If there was only one feature from Rift that I could request to be brought forward into the MMORPG genre it would have to be the soul system. I’ve talked about it briefly before but after spending a lot more time in the game I realize how nice it actually is. I’m not married to the mechanics behind it but the idea itself is so solid that I just can’t see myself going back. I applaud Trion for asking the question, “does a player really have to stick to one class?” As someone who likes to be a solid healer for groups and raids I was growing quite tired of relying on others to help me finish quests or being so poor at soloing that I’d rather not even play.
Class interdependency is a term that came about in EverQuest. In those days the game was designed around the idea that everyone needed everyone else. If you think about it almost all content in EQ was group based. To some extent you could solo and certainly some classes were far superior at it but in general being alone meant wasting time and risking death. As a cleric it really didn’t matter that I couldn’t kill anything. I could always count on having a group since I was in demand. As MMORPG after MMORPG has broken down the rules of interdependency they’ve done a poor job of dismissing some of the old rules that go along with it. Academically being able to solo vs actually being able to solo isn’t the same thing. I’ll use EQ2 as an example. Ferrel can solo. Unfortunately it can take up to 70 seconds to kill someone that would take Dresden three. I wouldn’t exactly call that effective or fun. If nobody is online I simply don’t want to play Ferrel. To combat this I bought a second account and leveled a paladin to play with. That is a pretty negative thing even though it makes SOE more money.
In EQ if you were weak in one area you were often rewarded in another. In my example of Ferrel she should be superior at grouping but that just isn’t the case. You can replace a templar with any of the other healers. There is no gain equal to the loss of solo prowess. Ferrel would still be valuable to a group but that same group would still take Dresden too. Unlike in EQ where a necromancer might not be the first DPS choice (a penalty for being so self sufficient), EQ2 makes no distinction. Dresden is simply better at soloing and valuable to a group due to damage output.
Trion seems to recognize these inequities and is eager to free players from waiting on a particular class as much as possible. Each archetype offers souls outside of the standard role one might expect. As a cleric I have the choice of some DPS focused souls, a tank soul, and healing souls that suit how I want to play. Now when I’m alone I play a shaman/justicar and I’m most excited by that. I smash people in the face with a large two-handed hammer. When Buuncha wants to go tank things I switch to my sentinal/purifier. The transition is seamless and fast. More importantly, if we have two clerics in the group I can change on a the fly when healing isn’t as necessary or pick a different pairing so we don’t overlap.
I’ve read a few people who say this removes the identity of the character and I can certainly see that argument. I don’t experience that myself. My goal is to play Ferrel. I like being Ferrel. If the game is doing anything to make playing Ferrel boring that makes me sad. I never want to regret having rolled a particular class with that name. Rift Ferrel is, without a doubt, my favorite. Not because it is “the new thing” but because I can change her to suit my needs. When I want to solo I do it well. If I want to heal I can do that too. If I’m with a cleric who likes to use HoTs I can switch to direct heals. If someone is strong on direct dealing I can switch to group. My options are endless and I never feel trapped. I simply do not want to go back to a fixed class ever again (unless class interdependency returns) or have to level up a second character just to play how I’d like to play. Well done Trion! I hope you make a lasting mark on the industry.
Just remember gang Clerics wear plate!