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Rift NDA Dropped – Here Are The Goods

As you know, I’ve been taking part in the Rift beta events. The long and short of it is this: Rift is a good game, not  immediatelyground breaking, but a fun MMO that will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played anything post-Everquest.

In my opinion, this is the first PvE game that’s actually viable to the wider MMO audience. LotRO came close, but the slow combat and low-fantasy setting hold it back, making it a bit more niche than a lot of players like. Rift doesn’t suffer from this in the slightest and is a lot of fun to play if you’re not looking for GW2 or TOR level reinvention of the genre.

The specifics:

*Note: Apologies for the lack of screenshots, it was disabled during beta.

Character Creation

Rift offers a lot of options for character creation, but it is more limited than, say, Aion. You choose your race, archetype, and then can select a variety of attributes for your head (eyes, mouth, nose; width, plumpness, etc.). You can also select from ten or so facial tattoos and customizations. I was a little disappointed that you couldn’t customize your body at all, but, honestly, it’s a passable oversight.

Introductions and Cinematics

The cinematics are good and do a nice job of pulling you into the setting. They give you just enough background to understand your place, but really only scratch the surface of the deep lore written into the game. I personally prefer the Guardian cinematic. In Beta 2, I had a laugh at the voice actor they chose to do the narration. He sounded like a bad Mr. T impersonator. Or, as one staffer put our in a system message, “The Guardian narrator also reminds you to snap into a Slim Jim.”

The actual newbie experiences are awesome. The Defiant start off in a war torn valley. Buildings are burning and being overrun. Angry spirits, invading guardians, cultists, and various undead are there waiting for you to kill them. There is a decent variety of kill, collect, and “activate this item(s) in the field” quests. Both factions get their first two souls almost right away (within an hour). I was a little torn at the high-technology slant the Defiant seem to embrace.

I found myself quite surprised at how much I like the Guardian experience more, though. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s probably my favorite of any MMO. The way the action blends into the cinematic, and the way everything seems to be compounded for your immersion, adds into a remarkable experience. You start off as a resurrected dead – literally, there are piles of bodies lying around – and go into the usual “defend our town” kind of stuff. Just like the Defiant, there is a decent variety of quests. I liked it so much more, however, because it was MUCH more immersive. The music was spot on. Your screen would shake with explosions. Pillars of smoke rise in the horizon and battle horns sound in your ears. The questing was also much more action-y, I thought, though this is probably because I chose to play a mage (pyromancer) instead of a cleric (paladin).

Each faction ends with an epic stand off before throwing you into the “real world.” I thought these were very well done and built up to a culmination no other MMO can stand up against in the first 5 levels. This is how MMOs should start.

Setting

I’m a little torn. The setting is a strange blend of high-fantasy wilderness/warzones with sci-fi cybertech. The Defiant have hologram machines all over the place and the main impetus of your existence is to be sent back in time. I get it, and I’m sure some people will love it, but it doesn’t really fit with a traditional fantasy setting. That’s just my feeling, though, as some people really like it; it does make the Defiant zones unique.

Art is a good blend of stylized art and realistic models. Characters are highly detailed (you can see every ring on a piece of chainmail). Colors are over saturated, which makes for some really great skyscapes.

It should be said that I was immersed pretty much non-stop until other players would come into the scene and break it somehow (not meant in a negative way). The balance between sounds and visuals is very well done.

Graphics/Performance

The game is very scalable and can go from looking very nice to butt-ugly. As I mentioned above, character models are highly detailed even on the lowest settings. Anything medium or above will probably rival most other MMOs. On high or ultra, it’s competing with LotRO and AoC.

They’ve made good strides in performance, but it still has a ways to go. During the first beta event, lots of players had trouble getting over 20FPS regardless of graphics setting; I was one of them. We had a good thread in the forums and Beta 2 was much better. I was running at about 25-35 on high. I expect it to be better on release.

I would say that if you have a machine running their recommended spec, you’ll probably get 25FPS on medium right now. For comparison, here are my stats: E8600 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB DDR2 800MHz RAM, nVidia 260GTX 896MB GPU.

Gameplay

It’s standard MMO stuff. If you don’t want a game in the same vein as what’s out there now, or are tired of the “same old questing,” do everyone a favor and don’t bother. The beta forums were flooded with people complaining that Rift didn’t do enough different. Frankly, I don’t fault Trion for that, I fault the testers for not reading about what they signed up to test.

In a world when GW2 and TOR are out to challenge out concepts and tell us how everything we know is wrong, Rift is there to remind us why we found this stuff fun in the first place. Well, that’s the goal. Whether it works will depend on how much you enjoy questing.

There is a noticeable wall in the leveling curve around level 10 or so but this will probably change.

Quests are well written and fun to read.

Gathering/Crafting/Dungeons

I can’t comment much here because I didn’t get a chance to do much with them. The only one of the three I did to any detail was gathering and I’m happy to say we’re not sucking the essence out of any ore nodes here *cough* Aion *cough*. You find a node, you click it, you swing a pick axe.

Crafting is pretty standard. No chance to fail, as far as I’m aware, and you’ll probably have to work with other players to advance any large degree. You can choose three professions, which includes gathering. So, if I wanted to armorsmith, I’d probably take up mining and maybe skinning for some extra money. No secondaries, outside of gathering as far as I’m aware. See here for a list of all tradeskills.

I did notice that the entry level crafting stuff was much better than anything I’d seen from questing.

Rifts

I had to check out of Beta 2 early, so I didn’t see what improvements may have been made. In Beta 1, however, I got far enough to see a few from Water and Death spawn.

The graphics are incredible. It’s really neat seeing the ground change under your feet and water start pouring from the sky.

But you don’t care about that. How do they function?

Usually, just like PQs minus a lot of the problems WAR’s version had. A rift opens and players in the zone have a set of objectives open on the right side of their screen. When they’re met, you move into the next, more difficult, phase, and the next, until you get to an end boss. Kill it and you’re ranked on contribution (no idea how) and given a reward which seems to be some kind of crafting mat. They really don’t explain what the heck it is you’re getting, so I’m pretty clueless on whether or not the drops were worth anything. I vendored them.

I sincerely hope they change the starter rifts, though. Here’s the thing: those first few rifts, though an introduction, spawn over and over again, with no difference at all between them (if they’re on the same plane). Death rifts have the same phases every time.

Again, this is just in the starter zones, but I can’t help but feel like players’ first introduction to the much lauded dynamic content should be more, well, dynamic. This wasn’t. At all.

I hear it got much better in later zones, though, so bear that in mind.

Souls

The soul system is pretty neat. I liked it. They’re pretty much skill trees and as you advance up, you get new skills. In Beta 3, they’re planning on giving you more points, which is a good thing, because I felt like I was being told to choose a salad at the buffet table. It really lets you customize your archetype and isn’t hype. No, you can’t make anything you want – no warrior-mages – but you can make most blends of usual classes in it. Healing-DPS-buffer? You can do it.

Combat

Standard stuff. If you’ve played WoW, you’ve played this. I played a wide array of classes and can say that each has a different feel. I preferred a pyromancer because it felt like a fire mage. It was quick and deadly.

Combat is snappy and action-oriented. Somewhere between WoW and Aion, you’ll find Rift’s system.

It is GCD based.

Final Thoughts

As I watched the forums, I saw a pretty clear definition rise amongst players. People that wanted something familiar and polished loved it. People that were tired of quests and action bar combat hated it. Deciding which camp you fall into will pretty much decide whether this is the game for you.

Detractors did raise a good question, though: why play Rift when you can play other games that do the same thing? Honestly, I think it’s worth playing because it’s a different take on an old favorite. It’s the same gameplay we all know in a Telaran wrapping. It’s a starting point for new and fun stuff. The rift system is neat and, taken all by itself, offers a lot of possibilities for cool gameplay; Trion has it built so they can run events and more with the rifts than, well, open rifts. A lot of the potential for the game is under the surface, in the tech of what makes it.

After playing these two weekends, I’m planning on buying the game. It’s a PvE fan’s game. It’s the MMO player’s game. It’s polished and on the right track. More than anything, this beta has given me more faith in Trion than I’ve ever had in an MMO company. Seeing the product in the state it’s in now, and seeing how far it’s come from even the first beta event, leaves me enthused. This is a game that will probably go under a lot of people’s radar, but it’s good, and I firmly believe it will find its own dedicated audience.

In a few words: this is like Everquest 2 in style, WoW in gameplay, and way beyond WAR in innovation. If that sounds good to you, check it out.

6 comments

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  1. Starseeker

    Agree with your post completely, and btw for beta screen shots go to windowed – maximize, print screen and paste in paint :)

    I love that it’s not something new and crazy, that it’s what I know and love with new lore, new graphics and some new twists.
    Starseeker recently posted..Rift &8211 Everything and More

  2. Unforgiven

    If I am not mistaken you could have three crafting/gathering professions and not just two. Other than that, I though this review was very nice. Keep ‘em coming.

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      Totally right, my mistake. I didn’t get to delve into it in beta 2 as much as I’d liked (I missed too much /sadface) so I was remembering back to beta 1. Fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. Andrew

    The setting sounds neat, and if this weren’t a subscription game I’d try it despite being generally burnt out on hotbar quest grinders. Thanks for the preview.
    Andrew recently posted..Death Was Our Companion

  4. We Fly Spitfires

    I’m curious about Rift, for sure, but I don’t think that’s enough to make me buy it. There’s nothing that really stands out for me and grabs my imagination although I’m sure it will appeal to a lot of people.

    I haven’t played the beta but it does sound very similar to Aion in a lot of places. Would you say that’s a fair comment?
    We Fly Spitfires recently posted..We Fly Spitfires Turns Two Today

    1. Chris

      I’d say that’s fair, though I wish they’d taken a couple of cues from Aion’s combat especially. On the plus side of that, though, it’s far less grindy.

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