Let's face it, 2010 was not a good year for fledgling MMORPGs. Few major titles launched, and those that did failed to make much of a splash. Final Fantasy XIV, probably the biggest launch of the year, made a splash for all the wrong reasons and remains plagued with issues several months later.
Into this murky situation wades RIFT, the first offering from Trion Worlds, a company with high aspirations for its online titles. I was able to participate in the fifth closed Beta for RIFT, and with the NDA lifted, I'm able to share my impressions.
The world of Telara in which RIFT is set has been well developed with history, lore, and a conflict that provides a strong motivation for player characters. The first choice that players will make is between joining the Guardians, the chosen warriors of the gods of Telara, and the Defiant, who have spurned the assistance of the gods and rely on magitechnology and their own initiative. The introductory experience for both factions does a good job encouraging them to face off against each other, and players will often fight NPC representatives of the opposite faction, as well as have the opportunity to partake in PvP combat after they level up a bit.
|Attractive dwarves and homely elves? Both are possible in the character creator.
After choosing one of the three races available to each faction, (Mathosian humans, High elves, and dwarves for the Guardians; Eth humans, Bahmi part-elementals, and Kelari elves for the Defiant) players will choose to be a warrior, cleric, rogue, or mage. Although the classes appear very standard at first, the class system in RIFT is deep and highly customizable. Every main class has seven sub-classes, and players will end up choosing three sub-classes to specialize in at any one time. The sub-classes are diverse, allowing players to create characters who are strongly focused or highly versatile. There are even sub-classes that allow characters to step outside of the traditional role of their class, such as a tanking sub-class for rogues and a healing sub-class for mages. Later in the game, players will even be able to swap between several sets of three sub-classes, creating even more versatility and choice for a single character.
The basic gameplay of RIFT will be familiar to MMORPG players - perhaps too familiar. Quest givers ask players to kill enemies, fetch items, or interact with objects in the world. Players level up, train up new abilities, and participate in a manufacturing-style crafting system. Players can attack other players of the opposing faction freely on a PvP server or within instanced battle areas on a PvE server. There are instanced dungeons, and will probably be larger-group instanced raids in the endgame. There's nothing incredibly innovative here, but RIFT seems to have borrowed mostly good concepts from other MMORPGs, and left most the bad stuff behind. The level of polish in the Beta is pretty impressive, and one gets the feeling that RIFT will truly be ready for launch day when it comes on March 1.
|The interface is familiar, but polished and easy to customize.
Besides the class system, the major thing that sets RIFT apart from similar games is the world event system. Telara is facing attacks from extraplanar enemies that attack through rifts that they make in the world. This makes RIFT's gameplay somewhat unpredictable. While running around doing ordinary quests, the player may encounter a small sortie of fae, goblins, or skeletons attacking a village. They might find one of the rifts and be given a series of challenges to meet in order to close the rift. They might even find one of their towns or cities under attack by a massive army spewing out of multiple rifts.
Since the world event system was jacked up for the Beta, I was able to experience all these types of events, and they were both accessible and fun. Any players in the area of an event can group together by simply clicking a "Join Public Group" button. Multiple players will be needed to defeat the more difficult events, and everyone who participates in an event is awarded loot when the event is successfully completed. The rifts look appropriately dangerous, and the boss enemies that lead rift attacks are large and impressive. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to see what happens to a town if the players don't manage to defeat a major attack, so it will be interesting in the long term to see how long players remain motivated to participate in world events.
|Grouping up in world events is easy and fun.
RIFT's combat system, again, will be familiar to veteran MMORPG players. Players will auto-attack with a weapon while regularly hitting special attacks and spells. There are a wide variety of available attacks available to each class, so even two characters from the same class can have a distinct feel in combat. For example, I played one rogue who was primarily an assassin, using stealth and poison-based melee attacks, but who had also taken a saboteur sub-role and could throw explosives that debilitated enemies. Another rogue was a bladedancer who focused on straight up brawling, but also had a ranger sub-class that she could use to take on more dangerous enemies from afar. Even though all rogue sub-classes use a combo point/finisher combat system (yes, just like in WoW), the two rogues played differently and required different strategies for winning difficult fights.
Graphically, RIFT is a diverse and nicely-rendered world. The lighting and shadow effects throughout the world are particularly nice, and I had fun wandering through areas I wasn't tough enough to quest in, just to see the sights. The world has an accelerated day/night cycle, and experiences weather such as a rain storm I encountered in a highlands area. The screenshots seen here were taken in my Beta client, rendered by my ATI 5700 card, with the in-game settings around medium-high. Everything ran smoothly at the settings seen. The game's music and sounds are serviceable, though there's some cringe-worthy voice acting in the occasional story cutscenes.
|Telara has some lovely sights and many diverse ecosystems.
Although this was the most polished MMORPG Beta I've encountered, RIFT still has a few things to polish up before release. Combat animations could be tightened up, and unfortunately it's very difficult to flee from enemies, who stick directly to a fleeing character for long distances. The loot interface in the world event system is a bit fiddly, and it's easy to accidentally lose awarded loot. Finally, the world event system as implemented in the Beta is not sensitive to the local population of characters, leading to some events being easily overwhelmed by large groups and other events being impossible for the local population to successfully complete.
Overall, RIFT is shaping up to be a good contender in the MMORPG marketplace. It won't appeal to anybody who detests the basic formula found in games like World of Warcraft and Everquest. Fans who enjoy that formula but are looking for a new, attractive world in which to adventure, however, will probably enjoy RIFT. The world and its lore, the flexible class system, and the event system combine to form a fun and interesting experience. Now it's up to Trion Worlds to build on those strengths and keep players interested in the game over the long term.