Rift’s Starfall Prophecy expansion is expected to launch today, bringing a level cap increase (to 70), new zones, new dungeons, the new legendary abilities, planar fragments, and so much more into the free-to-play MMORPG. It’s a lot to take in and, arguably, a few more complex systems are being added to a game that can already be pretty daunting to new players.
To get the scoop, I sat down with Senior Design Director Simon Ffinch and Executive Producer Chris Junior from Trion Worlds to get not only a tour, but to some of my own questions (and probably some of yours, as well) answered. Our tour started with a run through of some of the new zones the Comet of Ahnket offers. We kicked it off in Alittu, a “city” serves as the main hub for players as they embark on the story portion of the expansion. It’s got the typical Rift “futuristic, but primitive” vibe going on. The 64-bit version of the client continues to perform well, and you can tell the art department is really well-versed in what their engine can do after so many years. The visuals are nice most of the time, but occasionally they can actually be quite stunning, for an older title.
Moving out of our safe haven, we headed into Scatherran Forest. Full of new creatures and models, the zone appears deadly, as Chris has to use dev commands in a number of places to avoid dying to keep the tour moving along. We then moved to Gedlo Badlands, a desert wasteland where players will actually be working together with kobolds. Simon reminded me that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and in this case, it’s 100% true. Going from a forest directly to a desert and on through some of the other zones appears to make little topographical sense until you consider the lore behind the Comet of Ahnket.
This comet ripped through a number of planes and took areas from those planes with it. So yes, while it might not be a “natural” formation of land, it does make the visuals more appealing and diverse while also fitting the lore of the new content and representing multiple plane types. It also serves as a nice way to break up the gameplay. Simon said, “When you think you’ve had enough of a claustrophobic forest, head on over to a wide open desert wasteland. When you’re sick of the heat there, we’ll throw you into a swamp… and by the way, what’s with that tower in the middle?” Players will likely appreciate the stark differences in many of the expansion’s landscapes.
Next we took a look at one of the features I’ve been most interested in, Legendary Abilities. Speaking to Simon, he expressed that the team didn’t want to just cram a bunch of new abilities into the game but they did want to have some semblance of players growing in power beyond the normal stat and level increases. Legendary Abilities achieve exactly that.
“When you think you’ve had enough of a claustrophobic forest, head on over to a wide open desert wasteland. When you’re sick of the heat there, we’ll throw you into a swamp.”
Certain key abilities from each build have the ability to be upgraded into a Legendary form. As you level to 70, you’ll be awarded one point per level and can use those points to upgrade the ability of your choice. For instance, spending a point to upgrade the Shaman’s Crushing Blow ability (which normally Deals 4195 to 4636 damage and Applies Twisted Soul (minor) which reduces single-target healing the target receives by 15% for 6 seconds) adds the benefit of increasing the damage of the next cast time spell you cast by 40% to its base effect.
If you think some of these abilities are OP…you may be right! Simon reminded me that the team is focused on players having fun. If that means players feel a bit OP at times, so be it. If it gets out of control, then the team is ready to make changes where needed, but Trion Worlds wants player to have fun first and foremost.
It’s here that I asked if there are certain “cookie cutter builds” that these Legendary Abilities are going to end up falling into. Simon and Chris didn’t think so. Sure, there may be preferred abilities for certain circumstances, but they said that Rift players have a certain knack for finding alternate builds that perform better (or are just more fun) over time and they feel that the same will happen with Legendary Abilities.
We capped off our tour with a look at the new Planar Fragment system. Upon our initial reveal of the system, we at MMOBomb felt that it might be needlessly complex for a game that already has a number of more intricate systems.
This system allows you to imbue gear slots (not the gear itself, just the head slot, for example) with Planar Fragments that add stats. Simple enough. However, it gets more in depth since the Fragments themselves can then be infused and upgraded (currently to level 15) improving the stats already on the fragment and maybe even revealing additional stats along the way. Finding higher-quality fragments to begin the process with may reveal some of the later unlockable stats right from the start to save you from just being surprised by what stat increase just unlocked.
The UI team has done a fantastic job making the interface for this system easy to use and to understand.
To further this system, gear slots are elementally attuned differently for each character build. You may have a fire attunement on your head slot whereas my build ends up with a death attunement. Additionally, fragment types can play a role in stat bonuses, meaning that a Fire Fragment that gives a bonus to Strength will not increase Strength as much as an Earth Fragment probably will. Fragments you aren’t using can be broken down into materials that are used to infuse the Fragments you are using.
If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. However, the UI team has done a fantastic job making the interface for this system easy to use and to understand. It won’t take you long to figure it out and once you do, you’ll be min/maxing for days! All this doesn’t even mention the new Active Upgrades system for weapons and armor that the expansion brings, which I was not shown on the tour.
As we reached the end of our tour, I had to ask about the payment model change for this expansion. In the previous expansion, players felt really nickeled and dimed in a piecemeal expansion where each item was basically purchased separately. While this gave all players access to the zones and core content, players ended up buying multiple things because they were basically required (like the ability to even wear certain gear dropped in the new Nightmare Tide zones).
This time around, Starfall Prophecy has to be flat out purchased in one of two available bundles. Simply put, if you don’t buy the expansion you do not have access to any expansion content at all. When I asked about the switch, Simon replied, “This came directly from the players. Obviously, the game has to make money somehow. We gave away the content portion of Nightmare Tide, but then players…well…they had to buy things like the earring slots and gear unlock…and..well…” I interrupt, “We hated it.”
“This time around we went with one fee for everything, and the feedback so far has been much better.”
Simon laughed almost as if he wanted to say the same thing but was trying not to actually say it, “Haha, yes, players really didn’t like it. This time around we went with one fee for everything, and the feedback so far has been much better.” I then asked about players who do not buy the expansion feeling left out (although I also put the caveat on this question of most endgame players are of course probably buying Starfall Prophecy already so this question probably points to a small audience) and Chris replied, “There are 65 levels of free content right now in Rift. There is a ton to play through for new or returning players. We hope that by giving such a large amount of content away for free, we can earn their purchase of the expansion when they arrive at that end of their 65 levels of content.”
All in all, the expansion looks to be hitting a ton of the “sweet spots” for Rift players and I’ll be sure to give you some of my impressions on upcoming F2P Casts! But what do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
My thanks to Simon, Chris, and the team at Trion Worlds for taking the time out to chat with me about Starfall Prophecy.