The Soul System aka Class Flexibility

Soul System

The soul system. A min/maxers wet dream.

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.

-Gordon

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31 Comments

  1. Kierbuu says:

    What you surrender in class identity you gain in personal identity. I may not feel like a rogue (or hunter, or druid) in the traditional RPG sense, I do get to feel like my character is actually mine. I built him and decided all these little abilities he has. I feel more connected to my ‘Rift’ character than I have to any standard issue character I’ve played in a while.

    It will be interesting though to see if that continues once we hit endgame and the cookie cutter builds start.

    • Rob says:

      I came here to say exactly what Kierbuu put so eloquently. The potential for the flexible soul system to allow me to play a “spec” that is potentially unique to me is a huge draw for me. Now it is simply a question of whether or not playing a potentially “strange” spec is acceptable/viable in game or not.

    • Gordon says:

      I agree that I do like the ability to do as I please with my character… although a lot of the time that means fighting the temptation just to follow a traditionally “good” soul spec.

    • Ferrel says:

      This is exactly how I feel about it. A lot of times I get tied to Ferrel but feel trapped by a class. In Rift I can just be Ferrel. On some days Ferrel beats people in the face with a two handed hammer. On other days she heals people.

      I’m not sure I can go back to a fixed class at this point. I’m spoiled!

  2. Pid says:

    I am a bit confused/overwhelmed by it all myself. I am having a hard time finding an identity with the three soul system. Maybe it will be like a new pair of jeans…they get more comfortable the more you wear them.

    The odd thing is that you have a million and two class choices and three races to cram them in. For Guardian you have human, tall skinny human, or short rotund human. Blech. I am truly at a loss why this is so limited. I guess you could play another gender, but I try to stick to the male races. I feel like I am cross dressing when I play a female character. :)

  3. Pewter says:

    I think it helps to pick a primary soul and build your main identity around that. I know folk who play NOTHING but holy paladins, despite being able to switch easily to tanking or melee dps, for example (in WoW.) In rift I’m already firmly attached to Riftstalker (insanely fun for rifts, and passable for soloing), Shaman (soloing/dps) and Warden. Two of those options are on the same character, but for the most part my dwarf is a riftstalker.

    But yeah, I feel the lack of customisation, and the lack of ability to tell the apart who has what soul selected. COuld really do with a ‘role’ button so it’s easy to see who is trying to tank in rifts and who is just putting out a lot of dps xD

    • Gordon says:

      I would like to see something even quite simple like the soul with the most points in it becomes your class name or something. Then at least that way I could tell people I was a true “Champion” or “Paladin” etc.

  4. vortal says:

    I think that is an awesome idea and is very good for a people wanting something new towards classes. But I agree with you on the part that I feel detached to a character that would be like this, I haven’t played Rift yet but from what I am hearing I still don’t quite like the idea. I am one of those people who believe firmly in distinct classes that stand out from each other. It may mean that I hate hybrid classes and have a smaller selection, but it also means that I am a PALADIN not a paladin/ranger/mage/necromancer. I also prefer a small unique selection of classes rather than a bunch of classes tumbled together in a big melting pot. I also believe in the fact that in diversity each class should be like rock paper scissors, each can be epic one aspect but are useless in another, this forces groups together in order to exploit each others strength to form a strong group of players.

    PS. I like the idea of archetypes instead of classes, but I still believe they should follow what I mentioned before.

  5. vortal says:

    Thinking about this I don’t want class balance in the sense that all should be the same, but I think each of the classes faults should balance each other out. I am probably sure that everyone will disagree with me, but I prefer it this way this may also mean that no game will do this for me but it is a dream. I also don’t quite like the idea of a hero class, I think each class is a hero in it’s own way you shouldn’t ruin it will overpowered classes that can manage to put other innocent classes out of business.

    PS. In this way, I hate Druids in WoW. I also dislike Death Knights.

  6. Bhagpuss says:

    The Soul system offers players a huge amount of flexibility, but whether many will take advantage of it is another matter entirely. While you can have four Roles with three Souls in each, the kind of questions repeatedly asked in the chat channels in-game suggest to me that people are looking to find a single build of three souls that defines their character.

    Virtually all the LFG calls I have heard over the past four days ask for “Healer” “Tank” and “DPS”. Many of those calls are being repeated several times over a period of 15 or 20 minutes as a group fills but can’t find either a Tank or a Healer. I know it’s early levels, but getting souls is easy and the second role costs only 30 gold. I had all 8 Mage souls before level 20. I don’t think lack of access is stopping people building a choice of roles, I think it’s lack of interest.

    In any MMO there are flexible players who play a number of characters and are willing to swap to whichever a group needs, be it tank or healer or crowd control (yes, we do have that back in Rift!). I would say, however, that it’s far more common for players to have one role they like and to stick to it in every game they play. You can give players the tools to swap their character from a Tank role to a Healer role at the click of a button, but you can’t make them WANT to be a healer if they always like to Tank, or to swap from a low-responsibility DPS role to a high-visibility, blame-magnet Tanking role.

    We’ll see how it pans out, but taking myself as an example, flexible player as I would like to think I am, with all eight souls available to choose from on my first character, I have already found a build I really like. How much I will want to play around with builds on that character I am not sure. I am getting a feel for who he is and changing him into something else doesn’t seem that attractive.

    In the end I think I’m more likely to roll Alts in the traditional way and have different builds attached to different characters, rather than have one Swiss-Army-Knife character that can do everything.

    • Imakulata says:

      Interesting. I’m wondering why you’re one of very few to mention the 3 holy elephants in the room. (I remember that Rohan of Blessing of Kings mentioned something similar.) I don’t play Rift so I can only speculate how is the soul system working out but I’ve seen a lot of people “married” to their role in WoW. And a flexible class system does nothing for them; what they would need is a flexible ROLE system instead of WoW’s unholy trinity which forces you to take a tank and a healer wherever you go but would block a true hybrid or a fourth role if WoW had them.

      The question is, does Rift have a flexible role system? Your post seems to suggest it doesn’t.

      (Of course, it would not be easy to balance the encounters, it might be even impossible.)

      • Gordon says:

        I think balance is another issue entirely and one that I’m sure we’ll see cropping up more and more. It must be a real nightmare for the devs to balance such a wide variety of combinations.

        • Imakulata says:

          I remember a developer saying the will not try to balance everything the way WoW balances its specs. I’m not sure whether they meant to say that even some souls will not be viable as primary souls or they were talking about the 3-soul combinations but it seems that choosing a proper build will be important in Rift.

          I saw other people saying that “boss X requires an off-tank” or off-healer etc. since I wrote my reply, it seems to encourage having multiple pure builds and being able to switch between them but I wonder whether hybrids (bard?) can fit in their model.

    • Gordon says:

      Very interesting point. I don’t think the flexible soul system is really going to help fill the void of tanks or healers much at all. Players – like me – find something they like and stick to it. I’m not sure I’d want to keep jumping between builds all of the time. Apart from anything, I think it would really mess up the mental image of who my character is.

  7. Epivaso says:

    All the roles and possibilities confuse me. And I always have the feeling that I should have chosen a different soul (I still have too little information on all the possibilities of the different souls). But to be quite honest: I haven’t had so much fun in an MMOG since my first steps in EQ2 six years ago. It is fun being a noob again.

  8. Tesh says:

    I like the system in theory. Since I’ll never tinker with it in practice, though, I’m content to stay on the sidelines with this one. I’ll note briefly that I’m not surprised that players want to straitjacket it into strict roles, though. It’s a mindset I don’t agree with, but I’m an outlier. It will be interesting to see how the playerbase evolves.

    • Gordon says:

      I reckon players will stick to one role and a combo of souls that they like. I think that’s just human nature, especially when we’re expected to bond with our virtual avatars. I know some people find it freaky enough switching between talent trees in WoW!

  9. Jomu says:

    the flexibility IS a two edged sword, i do agree; i like knowing ‘who i am’ in regards to class

  10. João Carlos says:

    I will be evil in my comment:

    How many people above that NOW say that Rift soul system is too much flexible were saying before that want a game with more flexible class system?

    I will answer it: all them!

  11. pkudude99 says:

    Personally I love the flexibility. I’ve always had a bad case of alt-itis so I’ve generally been able to respond to calls for a tank or a healer with a tell saying “I’ve got a that I can switch to.” Rift makes it so that I can often just click a button and then send a tell saying “I’m a , so invite me already!”

    Right now on my mage I’ve got my solo/dps role (stormcaller/elementalist/dominator) and a 2nd role for healing (chloromancer/warlock/dominator). Yes, dominator 3rd soul – mezzing a mob is damage prevented, after all. In the beta I had a 3rd role but found I didn’t ever use it unless it was to make a fire-based dps role as opposed to a lightning-based one. But I have found I prefer the Stormcaller to the Pyromancer so. . take that for what you will.

    Last night I did Iron Tombs in a group with 2 clerics, 2 mages, and a rogue. 1 mage was a healer, 1 cleric was the tank and the other 3 of us were dps. I loved that neither cleric was a healer and we didn’t need a warrior along at all. And I could have swapped to heal if needed. Plus while we never wiped, we did have some deaths at times — and one of the clerics could simply swap to heal build and cast rez after the fight, then swap back to dps mode. Worked really well.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I really like the fact that Clerics and Rogues can tank and Mages can heal. It’s very freshing and creates a huge amount of variety and flexibility in the game. Also it’s just darn cool to see a Cleric tank :P

  12. I do love the flexibility, and I chose to roll a cleric which gives me a lot of choices. For soloing I went with a melee shaman/druid build, and then bought another role to make a pure healing build for instances. I guess I got addicted to having choices, because as soon as I scraped together the platinum I needed, I went ahead and bought a third role to make a caster mage-like build. I’m already itching to activate my fourth role, with which I’ll probably try and make a tanking cleric, but that’s a long way off on account of how much the fourth role costs :P Anyway, it just amazes me the range of playstyles I can get with just a single character.

    • Gordon says:

      Y’know, just thinking about it Clerics are probably the “best” calling as they can heal, tank and DPS. Every other calling is limited to two roles. Hmm… maybe I should’ve rolled a Cleric instead of a Warrior? :P

  13. Spidubic says:

    For me the answer to what am I is I am a Warrior. I may choose to be a 2-handed damage dealing machine today and tomorrow a sword and board carrying damage absorber. But in the end I am in your face, smacking you silly. I am Warrior!

  14. Great article. Like many have pointed out I think in some ways we’ve come to view “Specs” (Souls in Rift’s case) as our character’s identity. As such it allows individuals an easy answer to the question, “What are you?” When it comes to the traditional end game.

    However, if you look back Trion really did try to address this by using the archetypes. You’re a Rogue. No, not the nasty thief but a lightly armored, fleet footed, deft yet deadly fighter. They type of Rogue depends on you’re training and skills that only you’re training and experience can provide (in this case selecting and adding points to your souls).

    So what you end up with is in the holy trinity as being DPS or in RPG, a rogue. But you’re role as a DPS or Rogue all depends on you’re primary capabilities.

    Maybe you’re a chivalrous good samaritan. You step in and help, protect and heal those in need! So you might be a Riftstalker, Ranger, Bard combination. Or like in my case the loan ranger who’s more adept at fighting from ranger who with his trusted companion “pet” can just as easily stand toe-to-toe with you if necessary (Nightblade, Ranger, Marksman).

    All of these help give my character identity making him unique but w/ purpose. Oh sure, I’ll end up have some form of min/max raiding role I’m sure. But my day-to-day running around questing/rifting will always reflect who I am, not the whims of today’s spec du jour.

    (Man, I am long winded.. Sorry)

    Great article. Hope to catch you around or inside the game sometime. :)

    • Gordon says:

      True, maybe I should just be thinking of myself as a “Warrior” and not necessarily as something more specific like a “Paladin”. I suppose that just stems from years of playing traditional MMORPGs and it’s a hard habbit to break.

  15. Peregrine says:

    I am loving Rift, and I’ve wondered about the flexibility of the soul system. With Roles, though, you have insane flexibility – not just visiting your trainer to respec, or doing it via some object in your house (like EQ2) – in Rift you can click a button, once you have two Roles setup, anytime you aren’t in combat and become a different character. You still have to stay within your Fighter, Rogue, etc archetype and do a basic quest to unlock the other souls, but once you do you basically have total freedom – eventually you could have four different roles – your main one, say, another for PVP, another to tank or heal if needed, and so forth. What does that mean in the long term when a party of adventurers could all shift between so many choices and essentially customize themselves to any challenge? I’m not sure – will be interesting to find out.

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