As someone who played Rift from beta through a couple of months past release, took a break, and then recently picked up the game again, I feel like I have a clear view of the “before” and “after” when it comes to the Looking for Group (LFG) tool that Trion introduced several months ago. I haven’t experience a gradual shift, but rather a stark contrast. One caveat – my experiences with the tool have been solely as a leveling player, I do not have a max level character and have not attempted to run end game dungeons using the tool.
First off, the dungeon finder component of the LFG tool does have a good side. Since it isn’t dependent on your location within the game, I’ve gotten to experience the dungeons buried in Defiant territory that I had never seen before. That’s a big plus for me, since my main goal is to experience as much of the content as I can, and the LFG tool has helped with that a lot. Previously, getting access to the opposing side’s dungeons was time consuming and people rarely did it.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many other positives. Certainly the time to find a dungeon group has gone down since the dungeon component went cross-server, but it’s still not stellar unless you’re a tank (yes, just tank, unlike WoW there does not appear to be a healer shortage in Rift, just a tank shortage). I have waited in the queue for entire play sessions without ever getting a group (as dps/support). Granted that’s improved since I transferred some of my characters to a higher population server (love the free server transfers, great feature for a population dependant game) though I’m not entirely sure why since the tool is cross-server . . .
However, I don’t know that the total time to find a group has really decreased much, it’s possibly even increased, especially for leveling characters. Why? Nobody broadcasts their desire to form dungeon groups anymore. With the LFG tool, the pool of characters available for any given group are solely those that have actively chosen to place themselves in the tool, and only those in the appropriate level range. Before the LFG tool, a level 24 character could broadcast that they were forming a group for a dungeon, and a level 50 player who heard it could decide “hey, you know what, I think I’d rather do that, let me grab my alt.” You don’t get that now, because the level 50 player has to pro-actively choose to not play their main and then place their alt in the queue. I briefly used the tool before it went cross-server, and because of this exclusion effect it really didn’t work at all.
The actual experience of running the dungeon has become much more WoW-like, but I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the dungeon queue or just the inevitable result of most players having already seen the content dozens of times before. The majority of the random group is almost always interested in rushing through the dungeon as quickly as possible, and woe betide the newbie who wants to do things like the dungeon specific quests, let alone read the quest text. Groups will usually do the quests without too much grumbling, but you can practically hear the players tapping their feet. I think the speed run mentality might have something to do with the stacking of rewards at the end of the dungeon and the relatively poor itemization of leveling dungeons. Most bosses only drop a couple of different items, and certainly not enough to provide an option for each calling. Finishing the dungeon though, gives everyone a piece of random, calling-specific blue loot, the only thing of real value to anyone who has run the dungeon more than once. Thus, speed runs.
I can’t say whether the Rift group/raid portion of the LFG tool works or not. I’ve tried using it a couple of times during zone events, but have never been placed in a group. In fact, it worked against grouping up because it causes you to be excluded from open groups – you don’t even see the interface if an available group is nearby. In the end, it seems to be much easier to find a raid group for rifts by just running around to rifts until you find a group to team up with.
I’ve also tried using the quest aspect of the tool, similarly without success. Granted, very few of the “group” quests in Rift that are part of the leveling content actually require a group, a good build can handle them solo. This is probably why nobody seems to really be using the quest group finder portion of the tool – you just don’t need it. Granted, the chances of more than one or two people in a zone being on exactly the same quest as you at the same time are pretty small at this stage of the game, even on a well populated server like Faeblight.
Do I think the LFG tool has been a failure? Not exactly. It does what it’s supposed to, and has more features than WoW’s Dungeon Finder, but I think the very nature of such a tool is in many ways self-defeating due to the isolating effect is has on players. Players no longer need to communicate, they just push a button and wait. As many bloggers predicted (you know who you are) this has a negative impact on server community, and even guild cohesion. Max level guild members don’t have much inclination to help low level players run dungeons when they can be told to queue in the LFG tool instead. People don’t broadcast that they’re looking for groups because they get told (sometimes rudely) to use the tool. In the end, for all the benefits they seem to bring, “dungeon finder” tools seem to dramatically shift the attitude of the players from that of an MMO/server community towards the feel of a single player RPG with a multiplayer lobby. It happened in WoW, now it’s happened in Rift.
Still, if someone gave me the choice between Rift with the LFG tool and Rift without it, I'd choose Rift without it. I'd rather have a server community that tried to work together and succeeds at putting groups together less often than a tool that results in an uncommunicative community participating in silent speed runs of dungeons nobody cares about anymore. Unfortunately, the genie's been let out of the bottle and there's no putting it back now. Trying to remove the tool at this point would probably be disastrous, so I'll just have to impotently wish it had never been implemented in the first place. Oh well.