The question everyone’s asking is – when will the World of Warcraft killer appear? There’s certainly enough players willing to pay a monthly sub for a quality MMO experience; despite the fact that some of what were considered triple-A MMOs have now gone free to play.
Enter RIFT, the recently launched MMO from TRION. The game has been in development for quite some time now but TRION kept it well under the radar until early last year. Throughout 2010 TRION ramped up the game’s exposure until, by the middle of the year, more articles started to appear and MMO gamers sat up and took notice.
A New MMO?
Lots of gamers looked at the RIFT’s screenshots and declared “WoW clone!” but, let’s get one thing straight, this is not a WoW clone. There are of course similarities in interface layout and control scheme. I would image TRION realised there wasn’t a need to reinvent the wheel. If players are used to, and happy with, using a particular key or interface layout then it makes sense to keep things as they are. The good news is TRION were right with their decision and so getting started in RIFT, if you’ve played WoW (or more recent MMO releases), is an absolute doddle.
Set in the world of Telara, RIFT features two factions – the Guardian and Defiant – both struggling against a common enemy, Regulos, and the rifts that open around the world which spawn hideous creatures from the different planes. However, the Defiant and Guardians are not best of chums and both have a very different outlook on life.
The Guardians are highly devout while the Defiant, subscribing to none of that, are advocates of science and technology. To put it in layman’s terms: it’s religion versus atheism. But, that’s just the basics; TRION have created a complex backstory to the world of Telara, the nasty dragons, the Guardians and Defiant. There’s plentyfor lore buffs to sink their teeth into.
Despite many of the game mechanics being very similar to other MMOs, RIFT is attempting to take the genre to a new level. If you took part in the beta test you’ll know that many players viewed the game as a combination of the best elements of games such as WoW, EverQuest and Warhammer. Basically, RIFT is a melting pot of great ideas.
RIFT has a couple of major selling points, both of which appealed to me instantly – the diverse class system being the main one. Players choose one of four ‘Callings’: Warrior, Rogue, Cleric or Mage. Here’s where it gets interesting, there are no predefined skills for a Calling. Instead, players elect which ‘Souls’ to learn, each Soul includes a skill set, meaning Souls are not set in stone.
Each ‘Role’ (of which you can assign up to four per character), comprises three skill trees of your choosing; each of which can be switched between as you like. This system affords flexibility in creating a character who can fulfill different roles within the game. If you need access to your defensive skill set, simply activate it and then access your tank or perhaps DPS. The Soul system is very flexible but also a minefield to actually get right. I have tried and tested many builds over the past three months and I am still experimenting with it.
Every time you select a Soul, the game will suggest two others that complement it so (if you’re new to MMOs and find skill customisation a little daunting or you’re not particularly interested in pouring over those decisions) it’s easy enough to leave it up to the game to decide for you.
Dynamic content is RIFT’s other big selling point. Throughout Telara rifts to other planes open and spawn enemies into the game world. These rifts will continue to pump bad guys into the world for a set period of time. The invaders make their way around the world and attempt to take control of footholds. It’s up to players to fight off these invasions in a bid to keep control.
Footholds are also usually full of NPC’s who will attempt to fight the invasions but they can often become overwhelmed and conquered. Once the invasions are beaten the foothold can then be taken back and the NPC’s will respawn. This is one element of the game that can sound annoying but actually adds an exciting and unpredictable element. You never know if, when you turn up at a town or encampment, you will actually be able to hand quests into the NPC’s without a bit of a fight first.
Telara feels like an unpredictable world in which just about anything can happen. Well, even though I say ‘just about anything’, once you’ve been playing for a few weeks the dynamic content can become a bit predictable; many rifts will spawn in the same key locations, the same large invasion quest events take place in the same zones and so on. Despite that, they are fun to take part in but, after a while, you realise you can completely ignore the rifts and just go about levelling up and crafting without much interference. There are no repercussions in merely running straight past open rifts.
I would like to see the world really fill up with enemies so the players have no choice but to band together and tackle the problem. The only time it gets close to this level is when TRION activate a massive rift invasion in a given zone but, sadly, they are not that frequent and usually only occur when the servers are overflowing with players.
The invasions and rifts do add to the game and they encourage players to team up to defeat the enemy through public groups. Turn up at a rift, click the public group button and then share in the experience with other players and benefit from group buffs. It’s a good way to ease your level bar up and also earn some valuable items which can be redeemed for higher level goodies.
MMOs can often suffer from a lack of in-game community, guilds play together but there is little interaction outside of that. While you can play RIFT solo without issue, it’s not the way to get most from it. TRION are encouraging players to join forces to defeat the dynamic content and the systems in place work very well.
When we have discussed dynamic content with TRION they are always keen to stress the systems they have in place allow them to drop in new content at any point and that is a very important point to note at this early stage in the game’s lifespan.
Collectibles & Crafting
RIFT’s crafting system is pretty standard MMO fare, nothing too out of the ordinary here. Armoursmith-ing, Apothecary, Artificing, Butchery, Forqging, Outfitting, Runecrafing, Weaponsmith-ing, it’s all included. The usual system applies, train up your chosen crafts (of which you can learn three) to learn recipes. If you really get into the crafting element it can take a lot of time to become proficient but the system works well and you can make some decent cash at the auction house from your hard work.
Throughout Telara you’ll stumble across artifacts that form part of wider collections. These collectibles are put into sets which can be traded for ‘Lucky Coin’ rewards – just one of the many in-game currencies. These artifacts are a neat addition to the game and if you are a completist then hunting all of these down will provide a distraction will a long while.
On the subject of rewards… TRION has also added nifty puzzles throughout the world. These are essentially brain teasers – some simple some decidely more complex. If completed, these puzzles offer some great cash and loot rewards and they are scale to your current level when you carry them out. There are also cairns secreted atop mountains and other out-of-the-way locations which take some serious hunting down.
Enough for players?
RIFT is packed with quests but does suffer from the all to familiar Quest chain issue of quests feeling a little repetitive. However, it is not nearly as bad as some other titles and at least TRION attempt to keep players progressing through the zones without having to go from A to B back to A then B again. It does happen occasionally but thankfully it’s not been a major annoyance in RIFT. On the whole I’ve enjoyed questing as have those I’ve been playing with, there’s plenty to keep players busy.
The IncGamers RIFT guild was formed during the beta and we are now around 25 players strong. Four or five of the guild hit the level 50 cap in just over a week. Admittedly, they were playing a lot to reach that mark but the levelling in RIFT is still pretty fast; meaning that TRION are going to have to release new content pretty quickly to keep players hooked.
Sure, there are the high-end dungeons and Raid Rifts have been added as of last week, but the end-game is where RIFT will succeed or fail in keeping players interested. TRION will need to utilise their content delivery system efficiently to keep the game fresh and get the end-game content coming to players sharpish.
One issue which I do have with the game is the gear. There is not a lot in the way of variety in character appearance. For example, you’ll often find characters wearing exactly the same gear around the same level, making you feel like a bit of a clone. You can dye your armour but there is definitely more variety at all levels would be nice.
Players are expecting an update to the game within the next month or so and by that point many players that started at launch will be looking for new content.
I am not a huge PvP player (as you will know if you read any of my preview features this year) but I have messed about quite a bit in RIFT’s Warfront PvP zones. Because the game has such variety in Soul choices, there are obviously going to be some balancing issues. Every time we have talked balancing with TRION they were not too concerned about it in the early stages of release, as players learn how to use their soul combinations, and they do have a point.
In each of the three currently available Warfronts I was constantly getting my ass handed to me on a plate. There are issues with Warfronts that need to be resolved such as the balance of player roles on each team which the community has been concerned about.
Even with the teething problems, the Warfronts themselves are extremely well designed. The Codex (a Defend and Hold Warfront) just looks fantastic and it’s very well designed. Same goes for the CTF Whitefall Steppes which I have spent a lot of time in since the beta. No doubt we’ll see more Warfronts added over time but there’s enough here to keep players busy for a while yet and PvP will surely be an area TRION focus on in future updates.
The RIFT community is currently torn between whether add-ons should be allowed; should there be damage meters for example? That’s been a hot topic since beta with the elitists crying out for its addition while others simply think it will ruin the game. TRION has said they will allow add-ons at some point and they are apparently working on an API, but how far they will go with it is anyone’s guess.
Right now the interface and customisation tools built into the game are excellent, far exceeding most MMOs released today. Is there a need for addons? In my opinion there isn’t but what the community wants, the community will likely get as TRION are doing their very best to take onboard all community feedback.
I’ve been testing the game out on a couple of systems, one a top-notch ninja-bastard PC and other a rather mediocre PC. The game can be demanding and the difference between the two PCs is quite dramatic. The game looks gorgeous on the ninja PC, it’s definitely a great game to look at if you have the power, while the lower-spec machine makes Rift look rather ordinary with the draw distance and detail turned down. With some fantastic looking scenery and art styles on the game’s architecture you really do need to see this game with everything turned up to the max, it brings the game to life with dappled sunlit forest floors and swaying trees. Just don’t be disappointed if you go “is that it?” if you’re PC is pretty average.
This has been one hell of a tough game to score because TRION are constantly updating and making announcements for future plans. However, I’ll go back to my original question of is it a WoW Killer, which I feel is an irrelvant question but it’s the one WoW players are asking.
While I don’t believe there is such a thing as a WoW killer as the game has become too much a part of MMO and PC gaming culture. After seven years it may well have had its day and MMO gamers are looking for something new, exciting and fresh.
At this point in time, RIFT is probably the finest fantasy MMO on the market offering everything you’ll find in other MMOs with the added layer of dynamic content and a developer that is doing its very best to make sure the community are heard. TRION has effectively done ‘a Blizzard’, taken the best bits from other games, polished them and then added another layer. While it may not be MMO 2.0 it is certainly MMO 1.5 (can’t believe I just used that but it does sum it up).
RIFT is opening up a whole new world with the lore focussed on other world planes which are a perfect vehicle for introducing new and unexpected dynamic content which we will hopefully see very soon. We are nearly a month in from the game’s release and I would highly recommend a trip to Telara, this is one of the most solid MMORPGs releases in a long while.