“Quit Opening Rifts in My Heart!” or “The Perfect MMO Formula?”
Apologies for the unintended hiatus, a lot was happening at work and I had literally no time to myself. I promised a quick review of Rift beta 4, and here it is.
Trion Worlds, quite possibly has figured out the ideal way to make an MMO: perfect and improve existing systems and norms without delving too much into new, experimental and risky ideas. This is the essence of Rift, it looks, feels and even plays like the most popular of MMOs, but incredibly polished, detailed and well-thought out. And if the above isn’t making much sense, just know this: Rift is an incredible amount of fun, without departing too significantly from core MMO ideologies.
I had a chance to play Rift Beta, albeit briefly, this weekend. I had some initial hiccups, notably the download rates and then connectivity issues, and blogging about said issues even incurred the wrath of an irate commenter. What set the tone for the following play session was a comment posted by a member of the development team over at Trion World, profusely apologizing and offering his help in whatever manner possible. The beta also got extended by a day, and I finally got a chance to play it on Friday night.
Rift is very simple at first glance, with a hidden level of complexity and depth beneath the seemingly innocuous surface. There are two factions of powerful beings, Guardians and Deviants, the chosen ones if you will, that represents the light and dark side respectively. Although the juxtaposition is not quite as black and white and more of a matter of perspective. I gravitate towards lawful good, so naturally I went with the Guardian faction, and the only race choice available was dwarfs. (Yes I know there are others, but as a life-long dwarf player, the other races practically don’t exist for me.) I also chose a class from four separate classes, and I went with a warrior. The final character was named Bronte, and looked remarkably like the stubby dwarf I have had playing WoW, I took a deep breath, and plunged into the world of Telara.
Nearly three hours later, way past the time I was planning on trying out Rift. I had to peel myself away because some of us have that called a job, that requires you to be well-slept and partially functional when you’re at it!
The UI is very familiar. The character, target portraits, the minimap, the action bar, the chatbox were nestled in comfortable, familiar positions. It looks like WoW, it feels like LOTRO, it plays like Aion, and I have a momentary sense of trepidation as the flaming wagon of countless WoW clones, most notably the Alganon wreck, flashes before my eyes. Gingerly I take my first steps and take my first steps. The quest log is familiar. I get my first weapon and open the character portrait to equip it. The character window feels familiar. I find a collectible book, and right clicking it simply files it away, and I can’t figure out how to access it, but it’s a nifty ittle mechanism for driving the lore.
And then I am asked to pick my specialization. This is when I realize that only four classes is extremely misleading. There are multiple sub-roles within each class and each one of these has it’s own detailed soul tree (more on this later). I went with a Riftblade Warlord, and the resulting combination, though initially confusing to wrap my head around, was astounding. Combat is fresh, furious, responsive and fluid. My only gripe is that it feels too easy. I am taking on multiple mobs at my level and wiping the floor with them, while my health is negligibly dented.
The whole experience seems very on-rails, and I don’t mean that in the negative sense. The first few quests had me kill a few mobs and collect some items. By the time I had finished doing that, I looked up and saw myself at the next quest hub, practically 10 feet from where I was supposed to the turn in the quest to Borrin Gamult at Thantic’s Fountain. I haven’t played the game enough to know if this is the exception or the rule, but it happened more than once, and that, to say the least was impressive. I was gently and subtly guided from mini-quest hub to mini-quest hub, and I didn’t even realize it.
I was also pleased with the sheer volume of options and tweaks you could make. The UI, is completely customizable, much like in LOTRO. Some of the most time-saving and useful little shortcuts are present, such as auto-loot and a quest tracker, and the options menu is well populated with little snippets for perfectly customizing your player experience. There are some other little things that I found useful. Pressing the ‘v’ key, for instance, flips the camera 180 without turning your character around: a handy tool if you really want to see the terrifying monstrosity that is hunting you down! The graphics look gorgeous, I experienced some lag, but that could be simply because I refused to play at anything below the ultra settings to enjoy the world of Telara in all it’s digitally rendered glory.
I called it a night when I reached level 6, which I know is very low, and I didn’t even get to experience the major selling point of the title: the rifts themselves. But I have an invitation to beta 5, and I will be sure expand on my experiences in the world of Telara. But all in all, I (surprisingly) had a blast, and look forward to get in some more playtime this weekend.