It isn’t often that I preview or give impressions of an MMO here besides World of Warcraft, but I’m always interested in dabbling in various games from that genre when I have the time. Rift is the latest in my travels through the MMO-sphere, and it will be the second major MMO release this year (after DC Universe Online). Trion Worlds has worked hard to craft and interesting story into this MMO, even though it’s encased in a cocoon that looks a lot like your standard WoW-clone. In fact, Rift plays very much like Blizzard’s mammoth masterpiece, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
When you stray too much from the “norm” when it comes to MMO design, you tend to get lost in making your game different than in making it a good game. This happened, in no small part, to Final Fantasy XIV most recently. In that sense, sticking to what people are familiar with, but putting your own twists on it in the form of unique classes and a new world and story might be just what the doctor ordered.
I’ve played 10 levels as a rogue-archetype character (and a few levels as a mage of the other faction) in the Rift open beta so far, and I’m really enjoying it. The art design is probably the first thing you notice – it’s both technological and fantastical at the same time, and mixes both in just the right proportions to create and interesting and rather unique aesthetic. It uses color contrasts to the extreme to create an interesting atmosphere, something other MMOs I’ve played only use in certain areas of certain zones. Rift seems to take that to the extreme, and it really makes the entire world stand out.
Also, the environment around you seems very alive and action-filled, reminiscent of the revamped World of Warcraft zones. Explosions are going off, NPCs are milling about at their various tasks, random chatter is going on, enemies are storming the fortified mini quest hubs – yep, the whole nine yards.
One interesting aspect that thankfully breaks from the mold of World of Warcraft is the character progression system, called your Soul Tree. For all intents and purposes, this is a set of three talent trees, much like the aforementioned MMO. However, you can equip different souls – up to three at a time – within your class archetype. For example, as a rogue you have numerous different souls, or talent trees, available to you, which basically equate to different classes – Riftstalker, Marksman, Ranger, Saboteur, Nightblade, Blade Dancer and Assassin.
You choose one of these callings initially, as your starting class (I chose Nightblade, because it mixes magic with rogue-like abilities and sounded cool). Then, over the course of progression, you obtain new souls, which are new classes, to learn new skills in via a talent tree, called the Soul Tree. So you basically have access to building up three trees at once, to mix and match which talents and abilities you want from each tree to build a “unique” class within the archetype that you initially choose – warrior, mage, priest or rogue.
So, I thought that was pretty sweet. Aside from that, much of the rest of the game plays like World of Warcraft, so there isn’t anything strictly new that veterans of the genre wouldn’t latch on to very quickly. I do think the pacing of the battles seems slightly quicker than the standard, and they’re build with health and mana regeneration in mind, instead of having to eat/drink constantly, which I like.
Also interest that I noticed is a nifty feature called area of effect looting. You can kill a whole bunch of mobs in a certain area, loot only one, and get the loot from everything in the immediate area that you killed. That’s pretty hawt. Take note, Blizzard.
The final thing I want to mention is the feature that the game gets its name from. At random throughout the world these rifts spawn, which unleash monsters to fight. These are public quest events, and everyone around can work together to complete the objective of the rift and close it. The kicker here is that these can spawn in quest locations, near quest hubs, the mobs can attack towns and NPCs and just generally cause chaos in the surrounding area. This may disrupt your standard questing, but adds a bit of uncertainty to the world around you and livens things up a bit. If you definitely don’t want to take part in the event, it’s fairly easy to get away from the area without drawing undue attention, but your questing and other business may be disrupted for a bit.
Like other MMOs, there are two factions with various races, design and features. There are PVP, there’s RP, there are servers for both. There’s also…wait for it…time travel. That’s right. Don’t get me started on that. The story seems interesting…but time travel for one faction’s intro quests? Seriously?
Anyway, let’s end this little preview on a good note – Rift is basically everything that you like from WoW except modernized much like the world of Azeroth is after the cataclysm. I love the art design and liveliness of the world, and I’m always up for a good WoW-clone to get lost in for a while. Rift releases on March 1, 2011, and is a pay-to-play MMO that will cost you roughly $15 per month, give or take.