This post is also featured on our Rift fansite and blog, Rift Watchers. Temporarily cross-posting to build awareness
Little Caveat: I’m not saying that Rift is perfect or “the answer” to what everyone wants in an MMO. Or that it’s necessarily better than any of the games listed below. I’m a lifetimer to LotRO and have found things to enjoy in each of the other ones. This is really just about design and target audience.
In case you missed it, Rift laid the gauntlet down yesterday and openly challenged World of Warcraft. While no one has at Trion has openly claimed it will be a WoW Killer, making “we’re not in Azeroth anymore” as the tagline for your commercial is about the same as flipping Blizzard the bird. Definitely ballsy considering how well every other “WoW Killer” has done.
See, that’s the thing, though. I don’t think any other game really even came close to challenging WoW. Every single one missed some vital part of the equation that left players to pull up their 30-day roots.
I’ve put a lot of thought into this the last day or so. While I consider WoW to be an absolute anomaly – nothing will ever “kill” WoW or have such take-off success – I think Rift is the first real answer to WoW this industry has ever seen.
Here are the biggest games that we’ve all considered challengers or alternatives in the last few years and why they don’t deliver to the core WoW fanbase:
LotRO: Amazing game, amazing graphics, but the low fantasy, slow combat, and lack of variety in zones, models, and animations keep this game in a whole other realm than our friendly behemoth.
Age of Conan: System requirement, PvP focus.
WAR: PvP-centered, sub-par PvE, and too dependent on other players in the mid-to-end game
Aion: Eastern sensibilities, very grindy, PvP endgame, and a failure to deliver on the all the promise of the Abyss.
STO/Champions/CoX/EVE: Were these ever really alternatives for a WoW fan? Superheroes and Spaceships do not a raider make.
Notably absent are Guild Wars, Runes of Magic, and Alganon. I haven’t included them here since they’re not subscription based and, in the case of Guild Wars, really focuses on a whole different playstyle.
When we sat down to record the first episode of the Rift Watchers podcast, Gavin made the point that there is an increasingly large demographic of MMO fans that, while they may have enjoyed WoW for thousands of hours, simply don’t want that game anymore. Put simply, they love the game, but they’re sick of Azeroth.
Rift is the disenfranchised WoW player’s perfect alternative; it delivers everything WoW does with modern day updates and improvements on the things players complained about the most. The questing system has a ways to go but, then, how many alts did you level through 1.0, 1-60 WoW before the shattering? Did the pre-Wrath style stop you from enjoying it – or better yet, doing it anyways? If the gameplay is good (combat, dungeons, and after-effects), questing is a means to an end. They’re a reason to go do what you enjoy: fight. Imagine the delight your average WoW player will experience when, killing those ten foozles, they see a waterfall open from the sky just over the next hill.
It’s not just questing, though. If anything, Rift is the answer to WoW for everything BUT questing. It is the answer because everything you’d expect is there and Trion fashion. They’re not pulling any punches with player expectation: gear comes in green, blue, and purple; characters develop in skill trees; crafting is click to complete (but worth doing this time); do dungeons, follow breadcrumbs, hit heroics, raids, and battlegrounds. It’s all there. There is nothing here to confuse or let down a WoW player who started at WotLK or before, and it comes with the level of polish EVERY game should have been delivering from the start. THAT is the answer to capturing any audience for more than 30 days and THAT is why Rift is the only real answer to World of Warcraft at this point in our MMO timeline.
Please, don’t mistake that for me calling the game a WoW clone. Oh please, because it’s not. We have to start with the basics here and Trion has done that. From there, they’ve made it all uniquely theirs.
We have to separate out systems from games. Throughout history, the best games have taken what works and evolved it. A game is not a mass of disjointed pieces; it is the sum of its parts. Here we are seeing that intrinsic evolution, taking these tropes that we know – and the majority love – and tweaking them ever so slightly; they’re packaging it with unique ideas, revolutionary content delivery, and detailed, “only in Rift” artwork. It is MMO+1, WoW+every other good idea, refined and perpetually in revision.
That’s the only answer we can ask for, isn’t it? The very definition of incremental step.
And why I think we finally have a real answer to Blizzard’s baby elephant.