The first month for an MMO is crucial. It has to be polished, content-rich, inviting, and enticing. Some MMOs get to this stage after the first month, but by then it’s usually too late. Some never reach this platitude at all. This causes the player-base to drastically fall away as soon as they have to start paying monthly fees. If it isn’t fun, then who’s going to pay?
RIFT doesn’t have this problem. Out of the box it’s extremely polished, and absolutely bursting with content. Within the first month it’s reached patch 1.1, which includes a massive world event suitable for all levels. There’s plenty to do in the world of Telara, but while it’s one of the smoothest launches on record, there is one question that remains: has it done enough to retain players after the honeymoon period?
Ignore Quest Text; Acquire Loot
RIFT takes place in the world of Telara. It is one of many worlds, and these other planes of existence try to invade through inter-dimensional ‘rifts’, giving the game its name. These tears in reality are themed around the elements of Water, Air, Fire, Death, Life, and Earth. Water rifts, as an example, spawn a huge leviathan in the sky, with water cascading down from them. Mobs and the nearby environment are changed to suit the elements. The world has a very dynamic feel as rifts tear open reality and spew forth extraterrestrial horrors. But they aren’t the only threat you will encounter.
The over-fiend of the game goes by the name Regulus, an immensely powerful being who is trying to destroy the souls of Telara. There are two forces that stand against him: the religious and traditional Guardians, and the techno-magical Defiants. Naturally, these two don’t see eye to eye, and are the source of a second conflict. You can choose to side with one of these, though the generic race types (human, elf, dwarf) are a little unsatisfying, but the back-story of each race is deep enough to give a sense of character.
Neither side is inherently ‘good’ nor ‘evil’, so it comes down to their look and philosophies when rolling a toon. In the end it’s all very generic, fantasy fluff, but the game does a good enough job of letting you know the key ‘plot’ points. While you won’t eagerly be reading quest text, you still get a sense of story and progression.
Whichever team you choose, you start off in an instanced world that gives the setting of the game. Whether Guardian or Defiant, a major catastrophe sees your character flung into Telara to fend off Regulus as a reincarnated Soul. It’s an engaging zone that does a fine job of leading you, though it’s nothing compared to the beginning of Age of Conan. Once the first six levels are complete, the scene is set for an epic tale to begin – specifically, your epic tale.
Where Did the Grind Go?
If there is one gripe that is the bane of MMOs, it’s that it often feels like an effort to get anywhere. Not so in RIFT. Levelling is absolute bliss. There’s no need to grind mobs, as you get experience from plenty of quests, PvP instances, and, of course, closing Rifts. This last point is one of the main factors behind what makes RIFT stand out in terms of gameplay. At anytime you may be riding along when all of a sudden a crackling tear in reality is heard, and black tentacles swarm out of a purple hole in the sky. You can either continue what you were doing, or decide to combat the invaders. Other players can automatically join a public group or raid if they come near the Rift, and depending on how much you contribute, suitable loot will drop. This may sound similar to Public Quests in WAR, but that’s when RIFT takes it one step further.
If players in a zone don’t close Rifts in a timely fashion, a full-scale assault breaks out. We’re talking huge numbers of Rifts, groups of elite mobs swarming towards quest hubs, and enemy footholds at crossroads. If a quest hub is taken over by mobs, quest givers and NPCs disappear until it is retaken. There have been an number of occasions where I have bandied together with fellow players to fight off other-worldly attackers, before pushing out to close Rifts and defeat pockets of resistance. Because of the open system, grouping is a fluid process, making the MMO aspect pronounced. Never before has an MMO felt so unifying or meaningful. There isn’t currently a LFG feature because of the jump in/jump out method, but with player numbers high it doesn’t matter. The world invasions are essentially raids, with stages, sweet loot drops, and even massive bosses. It makes the world feel vibrant, and makes your participation matter. And the best thing is that it’s all available whatever your level.
Unfortunately combat can be a little samey. The game is based on auto-attacks and abilities with global cool-downs, much like every other generic fantasy themed MMO. The dungeon system is also typical, with the staple need for tanks, healers, and DPS. However, the class system stands out in its choices. Each archetype (Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue) can choose ‘souls’ from a list of about eight.
Each of these souls has a specific flavour (including a PvP themed soul), and depending on your decisions you can have anything from a healing mage with a pet, to a magic-resistant melee warrior. Players can eventually unlock all the types of souls, though you are given three initially. Coupled with having up to four ‘roles’ (essentially multi-speccing) there’s almost too much choice, though being able to switch from Tank to DPS in an instant makes life much easier.
As you progress, every level earns you one or two soul points that are then spent in the soul trees. Not only do you unlock abilities and passives through this, but every two points in each tree unlocks a new ability. This could lead to some serious min-max elitism in late game, but for the more casual it’s great for individuality and adaptability. Some abilities do seem to crossover in the archetype tree, which means that going all one type of soul (ie defensive warrior souls) is more restrictive than you would think. With my build I have access to three taunts, but at the end of the day one is better than the others. It’s a fresh take on classes, but it can feel a little overwhelming at times.
One major gripe with levelling is that mobs are way too close together. This means that making a hasty escape impossible without specific abilities. If you’re sick of getting bashed by nasty NPC mobs, you can take it to the arena. RIFT features Warfronts, instanced PvP arenas that one can join from anywhere. I advise jumping into these at the end of the level-band (ie 19, 29, 39, etc.), otherwise a severe beating will take place. These instances are disappointing in that they are the typical Capture the Flag or Hold the Zone deal. They also seem to end far too quickly, either because of imbalances or because the developer wants you to play more. You certainly gain a reasonable amount of experience for participating.
There isn’t an arena system, so structured PvP isn’t a huge draw beyond a mild diversion, and another way to source gear. World PvP on the other hand is an intriguing feature, as it’s possible to disrupt the enemies goals and mess with their plans. Just like Rift invasions, the opposite team can set up footholds and conquer quest hubs. The very real impact of this, coupled with the public grouping, makes RIFT a truly massive experience. It seems as if PvP was planned from the outset, particularly given the inclusion of specific souls, but it’s much more engaging in the open rather than confined to Warfronts.
Overall, the gameplay is a culmination of almost every MMO out there. The Battlefronts (Wargrounds? No, wait, Warfronts) feel ripped straight from another well-known MMO, but are much more streamlined. The public quests, not the most original idea, have been made important and rewarding on many levels. The combat, while samey, offers plenty of choices and does feel fast-paced, a little like Age of Conan. It amounts to easily the most enjoyable MMO to play in a long time.
Before you even think about picking up RIFT, you may want to run over the required specs. While it can run on less-powerful rigs, the lower settings are nowhere near the true potential. On my two-year old PC, I can manage the High setting without many lag issues, except for in major population hubs. But even on High, every sight is breath-taking. I think I would break down and cry if I managed to run on Ultra. The water, the shadows, the distances, the landscapes: everything in this world is fully realised and captivating. Rifts in particular are a joy to behold as they break through into Telara. The land around them changes, and even affect nearby mobs. Even after closing the hundredth Rift, the audiovisual experience is invigorating.
The UI is clean, with everything you need to know displayed at all times. However, if there was one thing that struck of Blizzard’s Baby, it’s the interface. The layout is the same. Achievement notifications are the same. Even some ability icons look the same. And moving away from the UI, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few Murloc-like creatures. That said, the art direction is stunning, and some of the animations are very unique and fluid. In regards to sound, aural clues are constant and effective, telling you what is happening as effectively as seeing it. The soundtrack isn’t overly epic or fresh, but fits just fine.
In regards to the world: you will want to explore everywhere, simply because of whatever may be on the next horizon. And the game rewards you for this too, with tiny glowing artifacts lying in wait for those who take the plunge (sometimes literally). Form a set of artifacts and you have access to cool pets and epic mounts. Whether it’s from closing Rifts, participating in PvP, or even exploring the world, the game will always reward the player.
You Aren’t in Azeroth Anymore
The fact is that RIFT takes the best parts of WoW, WAR, Age of Conan, and countless other MMOs before buffing them to a shiny, glorious finish. Unfortunately this may also be its downfall. There is no light-heartedness in Rift, no pop culture references. While the questing is streamlined, and the crafting more so, the casual players may not enjoy the serious nature. Sure, it has content for every level, including plenty of end game dungeons and raids, but it may not be able to captivate a big enough audience. Given the huge amount of similarities with World of Warcraft, why play RIFT when the former has lower specs and a more inviting atmosphere?
But if you are sick of WoW, or never tried it, give RIFT a spin. It’s what an MMO should be: social, yet solo-able; streamlined, yet challenging; mysterious, yet familiar. It isn’t perfect, but as far as launches go, it’s been an outstanding first month. On paper subscriptions should remain high, but the fickle nature of gamers will test that theory.
- Eye-watering graphics so pretty to make you stop and get ganked.
- A diverse mix of class choices that throw strict archetypes out the window.
- It’s an absolute joy to level and craft. No grind to speak of.
- Mobs are too close, damnit!
- Structured PvP is bland, but at least it’s somewhat balanced.
- It’s very generic in story, and derivative in nature.