Rift expansion Storm Legion designed largely for current fan base, developers say

A massively multiplayer online title like Trion Worlds' Rift lives and dies by its player base. It's hard enough to get people to try your game, and it's even tougher to retain them as regular players.

So in building Storm Legion, the first expansion to Rift, Trion is doing everything it can to satisfy its most loyal and dedicated players. The update's most immediately apparent upgrade is a literal expansion: Storm Legion adds two continents to Rift's world, tripling the size of the in-game realm of Telara.

With 11 regular content updates since Rift's launch in March 2011, the existing world of Telara was "getting pretty full," said senior game designer Will Cook in a phone interview with Polygon. And Trion's level of consistency — the developers have delivered new content every six to eight weeks, on average — "[built] a lot of expectations" among fans. That kind of schedule can also be somewhat limiting, according to Cook, who pointed out that "it's hard to rebalance the whole system" in a patch.

As a separate expansion, Storm Legion gives Trion more space — literally — that it can continue to fill with new content. More importantly, it allows the developers to take more risks when it comes to changing Rift and the way it plays. Trion can play around with fundamental elements like classes, things that are "usually a little bit more sacrosanct," according to Cook. Indeed, the v1.11 patch brought an overhaul to the game's class and soul systems when it launched last week, preparing players for Storm Legion.

Trion made some of the changes in response to feedback from its user base, which told the studio that Rift's complex, highly customizable soul system was a bit too overwhelming. The new setup offers preset configurations and "gives players an easy way to pick a soul," said Cook, in hopes of making the system less intimidating by guiding people through it.

Trion's level of consistency "[built] a lot of expectations" among fans

Those changes will help newcomers in particular, but Trion focused on satisfying Rift's longtime players in Storm Legion. The expansion raises the level cap from 50 to 60, and adds a lot of content geared toward high-level players. "Most of our player base is [at] level 50," said Cook, so it makes sense for Trion to build content with them in mind. Trion wants to emphasize story quests and "highly scripted boss encounters in the open world," according to Cook, and keep players engaged with a stream of activities in the world — the kind of stuff that makes people say, 'Just one more before bedtime!'

But the biggest new element for dedicated Rift players is a feature Trion is calling Dimensions, which Cook said will set "a new gold standard for player housing" in MMOs. Typically, an MMO developer will build new areas specifically designed for housing so players have a place to hang out. But Trion received requests from Rift players to be able to make areas of the existing world their own. Cook explained that people really fell in love with Telara and became attached to particular locations within it.

Dimensions allow Rift players to customize parts of Telara, constructing their own instanced areas for public or private use. Trion is giving players access to a toolset that's similar to the one it uses to build Telara, allowing them to be "as creative as [they] can be" in designing their homes, said Cook. And beta testers are already taking to Dimensions to unleash their creativity: Cook told Polygon that one player built the Rift logo out of nothing but candles. Dimensions even offer scripted items, so designers can implement a music box to play sound in their home or alter the sky to get the atmosphere they desire. In addition, Dimensions include full support for guilds, and Trion has plans to implement a system that will let players hang trophies of sorts on their walls.

Trion appears to be doubling down on content for its existing player base, doing its best to give Rift fans what they've been asking for. Cook pointed out that the expansion of Telara that Storm Legion brings is vital to the continued health of Rift, since it paves the way for Trion to experiment even more and provide more content for players.

You can preview Storm Legion for yourself in the upcoming open beta, which runs from Nov. 2 through Nov. 5.

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