So here is my long overdue, lengthier analysis of Rifts as it stands right now. I hesitate to call this a review, and with good reason – we are still in Open Beta and still seven weeks from launch. So I will probably revisit this around launch time to give you an update. The tl;dr version is..well, it’s here. If you are looking for awesome screen shots – I don’t have any. Either I haven’t found the button yet, or its not enabled yet. So deal with the wall of text.
Quick review of my methodology: Good and Bad are things that are important that this game, still in development, is currently doing well or poorly at Then we move on to Ugly and Tilt. These are the things that this game, still in development, are doing that are more personally relevant to me, but the community at large may or may not care about. Confused? Example: A Good for WoW would be its lack of hardware requirements – you could go down to Wal-Mart and buy a computer-in-a-box and run it. That’s good not for me necessarily, but for the games overall success – more potential customers equals more potential revenue. An Ugly for WoW would be the lack of player housing. That is something that me (and some other players, to be sure) think is important in an MMO – but clearly its not hurting WoW any. Got it? Away we go:
Graphics and Sound: While Rift isn’t quit playable by a Wal-Mart “Compy In The Box”, it comes pretty close. And boy do they make it count. I’ve read other reviews that have said they thought the quality of combat animations and sound were poor. I have to wonder if we have been playing the same game. The ranger summons his pet and lightning arcs back and forth between him and the ground. Dual wielding rogues handling daggers in reverse grip style spin and twist through their combat moves. Call forth an armor buff for your warlock and a dark cloud coalesces around your torso. The land itself is gorgeous, with blowing wind, raining meteors or catapulted rocks, foreboding clouds. Enemies drip malevolence. On the sound end – bows twang, bombs explode, war cries abound. In this one area I will admit I was not 100% satisfied, but I have high standards. My computer is decked out in SoundBlaster gear, and I have high quality speakers and headset. And I could use just a bit more “oomph” when my blades strike home, a little more “click, click, boom” when I detonate my bombs. Even if it launches as is though, its hard to beat. I love the way it looks and sounds. Its worth mentioning too that the game is mostly glitch free at this point. I’ve only encountered two, and both were minor ones that did not impact my overall experience in any significant way.
The Calling/Soul Class System: This is hands down my favorite part of Rift, and a big reason why I like the game. I admit that its hard to get the hang of – you will probably find yourself restarting your character at least once as you uncover how you want to play and what combinations really move you. But its worth it. Once you get it fitted just right – you don’t want to stop. I tanked it up, something I haven’t done in a while, with a Riftblade/Reaver/Paragon combo. Savage dual-strikes, ranged pulls, sweet buffs, and a variety of damage types just made my day. What about healing? You like to do it WoW style in cloth armor, from a distance, with hardcore ranged DPS to go along with it? Rift has you covered. Prefer the ranged DPS, but still feel the urge to save lives? Take two randed DPS souls and one healer type soul. Want to heal, but prefer to mix it up inside with a big hammer? Check. Want to do all three – YOU CAN. Yep. Roles – you can have up to four sets of three souls, with points distributed differently for each of them. Get tired of one, or need to tweek it? Pay a little coin to reset the soul points and start over. I’ve been able, so far, to recreate my favorite class from every MMO I’ve played. That means alot to me. And given the number of roles, soul trees, and three part combinations you can inact – multiple viable builds will be running at any given time. There’s always a flavor of the month, of course, but don’t expect to see it all the time. Not in Rift.
Developers Who Listen: Before you cry that this isn’t part of the game itself, hear me out. I would normally put this down as the Tilt, but I really do think this is one of the strengths of Rift. Trion came up with a vision for this game, but they didn’t lock it in stone. They seem to feel that you, the player, have some stake in the game and how it should be played, and the direction it should take. Crazy! Madness I tell you! Insanely good madness. Something that other developers need to take notice off. Trion’s flexibility especially shines next to the opaque rigidness of Bioware. In a year that will probably end up with about four top shelf MMO releases, this may very well be the thing that puts Rift in the driver seat. The transparency alone that has been set up in the Beta events and game testing is refreshing and inspires confidence. With Rift, you know what you are going to get if you order the game now. And if not, you probably know someone who can give you lots of good first hand information about the game. That’s good – because MMO’s, to be successful, require long term buy-ins by the players. They need to feel at home and they need to feel that they are an important part of the game’s success. Even if you are not satisfied with how Rift is looking and feeling now – can there be any doubt that it will continue to improve and develop? This makes Rift’s future very, very bright.
The World of Telara: When I learned that Jon Van Canegham had left Trion, I fretted a little. Of all his many accomplishments, the one thing that is sometimes overlooked is his skill as a worldbuilder. You can feel his touches around the edges of Telara – magic and technology blended, otherworldly forces at play – these are his trademarks. But there is something that his worlds have always had in the past that is lacking – a touch of humanity. In a place where incredible magitech machines whirl, winged angels speak bravely, and powerful heroes clash, one wonders about the little things. I’ve yet to come across someone who could sell me anything other than planar goods or basic traveling and crafting supplies. Enjoy playing that hard hitting cleric from above? I hope you like doing it with your giant two handed mace – because there’s nothing else for you to wield. Enjoy that spear of fire your Void Knight hefts? I hope so, because its the only spear your going to get. Don’t expect to save any crying orphans or find a lost dog – those things are simply unimportant with a world on the brink of apocalypse. Its hard to find someplace that isn’t touched by madness, just to catch your breath a little. It feels at times as if the entire world is so intent on going to hell in a handbasket that they are doing it with an overdeveloped case of ADHD. Of these two problems – a lack of gear and item flexibility and an at times irritating Spike and Chester mentality, the first is what hurts the most. Particularly alongside what is the most comprehensive character development system in an MMO today. Hopefully this is something we will see improvement on – but I’m doubtful. It seems to be the trend today to put a severe limit on items and gear. WAR is perhaps the harshest, and TOR will certainly be carrying WAR’s torch as well in that area. As for the second half – maybe I just haven’t advanced to the safe areas yet. I’m a slow leveler and an explorer – so it takes me awhile to meander the paths that others blaze through. But again, somehow, I’m doubtful.
The Guardian Starting Area: Oh wow. Where do I began? A cramped forest full of red-aggro mobs, packed so tightly together you cannot walk through without drawing at least one, usually more than one, of them too you. And of so many flavors that your irritation isn’t softened by the fact that at least you are advancing your quest. And then – unlike the Defiant starting area – to add insult to injury – you have to fight your way back through the forest to turn in the quests and then – yep – back through them again for the next set of quests, who’s mobs are even deeper in said forest. Now toss in the rampant battlefield full of sets of 5+ mobs who will aggro on you in force if you are not careful. As if in tacit agreement with this assessment, at one point, your quest receiver offers to fly you back across the battlefield, so you don’t have to wade through all that again. On the one hand, its good, because it is dynamic and immersive. But its mostly bad, because you’re supposed to be the Ascended savior of the world – and I can pretty much guarentee you will be dying multiple times to peons. On top of that, the Guardians need some work overall. They come off as so smug and self righteous you almost have to like being the bad guy to play them. Some character depth and most directly – some doubts, injected into their overall personality schemes, would be welcome. This faction and this area specifically needs some work, and if it doesn’t get some, I’d be willing to bet that you see server populations migrate over to the Defiants en masse.
The Big City – Bring It On: It drives me bananas that games these days that games feel that I’m not able to handle any sort of social environment until I’ve played through the first 20 or so levels of their game. Since the social environment exists in that time period whether game designers want it to or not, basically it just compresses everything into the global general chat channel. And global general chat channels are dumpster fires that need to disappear from MMO’s altogether as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure what genius dreamed them up in the first place (or why). To be fair, Rift is not the only game that has fallen into this trap. EQ2 continues to progress along this axis of evil. Take a tip from AoC – put a big city in ASAP. Waiting longer doesn’t acclamate new players better – it makes it that much harder.
A Dynamic World: There’s two sides of this coin, so you are going to see this appear again directly below in Tilt too. The downside of this coin is that the world is not quite dynamic enough yet. The rifts are dynamic. The PvP is dynamic. The world, though, is not dynamic, not yet. It could be that endgame gives us the ability to trash cities and invade opposing factions or lock rifts out of a certain area for a certain time period (or force rifts open on our enemies for a certain time period), but at times if feels like the world is as static a place as it has been in other MMO’s. I’ve pondered long and hard about whether or not a dynamic world is even possible in an MMO that is not sandbox style. And I’m not sure it is. The cost of this fourth pillar – as I’ve mentioned before, may be too much of a price to pay if you want to keep things simple enough for really large numbers of subscribers.
A Dynamic World: On the other hand…just as I am loathe to take Bioware to task for their story limitations, I’m loathe to take Trion to task for their dynamic world limitations. The truth is that this is a giant step in the right direction. Meteors don’t just sail through the sky, they land…on you. And they will hurt you. Sparkles everywhere indicate small vignettes waiting to be played out – a book to be added to your collection, an altar to pray at, a source stash to buff you, a cleric willing to bless you. I’ve played through the starter areas several times each – and I’ve seen a new mob or received a new quest everytime I’ve done so. And not just mundane things. I’ve rounded a corner expecting the usual mobs only to see the usual mobs locked in mortal combat with a giant mob I’ve never seen before. The devs love to take control of the world and drop random stuff on your head – and I don’t think that’s going to stop with Open Beta. Some of these things are so subtle, players are missing them. I saw on player freaking out because a spirit was following him in a starter area – turns out it was a temporary pet that was given to him as an unannounced quest reward. Someone runs into a base camp half dead with a mob in tow and the general goods vendor will draw cold steel and lend a hand. Seen that before? Me either.
Its Fun: There is something just plain fun about Rift. Perhaps its the fact that I get to tackle quests and enter groups with the abilities I’ve always wanted. Maybe its the dynamic content littered through the beautiful countryside. Cynics will say its just the sheen of a new game, and they might be right. But I don’t think so. Its influenced my decision to buy this game in an inprecedented way. I’m actually going to be shelling out for the Collector’s Edition. The only other time I’ve done that was for Vanguard…a year after it launched…because it was on clearance for $20. Any game that can get me to not only buy it, but spend extra to do so has a thumbs up in my book.
In closing, I’d also like to give a personal thanks to two of Trion’s finest. First of all Scott Hartsman, who continues to be patient with my questions and has been diligent in his quest to give players something they will enjoy. Second of all, Dave, one of the animation team, who I had the pleasure of chatting and questing with recently (do you know how handy it is to encounter a minor bug, and, rather than reporting it, having a group mate who can lean back in his chair and yell over to someone to fix it?), who seems to genuinely enjoy what he has helped to build. People like them will be the building blocks of Trion’s continued success.