By Dan Grill on March 14th, 2011 at 11:00 am.
Trion Worlds’ MMO Rift is alive and online, so we sent intrepid, moustachioed reporter Dan Gril into its midsts to tell us all. How does the self-confessed combination of their favourite elements of MMOs come together? Is it fun? Such answers are yours to be had, as Mr Griliopoulos tells us Wot He Thinks.
I’ve played a lot of MMOs. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ATVs under fire off the Oshur gate. I watched ice-crystals glitter in the darkness near the shoulder of Arthas. Tiered PvP rewards in the rain… Actually, you probably believe all of those things. So you understand that, after all that, I might not want to start another MMO. Another fantasy MMO. Another fantasy MMO that looks awfully like WoW, Aion, WAR…
It’s so easy to damn this game for its familiarity. Yet, even the developers admitted to us that Rift isn’t particularly original in most regards; they were happy to say that it was a portmanteau of all their favourite games and all the MMOs they’ve worked on (lots). However, as those games were packed with good ideas and as the developers know what they’re doing, learning from experience is not a bad thing. So MMO veterans (which is y’all) will recognise the button-chaining and tab-targetting, the ability to survive ankle-shattering falls with barely a whimper, and the useless pets; but you’ll praise the mounts at zero level, the ease of getting the various currencies and the huge world of optional quests.
I’ll admit, I don’t understand the plot yet. Like Pathologic, I’m not sure if that’s because it’s amazingly well written and I haven’t been paying attention, or because it makes less sense than Colonel Gadaffi’s claims about not being able to resign, because he’s not actually officially in charge of anything. (That, from now on, is the tyrant get of jail card.) Of the two factions, the Defiant and their time-travelling techno-necro-steampunk background are the more enjoyable. They’re the evil-but-good faction that every developer except War has felt obliged to put in since DAOC, and they do some marvellously horrible things in the name of survival. You kick off with them at the end of time, where they’ve finally managed to replicate the good-but-dumb Guardian faction’s superpowered Ascended just as the baddies take over the world of Telara, and you’re one of these revived heroes sent back to change history.
Meanwhile the Guardians’ Ascended start in the past, being the heroes that defeated the villlain Regulos the last time he attacked Telara. Their starting area is worthy if dull, but what the developers don’t do is undermine the seriousness of the world, which WoW was often guilty of. I haven’t spotted any cheesy film references and the quests are rarely referential; this is an internally consistent world. Having experienced the beta, I quickly found that these starting areas don’t bear replay though they’re interesting enough on the first run-through; but given the character flexibility, I don’t think many players will need to replay the game at all.
Let’s be honest, if you’ve played WoW, you’ve experienced Rift’s combat, quest systems, and the kill ten rats meme. But there are notable differences, especially in character creation. There are three races (that have mainly cosmetic differences) per faction but only four classes (called Callings); Warrior, Cleric, Rogue and Mage. Each of these has eight souls (sub-classes) to select from, each of which can be separately levelled, in a similar way to the classic D&D mutli-class set-up. Finally, around level ten you unlock ‘Roles’. These allow you to set up as many as four different combinations of your sub-classes, allowing you to make builds for any situation and change between them quickly. This makes PvP tricky, as you might be fighting someone who looks like a tank, but is playing as a healer or even straight DPS. For example, a player, let’s call him John, might choose to be a healer, but specialise as a Justicar, Templar and Cabalist, which would make him an excellent Tank with a bit of DPS, but a bad healer – but in a second he could switch to a build you’ve never encountered before. Or that the developers haven’t encountered before. We’re betting there will be endless nerfing in this game, as the developers attempt the impossible task of balancing.
The titular rift system itself works well. It’s a more dynamic evolution of WAR’s public quests. Across the surface of an area, ‘Tears’ (rips, not watery eye stuff) slowly appear like bubbles in G&T which, if not closed quickly, can develop into rifts, which deform the landscape and wildlife. Just like G&T. Six types of rift occur, and each has its own fauna and progression. Players can battle the creatures coming out of these rifts and hence close it. However, the longer a rift is left open, the more serious the incursion gets, until it can change into an invasion and then a foothold. In a full blown invasion, a huge number of rifts of various levels open at once, with roving bands of high-level elites exiting them and devastating the area. If players don’t band together to fulfil certain conditions and defeat the source of the invasion, then the other plane overwhelms all the friendly outposts in an area, and establishes a foothold in Telara from which they can further spread their poison. Exactly like G&T.
As these incursions happen all the time in the same areas that players tend to be questing in, everything suddenly gets more dangerous. Low-level players can run and hide (though everyone is rewarded for taking part), whilst the higher levels band together in huge public armies and battle the AI armies coming the other way. It’s certainly exciting, though I worry if it will suffer when the low-level areas empty out; as I’ve not got to the high levels yet, I don’t know if it encourages you to return to older areas, but I doubt it.
PvP is very familiar, but no less fun for that; there’s first open world PvP, which depends on the server type you set, but is the usual ganking in the wilderness and can be done from surprisingly low levels. Then there’s battlegrounds, like WAR or Guild Wars, where players can battle in compact packs for various objectives, like capture the artefact and so on. You can level just through PvP or just through questing, and there’s separate currencies for these, as well as for crafting (a system so familiar I’m not going to bother talking about it) and discovering artefacts (which EverQuest 2 players will recognise).
The world design is worthy of comment; it’s highly compact, meaning the opening areas can be traversed very quickly if necessary. The progression route on the Defiant starting area of Freemarch, for example, is S-shaped, so as you progress along the map, you’re always near to where you started. There’s no flight-paths here, though there are central recall locations in each zone, and mounts are cheap and accessible early. As you move around the world it naturally segues from area to area, and the design is rarely other than classy; SW:TOR and Guild Wars 2 will have a fight on their hands to match this polish.
As I’ve said before, it’s impossible for one reviewer to get a comprehensive view of an MMO; at most what I’ve experienced of Rift is what a casual MMO player will get in their first fortnight. I’ve tried out each of the callings and factions, then levelled up enough that I felt I’d experienced a taste of what the game has to offer. It’s incredibly stable, it’s familiar without being boring, its dynamic content works a lot better than WAR’s did, and it doles out the shinies generously. It would take a truly clean-living soul not to feel a frisson of delight every time they saw the Chthulian tentacles uncurling out of a newly opened rift, so I’m giving this a cautious thumbs-up.