RIFT: Rebuilding the Soul Trees

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Greetings, ladies and gentlemen!

Every once in a while I’ll get an idea in my head that just won’t go away. In some of these instances, the idea is one that would affect the design of a game I am playing or have played. I have already shared a few of those ideas on this blog and this post will be no different. In the last week or so, I have had an old idea make a resurgence; attempt to concept a revised Soul Tree feature for Trion Worlds’s RIFT. I have not played or thought about RIFT in a long time, so this thought popping back into my head took me by surprise. However, I have fleshed out a number of ideas on how I would revise (or rebuild) the soul trees, and I thought it would be fun to share them.

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In my experience, the Soul Tree feature has been one of great importance to RIFT since it launched. This feature was the sole method of customizing a player’s character, and it was covered extensively in the promotional material. As time has moved forward, numerous major updates and a few expansions have added new layers to build customization. Now, players can also make use of several new mechanics including Masteries and Planar Fragments. The focus of my concept is to update the Soul Tree so it is more streamlined and is as flexible as other available features.

Why would I want to change/update the Soul Tree, though? I do find the Soul Tree to be more interesting than the once tree-like feature that existed in World of Warcraft because of the flexibility it has retained. However, the Soul Tree feature is still based on the archaic talent tree design that even WoW has left behind. So, the direction for this concept is to ditch the talent-tree design in favor of something else. I’m also writing this post in the hope of sating my mind’s need to explore this idea.

Soul Points

Before I move onto the larger changes of my concept, I will discuss a simpler one. As characters earn levels, players will regularly receive Soul Points, which are the resource used to build a character. Players will earn up to 80 total points by level 60 (instead of 76, or 39 for Primalists), and will invest the points directly into the Souls rather than the talents located in the “branches.” Each soul can hold up to 60 soul points, but players are still able to divvy up the points among their three souls as they see fit. As points are invested in a soul, players will gain access to the tools that will define their role.

This is a relatively minor change, but I believe it is necessary. When RIFT’s level cap was raised to 60, players were only granted 10 additional soul points, one per additional level, to use in the expanded soul trees. However, during the first 50 levels, players earned a soul point every level, plus an additional soul point for every 3rd level reached. This did not carry over past level 50, and I have always thought that was a little strange. My concept adds those four missing points, which may (or may not) hold more weight in this new version of the soul tree than in the current version.

Soul Points Breakdown

  • Players earn 1 Soul Point for each level reached, plus an additional Soul Point for every 3rd level reached, up to level 60.
  • By level 60, players will have earned 80 total Soul Points.
  • Soul Points are invested into souls directly rather than spent in the branches.

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The Roots (Abilities)

The next change in my concept is being made to the “roots” of the soul tree. This primarily involves restructuring the progression of abilities earned. Presently, the rate at which abilities are earned is a little random and can differ from one soul to the next. There are a couple cases of souls possessing fewer abilities than other souls within the same calling, or possessing more than needed. One can also find passive skills in the roots, which I find to be odd.

The change I propose is to create a fixed progression that would be applied to all souls. At 0 points, a soul will offer a player 3 abilities. As points are invested in a soul (up to 60 points), the player will unlock up to 20 additional abilities. The fixed progression ensures all souls have the same number of baseline abilities and that abilities are earned at the same rate. Additionally, this change may help reduce ability clutter while using certain souls.

A big part of this change is the inclusion of some abilities from the branches. In some cases, this would be done to ensure a soul has 23 total abilities in the roots. In general, though, it just makes sense to make most of these abilities available by default. Especially, if they are abilities that are usually selected in current RIFT builds. The only issue that would deter the migration of the branch abilities is if a soul already posses more than enough abilities to fill out the roots, which leads to the next idea.

Another important part of this change is sorting through the abilities in the roots. The idea would be to keep core abilities and remove any unnecessary ones. There’s no universal rule for what constitutes an unnecessary ability, but this usually includes abilities that fill the same role as another. For example, removing Cadenza from the Bard soul because it is identical to Cadence but with more damage. Additionally, it is important to maintain interesting effects from moved, removed, or modified abilities.

An example of an ability that would be removed, yet carries an interesting effect, is Warlock Armor. This ability possess the same properties as Dark Armor, but adds a chance for damage abilities to reset the cooldown an ability called Consuming Agony and make it instant cast. While this new effect is good on its own, it is built into Warlock Armor, which is identical to Dark Armor in every other way. In short, it fills up a slot in the roots that could be used for something else. The next step would be to maintain the extra effect from Warlock Armor by implementing it another way, and then removing Warlock Armor from the roots.

On another note: Warlock Armor is placed in an awkward spot in the roots progression track. Since the Consuming Agony ability isn’t unlocked until a player has spent 48 points in the soul tree, Warlock Armor (unlocked at 32 points) is quite meaningless until that requirement has been met. So, why isn’t Consuming Agony unlocked first?

Another reason to remove an ability is to make room for more useful abilities. One ability that would be removed from the roots for this very reason is every single instance of Dismiss Pet. When players first learn how to summon a creature (be it undead, beast, or otherwise), they also learn the Dismiss Pet ability. Now, it may not need to be removed from the game, but Dismiss Pet doesn’t need to be shown in the roots. However, it’s not particularly necessary when you consider players can access this function by using any pet summoning ability or right-clicking their pet’s portrait.

In essence, abilities such as Dismiss Pet need not take up a slot in the roots that could be used by anything else.

Roots Changes Breakdown

  • Each Soul grants 3 abilities by default.
  • New abilities are unlocked once the following Soul Point requirements have been met: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60.
  • Only active abilities (damage, healing, utility, self buffs, raid buffs, summons) may fill a slot in the roots.

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The Branches (Talents)

The most significant change is being made to the branches. If this change were to be implemented tomorrow, RIFT players may need to take a day before they get back to their normal routines (time may vary). For my concept, I am doing what World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic have already done to their talent trees. I’m replacing them entirely with something more interesting and that offers players actual choices. Don’t worry, though, this change isn’t too crazy, and is somewhat inspired by the Mastery feature in RIFT or, dare I say it, the talent system in World of Warcraft.

Now, as players invest Soul Points in a soul, they will periodically unlock a new talent tier in the branches. Each tier offers two talents, and players must choose one to use in their build. This occurs at every 5-point interval, resulting in 12 total talent tiers within a single maxed out soul (60 points). A player with 80 spent Soul Points should have 16 total talents (across two or three souls) actively affecting their build. This is a dramatic different to the current soul tree which could require players to benefit from 30 or more talents at once.

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A cropped screenshot of a current Rogue soul tree.

The first goal of this change is to create a more compelling feature. In my experience, talent trees haven’t been the best mechanic for character customization, either due to the way developers use them or any innate limitations of the feature. This idea is further supported by examples of games completely ditching this type of feature. World of Warcraft replaced the talent trees in Mists of Pandaria after trying to simplify them in Cataclysm, and that is after expanding them twice in prior expansions. Star Wars: The Old Republic replaced the talent trees (see skill trees) with the sleeker, more interesting, Disciplines feature in order to focus each advanced class and the roles within. BioWare made this change so future updates to classes would require far less development time than would be needed if they kept expanding the skill trees (see Why The Change).

To my knowledge, the soul trees in RIFT haven’t been touched (intimately or otherwise) for two expansions, and have only been expanded once. When they planned to raise the level cap to 65, the RIFT developers likely faced the same issues as BioWare when contemplating what to do with the soul trees. This inevitably led them to introducing Masteries instead of expanding the soul trees a second time. The only other time the soul trees garnered attention from the developers, that I’m aware of, was during the development of the Primalist. Each of the Primalist’s souls were given truncated trees, which only required 31 points to max out (instead of 61). This was likely done in an attempt to save the developers a few headaches with introducing a new class with so many variants. The results of that little experiment look more disastrous than beneficial, but I’ll explain my reasoning later.

Note: The extent of my knowledge of the Primalist comes primarily from rift.magelo.com, and I suspect it may not provide 100% complete or up to date information regarding the newest Calling. It is all I have to work with, though.

The second goal of this change is to offer players actual choice. Players have plenty of options while leveling a new character because they can spend their points in any of the available talents. The same can be said for a player creating a new build for a max level character. However, players who choose to max out a soul must take every talent to reach the 61-point cap, resulting in zero build options or variation within that soul. My concept would grant players more options as they invest points in a soul rather than reducing those options to nothing.

To ensure players have meaningful choices, many existing talents would have to be removed or replaced. Presently, the vast majority of passive talents only offer flat bonuses to damage, healing, a specific type of damage, critical hit chance, a Calling’s core damage stat, base health, damage of specific abilities, and so on. These flat bonuses can be good, I’m partial to the periodic damage (DoTs) bonuses, but they aren’t compelling options for the change I’m proposing. I would much rather see talents add new interactions between abilities, or change how players use the tools available to them. There are talents like this in RIFT, but they are too few in number.

Branches Changes Breakdown

  • Every 5 Soul Points invested into a soul will unlock a talent tier.
  • Each talent tier offers 2 talent options; players must select one.
  • Each soul tree has a total of 12 talent tiers, and a total of 24 talent options.
  • Talents consist primarily of passive skills, but may possess a few active abilities.
    • My idea for this particular note is that branch abilities are usually offered at every 20-point interval, offer distinct playstyle options, aren’t always offensively focused, and may be paired with a passive option on the same tier.
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A mock-up of my revised Soul Tree concept.

Soul Traits

While figuring out how the new branches would work in my concept, I created a new component for the soul tree. Soul Traits are passive skills players earn at regular intervals as points are invested in a soul. These passive skills improve core aspects of the soul and consist of a few talents originally from the branches.  These aren’t meant to be direct choices. They are merely a bonus for investing more points into a single soul.

There are two types of traits, which are aptly named Major Traits and Minor Traits. The former offers upgrades to core mechanics of the soul, and the latter grants flat bonuses similar to the ones discussed earlier. The original idea for this feature only included the major traits that players unlocked at every 10-point interval. However, while writing this post, I thought this feature could also provide a few passive bonuses. Soul Traits add to the benefits players receive from a single soul, and could make builds more potent.

This feature also helps maintain the effects of abilities removed from the roots. Generally, these abilities are core to a soul’s playstyle, like the Master of Poisons passive from the Assassin. However, they could also be active abilities that are best suited to being folded into other passives (ahem). These moved and modified abilities are paired with hand-picked talents from the branches to showcase the core traits (eh?) of a given soul. This is done in an effort to maintain the identity of each soul amidst all the other changes.

Here are a few examples of traits:

  • Improved Stealth: (Rogue, Major) Stealth now lasts until it is cancelled, but it can still be broken by dealing or receiving damage. It is also more difficult to detect you while stealthing.
  • Divine Edict: (Warrior, Major) Endurance now increases the threat generated by damaging abilities. Additionally, Blocking an attack increases the threat of the next damaging ability and reduces its Power cost by 50%.
  • Warlock Armor: (Mage, Major) While Dark Armor is active, damaging abilities have a 30% chance to reset the cooldown of Consuming Agony and make it instant cast.
  • Healer’s Blessing: (Cleric, Major) Single target healing and absorption spells restore an additional X health. Periodic healing spells restore an additional X health when applied.
  • Improved Vitality: (Minor) Increases base health by 10%.
  • Improved Precision: (Minor) Increases critical hit chance by 5%.
  • Improved Brutality: (Minor) Increases critical power by 10%.
  • Lingering Death: (Minor) Increases Death-based periodic damage by 10%.

Soul Traits Breakdown

  • Players earn a new Soul Trait at every 5-point interval.
  • Major Traits are earned at the following Soul Point intervals: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60.
  • Minor Traits are earned at the following Soul Point intervals: 5, 15, 25, 35, 45, 55.

Big Changes and Build Diversity

I understand an idea like this may seem out of the realm of possibility due to the amount of time needed to make it a reality. My concept suggests a couple big changes be made to bring the soul tree in line with other features. Not only are abilities and talents being moved, removed or modified, but new abilities and talents are needed to fill the empty space. Furthermore, the new abilities need to be interesting and not simply upgrades or duplicates of other abilities (ahem). Additionally, the new talents have to offer players compelling options that allow for varied builds.

Despite the amount of work needed to bring my concept to life, it could benefit RIFT a great deal if it were to happen. While my reasons for seeking these changes are because of my ongoing disdain for talent trees, there are better reasons to make these changes. I believe a dramatic revision of the Soul Tree feature could bolster the population of the game. New players would be introduced to a streamlined, easy to read feature that may be familiar to them if they came from a game like World of Warcraft. Veteran and returning players would be treated to a feature intended to provide more depth and greater build diversity than the current iteration of the soul tree.

Speaking of build diversity, let’s discuss the idea of hybrid builds. One thing that was lost when World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic replaced their talent trees was this ability to create hybrid builds. Now, each specialization, or discipline, uses a specific set of themes to create abilities that fill a specific role. This works for those games. However, RIFT was designed to allow players to combine the tools of up to three thematically different “classes” to create unique builds.

A major goal of my concept is to maintain the ability to create hybrid builds. I believe it was the one facet of RIFT that separated it from WoW and SWTOR when those games still had talent trees. Introducing the changes I have suggested will further improve the build diversity that already exists in the game. Currently, most of the build diversity stems from the abilities unlocked in the roots. However, through my concept, the choices made in the revamped branches could have as much impact on how a player uses their character.

The Primalist Problem

I foresee the hardest part of my concept will arise when the changes have to be applied to the Primalist. From my perspective, modifying the original four callings to meet the concept won’t be overly difficult because they offer a lot of material to work from. Comparatively, the Primalist offers very little due to possessing far fewer abilities and talents. A great deal of work would be required to bring the Primalist in line with the other callings, which could be an unbearable task or an interesting challenge. It’s hard to say.

The reason I’m so adamant to bring the Primalist in line with the other callings is because I think its truncated trees are a failed experiment. It seems the developers created these smaller trees so they could make fewer flat bonus talents. However, the Primalist trees still consist mostly of flat bonus talents. This makes the Primalist soul trees less interesting than those from the other callings. Revising the Primalist is a bear necessity.

Closing the Rift

So, this is my crazy concept to revise the Soul Trees in Trion Worlds’s RIFT. I’ve pondered this idea once or twice in past years, but it has never been more than a passing thought. I feel like this concept would add a lot to what is already available to the Soul Tree while also giving it some needed freshness. There may be a lot of restructuring involved, but that will happen when completely redesigning a major aspect of a feature. For instance, look what has been done to the talent trees in World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I believe the most daunting aspect of this concept will be filling in the space left by the moved and removed abilities and talents. While I said applying the changes to the original four callings will be easier than applying them to the Primalist, it still won’t be an easy task. An incredible amount of work would go into creating new abilities and talents for the roughly 50 or so souls. Some of these souls would need more work than others to become a more interesting option for players, or even have the same amount of tools as other souls. I still think it would be a worthwhile venture in the end.

Before I started writing this post, the idea seemed much simpler in my head, but then I had to put it into words. I also felt it was necessary to give context for some of the changes, and that required more words. I somehow managed to surpass 3,000 words in this journey to describe my concept. I apologize for the onslaught of text. Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far, your brain hasn’t been melted from information overload because I’d like to know your thoughts.

What do you think of my concept overall? Is there an idea (or two) that stands out to you? Which souls do you think would benefit the most from the proposed changes? Which souls do you think might be negatively affected? How would you approach updating the Soul Tree? Join the discussion below.

Click the image below if you’re interested in seeing a mock-up of a RIFT soul rebuilt using the ideas discussed in this post. The ideas found in this mock-up may be crazier than the ones I’ve described here… maybe.

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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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About The War Fist

I am an aspiring writer and gamer designer who enjoys the act of creating something from nothing. Typically, my creations are stories, characters, and concepts for game mechanics and/or features. I've been developing my own philosophies of storytelling, game design, and , to an extent, filmmaking, and would eventually like the opportunity to put them into practice.

Posted on January 4, 2017, in Game Design and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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