Rift ‘Level 20’ Review

At their core MMOs don’t seem to have developed much since the days of Everquest, and yet they still form what may be the most diverse and volatile genres in gaming. If it isn’t the myriad settings and themes, ranging from Ancient China and post-nuclear Earth to the fantasy world of Warhammer and the far reaches of space, then other nuances such as real-time gameplay and social functionalities are constantly adding layers of variety to these vast titles.

[drop]Quite possibly the most divisive change in recent years, or ever, has been the constant drift towards F2P (free to play) as a business model. Not long ago MMOs were seen as a luxury experience only available to those who were able to fork out for the monthly fees. However, with the emergence of games such as Guild Wars, Runes of Magic and to an extent Runescape, consumers have had similar quality games available to them without even having to buy a game disc, let alone time cards or subscription bundles.

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We’re fast approaching 2012 and though there is evidence to suggest that premium MMOs will still have a firm foothold in the gaming market, the F2P transition of popular MMOs such as Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes, Everquest 2 and, most recently, DC Universe Online, seems to be a strong indicator that things will eventually change.

Trion Worlds’ Rift, the studio’s first game, may well be the last conventional fantasy MMO we see to launch with a strong subscription based business model. Set in the fictional world of Telara, an intersection for numerous elemental planes, players assume the role of an Ascended, a legendary warrior resurrected by their faction to fight off extraplanar threats.

Though occupied by several humanoid races Telara is under constant bombardment as Gods and Dragons wage war; the most deadly, Regulos, threatening to wipe out their existence. To make things worse there are tensions between Telara’s two leading factions, the Guardians and Defiants; neither of them can easily classed as good or bad, they both seek the same objectives but pursue different methods and philosophies.

Rift’s character creation offers six playable races (three Guardian, three Defiant), and four classes or “callings”: Warrior, Cleric, Rogue, or Mage. It sounds fairly limited for your modern MMO but Rift’s first noticeable unique trait is its class customisation system. In typical MMOs each class usually comes tagged with three “specs,” skill trees which the player can develop in order to pursue a particular style. WoW’s priest class, for instance, can be engineered to deal more damage, have increased healing or better buffs. However, Rift’s class system goes a bit further with each of the four “callings” having eight specs to choose from.

For seasoned MMO veterans it’s a meaty, rewarding layer on top of character customisation that continues to expand. However, for new players looking to cut their teeth or just those returning from an MMO hiatus, it can be overwhelming to say the least. As soon as you leave the tutorial zone you are already forced to make decisions that most MMOs reserve until later in the game.

In terms of raw gameplay, Rift strictly follows traditional MMO conventions. Combat is negotiated through a series of auto-attacks and stacked abilities which fill a calling-specific guage when used, allowing players to unleash stronger attacks or support actions. It’s nothing new, and despite Rift’s hybrid class system it all boils down to the targeting an enemy and letting rip on those hotkeys; if you find this gameplay formula tedious then it goes without saying that you aren’t cut out for the MMO genre full stop.

[drop2]Telara is portioned into large scale regions, each with its own chain of camps, villages, and cities, packed with vendors and quest givers. It won’t take long to get settled into the game’s rhythm; you pick up assignments, head towards the given locations, dispatch the required number of enemies (or complete said objectives) and head on back with any accumulated loot before moving onto the next chain of missions. Despite sticking firmly to the familiar MMO template, Trion has deviated in places, the most notable addition being that of Rifts themselves.

As outlined before, Telara is continually being invaded by elemental creatures looking to wreak havoc. Upon your travels you will frequently spot Rift “tears” scattered around the world, ideal diversions from the somewhat monotonous gradual MMO tempo.

Rifts are composed of several waves of enemies, each hosting a band of extraplanar raiders. If you successfully repel each round Rifts will climax with a boss encounter, dishing out extra loot upon defeat. The best thing about Rifts is that they simplify the group-searching process without the meticulous practice of manual invites; once in range of the event, you simply click on the PG tab and the game drops you into an open group. Larger-scale tears will also occur, although not as often. From time to time entire warbands of invaders will mass together and attempt an attack on Wardstones scattered across Telara, the game alerting all surrounding players.

Pros

  • Look great. Environments are vast and well-detailed.
  • Soul/class system allows complete control over character development.
  • Rifts give players a taste of group gameplay straight off the bat.
  • Small features such as recycling craft materials and player wardrobes are neat touches.
  • Seasonal events are handled well.

Cons

  • Zones are a little too big, strongholds and cities are few and far between. Travel is an issue.
  • Like many MMOs, there can be a lack of guidance when it comes to group PvE and other advanced elements.
  • Innovates very little in terms of core MMO mechanics.
  • Quests are largely unimaginative and only offer small doses of EXP. Alternative quest chains aren’t clearly presented.

Rift brings a number interesting concepts to the table but it can only be described as a refinement at best. Instead of setting itself apart from the status quo, Trion Worlds has emulated almost every core aspect of your conventional MMO, but only improving slightly. Small nuances such as the shortage of crafting stations, an in-game guide and fast-travel waypoints combined with a fairly inactive low-level community make Rift a hard game to get into, especially considering the sluggish XP rate. As a first MMO it’s by no means a bad choice, though it isn’t an ideal place to start.

Score: 7/10

Why level 20? For most MMORPGs, level 20 is considered as an optimal point of reference when it comes to forming an solid opinion. Usually totalling over 12 hours of solid gameplay, by the time players hit level 20 they’ve had time to get to grips with the core gameplay as well as some of the advanced mechanics and social features such as instances, and in some games, raids too.

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4 Comments

  1. Good review, I won’t be playing it even if it does sound good, the only MMO I’m contemplating is Star Wars, simply because it’s Star Wars – and KOTOR 1&2 were amazing.

    One thing I disagree with though is lack of guidance. One of the things which I loved about the old WOW was the exploration, finding new things. The way you needed to investigate entire areas to find quests and meet people. Now, the game holds your hand throughout the entire game and gives the game a rather linear-esque feel.

    A lack of fast travel points to locations you’ve already visited is slightly worrying though.

    • I agree with the whole exploration thing though after you’ve played a few MMOs, the novelty of discovering new areas begins to wither.

  2. I had a go of this and did not enjoy it, maybe because I love my wow too much. I found this game a chore to play, didn’t like the interface or the game play in general.

  3. have always been interested as i heard of it as a competitor to WOW, but hasn’t seemed to have lived up to that. I’m not ever going to touch it though as maneorlx said the only MMO i’m interested in now is SWTOR, only going to play it if i can get a decent amount of people i know to play as that’s one of the things that killed WOW for me when i played that for a few months.

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