Ember Isles is now my favourite zone in Rift, it's a tropical island, dense jungle, obscured ruins, and some carefully designed vistas like the view from Ember Watch to the volcano in the middle of the island. It doesn't seem any bigger than the other zones, but it's more open and more intricate at the same time, being bound in by mountains the whole thing makes zones in MMOs all the more oppressive.
Ember Isles is not just a new zone or daily quest hub, it is a 'hard difficulty' zone designed for level 50 players. Going there like I was in quest gear was a little on the painful side, to put it in perspective I had about 4.5 k health, mobs had three times that amount and I could only take on one at a time, and quests where I didn't have to kill mobs were a welcome relief. Near a defended sourcewell is fairly safe, those invasion mobs seem to have lower health than the normal static mobs and I could always drag some of the normal mobs near a gun turret for some extra firepower. Being a rogue helped too.
The increased challenge was nice, I was chuffed to take out a stage 3 of a minor rift, but it's definitely a case of bring a friend, because it did get tiresome having to burn through those huge health bars. Even if a player was in the best of gear, is a raid tier 2 kitted player worth two not so well geared players, or are they? I'm asking because I've no idea about how steep that power curve is in Rift, but Trion has acknowledged this as a problem and has plans to lessen the gap somewhat by bringing the lower tier gear closer to the upper tier, like that will work out well when it is not tackling the root of the problem.
Rift has another problem with crafting rifts and well geared players taking all the participation, when stages end in a matter of seconds before less adept players have even cast their AoEs. The solution being mooted by Trion is to have rift mobs scale to gear levels, which was met with cries of 'how am I supposed to solo major rifts now?' and most telling of all 'what's the point of getting better gear if I can't streamroll through the rest of the game?' (and make it less fun for other players?).
It's a bit of a conundrum, having to raid to be able to solo an outdoor zone. I'm not averse to raiding, I like the idea of rift raids and 10-man slivers, it's gear progression that kills the fun rather quickly for me, though I had to quash the thought that if I worked a bit to get better gear I could enjoy the content on Ember Isles more, and that's exactly the point the game becomes a chore. There is planar gear that is about tier 1 raid gear, but the amount of Incribed Sourceshards needed is a ridiculous grind, looked at it and thought it was a nice idea that the gear could be upgraded up to three times but then worked out how long it would take to acquire all those shards for even a single fully upgraded piece and had second thoughts.
It's sort of depressing that most subscription MMOs seem to only thrive on gear progression, and there are very few alternatives. However, as soon as Trion extends the 'all new improved and expanded' Instant Adventure system to Ember Isles I may be tempted to subscribe for a month again.