It feels like Rift launched longer ago than March last year. With a steady stream of "free" (with your subscription) updates in the last 20 months, Trion Worlds has done an exemplary job keeping their debut MMO fresh for fans.
Storm Legion marks the first full expansion for the game, the first time Trion's asking for more than your $14.99 a month to dig into shiny new content. What are they offering to justify the $40 extra for existing players, or the $50 for newcomers?
Like most MMO expansions the primary offerings can best be described as, "MOAR!!!" More land to explore, more dungeons to delve, more levels to attain, more monsters to fight and more classes to fight them with.
The biggest brand new feature - other than flippyflappy capes to wear! - is a player housing system, known as Dimensions. Essentially your own little pocket of reality, Dimensions are a mostly blank surface on which you can build and shape your own personal quarters, trophy room, treehouse or secret fight club. Other players can be invited to your personal space and guilds can assemble their own shared space as they see fit.
Crafting your own virtual house with the tools and items provided is both a blessing and a curse. The freeform nature of the system gives you a lot more latitude to make the space distinctly your own, but it does require twiddling a lot more knobs and careful positioning than many would like. While some Dimensions come with a building, you'll need to have the beds or tables and chairs to place inside, which may strain the in-game wallets of particularly ambitious designers.
For those looking to stretch their imagination, the tools Rift is providing for their housing system should lead to some spectacular results.
Of course the expansion has an overarching storyline tying it all together, which comes in the form of Crucia, the Dragon God of Air, and her devious machinations. Just as the Dragon God of Death, Regulos, tried to bring the world of Telara under his dominion so is Crucia now making her own play. With her army of hybrid creations, combining the powers of magic and technology, and her unique abilities to seduce and persuade lesser beings, she hopes to free herself from her long imprisonment under Iron Pine Peak and... TAKE OVER THE WORLD!
If you've seen some of the promotional images for the expansion you would have noticed the scantily clad lady in her shiny metal bikini. That is actually Crucia in her human form, which makes her powers of seduction... rather obvious.
That's a great lore-based excuse for her outfit, but let's face it: That isn't why Trion has done it. The company wants a sexy lady on the cover of the game and on the posters and the advertising they buy across the internet because everybody knows it'll draw eyeballs. It's a little bit of cynical manipulation that it is tough to fault them for when the game has been criminally underappreciated by the gaming public.
Beyond the new housing system and the new super sexy big bad to fight, the expansion adds four new "souls" (skill trees), one for each of the four "callings" (classes). Rift's class system is quite unusual in that you pick a calling - Warrior, Mage, Rogue or Cleric - and then three souls, which form your talent trees and dictate which skills you can access as you spend points on your talents. With each calling having access to 8 souls in the base game, the combinations were already amazingly diverse. The addition of an extra soul to each range of possibilities will shake established builds up just as much as the increased level cap, which goes from 50 to 60 with Storm Legion.
The gameplay, otherwise, remains much as it was before, albeit over a much larger landmass and with some new monsters to fight and interesting mechanics to overcome.
Rifts, rips in the fabric of reality, continue to tear open across Telara and disgorge extra-planar enemies to harass the native denizens. Invasion forces press in on and occasionally overwhelm outposts, forcing players to defend the NPC vendors and questgivers they rely on, or retake the area from fiery minions, creepy plantmen, rock golems and more.
Players can choose to sign on for a sort of tour of duty with the game's Instant Adventures, which teleport you around a level-appropriate zone to squash certain enemies, keep the rifts and invasions from taking over key strategic locations and the like. With the expansion adding two entirely new continents to explore, the diversity of these adventures is likely to expand considerably.
All told, there's much more to the expansion than would reasonably fit in a review. The new dungeons and zone-wide events being introduced could form an article on their own, not to mention all the new items players can craft with the new Grandmaster crafting tier.
Like most new MMO releases or expansions the launch of Storm Legion has not gone entirely smoothly. The servers have been taken down at least once (I was in the middle of an adventure!) to apply some fixes and lag is higher than normal, although not to the point of unplayability. It's likely these teething issues will be sorted within a day or two as the initial rush wears off, but you'd best bring your patient-pants out of the cupboard until then.
If you've hit the wall in other MMOs, Rift offers a unique spin on the genre and the expansion provides a good opportunity to dive in, with many others trying it for the first time and some old hands returning for a second dig.
For returning players the expansion adds oodles of new content to explore, a housing system superior to most other offerings and those delightfully swishy capes you've wanted since beta.
For people still playing Rift since launch, it's a no brainer. The expansion adds more of everything you've been enjoying for the last two years for less than the price of a 3 month subscription. And if you plonk down the cash for a 12 month subscription, Trion will give you the expansion for free!
Competition in the MMO space has never been more fierce but Storm Legion makes a strong case for gamers to pick up Rift.