Tag Archives: rift

No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety.

My current plate of play is piled high with equal portions of Dungeons & Dragons Online and Rift, as I gorge myself once more on morsels from the ‘all you can eat’ MMO buffet. Update 6 for Lord of the Rings Online approaches as swiftly as the flow of The Great River it brings with it, but I find myself utterly uninterested in returning to my mature MMO mistress. For the first time I find that I don’t like the direction in which Turbine are taking their interpretation of the free-to-play model and, combined with yet more of what I see as complications to the design of the warden class, it seems as though I’m gently drifting away from LotRO, the current of its ambitions finally flowing in a divergent direction to the current of my interests. As it is with others, I find the Premium Barter Wallet to be an unnecessary device: a solution to a problem that needn’t have existed in the first place. To sell players inventory space, fill that inventory with barter currency which monopolises that space in an entirely unnecessary fashion, and then offer to sell players yet another form of inventory to solve this issue, should be viewed as a worrisome development at best; I see it as invidiousness.

Curiously, I ended up giving Turbine some of my money anyway, but this time I’ve decided to invest a little in DDO. The new expansion has piqued my curiosity, and by ordering early there is the usual array of bonus trinkets and knickknacks offered along with the expansion content itself. Having lost my mind momentarily and plumped for the Libertine Edition, I found myself with an abundance of niceties, amongst which were included 2000 Turbine Points. With some time yet until the expansion, but with an already renewed enthusiasm for DDO, expansion notwithstanding, I decided to invest some of the Tubine Points into the relatively recently released Artificer class. The fact that the class happened to be on sale at the time only spurred me into divesting myself of my newfound digital wealth as quickly as I had obtained it. The Artificer class is bonkers-powerful in that way which only ‘expansion’ classes can be; as with the Death Knight in World of Warcraft, the Runekeeper and Warden in LotRO, the Beastlord in EverQuest 2, and many others, the Artificer is a new class which seems to thrust through the canopy of classes, before unfurling the tremendous branches of its power and leaving all else somewhat in its shade. The Artificer uses a repeating crossbow, a weapon which has received a revamp to its mechanics coinciding with the release of the Artificer, transforming the weapon from the ranged equivalent of lightly slapping the target repeatedly about the face with a herring, into something more akin to dropping a quick succession of blue whales from a sub-orbital platform onto the head of the unsuspecting villain . That alone, for me, would make the class interesting, but in this Swiss Army knife of classes, that’s just the weird tool tucked behind the tool which hooks the stones out of horse hooves. The Artificer can also detect and disarm traps and locks, much like the rogue class. They also have a pet, which levels-up with the character, can be equipped with various items, and has its own line of enhancements including two prestige lines – in this I believe the pet is better developed than some of the existing classes in the game.

So you can see that the Artificer is pretty powerful, really; unfairly so, some might suggest.

So I probably shouldn’t mention the Rune Arm weapon: a device which has various uses, but starts off as a basic close-range flame thrower which can be charged up to various levels of power, and doesn’t even require the player to swap out their +5 Blue Whale Launching Turret of Mass Extinction in order to use it.

Yes indeed, the Artificer is pretty crazily powerful, I think you’ll agree.

So I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that they can cast spells from a selection which rivals that of Wizards, including, but not limited to, the uberlevelling munchkin caster’s damage spell of choice – Blade Barrier, as well as the ability to conjure crossbow bolts like an Arcane Archer. There’s also the newly added line of curative admixtures, which allow the Artificer to turn health and resistance potions into grenades, which they can then lob into a crowd for an AoE version of that potion’s benefits.

Pretty powerful. Overpowered, some might say.

So I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that – nah, just kidding, that’s about it. I mean, apart from the fact that they’re able to transform into Godzilla at fourth level, but I don’t suppose you’re interested in that. It leaves me wondering what Turbine will have to do to make the druid class –which is being launched with the new expansion in June– appealing to players. Obviously it’s something that players in DDO have been clamouring for with equal voracious verve as players of EQ2 were for the Beastlord, but I can’t help but think that Turbine have to go even further with this class in order to make it stand out against that solitary device of dungeon destruction and devastation encompassed in the Artificer. As such, I imagine that the player of a freshly created level one Druid will look down upon their hotbar and see a single button, with a tooltip that reads:

Lunar Transformation: The druid transforms into a fully operation battle station and becomes the ultimate power in the universe.
‘That’s no moon.’

Despite professing to the contrary, I found myself drawn into raiding in Rift over the weekend. And what incomprehensible minatory threat to reality was it which caused me to throw reticence to the wind and join the noble cause of a pick-up raid of valiant Ascended?


Extra-dimensional death balloons of death and greater death, that cause death with their deathly death rays of much death and deathness?!

No, no – party balloons. Tied to the floor outside of a carnival tent.

Rift’s one year anniversary event is in full swing, and the phase of progress (read: stage of the grind) that has currently been reached allows for players to participate in various carnival games staged around the tented encampment of NPCs, who have set up shop in the capital cities of the two factions, as well as in the Shimmersand region. It’s the standard MMO event, with mini-games rewarding a currency –in this case, prize tickets– which can be used to barter for various event-only items, such as cosmetics and trinkets and the like. The balloon game requires the player character to jump around a small pen bursting balloons (the event is themed around a carnival, and thus balloons play a large part in various aspects) until they have dispatched thirty of the villainous rubbery entrappers of helium. The keys to the ‘exploitation’ of this game are:

a) It is instantly repeatable, rather than being daily.
b) In a group, or raid, any burst balloon counts towards the total for all members of the group or raid.

So, MMO players being, well, MMO players, have optimised this game by forming raids of players who all jump up and down on the spot, only stopping to hand-in the quest to the vendor (standing right beside the balloon pen) and pick-up the quest once again. For a single player the quest would probably take somewhere in the carefully-balanced-by-developers region of a minute; in a raid you can get in about two jumps before you need to hand-in the quest again.

Thus, there I was, for ten or fifteen minutes, in a raid consisting primarily of level-capped heroes, with their giant raider’s shoulder pads; epic weapons encrusted with jewels; trailed by a small choir of angels chanting the player’s great deeds for all the world to bear witness to; as the twenty of us jumped up and down like loons, popping balloons. A grinding platoon, marching to the theme park’s tune.

Are we entirely sure we’re not in Azeroth any more?

It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself.

I spent an entire evening vacillating over builds for my warrior in Rift. Initially I was just toying with the idea of trying on a new build for size, to see if it was of a style better suited to the way I play. But it quickly turned into one of those epic shopping expeditions, where my weary character was to be found later sitting outside the changing room of the sixteenth store we’d visited, head in hands, feet barricaded by bags full of builds, while I tried on ‘just one more’.

It eventually got to the point where I’d settled on a natty little number –I fancy it was a rather fetching Riftblade/Reaver ensemble– and I swung my way dramatically out of the Soul Tree changing room with a ‘ta da!’ motion, and a “Well?”

“Well what?” replied my warrior.

“Well, what do you think? I mean, I’m pretty sure this is the one, but there was that adorable Beastmaster/Champion build we saw a few respecs back, and I just wondered what you…”


I stared at my warrior, mouth agape momentarily, before my bottom lip slowly crept its way up my face until it covered the end of my nose like a hoodie; my eyeballs gradually filling with tears and becoming slightly macabre snow globes.

“Sorry!” said my warrior, sighing. “I’m sorry. Look, I’ve been stood here performing the idle animation for an hour now. My feet are killing me from all the walking and waiting, my arms ache from hanging on to this sword and shield while being forced to stretch and check my finger nails. And I’m carrying all these bags of builds around. It’s just tiring, you know? I’ve just got to that, tha… I mean, if I hear myself perform a yawn emote one more time I’m going to stab myself in the throat.”

But I’m not listening any more. I’ve put the current build back, in my quiet seething fury, and walked away from the Soul Tree. “It’s fine” I say in a tone which says that it really isn’t, and I pick up the original build I was using at the beginning of the day. “I think I like this one after all” I declare, and my warrior stares at me in disbelief; I stare back, daring them to say something, anything, with regard to the matter.

“Fine.” the weary warrior says.

“Fine.” I say, putting the original build back on.

“I still love you, you know.” my warrior says.

“I know.”

Later that evening, sat on the end of a bed in disarray from the upheaval of frantic passions, I brush flat and start to pull-on my build which had been eagerly cast to the floor earlier.

“I needed that.” I say, as much to the room as anything; perhaps trying to convince myself.

“Feel better?” comes the reply from the other end of the bed.

I turn towards the voice, “I shouldn’t, but I do.”

My cleric alt stretches languorously and smiles at me, “That’s a lovely build, by the way.”

Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more, than when we have nothing and want some.

Rift has me happily frustrated – the difference between having a hyperactive puppy and feral cat on the end of a leash. Where the puppy strains with loll-tongued enthusiasm against its master’s restraining pull, desperate to investigate all the new things in the world –which primarily involves chasing cats, ducks, rabbits, other dogs, flies, leaves, shadows, and various other adversaries which the puppy has clearly made the hell up– the feral cat is generally to be found being dragged along on its back, or face, or pretty much any part of its body that isn’t its feet, while it claws and chews and hisses and yowls at the leash, the holder of the leash, and more than likely itself at several points during the ordeal.

My overarching frustration is with the soul system; my happiness with it comes from the fact that it provides me with the fundamental urgency and drive to continue playing the game. The soul system provides a nice level of flexibility with respect to character builds, with the standard caveat that this only applies to non-raiders who aren’t interested in optimising the heck out of every soul point. I prefer entertainment over efficiency when it comes to games, where optimisation is, for me, a vampire which preys on entertainment, sucking the fun from it and leaving nought but the dry empty husk of complicit conformity. Working hard. Efficiency. Toeing the corporate line. This is what I do in the real world, and because of that, when I enter a virtual world I want to be able to hunt naked through a forest, dance wild and carefree with my swords beneath a curtain of rain, or wade aimlessly across the snowy back of a mountain at the top of the world. Skyrim managed to invoke that feeling of blithe liberty, of spontaneity and sovereignty in sublime union, and I will always admire it for that.

I have a build for my warrior in Rift, a fairly common combination of Reaver/Paladin/Warlord because I do love me some self-healing tank, but I’ve eschewed the deep thirty eight point investment in Reaver that is common amongst end-game builds, instead opting for a little more variety, flexibility and fun by delving deeper into the Paladin soul. The frustration comes from the fact that I now have a build which I think will be a lot of fun to play, but I’ll need to get close to level fifty (the current level cap) before it all comes together and realises its full potential. Thus the happy frustration, where every level I gain more points towards completing my character, but in the meantime the character feels somewhat disjointed – a fractured piece of a greater whole. Rift still manages to achieve that careful balancing act, however, where the levelling leash both holds me back and at the same time enlivens my enthusiasm for progress.

The most dangerous temptation, of course, is to play an alt. I switched to my low level cleric alt last night, and the hit of gratification from getting soul points so quickly in those early levels was the MMO equivalent of shooting up, “Ohhhhhhh yeah. Mmmmmm, three soul points in as many minutes. That hit the spot, that hit the spot gooooood.[gurgle][slump]”. Thankfully there’s always Mrs Melmoth to keep me grounded, who takes exception to watching me sit in the dark and dribble into my keyboard, the hugely dilated pupils in my ghost-lit face staring blankly into the computer’s window of neon aurora.

My other happy frustration comes from Rift’s combat system, but I’ll save that for another post, where my recent travails with respect to LotRO’s combat system will hopefully provide a suitable (and possibly lengthy) counterpoint to my experiences with Rift.

If honour be your clothing, the suit will last a lifetime.

In any case, despite my frustrations, it seems that a decent set of cosmetic female armour is indeed obtainable in Rift, with a little bit of dedicated searching and saving.

I’m most pleased with the ensemble, and there’s even a nice winged helmet to go with it too, part of the ‘one month veteran’ reward set; I can certainly see myself getting the three month veteran rewards if the game continues to hook me the way it has thus far.

Things without all remedy should be without regard.

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.”

“Woah, yeah.”

[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.

Things to Do in Denerim When You’re Dead.

For those of you who were blissfully unaware, Friday was MMO Hard Disk Drive Destruction day. It seems that I’m one of the few people who celebrate this holiday, and it was with great excitement and anticipation that I got home from a long hard day at work, entertained my daughter for the evening and popped her to bed, before turning on my PC and finding that the HDD which was home to all of my MMO games had decided to retire from this life. Insert your own favourite line from Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch here. I don’t know why these things always happen on a Friday, but the fact that it is currently the one day of the week where I get together with a bunch of friendly others from the pool of Van Hemlock static group gamers and enjoy some hot MMO group action, probably has something to do with it. Thankfully I managed to recover the data from the expiring drive by using a little bit of trickery involving other operating systems less fussy than Windows, external cables, a Big Hammer, lots of swearing, and the customary blood sacrifice of a virgin – although I didn’t have one to hand, so I just used virgin olive oil instead; you can also use sesame seed oil if you prefer your sacrifice to have a more ritualistic smoky aroma. So I saved myself many gigabytes of downloads and many hours of painful UI customisation for my various characters across the multitude of MMOs that I play, but in the meantime I had some time on my hands, so I got around to finishing a few non-MMO projects.

Firstly, I finished reading The Wise Man’s Fear, the excellent follow-up to Patrick Rothfuss’ first book The Name of the Wind. It’s not hard to describe why I like the books so much, I think Rothfuss has a style of writing that is very easy to read, compelling without taking itself entirely too seriously, while maintaining a healthy balance between light and dark subjects. I put him very much in the same camp as Joe Abercrombie in this respect, although Rothfuss’ story tends towards the lighter side of fantasy, it serves only to make the dark moments that much more intense and emotionally fraught; Abercrombie’s tales, on the other hand, tend to run towards the dark side of human nature, while occasionally punctuating the darkness with bolts of light humour and joy. The character of Kvothe is pitched just the right side of brilliant and self-assured, without being obnoxious, and the world which he inhabits is fascinating, from the systems of magic, to the hand-talk of the Adem mercenaries, all the way down to the myths and legends, of which Kvothe himself is destined to become a part. If you haven’t tried Rothfuss’ books yet and you’re a fantasy aficionado, I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. And as evidenced by Rothfuss’ latest blog post, where he points out that The Wise Man’s Fear is currently number one on the New York Times Bestsellers list, it seems that many other people are in agreement. What’s more, towards the end of his post, Rothfuss describes how he feels that he needs to do something a ‘little bit rockstar’ in order to celebrate this success, and so what does he propose?

“Maybe I will also drink some rum while I play Dragon Age. Because… well… because I can. And because that makes it just a little bit rockstar. It doesn’t hurt to be just a little bit rockstar sometimes…”

Which brings me nicely on to the second thing I did in-between hitting a hard disk drive with a virgin while sacrificing a hammer to the gods (what can I say: it was late, I was a bit drunk, and I got the instructions upside down): I finished my first play-through of Dragon Age II. I enjoyed the game a great deal, but I’m very much a story person when it comes to Bioware games these days; I couldn’t really discuss the combat in much detail because I set the difficulty to casual, and as such there were perhaps only three fights which required me to drink a potion, let alone worry about tactics other than ‘Darkspawn? We attack! Huzzah!’. I found the companion characters to be interesting takes on standard fantasy tropes, and I enjoyed the voice acting on the whole; as I stated on Twitter, my favourite line in the game having to be Isabela’s “I like big boats and I cannot lie”. The city of Kirkwall is breathtaking (be sure to look up and take in the sights on occasion), and although the locations within it become familiar to the point of being mundane once you’re running through them for the eleventeenth time, I felt that the city never lost its sense of scale. Other than that, it’s a standard Bioware RPG, if you’re any sort of CRPG gamer then you know what that means, and you’ll also know whether it will appeal to you or not. If you want me to try to sway you, I’ll simply say: decent plate armour for female characters, woo! And I’ve included a screenshot of my Melantha Hawke in a favourite armour set from the game.

Contrast that with my High Elf warrior in Rift, who could be fighting off death invasions, or modelling for the cover of Heavy Metal Illustrated, hard to tell. I’m still not finding myself excited by Rift. I’m enjoying it as a dabbling diversion when other games aren’t drawing down my attention, but there’s something about the game that prevents me from being infatuated with it to the point of ignoring all other games, as I have done in the past with, for example, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online. Part of my issue is the global cool-down system for combat, which I don’t find to be the purported system which ‘allows me to carefully consider my options’, but instead something which restrains me and constantly calls me to heel. I imagine it’s the same sort of frustration felt by two dogs trying to have a loud and tooth-filled debate on who is the best at being a loud tooth-filled debater, while both are muzzled with their owners constantly yanking them away from one another by their leashes. It’s a shame, because the reactive abilities that the game includes – which are off the global cool-down and thus allow you to do something useful while waiting for your main abilities to come off their European Work and Time Directive mandated 1.5 second tea break – are an excellent way to break the system up, giving the player something to do in the meantime. Make the reactive abilities less powerful, maybe make them short duration buffs, say, and you could give players something to do during the global cool-down which would help during combat without unbalancing it. A two tier system, with the main abilities all on the global cool-down, but with a wealth of secondary abilities off the global cool-down, could create quite an interesting system, and one where I don’t feel frustrated at having to spend thirty seconds of a one minute fight chin-on-hand and staring at little glowing clocks counting down on my hotbars. There are reactive abilities in the game, but never enough to make the system as interesting and engaging as I feel it could otherwise be. My other issue at the moment is the fact that I decided to play a Guardian, mainly because being utterly agnostic in real life, I tend to veer towards heavily religious groups in my fantasy escapism, much as being utterly male in real life, I tend to veer towards heavily female characters (read into ‘heavily female’ whatever innuendo you so choose) in my games. The problem with the Guardians is that the first area in the game proper where they adventure is Silverwood: a big bright ancient fantasy forest, full of elves and goblins and ruins, straight out of the fantasy cliché text book. Not a problem, this is a fantasy MMO after all, but after you finish with Silverwood, the levelling conveyor belt passes through border control and takes you into Gloamwood… a big dark ancient fantasy forest, full of wolves and ghosts and ruins, or Silverwood II: The Gloomening, as I have come to call it. My character is level twenty four, and I’m really starting to struggle to carry on with the Kill Ten X quests interspersed with the occasional frantic frenzy of fighting a rift, which alas is nothing more than a zerg wrapped in the illusory cloak of cooperative game-play. Adventuring in Gloamwood feels like I’m still stuck in Silverwod after all this time, only someone has turned the gamma down, presumably to enhance the feeling of depression the player experiences as they’re told to go and find some bat wings because Random Quest Giver X needs them to create Token Artifact Y, in order to progress Arbitrary Plot Device Z.

Still, I’ve got plenty to be getting on with elsewhere, which is another reason why Rift is perhaps not capturing my imagination like I feel it should. I’m starting my second play through of Dragon Age II, this time as a mage, to see how the sissy-robe-wearing set like to live. I’m also still enjoying my time in Lord of the Rings Online, with the Burglar coming along nicely, albeit a bit slowly what with the abundant distractions provided by single player games, books and spontaneously exploding hard disk drives.

The main thing in one’s own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.

I awoke yesterday morning and made my way to the bathroom to begin my morning ablutions. With my face buried in a hot flannel I heard the bathroom door open then close, after which followed the distinct motions of someone adjusting the toilet seat and placing themselves upon it. Hands still pressed to my face, I turned my head slowly to the side while pulling the flannel fractionally down, peering over the top. I did not know the strange man who sat perched on the toilet seat next to the wash basin; I watched him in stunned silence for a moment, and he returned my gaze with a level look that indicated he felt perfectly at ease being there. He did not say anything to me, nor I to him, and we both carried on about our business, patently ignoring one another, apart from me passing him a new toilet roll when I saw he was going to run out. After flushing, he generously washed his hands in my bowl of clean water and dried them on my towel. He didn’t bother to close the bathroom door as he left.

I dressed and made my way downstairs to the kitchen. Sitting down at the table with my two fresh slices of toast, I leaned over the day’s newspaper which lay to one side, while my arms remained over my plate, spreading butter and jam on a slice of toast, which I then proceeded to eat. I heard the approach of footsteps and continued to stare at the newspaper, studiously ignoring the woman who walked up to the table and took one of my slices of toast, and then sat down and began to spread butter on it. I continued regardless, leaning back over my plate to take bites of my toast, while my other hand remained stretched out to the side, leafing through the pages of the newspaper. We didn’t say anything to one another, apart from this stranger barking “Jam!” at me when I failed to pass the preserve, even though I had been intending to but was waiting for her to finish buttering her toast. She wolfed down the toast, took a swig from my tea, and then left. I put the dirty plates and cutlery in the dishwasher myself.

Halfway to work I stopped at some traffic lights, and while my car and I idled, four men got in and made themselves comfortable. They travelled with me for some distance in silence, gradually going their own way when it suited them, although the chap who abandoned the car while we were doing seventy along the motorway probably regretted not hanging on a little longer.

That night I paused in the process of snuggling down with my wife, threw off the bedcovers, left the bed, and hung a big ‘Private’ sign on the outside of the bedroom door. Alas, by the time I re-entered the bedroom I found that three men and a woman were in various states of undress and in my bed, helping themselves to my wife. I looked on agape, and then in anger, before leaning my head back out of the bedroom door in disbelief in order to check the sign I had just posted. I quickly took down the Free-For-All sign that I had mistakenly hung there, and made a mental note to store it somewhere safely with the Round Robin sign, as far away from the privacy sign as possible.

It’s a step forward from enforced grouping, but y’know, sometimes the default-to-open group system in Rift can seem a little bit impersonal and antisocial.

Do not worry about holding high position; worry rather about playing your proper role.

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.

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.

Rift. A curiously apt name considering that the game has caused such a schism in my MMO playing personality: I really am having trouble knowing how I feel about it, which is a new sensation to me. It’s as though a rift from the Vacillation dimension has torn its way into the plane of my mind and started to spew forth all manner of invaders. These invaders form two separate warring factions however, and their internecine dispute makes it impossible for my mind to form an adequate defence against the destructive indecision which they both spread. Sometimes I’m in support of the group that thinks Rift is a brilliant breath of fresh air – as evidenced by the many hours I spent playing it over the weekend – but just as quickly my mind finds itself backing the rebel faction, who claim that at level twenty the game has already shown me all that it has to offer. Sure, I will continue to have fun up to the cap at level fifty, but after that I will, in all likelihood, rapidly run out of steam and return to my mature mistress.

“Yet always LotRO is there to welcome me back from my folly, she opens her arms wide and cradles me against her voluminous content, hushes my blubbered apologies, reminds me of the intimate little details that made me love her and make me love her still. She is the mature mistress, secure in the knowledge of her own worth, happy to welcome and entertain the experienced and inexperienced alike, and I remain there in her embrace, comfortable and content. Until I catch a glimpse of the next porcelain and lace doe peering out from behind the curtain of MMO news, fluttering her eyelids innocently, her shy yet coquettish demeanour promising a life of long term commitment and happiness, and delivering yet another sharp blow to the head and dent to the wallet.”

And if I’m going to inevitably return to her, then why not stay with her now and continue playing the rather enjoyable alt that I’ve recently gushed about? At which point the pro-Rift faction rallies its troops and gives a big push, dropping propaganda leaflets extolling the virtues of the flexible class system, the attractiveness of the game’s graphics, and the efficient (if impersonal) effectiveness of the public group system.

The game tears at me, and I can’t remember the last time that I experienced a game where I had a constant nagging feeling that I should be liking it more than I actually do. I do like the game, I honestly do, but at the same time I find it hard to get enthusiastic about it. It’s a game where, when I picture myself trying to explain to others why I enjoy it, I find myself struggling to give a convincing reason. It’s like trying to explain the flavour of saffron. Like trying to explain smaragdine without reference to other colours: every explanation I begin necessarily starts with “Well it’s like that mechanic in MMO X, but tidied up and streamlined”.

So it’s a game that is greater than the sum of its parts, but where those parts are all the refined result of familiar elements from other games. This is, perhaps, where the seemingly strange split in the game’s personality stems from.

Unless you live under a rock you will already have had the broad picture of Rift painted for you by other blogs, so in the next post I’ll simply try to add a few of my own highlights and lowlights, hopefully helping to add further definition to the general impression. I’m not sure if the picture can even be completed yet, however; the game needs time to bed and then blossom, and trying to paint a true picture of the game at this early a stage would be like trying to paint an accurate representation of a flowerbed in full bloom by observing during winter the soil in which the seeds were planted.

The age of automation is going to be the age of ‘do it yourself’.

You are Defiant. Through the miracle of technology you have been brought back from the dead! Invested with the power of ancient heroes! Forged as one of the greatest warriors Telara has ever known! Sent back through a rip in the very fabric of time itself!

Now in the past, you must fight in order to save the future!

But first! Farmer Barleymow wants you to plant eight seeds, water them, then stand around a bit, tapping your foot and picking at your finger nails, while the plants grow.

Apparently technology doesn’t stretch to agricultural automation.