RIFT: Priming the Primalist…

Greeting, ladies and gentlemen!

I don’t know how many of you follow news involving Trion Worlds or their many titles, but their flagship title, RIFT, is going to be getting another major update soon. This update has a particularly interesting addition that will be a first for the series since the game’s release in early 2011. RIFT will be receiving its first new Calling which will be called (tee hee) the Primalist. For today’s post, I will be discussing some of the information that has been release about the new calling, explore some its new features and souls, and examine how the Primalist differs from the four callings that came before it. Join me as we venture Into The Wilds.

Big Weapons and Beast Heads

The Primalist Calling will feature a new theme with a uniquely RIFT feel. As a Primalist, players will become beacons of primal energy channeling power from the elemental planes and eventually unlocking Primal Avatars for increased power. They enter the fray wielding two-handed weapons to smash any foes in their way, and while Primalists are only clad in leather armor, they are capable of taking on any role including becoming a Tank. The Primal Avatars can be called upon to grant the Primalist additional benefits, and they present themselves as giant, glowing animal heads affixed to the Primalist’s own head. The specific benefits of each Primal Avatar are not yet known.

I believe one design advantage the Primalist affords the developers, that the original four Callings couldn’t, is its theme. By this, I am speaking to any limitations that may arise when designing different Souls for a Calling. The Primalist has potentially fewer limitations because it can be whatever the developers want it to be, and it is less constrained by a particular theme or mindset than the original four Callings. The Warrior is stuck being the plate-wearing, front-line fighter with varied forms of weapon attacks. The Mage is your typical spellcaster with the capacity to take on different magical disciplines. Granted, the developers have the capacity to create Souls that go beyond the standards that make up each Calling, but the Primalist has this flexibility innately.

A Balance of Two Mindsets

The Primalist, like most of RIFTs other Callings, will have a unique resource mechanic called Focus. While in combat, the Primalist’s Focus will shift between two different states, Fury and Cunning, which provide different benefits depending on the active state. While some abilities may gain more benefit from one state over the other, it will behoove players to carefully manage the use of their abilities as failing to do so will surely spell their doom, or that of their raid. One example given in the RIFT 3.4 Spotlight was an ability that might normally take 6 seconds to cast would become instant-cast while the Primalist was at full Fury.

From what was shown off in the Announcement Trailer for the new Calling, the Primalist’s Focus mechanic functions very similar to the Balance mechanic available to Druids in World of Warcraft. Though, it is difficult, without having played the new Calling, to say whether the Focus mechanic functions like the original Balance mechanic or the one that exists in Warlords of Draenor. The original version of the Balance mechanic was fully in the control of the player and allowed them to halt the shifting of phases, speed it up or slow it down at a whim. However, the Warlords of Draenor version is completely out of the players control and forces them to be at the mercy of the machine instead of playing their character on their own terms. One can only hope the RIFT developers have followed the original design of the Balance mechanic and not the latest one.

Diverging from the Beaten Path

One compelling deviation from the traditional design of Callings in RIFT is how the Soul Trees have been designed for the Primalist. For the original four Callings, players receive talent points for every level earned, up to level 60, that can be spent in the “branches” of a Soul Tree. The “branches” of each soul tree is composed of 61-points worth of talents, with the top-most talent in a tree requiring 41-points to obtain, and players have a total of 76 talent points (though it should be 80) to work with to build their characters. The soul trees available to the Primalist are only composed of 31-points of talents, with the top-most talent requiring 21-points, but players will only have around 39 talent points to define their Primalist’s build. In a behind-the-scenes post on the RIFT website, the reason Jeff “Red Hawk” Hamilton gave for making this change was the 61-point soul trees of the original four Callings were “the product of multiple expansions worth of skills to the foundation of their original trees.” Many of the passive bonuses the other Callings receive through the soul trees, like “+2/4/6/8/10% damage”, have been baked into the Primalist’s abilities which has left room for more interesting talent choices.

I’m one of those people who is always for MMORPGs changing and updating their character customization options, especially if those features are in need of an overhaul. I believe, in RIFT’s case, there is a lot more that could be done to the Callings. RIFT has reached the point that World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic hit just before they made huge revamps to the way players customize their characters. Although, the RIFT developers clearly realized they hit that point when they raised the level cap to 65 and introduced Masteries instead of expanding the Soul Trees.

The biggest problem with the Talent Trees mechanic in MMORPGs has always been the options available. The developers either don’t create enough compelling options, don’t provide enough diverse options, don’t have any mechanics outside talent trees (other than abilities) that work in conjunction with the talents, create too many mandatory talents, or they eliminate hybrid builds by forcing players to invest most of their points into a single tree before being allowed to invest in others. Developers have a history of being just outright awful when it comes to designing talent trees. Before their big change, Star Wars: The Old Republic’s talents provided miniscule bonuses and possessed passives that made minor changes to a character’s playstyle. In World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion, they had shrunk the talent trees, but each passive was bloated with two or three different effects, and too many talents were mandatory to being effective in a particular role.

My point is, the RIFT developers should think about overhauling the soul trees into a mechanic that will bypass the issues they know they are facing. The revamped Talents system in World of Warcraft is a really good idea. Players are given the choice to select one of three different options to differentiate themselves from others of the same class/spec composition. Are the WoW devs particularly good with creating multiple viable options? Not really. For any particular specialization, there is often one, occasionally two, viable choice per Talent tier. For classes with a single damage specialization, there is, for the most part, one way to play that character that is viable, which could easily be expanded to two or three.

In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the talent trees were entirely dropped in place for a system that mirrors, more or less, what World of Warcraft currently has. Players have four class choices at character creation. They select one of two advance classes at around level 10 (on last count), and each advanced class has three different disciplines (specializations) to choose from which provide a collection of passives and new abilities. Players will periodically earn Utility points to unlock passives shared across all three disciplines within an advanced class. There are plenty of ways that the RIFT developers can take the Soul tree system in new directions, but I think it would need to retain the ability to create hybrid builds, which is a facet of character customization that has been lost in World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Well, this was a small-ish (?) overview of what is known about the Primalist and how it differs from the four original Callings. There is quite a bit more to this post than I had originally anticipated, but I think it still merits mentioning. I believe it’s good that the RIFT developers are finally looking to add more Callings to their game, but it probably would have been better to have revamped their Soul Tree feature beforehand. Sadly, there isn’t likely to be any major changes to this facet of their game before the release of the Primalist, but maybe they’ll surprise their players with something shiny and new in the next expansion. Yes? No? Maybe? Probably not.

What do you think of the Primalist? Are you going to jump back into the world of Telara once this update hits? What kind of changes are you still looking for in RIFT? Join the discussion below.

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Thanks for reading to the end. I hope you’ll be back for the next one.

War Fist out.

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