Let’s face it: it’s not easy making an expansion for a pay-to-play MMO nowadays. Free to play is the new normal, so when a subscription-based game decides to charge for new content, well… the pressure is on, because there’s going to be some intense scrutiny aimed at the new offering. Does it offer enough to warrant a purchase on top of the subscription fee? Is there some real innovation there, or is it just more of the same? Does it seem polished, or does it come across as something shoveled out to just give players something else to spend their money on? Hard questions. Valid questions. And they’ll be asked by the subscribers – customers who may well and truly respond to disappointment by denying the developer their patronage, immediately. So the question I’m looking to answer in this Rift: Storm Legion review is: did Trion Worlds knock it out of the park on this one? Or shoot themselves in the foot? In this climate, with this type of game, there’s actually not much of a middle ground here.
The story behind Rift Legion is straightforward: Crucia, one of the dragon-gods that threaten the world of Telara, is making her power play. Mistress of the Elemental Plane of Air, she’s taken on a scantily clad human female form and is trying to bring her own special brand of violence and conquest to the world, intent on crushing all who oppose her. There’s some snarling dialogue between herself and the various heroes standing up to her, but all that really matters here is the backdrop, the gist. Normally this is where I say that in MMOs, story takes a backseat to everything else, but with Rift I’m being brief for another reason: I’m confident that the writing in the game will be good, because Rift remains as one of the most truly unique worlds on the MMO stage. A world of distant gods, competing philosophies, disrupted time streams, alternate dimensions and more. What I saw of the storyline was everything I expected the last time I dove into this world – an eclectic mix of interesting ideas, dramatic moments of intense graphical beauty and more. I’ll simply say that given what I’ve seen, I’m confident Storm Legion’s story is going to be fun to experience for anyone who places a high value on lore. It truly is an interesting, remarkable world they’ve created.
I’m also going to take a moment to talk about the graphics of Storm Legion itself, and Rift generally. I played Rift long ago – at launch, as a matter of fact. Facing off against Regulos in the first moments of my character creation was memorable, because it was such a graphically stunning encounter. I fell out of the game for various reasons – I’m an MMO nomad, basically – and only came back recently. The first thing I noticed on my return is, wow… this is actually a really, really beautiful game. Breath-taking, in fact. I’m not just talking about the hot girls in scant amounts of armor either, though that’s certainly nice. I’m talking about the way enemies look – the first Storm Legion creatures you encounter are these magnificent monstrosities of metal and flesh that have a fluid, life-like way of moving. It’s almost a shame to kill them, because they are actually works of art. The whole game is like this, but especially the expansion – everything, from the environments generally to the individual mobs you go up against are some of the best looking things in gaming, period, right now. Whoever is in charge of the art on this game is doing a stellar job.[singlepic id=9976 w=320 h=240 float=right]
I could really go on about all the things I noticed on my return to Telara – the sheer volume of things that have been added since I last played would constitute a paid expansion itself – but I want to spend my time here talking about Storm Legion itself. Specifically, I want to tell you about my philosophy when it comes to MMO expansions, given that I tend to occupy the more hardcore side of the spectrum whenever I invest my time in such a game. I consider a successful expansion to have, as an absolute minimum, three things going on: first, there has to be an exceptional amount of new content to explore. If I’m buying an expansion, it damn well better expand the world I’m already playing in – I want dungeons, I want raids, I want new things to see, I want new items to find, I want new quests, I want a LOT to do and see and gain, period. Second, I want the ability to become more powerful than I was – that means I need new levels I can raise my character to, or new methods of character progression that are considerable over where I can possibly get my character prior to the expansion. Finally, I want a brand new feature, period – a radical, alternate method of advancement, or a brand new thing to do that I can spend a lot of time learning and building upon. A new facet to the gem of gameplay experience that currently exists, to get all fancy and poetic about it. Naturally, I want all this and I want it to WORK too – no half-assed job being shoved out the door to make a deadline.
I think those three things I mentioned are fair to expect. At the same time, I also know it’s a lot to ask for – so much so that most pay-to-play MMOs would be better off skipping expansions altogether and just incrementally adding on content for the subscription price alone, because it’s not a standard many developers are able to comfortably meet. So the fact that Trion Worlds managed to not only meet, but exceed those standards with Storm Legion means that the company – and the game – deserve high praise indeed as a truly worthwhile, gold-standard expansion.[singlepic id=9977 w=320 h=240 float=left]
That said, let’s talk about standard one: volume of content. Well, Storm Legion has that and then some. Straightaway, the game gives two whole new continents for players to explore. We’re not talking a cheap bait and switch either where the continents are actually more like ‘islands’. Trion claims these continents more than triple the existing size of the world of Rift, and based on the amount of ground I covered while running around playing the game, I believe them. These are huge, massive areas filled to the brim with monsters to kill, rifts to close, quests to complete and just plain things to explore, period. It’s intimidating. In fact, my understanding is that these two continents provide two distinct quest paths to follow on the march towards Storm Legion’s endgame, though of course you can choose to switch between one or the other at any time (provided you’re willing to hoof it from one to the other.) In addition to this massive amount of content, Storm Legion also features 7 new dungeons, 3 new raids, and a new Chronicle, which on its own is what you’d tend to find in a typical MMO expansion without taking the continents themselves into account. There’s no question that on the ‘new stuff to do and explore’ side of things, Storm Legion passes with flying colors. They didn’t just jump this particular bar, they rocketed off into the sky in a non-stop vertical leap.
So, the content standard? Checkmark. Let’s talk character expansion. The ability to grow more powerful is, at first, met in the old-fashioned way – a raised level cap. 60 is the new 50, so maxed out characters who pick up this expansion will find themselves with ten more levels to gain, complete with new powers and abilities for Rift’s huge diversity of character souls. Not only that, but each of the four character meta-classes also see a new soul each being added to their selection. The clerics pick up the Defiler, with a focus on ranged attacks and healing through dealing damage – always the best way to heal. Rogues pick up the Tactician soul, emphasizing group healing and elemental-based damage dealing. Warriors get the Tempest, showing off yet more ranged damage – I guess Rift was lacking in the ranged department – with, of course, a heavy spin on the whole electricity thing. Finally, mages pick up the Harbinger, who bucks the ranged trend in favor of a focus not only on melee-range damage, but general survivability – at least, being able to endure pain above and beyond what a mage typically can manage. All this on top of the sheer volume of loot that you can expect to come out of the aforementioned raids and dungeons and tremendous amount of new territory to cover. So another checkmark for Storm Legion, this time in the power-gaining department.[singlepic id=9978 w=320 h=240 float=right]
Now we’re left with the new feature. Throwing a bit of a curveball here, but a popular curveball, the new addition to Rift isn’t one that directly affects gameplay. Instead, it’s more aesthetic: player housing. In this case, unique dimensions each player can access (with some space and a smattering of starter furnishings provided for free) to create their own little piece of Telara however they see fit, so long as they have the gold to buy all the furniture they need. This is one of those features that a lot of people demand in their MMOs, and it’s easy to see why – people like to show off and create. I imagine this goes double in Rift, considering all the beauty of the world itself. I played around with the dimension editor, and really, it’s a powerful tool – you can alter the scale, the angle, the x/y/z access placement of all the furnishings you get your hands on, and with enough time and gold it’s possible to create some truly inspiring stuff. Naturally you can show off whatever you create to your friends, which is probably the key point. Now, personally, I’m more interested in new additions that directly affect my ability to go kill something large and loot-carrying, but even I would be tempted to use housing to show off some trophies or generally reflect some of my character’s imagined personality. I want to emphasize here that the amount of customizability in Storm Legion’s dimension system is considerable – you’re not really on rails here, choosing between one pre-arranged kitchenette to build or another. You can alter things down to the angle of the floor tiles that you’ll individually place. So one more time: a check for Trion Worlds.
Check, check, check. Really, I don’t think I’ve seen an expansion done this well since Wrath of the Lich King for World of Warcraft. Absolutely every expectation I have for an MMO expansion – and my expectations are high – was not only met with Storm Legion, but exceeded. There’s a truly massive amount of new things to do and areas to explore. There’s 4 new souls to play around with and 10 new levels to expand your character into. There’s a new, deep housing system in place which grants a tremendous amount of freedom and customizability. Chances are if you’re a long-standing player of Rift, a lot of what I’ve said in this review is (while probably encouraging) not a surprise to you. Judging by the sheer amount of improvements I’ve seen since the last time I played, not to mention the content added over the course of the core game’s many updates, I’m guessing Rift players know their MMO of choice is clearly handled with care and attention. But if for some reason you’re a Rift player who has hesitated over whether to pick up this expansion, I’ll sum up my take simply: it’s fantastic. Go get it.