At the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2010 we had the pleasure of meeting with a wonderful company called Trion. They showed us some great games while at the show that included a real-time strategy game and a little game called RIFT.
For World of Warcraft fans out there this has been a title that has been part of great debates recently. Some consider RIFT to be the WoW killer. Some consider RIFT an afterthought. The question is, who is right?
Having played almost 10 days of RIFT I have somewhat of a grasp on what to expect and what might be the answer to that question.
First off, let me preface by saying I never fell for WoW. I thought the gameplay was tedious, boring and for the life of me I couldn't understand why people would slap down money for it. The only MMORPG that I have ever come across that instantly snatched me up has been Final Fantasy XI. For me the addiction was the high-end looking graphics, the ability to have your own house, the ability to auction off/buy weapons in a community and just the overall feel of accomplishment as missions/quests are laid out.
It simply had every thing I needed to become addicted to the gameplay, which also included a huge map to explore.
Why do I bring both WoW and FFXI up? Well, I feel like RIFT is caught somewhere in between there. Prepare yourselves readers because you're probably going to be pissed with me in the next few paragraphs. Keep in mind that my viewpoint of this game is still ever-growing (as I will continue to play this game over the next few months) and it's coming from someone who doesn't have a day-to-day experience with MMORPGs. My review will be valid, though, as it will come from a viewpoint of someone who needs to be convinced to play their first MMORPG.
With that said, let's get started.
The game starts out like any good MMORPG; it starts with customizing your character. You choose from two different groups: Guardians and Defiants. Both groups are pretty much on the same page in terms of advantages and disadvantages in the long run. I'm a bit of a rebel, so I went with the Defiants. From there I was given four different classes to select (Mage, Warrior, Rogue and Cleric) and I chose Rogue. Rogue, in my opinion, is the middle of the road character that can dabble around with a sword, but still have enough to use magic, which I haven't done yet. Once you choose your class you can attach a 'soul' to that class that offers up different abilities. You can attach up to three souls at a time to each character, which offers a wide range of abilities for that particular class. When I say 'wide range' I really do mean wide range. For example, with one of my souls I was able to focus on my sword/slashing weapons. I was able to upgrade my ability to land a powerful ending blow to a fight, which helps tremendously when you're trying to upgrade. The sheer amount of detail that Trion put into creating your character and giving that character depth is amazing. For folks playing this game you'll be happy with what they've done here.
I know that it peaked my interest because I like complicating my character's life and getting the most out of them when it comes to battling.
Once you go through the typical process of adjusting your character (name, facial features, etc.) the story begins.
The story behind RIFT is intense at the beginning. I haven't played the Guardian side yet, but here's how the Defiants start out. Your character wakes up from a 're-birth' process in a dying world. You're stronghold is getting pounded hard by a group of evil spirits, undead and clerics. All of them are being led by an evil dragon God called Regulos. He has opened up countless rifts in the world that allow evil creatures to dominate the land. His force has become so powerful that the Defiants, and folks around them, can no longer survive. Your role in this story is to go back in time and prevent the events that led up to this moment from happening, and hopefully saving a world in the process. The short time that you spend in the present is mainly for leveling up and preparing yourself for transportation into the past.
It's an amazing set-up for an MMORPG. This part of the story really gets you invested emotionally with the game, which is the hook. The downfall to this story is that once you make it to the past you're still looking for the story to continue, but regretfully it kind of fizzes out. That's not to say it won't come back, but I had a helluva time trying to find the right path to bring it back.
Once you get back in the past you're bombarded with meaningless quests. This is typical of MMORPGs, as FFXI and WoW certainly have their share. Going around stopping an evil force from conquering your land is one thing, but having to go pick up material from an animal in the lake around you just seems very tedious and boring. As of right about 60% of the quests that I have been on have been pretty much 'blah'. I don't mind killing spirits and collecting their power to bring back to someone, but after a while it just drags. The game, again as of right now, needed to stay focused on the story at hand. It needed to be more story heavy than quest heavy, but it simply does not do that. That was one of the main complaints from other reviewers and it's completely valid. One of the more fascinating traits of Final Fantasy XI is that the story is involved quite a bit with the quests. Again, that's not to say that you don't have collecting to do in that game that has nothing to do with story, but it doesn't feel like you're lost trying to find a path. That's where RIFT is for me. I felt very much lost when I got to the past and I tried to find a reconnection with the story in some way, but as of yet I see bits and pieces, but can't make it back on track.
Capture my attention with a great story and then stick to it. Feel free to add quests, even ones that are not on task with main story, but keep focused on what is important.
With that said, let's talk about the rifts. The rifts were a big 'thing' for this title. Random openings in the sky that encourage massive amounts of players to get involved in the fight is brilliant for building a community. Seeing a rift occur is pretty neat and seeing a large amount of players running towards the rift at one time is pretty damn cool. Killing monster after monster in the first rift is pretty cool. After the sixth or seventh rift then it becomes a feeding frenzy for people to take XP from each other. It's a cool thing, especially if you're looking to level up, but you have to be quick on the draw to get a lion's share of the XP earnings. Having this in the game makes RIFT unique and gives some sort of dimension to the MMORPG genre.
My experience with RIFT, be it a short one, has been pretty satisfying at the moment. The biggest plus that this MMORPG offers is stability. The install took a little while, but once the game was in I didn't experience one single moment (over a span of five-plus days) of crashing. There were two tiny patches offered, one for security purposes, during my game time and each one didn't take long to download and install. When I played FFXI I had constant crashes, especially in the early days. My few weeks with WoW had more problems than I care to count, which made the experience positively atrocious. It was the reason I gave up MMORPGs. Anyway, RIFT is stable right out of the box and there's little to no patching needed, which is a huge plus for this young title.
Now, where does RIFT fall in comparison to other MMORPGs? I think in terms of overall look and feel it is on the same level as the others. That's both good and disappointing at the same time. It's good because Blizzard needs to get going on making some changes to their WoW series to improve it, but hasn't because there isn't any competition out there. RIFT might be that game that forces Blizzard's hand in taking their title to the next level; they badly need that. RIFT will offer a break to WoW folks looking for a small change and a bit of hope that good things are coming.
It's disappointing because RIFT was suppose to be better than WoW right from the start. The look and feel of RIFT doesn't make it better than WoW. The leveling system and soul options certainly do at that element. When you get to the PvP and dungeons then you're getting back to the same level as WoW, and sometimes not even that. I won't give you a full judgment on the PvP or dungeons yet, as I haven't had much experience with them to this point.
Ultimately, I think RIFT has a helluva lot more upside than WoW at the moment. Trion's little engine that could has come out of the corner swinging away and only time will tell whether they follow the dull path of WoW or they improve and make their product better. Having met the folks at E3 I think you're going to see some great things in the future; hopefully they will pertain to RIFT.
Go try it out if you're new to the MMO genre; I think you'll find some fun inside.