Game Review — RIFT

As the description says, animé, games, and other silly things. Here goes a rare gaming post.

A while back, a fellow WOW player (Redneck Guy, actually) asked me if I’d seen or heard of a game called RIFT. He had seen some of the previews and advance publicity, and wanted to know my opinion. In short, I didn’t have one, since I’d pretty much sworn off MMOs. Sworn off as in, I still subscribe to two: City of Heroes, and DDO. I’ve dropped and returned to COH several times over the years, but I have never closed my subscription — so I have all the veteran bonuses up through 63 months. (probably 66 now). And DDO; well, I thought it was going to be my casual fantasy fix… until now.

Short version, I tried RIFT and I really, really like it so far. Long version? Head below the fold.

Since the NDA is off and the beta is both free and semi-public, I figured I’d take time out to explain it to others. If you want to see for yourself, sign up on the forums, and you’ll get an invite, although they appear to have the servers down during the week. Or at least right now. I’m not sure if it’s up during the week; they were stress-testing this weekend, and wanted a lot of new players. Two more weekends of special beta events are planned.

I’ve tried a Warrior, Rogue, and Cleric so far, although the last two are the only one’s I’ve gotten out of the tutorial area ( you exit around lvl 5-7). How much do I like it so far? I went ahead and bought the founder’s special and a six month sub. They don’t charge you for the latter until launch (March 1), and you get 30 free days with the game purchase anyway. If you pre-buy the game online, you get to start playing live a week early (Feb 24th).

The game is about 85% WOW. Less dungeons and instanced content; only 3 pvp battlefields. Zones are freaking HUGE, and you don’t feel like you’re up against the zone wall – even if you are. Lot of little touches I like. If a surface looks like you can walk up it, you can. One of my pet peeves about WOW was confronting a slope that I could walk right up in real life, despite being an old fart. But in WOW, nope. I’m not kidding, that has caused me HOURS of frustration, because I like to explore. And WOW didn’t reward that; it worked to prevent it with its slope restrictions. Corpse runs are much the same, except 1x hour you can rez on the spot, and you don’t get a soul-stone until around 13 or so, when you finally make it to the major city. You can rez at the respawn, same as WOW; rez sickness lasts about 5 minutes. No item decay, but about every ten deaths or so, you have to go to a healer and get your “soul decay” taken care of, or you start taking permanent damage. Quest nodes flow together pretty well without feeling like you’re being steered too much — except in the tutorial, oddly enough, which feels a bit “rougher” and less well designed. My messing up one quest caused me to not get my 3rd soul until late last night. (Dr. Heinous and I got into a bit of a race, and both missed a key quest.)

Graphics are awesome, but what’s really stunning is that there’s almost no clip plane. You can see all the way to the far end of the zone (though in less detail of course), there’s tons of grass, you can see mobs and PC’s out quite a ways, the leaves on trees are AWESOME – they look like real leaves! And yet the game runs smoothly on my old NVIDIA 9800 video card, with moderate settings. It doesn’t get a little choppy until there’s about sixty mobs and players fighting on the screen, with tons of spell and special effects going off. I don’t know how many chickens they sacrificed to write code this sweet, but it was worth it. (The chickens may disagree. So be it.) Every now and then, on an entry screen, I’d get some pixellation, plus water’s a little wonky in-game; reminds me of EQ where you could get that split screen effect with perfect water vision. But those are minor nits. Another such is that I feel there’s not a lot of creature/mob variety in the early zones, although the fire squirrels are a unique idea. I’m not so sure they’re good for the environment, though. “Remember, squirrel hunters, only YOU can prevent forest fires.” Since the focus is on defending Telara from extraplanar invasion, I suppose the game can be forgiven for not providing me with the opportunity to kill umpteen-dozen variants of the same mob.

There’s four basic “roles”: Warrior, (intelligence) caster, (wisdom) cleric, and rogue. Within each of those four, there’s about nine choices, specific classes such as Druid, Paladin, Bladedancer, Justicar, etc. Your powers function by installing a “soul” from up to three of the classes. They’re designed to where certain choices are meant to work together; over time you can create 3 alternate specs and switch between them out of combat. (But you can’t mix souls from different roles. Once a cleric, always a cleric). None of my chars has more than one spec, with 3 souls. I went a bit outside the suggested trio: my rogue has Marksman/Ranger/Assassin, which gives him a pet, nasty bow attacks, stealth, and some melee ability. She had no melee at all until I added Assassin, nor any stealth. (Yes, she. a white-haired short girl named “Teletha.” Sadly, there was no “hair down to her ass” option. Oh well, she usually wore it up anyway.)

Character progression is different though. In WOW you get levels which give you abilities/attacks/powers/spells and also talent points to spend. The talent points give you little bonuses (that stack and become major bonuses after a while) or directly award crucial new abilities and powers. In RIFT, this relationship is pretty much reversed. As you level, you gain points to spend in the “branches” of your talent “trees” (one tree for each soul). But you don’t directly get powers and abilities; instead, as you spend more points in the branches of the tree, you grow the “roots” automatically, which in turn advances the level of that soul through a specific set of powers, abilities, and attacks. So depending on how he spent his points, even another Marksman/Ranger/Assassin could have different powers from mine. Somewhere, I’m sure there are guilds of munchkins who have been recording all the data from their members, throwing it in spreadsheets, and analyzing it to the Nth degree. Eventually they will produce the “perfect” build that generates the maximum DPS, healing, tankage, whatever. I just want to say this to all the guild members busy in this highly technical and tedious endeavor: Show ▼

Although they are largely the same, there are more tradeskills than in WOW, but I haven’t seen any evidence of cooking or fishing. Hey, an MMO without fishing, at last! (Oh, I know, a lot don’t. Just the ones I play, mostly.) Armoring and Weaponmaking are split off into their own skills; there’s no blacksmithing per se. Character limit is 3 tradeskills, not 5 like in WOW (two major and 3 secondary). The teachers give you quests to make stuff, which results in tokens that you use to buy more recipes. I didn’t go very far with this aspect, so I don’t know if there’s anything useful you can make, or not. Mounts are a little expensive, but Dr. Heinous and I solved that by buying the collector’s edition which gives you a mount after you finish the tutorial, plus a few other toys.

The rifts are just awesome. So, you’re tooling along, questing, when this glowing spot appears in the air (shows on the map also). As Ascended, we can trigger it prematurely, which seems to summon the boss mob alone in the first wave. Or you can wait for it to form a Rift, and have your pick of mobs to fight. A minor Rift can be soloed, if with difficulty. A major rift? Bring friends. Actually, you probably won’t have to if the zones stay populated — they’ll show up. If you got involved in any of the fights, you get an automatic invitation to a “public group” — essentially, a 20-man pickup raid that the game auto-forms. Not a lot of strategy here, just smack, blast, or shoot anything you see.

In either case, Rift formation causes the immediate area to completely change – all the grass disappears, the ground turns black, blue, or some other color, the sky and air turn dark (funny, you can take ten steps back and it’s perfectly clear!), and crazy crap from the elemental planes (or life/death planes) starts spawning. There’s several rounds, and once you kill the boss, it’s over and you get rewards. Sometimes an item, always some Planarite (used for buying stuff at merchants). And items can drop during the fight too. (Hint: on the random planes items that look like a snowball, hit Need. If you want to be polite about it, yell that you’re doing so going in. You might get slammed for it, but there’s always one or two bastards that count on no one noticing during the fight). And yes, looting is just like WOW with one exception; you can turn on an option that loots everything in a small area, so you don’t have to figure out how to click on that one mob on the bottom.

Similar to the Rifts are Footholds. Regulos (the big bad) has his troops pop up with no warning, and if not stopped, they’ll set up a “foothold” which changes a small area similarly to a rift, and allows them to start porting in more bad guys. There will usually be one nasty bad guy that has to be killed before you can attack the portal.

Since they’re stress testing the servers, this weekend they would spawn “invasions” in which 25 or so rifts would spawn simultaneously, along with dozens of footholds. Madness, across the zone. We’d have to kill 175k hp lieutenants and get drops off of them to take back to one of our two bases – which were being assaulted by hordes of trash, the occasional lieutenant, and some seriously badass 700k bosses. We usually lost to those.

PVP: damifino, I didn’t try it, I was on a PVE server, and that was a deliberate choice.

The starting/tutorial story as a Defiant is pretty cool. They use magitech unearthed and refined from an old Eth (human) empire. The Ascended of the Guardians, who were created by the gods, declare their technology heretical and destroy their capital. Unfortunately, that left them with no allies vs. the return of Regulos, who conquers the world. At the eleventh hour, just before Regulos completes his conquest, a final, hidden band of Defiant successfully create an artificial Ascended, and send him/her back into the past to change history. That is YOU, John Connor, and only YOU can stop SKYNET from destroying the … oops. Wrong future. Sorry about that, heh.

Of course, you and all the OTHER Ascended who were created in myriad variant timelines and all go back to the same moment in time when the machine was first turned on. Most of the NPCs after you get out are all “Wow! A Defiant Ascended! And time travel!” And then you run into one guy going, “Hmph! You’re not the first time traveler around these parts, you know!”

UPDATE: Final beta is open to all, a six day event. Information here.

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2 Responses to Game Review — RIFT

  1. jgreely says:

    I enjoyed tinkering with the beta last weekend. I liked the look of the world and the characters, appreciated some of the innovations WoW hasn’t copied yet, and found that it quickly settled down into a standard fantasy MMO experience. The bottom line for me is that unless my tablespeak group migrates to it for a while, I’ll just stick with WoW.

    Earlier, I had been turned off by the text on their web site, which reads like it was written by (and for) high-school D&D players, but in-game, the story works fairly well. Perhaps the best part of it is the explanation of why adventurers are cooler than NPCs: having those extra souls installed is a logical reason why a noob PC is better qualified to kill the bad guys than the five thousand veteran soldiers standing nearby. And the process is difficult, so Ascended will remain rare.

    A lot of WoW-style quests fall apart when you start to wonder why you can do things NPCs can’t. “Escort you past all those orcs? What, hearthstone on cooldown?” “Yeah, yeah, the scourge killed you. Boo-hoo, just release and run back. Happens to me all the time.”

    Worst thing that happened to me in the beta? I created a dwarf cleric who looked exactly like Li’l Orphan Annie, and who was quickly rewarded with outfits that made the resemblance even more disturbing.

    -j

  2. Dr.Heinous says:

    Yup, I enjoyed the beta. The game play was good, but what I was most impressed with were the technical aspects. The areas I saw were FULL of players fighting pitched battles against many mobs, but the system remained rock steady. Download, install, login, play… everything was polished and smooth. Compared to many MMO betas (not to mention launches) this was spectacularly successful.

    In short I think they (Trion, I believe) are a quality operation. If everything else they do maintains the standard they’ve set so far, it should be quite good.

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