So I explained that my goal during my interim time in RIFT was to level a new cleric to the cap and try and build epic sets of gear for each role that she can perform. A part of me was hoping that my first update on the project could report that I had already reached the level cap. And while leveling in RIFT is pretty fast, (I'd rate it slower than World of Warcraft but faster than Star Wars: The Old Republic) on my limited playing time, that was a bit ambitious in terms of a goal. But I am close. So what I thought I would focus on in terms of this update is some observations about RIFT leveling in general, both for returning players and hopefully some insights for those who haven't played the game as yet.
The first thing a returning player will notice is that that method of acquiring new souls has completely changed. When the game fist launched, you completed quests in the starting area to obtain your initial three souls and then completed additional quests from your factional capital to obtain the rest. This system was replaced by simply purchasing the additional souls shortly before I left the game. Now even this has been removed and you have access to all your calling's souls almost immediately upon starting the game. In place of the quests, Trion has put together "recommended" combinations of souls and points depending on the role you want to perform. As an experienced player I did not take advantage of these and simply created my own templates, but new players will find them helpful in directing their initial character choices.
Since all of this content was already familiar to me, I was able to move pretty efficiently through the leveling zones. I completed pretty much everything in Silverwood, Gloamwood, Scarlet Gorge, Scarwood Reach (my least favorite in the game), and just a few nights ago I polished off Moonshade Highlands. I was able to recognize some changes Trion has made that I think help smooth out the process. I know, I know... how can you make something so easy even smoother? I'm not so much talking about a change in difficulty, just small tweaks and conveniences that make the process more enjoyable for me. For example, in the past if you were attempting to close a rift by yourself, pushing the rift to its final "unstable phase" (phase 5) was inadvisable because the final stage was capped by an elite mob. Outside of a few calling/spec combinations, this would be very difficult to impossible to solo. Well Trion changed that. Generic minor rifts now all end with regular type mobs, easily killed by virtually any calling/spec. I applaud this change because it encourages solo players to seal rifts rather than skip them, and to push for those final phases and the bigger rewards that they can offer.
Another change I found pleasant was that every zone had a daily quest to kill "X" number of planar invaders and to seal "Y" number of rifts. Now it is possible these quests existed before and I was unaware. But either they have been added in the past few months, or at least they were made much easier to find and complete. These quests provide more than just a bit of extra XP. They give reputation with whichever faction is present in the zone, and pretty much every zone in RIFT has a faction associated with it. In the past many of these factions were irrelevant because by the time you had enough reputation with them, you had far outleveled the rewards they could offer you. Now with these dailies you have a chance to reach the higher reputation levels while the rewards still matter. These quests also provide an incentive to hunt down invasions and rifts, which I think is fundamental to leveling in RIFT. When you boil it down, RIFT is just another "quest and grind." But the invasions, rifts, and bigger zone wide events, provide a "break" from that tedium so it doesn't feel so boring. Some would argue it's just a contrivance, and it is, but it is one that works for me.
On the down side, don't bother with dungeons while leveling. This is unfortunate as I happen to be a fan of RIFT's dungeons. But the time involved in actually getting a group (even if you are a tank or healer) coupled with the very low ratio of XP to time invested makes dungeons a very poor way to level. It would seem that there is a lot of "silent consensus" on this issue as even using the LFD system and performing an "in demand" role still doesn't get you a group very fast. This was a problem during my last tenure in the game and it remains a problem now. It boils down to a lack of incentive, I think. The "system" does not reward running dungeons while leveling. The XP in a dungeon is absolutely pathetic compared to questing. Now I don't think Trion should go the WoW route and make it possible to level entirely while sitting in your capital and chain-queueing, but as it stands there is really no reason to bother with dungeons until the level cap. Again this is unfortunate not only because the dungeons themselves are pretty cool, but it reinforces a sad trend in MMO's today as players are not asked to perform group roles until the level cap... and then they find a very unforgiving environment full of more experienced players who will not tolerate their mistakes.
So there are some thoughts on the current state of leveling content in RIFT. Next week I will certainly have hit the cap and I can start reporting on my work to assemble my gear sets. The timing here is going to be interesting as the 1.8 patch will be out in probably a month and we already know it will include a new set of crafted patterns, along with the requisite new raid and other content. I'm debating whether or not that makes the current epic crafted gear more or less desirable. Will the price go down in lieu of the new items, like picking up a cheap iPad 2? Or will they actually go up due to increased demand (people like me looking for cheaper upgrades) and reduced supply (due to people focusing on the new patterns and materials)? If it drives prices down, I could achieve my goal even more easily than I had hoped. If it drives prices up, I see a lot more dungeon grinding in my future. We shall see!