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MMOs operate under a different set of rules than the rest of the industry, starting with a title’s lifespan. Good MMOs need to keep players engaged for more than a month or two, so the game’s success shares a correlation with its addictive qualities.
In the short time it’s been out, Trion Worlds’ Rift has garnered quite a following, not to mention a reputation as the new World of Warcraft clone. For MMO veterans, however, Rift is an amalgam of many massively multiplayer online games; like Blizzard did with WoW, Trion mashes together borrowed elements from the genre in order to produces a surprisingly unique interpretation of it.
Like with any MMO, Rift’s player population is split across regional servers, referred to as “Shards.” You’ll find both PvP and PvE Shards to choose from, in normal and role-playing (RP) varieties. In Rift, players must side with one of Telara’s two biggest opposing factions, caught in a never-ending conflict of beliefs. The Guardians still revere gods of ancient lore, while the Defiants have turned away to forge a different path, aided by magical technology.
The three races on each side are broken down into typical fantasy MMO archetypes – humans, elves, and a “heavy” race. For Guardians, those are Mathosians, High Elves, and Dwarves, while Defiants get Eth, Kelari, and Bahmi. The main difference between the humans and the elves on either side is that the Defiant variants are darker skinned; Bahmi, on the other hand, are set apart by their superior size, which makes them the largest and one of the more popular playable races. Although each possesses exclusive racial abilities, these won’t heavily influence gameplay, meaning your choice ultimately comes down to aesthetic preference.
Your character’s finer details can also be altered to varying degrees. The number of adjustable features is impressive; you can play around with facial structure, eye color, the size of your nose and mouth, hair color, facial markings, skin tone, and height. The choices within these categories can feel a tad limited, unfortunately. Eye colors, for example, are restricted to shades of blue, green, and brown for all races except the Kelari, and facial markings aren’t particularly visible for some races, like the Eth. Keep in mind that there is currently no option to change your character’s appearance in-game.
Regardless of who you side with or what race you pick, the beginning of Rift plays out the same way. Resurrected either by the gods or technology, you step into a world on the brink of destruction as an Ascended. Regulos’ dark army has invaded Telara from the Plane of Death, and the big purple guy himself will soon be arriving to ruin everyone’s day (read: kill everything and everyone). Naturally, the best way to prevent this from happening is to send the Ascended back in time to fix the past and prevent certain climactic events from occurring, thus denying Regulos and his army entry into Telara. Oh yes, time travel.
The game’s four classes sound pretty basic at first. After all, the character creation menu only let you pick from Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue. What else is there? Plenty, as it turns out. Trion implements a unique Souls mechanic, which lets you customize your class with up to three sub-classes (or Souls) at any time. Every class has nine different Souls to choose from. Mixing and matching Souls yields nearly infinite combinations and roles within each class, so the traditional barriers between healer, DPS, and tank are broken down in favor of granting players more freedom of choice. Within the Rogue class alone, you have Riftstalker for tanking and Bard for healing; the same idea goes for Mages, Warriors, and Clerics, who all offer similar alternatives. When Rift first came out, Bards were actually considered by many to be the game’s best healing class, until they were nerfed by subsequent patches.
For Rift newbies, having three skill trees at your disposal can feel daunting, even if this isn’t your first MMO. As such, the game introduces Souls at a gradual pace through class-specific quests and suggests several optimum combinations in case you have no idea where to begin. Resetting Souls in order to respec does cost money, and the fee changes depending on how many points you’ve already spent. To offset this, the game allows you to store up to four builds or “roles” at once, though latter roles need to be purchased for hefty one-time fees. The convenience of switching between specs without having to find and pay a trainer is worth it, at least.
Having Souls to play around with breathes considerable life into all aspects of the game, whether we’re talking PvE or PvP. The former is where you’ll spend most of your time, of course, grinding your way from level one to 50. It doesn’t take long for anyone to notice just how sadly uninspired the quests are, unfortunately; from beginning to end, nearly every NPC in every zone will tell you to collect or kill X number of something or another. The drop/spawn rates are fairly generous, but that doesn’t make the quests feel any less monotonous. What does effectively break up that mind-numbing monotony are rifts. What, you thought Trion picked the title out of a hat?
Rift’s trademark is the actual rifts that appear all throughout Telara. Each zone features different kinds of rifts, their appearances and mobs varying depending on elemental type: Water, Fire, Earth, Air, Life, and Death. When rifts pop up in large numbers, a zone quest tasks players with closing them and killing and repelling the invasions they spawn. Fulfilling all objectives will cause a giant rift boss spawn, and bringing it down always requires a group effort – seeing Guardian and Defiant players fighting side by side is not wholly uncommon.
To make these more enjoyable, Rift implements a quick and painless grouping mechanic. Any time you’re near another player during a Rift event – be it an open rift or a rift-spawned invasion – the option to form a public group pops up at the top of your screen. Press the button and bam, you’ve got a party. If two or more parties are within range, you instead have the option to merge groups, and once enough players join, the party is automatically converted into a raid group.
Assuming you have a reliable group or high-level buddy to party up with, closing rifts provides an excellent alternative to questing, awarding tons of XP and decent loot without the time commitments dungeons tend to demand. One major issue with rifts, however, is how intrusive they can be outside of peak hours, when very few players are online. Rifts will continue to spawn regardless of how busy the servers are, and with no one to help close them, an entire zone can be overrun within minutes. At any given level, you do have multiple level-appropriate zones to play around in, but finding your quest-related mob or NPC slain by rift creatures never ceases to annoy.
Completing dungeons is also an efficient way to level, though again, they do require more time than rifts. Instances are available to players of all levels and generally take a (competent) group of five less than an hour to run. All dungeons have Expert versions for players to tackle once they’ve hit a reasonable level, promising greater rewards upon completion. On higher difficulties, all enemies hit harder, and players must face additional bosses that appear only on Expert; groups are still restricted to a maximum of five players, so skill and gear become integral to speedy success. Currently, Rift has only one “raid instance,” an end-game dungeon that calls for 20 participants.
Much of the loot you pick up from rifts and Expert dungeons double as currency for acquiring rare or epic gear, sold by unique vendors who accept only a specific type of payment. PvE alone has enough different “currencies” and corresponding methods of acquiring gear to keep you preoccupied well beyond hitting the level cap. Just to name a couple, you can farm reputation with various other factions around Telara or earn Lucky Coins by turning in collectable artifacts for equipment, rare mounts, or companions (mini-pets).
If you’re more of a PvP fan, open world PvP and Warfronts award favor and tokens that can be redeemed for some pretty amazing rewards. Even on PvP servers, most of the action takes place in Warfronts, instanced PvP battlegrounds featuring cross-Shard queuing. The four Warfronts are split into various types you’re likely already familiar with – capture the flag, hold points, and so forth – with every map designed to accommodate numerous strategies. That said, anyone who has ever attempted large-scale PvP like this can tell you that strategy is a rare commodity. Pre-mades and individuals invariably break apart to engage the enemy, go for the flag, or search for power-ups hidden around the map. Losing is a massive pain in the ass, especially if you’re stuck on a less PvP-oriented server and haven’t got a guild to queue with, yet Warfronts remain a lot of fun, which I suspect has something to do with the flexible Souls system.
As if rifts, dungeons, and Warfronts weren’t enough, free exploration will undoubtedly eat up much of your time in Rift. Nearly every corner of Telara is accessible, and you’ll find more than just stunning vistas when standing atop the mountains of Stonefield and Iron Pines. Cairns are often found tucked away in most inconvenient places, some nearly impossible to reach without an epic mount. Unlike artifacts, these treasure piles aren’t just sitting behind a tree or under a bridge, sparkling for everyone to see. You have to work for these, and the rewards are often well worth the effort. More frustrating are the puzzles, hidden across Telara’s zones just waiting to be solved. Some can be figured out with a little critical thinking, but most are so obscure you’ll inevitably wind up searching for step-by-step guides online.
Everything you do in Rift goes toward earning in-game achievements that serve no real purpose other than bragging rights. Even crafting can beef up your gamer score, but crafting in Rift is about as entertaining as questing – as in not very. You may have up to three trades at once, choosing from gathering and crafting vocations. Not all three will be related, obviously, since each craft is paired off with a gathering skill, like Outfitting and Butchery, or Apothecary and Foraging. In order to craft items, you have to find crafting stations related to your profession, and as you level a profession, trainers will teach new recipes for a fee. The more proficient you become at your profession, the more expensive recipes get, and higher tier recipes and crafted items can be sold for a hefty sum to other players. Sure, crafting stimulates the in-game economy, but standing around a virtual loom with ten other players and watching the all-mighty Ascended wring their hands together for several minutes really isn’t my idea of a good time.
By MMO standards, Rift hasn’t been out for very long, but Trion’s latest endeavor gets off to a great start. In addition to a solid starting playerbase, Rift suffers considerably less performance issues than other online games at launch. Bugs do persist, and patches are being distributed on a frequent basis to fix the worst offenders. Certain issues, like enemies glitching into walls or other surfaces, are a nuisance to deal with, but occurrences are tolerably rare. To date, Rift has to be one of the most stunning MMOs I’ve seen, and even after 50 levels, the sight of rifts tearing through the sky hasn’t grown tiresome.
Gameplay is mostly solid, and the freedom to progress however you wish is definitely a bonus. The quests could benefit from more variety – something Trion should keep in mind for future content updates – and the overarching story is easily lost beneath the endless strings of ‘Collect this!’ and ‘Kill those!’ If you go in expecting total originality, immediate disappointment is sure to follow, but spend some time with the game, and you’ll be impressed with what Trion has to offer. Rift breathes new life into the genre, restoring otherwise tired old concepts and proves success isn’t always built on originality.
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