The Soul System aka Class Flexibility
I’ve been playing RIFT a fair bit and enjoying it quite a lot. In fact, probably more than a lot. It doesn’t offer up much that I haven’t seen before and instead it’s seemingly opted to amalgamate all of the best bits of all the other MMOs out there together into one. I reckon I’ve spent a far amount of time during my playtime guessing the game that a particular feature came from (spot the feature: quite a fun little mini-game). Still though, RIFT is good, even very good perhaps. Being unoriginal doesn’t necessarily mean bad or disingenuous. However one of the things it has brought to the table that I’ve never seen before and is, as far as I know it, totally original is its soul system. It’s unique and exclusive to RIFT.
If you’re not familiar with the soul system in RIFT, I’ll explain it to ya. Basically instead of picking a standard MMORPG class when you set out, you pick from one of four archetypes (which RIFT calls callings): Warrior, Cleric, Rogue or Mage. That’s it. However, each calling has several (eight I think) “souls” which unlock as you play. Although a few of them are very original (Riftstalker FTW), these tend to be the standard classes that you’re familiar with from other games, such as the Paladin soul or Ranger or Shaman and behave much as you expect. To make things more interesting though, RIFT lets you not only reset your souls and swap them in and out of your builds but also lets you combine three together at once. Confused? Not surprised but trust me, it all makes sense when you start playing.
So yeah, overall it sounds pretty cool and there is a lot I like about this sort of class flexibility. Essentially it means you never need to reroll because you fancied playing a Reaver instead of a Paladin or a Bard instead of a Ranger. All it takes to quite dramatically change your persona is a quick visit to an NPC to reset your soul points and wham, you’re reborn. The ability to combine multiple souls and have three active at any one time is also pretty cool and certainly presents a wealth of mix and matching. Champion + Void Knight + Riftblade? Why not.
The big attraction of this sort of class flexibility though is the fluidity it brings the game. No longer are you stuck playing the thing that you picked, perhaps randomly, when you first started playing the game nor are you and your friends forced to capitulate to the whims of random strangers just because none of your had the foresight to roll a tank or a healer or whatnot. Such a flexible class systems presents a huge wealth of options to the player and gives them the tools they need to play the game they want, how they want, whenever they decide. It truly does free us from a very constrained and traditional gameplay model.
Still, I can’t help but feel a bit hallow with the whole soul system in RIFT. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a cool idea and hugely potent but I feel somehow more distant and detacted to my character than say in WoW or EQ2. I mean, what am I exactly? I’m not really a “true” Paladin am I? And if I split my points equally between the Champion, Beastlord and Warlord souls what does that make me? Some time of animal loving, sword fetish megalomaniac class? I haven’t felt this confused since I went to see the Lady Boys of Bangkok.
Class identity is important to me. I like being a Berserker or a Bard or a Cleric. I like knowing what the mission for my virtual life is. A single class keeps thing simple, it keeps thing clear and, above all else, it helps create a strong bond with your virtual avatar. Being able to identify yourself clearly is a vastly important in roleplaying games (at least to me).
I think it’s still too early for me to come to a final conclusion on the soul system in RIFT. In many ways its great flexibility is also its biggest drawback. Time will tell.