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I want to be clear here and state that while I am using Rift as an example, most of the other games out there today suffer the same problem. This is not a bash on Rift specifically. I really want to like Rift, but I can't get involved in the world they are presenting.
When I look at a polished and sexy game like Rift and similar games coming down the line, I wonder why I soon become bored with it after playing for a month or two. There are many reasons, because these games are very superficial as we all have discussed ad nauseum, but one that really gets me is the "Why do I care about this?" factor.
Let's face it. These modern MMO's do not inspire much passion. I have no reason at all to care about my faction, or to hate the other faction other than some vague story of a war that doesn't manifest in the game enough to matter. In the case of Rift, I'm supposed to be inspired to kill mindless rift spawns that are sent to my land by some (who cares) evil NPC.
There is nothing that brings the characters together in strong opposition to each other; not even world PvP or world battles. I guess this also goes back to the point that these new MMOs motivate people to solo play, which also makes them boring in my opinion. If I wanted to run around and solo quest, without caring about anyone else in the game, I would play a standard RPG.
One of the cool things about Star Wars Galaxies was having both Rebels and Imperials playing in the same space all the time and having the war in your face everywhere you went. The Galactic Civil War was probably the most broken part of SWG, but SOE still managed to put enough of it throughout the planets that I truly felt like I had chosen a side, and cared about it it. There were clear lines about which faction to be a part of, and why you didn't like the other side. World PvP helped here too, because it allowed for groups of players to attack other groups of players, and this brought factions together whether you were the attackers or the defenders of any given confrontation. I know not everyone has such a magnificent intellectual property to base their MMO on, but then again, I don't believe SWTOR is going to make me care about my faction either. It suffers from the same sterile gameplay as Rift.
Look at a game like Rift. Sure, if you want you can look at the 'war' that is going on there, but good luck getting emotionally invested in it. The game itself does very little to make you feel like you are a part of anything worth caring about. When I play Rift for any length of time, I notice that I end up watching videos and stuff on my other computer while I am playing, which brings up another interesting point. Why is the content so damned easy? Seriously the worst thing I have to worry about is maybe pulling more than 4-5 mobs at a time, and having them slowly wear me down. Most of the time, I recover from these battles very easily anyway with my easybutton DPS and Heals.
So what is going on here? When I read what people say about Rift, they have the same response I do: "Nice looking polished game but Meh". Every iteration of these games is becoming more sterile, shallow and emotionless. It's no wonder so many people are bored. As someone who is looking forward to Guild Wars 2, I am concerned about experiencing the same issue there after I play a while.
A sure sign that you are in an old, dying paradigm/mindset, is when you are scared of new ideas and new technology. Don't feel bad. The world is moving on without you, and you are welcome to yell "Get Off My Lawn!" all you want while it happens. You cannot, however, stop an idea whose time has come.