Editorial: What went wrong with Rift's River of Souls event, and how to solve it

I guess this means she won.

“Ambition is important,” said Rift's Executive Producer, Scott Hartsman, in a post on the game's forum after last week's live event. “It's what keeps us improving day to day, week to week, month to month. But, it's equally important to know when you walked too close to the edge and got cut.”

That's not what players hoped they would hear after the conclusion of River of Souls—Rift's first live world event that took place over the past two weeks. What was promoted as a massive, epic war that would make the “vicious invasions you see every day look like a lazy Sunday in the park,” turned out to be something of a disaster that left the devs publicly apologizing and offering free rewards to anyone with an active account. So what went wrong?

Domino effect

The problems started in the first stage of the event, which required players to complete a few daily quests and close Death rifts around Telara; unfortunately, it was simply unbalanced. The high-level zones didn't have enough rifts constantly opening to satiate the max-level community's thirst for new items (which could only be acquired during this one-week event), resulting in lower-level areas getting flooded with level 50 players. It's clear that this wasn't the intended experience (since low level characters had no chance at participating, thanks to the roaming bands of max-level characters stealing all the rifts in their zones)—but to their credit, Trion pushed through regular updates in an attempt to make sure there was enough to do for everyone, and enough incentive to do it. Eventually, they struck a balance, but it came at a cost: a week-long delay of the second and third phases of the event—the real meat of the content, which were supposed to include large, epic battles with Alsbeth the Discordant's full-blown planar invasion.

But that's not what we got on the Seastone server (apparently the event's success varied from server to server, but even the best reports weren't very good). Instead, phase two was short and extremely simple: there were no rifts that needed closing or towns that needed to be saved—just a few simple bosses in each zone that were slaughtered in a matter of minutes. In fact, the entire World Event would have likely ended in under a half-hour on my server if not for instability causing full-blown crashes that required Trion to reset the event a number of times. The servers that didn't actually go down were still impaired by lag and disconnection errors. Even if you ignore the technical hurdles, the event seemed conceptually flawed: with such a short window of time to participate, the majority of players would miss the event—anyone that wasn't sitting around waiting for it to happen didn't have a chance to participate.

The not-so-thrilling conclusion

Stage three, the final confrontation with Alsbeth, was even less dramatic. After phase two was complete, the game's entire population was directed to go to one spot on the map—a design choice that definitely didn't involve the server maintenance team. Having thousands of people within a few hundred feet of in-game space proved to be as problematic as it sounds, especially on a PvP server, causing even more technical problems that hindered the River of Souls' progression.

Alsbeth simply didn't spawn, despite global messages continually heralding her arrival. For over an hour, players fought with lag, bugs, crashes, and each other while waiting to battle The Discordant. When she eventually showed up, the stage was over in a matter of seconds. She appeared, talked to a few NPCs, and then died without a single strike. While no one knows for sure what happened (I'm sticking with my theory that the sight of all those players so tightly clumped together gave her a heart attack), the rumor around the forums and guild chat is that Trion actually had to slay Alsbeth themselves, rather than let her battle lead to more server crashes.

And then it was over. No rewards. No grand finale. Just a dozen or so minutes of actual gameplay spread over three hours of frustration, crashes, and bugs. The end of the River of Souls live world event opened up a new raid instance for the highest-tiered players to enjoy, but it was hardly enough to justify the lackluster event.

The next day, Scott Hartsman posted an apology of sorts in the official forums. In the River of Souls World Event Wrapup thread, he explains that they're going to reward players with some new items, whether they contributed to the event or not, and admitted that the “later phases of the event were too concentrated and time-compressed, which caused issues on a number of worlds.” While their offering makes up for the lack of rewards at the event and builds up some good will, Trion needs to take a step back and reassess their approach to World Events: even if it weren't for the issues, the River of Souls World Event probably wouldn't have been much fun in the first place.

Every problem has a solution

Luckily, Trion doesn't have to look any further than their regular events for inspiration; events which regularly provide incredibly epic battles, despite being on a much smaller scale than the World Events. Rift's events are at their best when there's something at stake. Players need to know that simply running around and killing things isn't going to be enough to prevent a zone from being overrun: there has to be some fear of failure, even if it isn't a game-over scenario. Despite the River of Souls fiasco, I firmly believe that Trion can make live events work in Rift.

They just need to take the concepts that make zone events (where a huge number of rifts open across a zone and armies start marching through the cities, taking them over and slaughtering the citizens if you don't defend them) so much fun, and stretch them across the entire world, treating each zone like a city. Instead of having a city fall under the enemy assault, have an entire zone fall. Make players go through the whole world city-by-city, clearing out the invasions in order to win it back.

In fact, it might even be better to have overrun cities be temporarily converted into mini-public dungeons. Add in a few high-level guards, throw a few bosses in, and make the final enemy spawn a rift before he dies. You don't have to add in new elements to create intense scenarios, just take the elements we're already used to and make them bigger, better, and more fun.

Rift is popular, and world events will always have thousands of players waiting anxiously for something epic to happen. And Trion is more than capable of giving the fans what they want. But they need to keep people spread across the entire game world, not just for server stability, but to make it more fun. Force players to make the difficult choices of which areas they want to attack and which ones they want to defend, and then make them liberate occupied zones in order to kick the planar invasions out of Telara.

Lastly, Trion needs to find ways to deal with the game's high-level population. At this point, it feels like a majority of the players are at or near the level-cap, something the devs seemed to have underestimated. Low-level content is necessary during World Events, and it's no fun for lowbies if bored high-level players end up steamrolling the low-level content.

You better believe Trion is hard at work at developing a new style of live world event, like the suggestions I've offered. River of Souls left a bad taste in the community's mouth: beyond the lacks of rewards, it did a poor job at displaying Trion's planned direction for the future of Rift. Many, including myself, were expecting big things from the River of Souls. Its failure cast some doubts on Trion's plans for the future of Telara, and there are far too many MMO options out there to leave players wondering if the game's future is going to be worth their time and effort.

It's not even close to "too late," though. I'm still a big fan of Rift, and I hope Trion proves the naysayers wrong with a brand new, mind-blowingly awesome world event—and soon!