I spent a great deal of my Guild Wars 2 review marvelling at the design decisions NCSoft made in developing and getting their product out to market. A lot of revolutionary changes were brought to the fore: some extremely well executed; others (such as shirking the holy class-role trinity), not so much. Essentially, the genre underwent a major alteration of focus from measured PvE encounters to fast-paced action-packed large group scenarios. In addition, a new emphasis on exploration and teamwork made the game that much more approachable, interesting and easier to pick up and play.
In a pleasantly surprising twist, Trion has largely ignored the radical new way Guild Wars 2 attempted to reinvent the genre, sticking with tried and true methods and forms of content delivery that have proven successful at player-base retention in the past. Much like a World of Warcraft expansion, Storm Legion brings new classes, new continents and a plethora of new additions across the board. There’s even an exceptional new player housing system – almost a throwback to the Everquest II days of yore. Now that the hype surrounding the launches of Guild Wars 2 and Mists of Pandaria have mostly subsided, Trion Worlds is free to release their first major content expansion with confidence.
Instead of lowering the barrier of entry, Trion has designed almost everything added into Storm Legion for the purpose of holding on to and enriching the experience of existing subscribers who have reached endgame. While the focus on the development of content for existing players doesn’t allow for drawing in a new player-base (making it somewhat risky), it honestly does feel like the right move for Rift. It’s certainly paid off for them so far though, because as far as quality, content and critical appraisal goes, Storm Legion does indeed deliver.
I’ll start with what’s new. First and foremost, the level cap has been increased from 50 to 60. The game area has been increased by the addition of two enormous new continents, tripling the size of Telara. These new zones are joined by seven new dungeons, three new raids, a new stronghold for both factions, a (truly superlative) player housing system, Instant Adventure mode, an addition tier of crafting, four new souls, planar boss hunting and finally CAPES (which I was waiting too goddamn long for).
Got all that? Good.
Firstly, and most relevant to gameplay mechanic changes, Storm Legion brings 4 new ‘souls’ (Rift’s classes) to the table, one for each calling, or base archetype. The new souls being radical new mechanics into play making combat a much more dynamic experience, as well as adding a great deal of variance to encounters.
For the Warrior calling, the Tempest brings ranged spell-casting to the traditional front-line fighter, while the Harbinger soul for the Mage calling does the opposite: putting the traditionally ranged Mage calling up close and personal in melee combat with devastating single-target damage. In a twist, these two classes have had their combat positioning entirely reversed: each one catering to a multitude of new play styles in conjunction with the powers of secondary souls.
The Defiler soul grants the Cleric calling the power of Death, providing players with the ability to create bonds between allies and enemies, turning damage into healing and back again. However, I had the most fun with the Tactician soul for the Rogue, which brings a great deal of flexibility and versatility to the class. Replacing high single-target damage with a vast array of elemental AoE damage and healing spells gives the class a great shot in the arm and enables it to perform better in group-based combat.
Each soul has a very unique flavour and comes surprisingly well balanced considering there are four new additions. Plus, each performs above average throughout the new content, feeling as though they were designed to make the levelling process slightly more engaging and allow players to put their new abilities to work as well as encourage creativity and diversity with different soul combos.
Perhaps the largest change Storm Legion brings though are ‘Dimensions’: Rift’s player housing system. Much like Everquest II’s fabled player housing, Trion really push it to great heights here with the help of an extremely robust and innovative environment-editing engine. Players may purchase several different Dimensions, each with a distinct look feel and price, with larger Dimensions costing more. Once purchased, players may purchase or craft items and decorations to be scaled rotated and placed inside the Dimension at the players whim, to a very high degree of detail.
While not in any way a progression-based mechanic, Dimensions do bring another level of social interaction to the game. If brooding alone in your lair doesn’t suit you, you can invite other players to phase into your Dimension. You set permissions on the level of access they have, whether they’re just there to look, not touch, or whether you want to get a little bit of multiplayer construction done – Minecraft style. Indeed, Trion have even taken this opportunity to further engage their community, allowing players to vote on their favourite Dimensions with the most popular homesteads being ranked and featured in a weekly tally.
Although I did enjoy my time in the editor designing and constructing an abode for my character, it dawned on me that the result of my time spent creating only really exists in a vacuum of sorts. Friends can visit each others’ Dimensions and players come and go, but your little Dimension exists only as an instance: a pocket realm, never to truly be a part of Telara.
I couldn’t help but ponder upon the wasted potential of the system. Imagine if Trion had dedicated an area of one of the new continents to large scale sandbox style Dimensions. A truly open-world editor, again, much like a miniature Minecraft server, could have allowed players to construct their own cities and towns and then perhaps be charged with protecting them from rift attacks. I’m talking about proper game-world integration. Perhaps we’ll see development on such a concept in further content patches. Hopefully Trion truly realise the outstanding quality of their Dimension editor engine and put it to the test in the future. Hell, it’s too cool NOT to do.
Given the nature of the beast, the current competition in the genre and the steadily growing importance on retaining a dedicated player-base, Trion Worlds have performed admirably with their first major expansion pack. Intelligently they have listened to what their community has to say and responded proficiently to feedback by overhauling and balancing the game where necessary.
While Storm Legion does bring a great deal of delicious new content to the game that will keep the regular Rifter engaged, casual Rifters might not find it as fresh or enthralling. What it lacks in innovation however, it more than makes up for in content volume, quality and variety.
Rift is now free-to-play from levels 1-20, as a part of a model called Rift LITE. If you haven’t already seen what Trion Worlds has to offer, it’s definitely worth checking out for any MMO player.
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