Over the last few days I’ve been playing a bit of RIFT. I decided that since I’m paying an (admittedly cheap) subscription fee, I should get a bit more out of it than logging in once a week to do something for the latest world event. So I’ve been levelling a Defiant cleric, working my way up through the levels towards the spec that my level 50 Guardian cleric is using.
My purpose for this was twofold: to see how much the levelling process has changed since I did it on my four Guardian characters many months ago; and to experience RIFT from the other side of the faction split.
I’m pretty chuffed to say that the early levelling experience in RIFT is now even smoother and more involving than it was previously. There is plenty to do in Freemarch and Stonefield, and the addition of new Porticums for easy travel cut down on a lot of the previously long stretches of wasted time.
The new build templates are a nice idea as well, with the game giving you a selection of prebuilt templates for you to follow as you level up — which I ignored completely.
However, one thing remains relatively the same: every couple of levels, I need to return to a trainer to learn new ranks of abilities I unlock using points in my Soul Trees. This bugs me. Not so much the returning to the trainer, though that doesn’t help, but the fixed nature of the ability tiers.
Hypothetical Example Ability
Rank 1: Deals 100 dmg, modified by spell power. Requires level 5.
Rank 2: Deals 150 dmg, modified by spell power. Requires level 15.
Rank 3: Deals 200 dmg, modified by spell power. Requires level 25.
You get the idea. I’ve deliberately exaggerated this example to get across a point. At level 5 when you get this ability, it is awesome. But it gets gradually less and less awesome as you get closer and closer to level 15. While enemies increase in power, and your spell power increases too, the ability itself stays relatively constant. And because it is constant, you actually become comparatively less and less powerful until you hit level 15 and you can go and train the next tier of ability.
Now this isn’t actually a massive issue in RIFT. The ranks of abilities are really not all that far apart, and the stat modifiers on them seem to make a decent difference in smoothing them out to help them scale. But the highs and lows are still there — and because the game has an exponential levelling curve it takes longer and longer to get to the next level. But the time you’re level 45 and the next rank of a spell is at 46, you’re spending a lot of time feeling underpowered.
TERA is a great example of this too. On my Mystic, when I’ve just learned a new rank of metamorphic smite and metamorphic blast, I feel great and powerful, tearing chunks out of enemies and generally having a great time. Yet as I level and the enemies get higher level, it starts taking longer and longer to kill things, until I finally get the next rank of those two bread and butter abilities.
These peaks and valleys in power really annoy me. I want my characters to have a gradual rise in power. Not rise then fall then rise then fall then rise then fall repeat ad nauseum.
World of Warcraft eliminated ranks for its Cataclysm expansion. All of the abilities scaled from the moment you learned them. This meant that they had to completely redesign how the class progression system worked, so that levels felt like they meant something and that sense of forward momentum was preserved, but in my opinion they pulled it off. When I levelled from 80 through to 85, I never felt that I was going up and down in awesomeness. There was just a consistent upwards slope — a nice gradient. As enemies got more powerful, so did I.
I was actually rather surprised when RIFT didn’t adopt this, but then when it was being marketed at release, it deliberately styled itself as a throwback to the “golden days” of early WoW, and ability ranks and trainers were a big part of that.
Guild Wars 2 has fully scaling abilities. It has to, due to the very nature of the dynamic event and sidekicking systems. Necrotic Grasp will feel just as powerful at level 1 on your staff-wielding necromancer as it does at level 80, because it will scale with you. You don’t need to go back to a trainer at level 10 to buy Necrotic Grasp II before you can feel powerful again. It simply gets more powerful as you do.
When your level 80 necromancer is sidekicked down to level 35 for an Explorable Mode run through the Ascalonian Catacombs, your Necrotic Grasp will be scaled down appropriately, to ensure the content remains challenging.
There are trainers in Guild Wars 2, however. They simply aren’t responsible for your everyday abilities. Instead they are in charge of your Traits. They are the ones who sell the Adept, Master, and Grand Master manuals for unlocking and reseting your various tiers of traits.
In other MMOs, you’ll gain abilities to attack with as you progress through the levels. Most of the time the game won’t care whether you cast Raging Strike with a sword, mace, axe or whatever equipped. The ability will be modified by your weapon damage, but it generally won’t care about the type of weapon.
In Guild Wars 2, the type of weapon you use is everything. Your level 1 necromancer with her sceptre only has one ability: Curse. As she kills enemies in the starter area using that weapon, her second ability will automatically unlock. It only takes about five kills to unlock Grasping Dead, and not many more than ten or fifteen to unlock Deathly Swarm. When they’re unlocked, you get them for the whole trip to 80. You never have to train in them beyond what you’ve already done to learn them. They simply get better as you get better.
For each weapon you equip, you have to train yourself to use the abilities. Say my necromancer fully trains out the sceptre and a war horn offhand. She’s got five abilities on her action bar. Then she loots an axe. She’s never used an axe before, so when she equips it, she’s back to only having one skill to use: Rending Claws. If she keeps the war horn in her offhand, she’ll have 1, 4 and 5 unlocked, but abilities 2 and 3 she’ll need to unlock through playing.
It’s a much more natural system than going back to a trainer. It feels more organic. It teaches you how to use the individual abilities at a natural pace and, most importantly of all, it makes your weapon choices matter.
Utility and Elite Skills
Healing, Utility and Elite Skills don’t have trainers either. They scale just like weapon skills in Guild Wars 2. Only their method of acquisition differs.
All players start off with a Healing ability in slot 6. It scales as you level, and always has a profession-based flavour to it. For example, the necromancer starts off with a Blood Fiend, a summonable minion that can steal health with every attack or be sacrificed to heal you in one big burst. It has a shortish 20 second recharge timer before it can be summoned again.
Rather than buying utility and elite skills at a trainer, instead you purchase them straight from your UI using skill points. You’ll get one skill point for every level you obtain after level 5 (currently), but there are also a plethora of skill challenges out in the world for you to find and complete, all of them ranging in difficulty and method of acquisition. Some may be as simple as beating an NPC in single combat. Others may require you to traverse through a dungeon to fight or talk to a creature or NPC. Yet more may be at the end of a particularly nefarious jumping puzzle, or hidden away deep underground in a secret place.
All utility and elite skills (and healing skills too — there are others you can buy) cost a varying amount of skill points and, like everything else, they don’t have ranks. You don’t need to forgo buying Spectral Armour because in a couple of levels you could get Spectral Armour II.
All abilities have one rank and scale. Buy them once, equip them whenever you like. They’ll always do a proportionate amount of damage or healing or provide a proportionate amount of utility, no matter your level.
There’s nothing new, information wise, in this post. I think anyone who has been following even the most rudimentary news about Guild Wars 2 knows about its scaling and sidekicking system — although it should be noted that sidekicking up seems to have been abandoned as a gameplay mechanic. If your friend is level 50 and you are level 10, he can’t invite you to a group so you can go do level 50 content. It only works downwards now. This kinda saddens me, though I can see why they’ve done it. There’s just too much you could miss out on.
The scaling of abilities is a relatively simple thing in appearance, yet I believe it will make a massive difference to me when I’m playing Guild Wars 2. Just like the flattened EXP curve means that after the first few levels it’ll always take you roughly 90 minutes of solid play to reach your next level, so too will a scaling abilities system mean that you’ll always do roughly proportionate damage. You won’t feel you’re getting less powerful, and you won’t feel the need to grind out another level just to get to the next tier of an ability so you can start feeling awesome again.