offers a more ‘freemium’ affair, with a selection of races and classes available, but with many desirable options tucked away in display jars behind the sweetshop counter that is their in-game store. One such fruity boiled-sugar delight was the beastlord class, whose play-style sounded intriguing, both different and powerful, akin to the Artificer in DDO or the Warden in LotRO; it’s the sort of design where it appears that the developers took leave of their shareholder-aligned senses, and briefly went bonkers.
“I know” [puff] “let’s… uh, make a monk… that’s also a conjuror.”
“Yeah man.” [drag] “Yeah. Give it pets and kung-fu and healing and, like, stuff.”
“I-… it should also, like, be,” [puff] “y’know, part demon and part… badger.”
[pull] “An’… an’ it can totally transform into a spaceship.”
[drag] “An’ be able to wear fine hats.”
“Pfff, nah, that’s just silly.”
Unfortunately the Beastlord was all that really interested me, and seeing as it was locked behind a heftily priced expansion, while possibly also requiring a purchase of the class itself from the EQII Store, in that moment of decision I went with Rift’s more amenable ‘We’re here. These are the first twenty levels of the game. Pick any race or class you desire. Now login and away you go’.
Thirty levels and a one-month recurring subscription later I’m still playing the game, as well as quietly humming its theme tune the next morning while making a cup of tea. I’m not entirely sure how the game has managed to shimmy its way up that oil-slick rope; it’s not that there isn’t plenty to like about Rift, but I can’t see how it’s more compelling than, say, SWTOR. I do have some ideas as to why I’m enjoying the game, however, and hopefully they’ll be suitable fuel for the muse to generate future posts on the subject.
One thing I have discovered is that I’m definitely a sucker for the front-loaded free MMO experience – Rift is currently getting my money where EQII was offered the chance first; despite the former having a much more restricted experience over the entire levelling range, it offered the greater freedom in that part which was free to play. It seems that the short-lived but rich bait of ‘free to play freely’ is the more tempting lure with which to capture me, as opposed to the long lasting but restrictive bait, which keeps me nibbling for ages but rarely lets me take a bite big enough that I find myself subsequently hooked.