I've brought my very old and formerly in good standing MMORPG.com account out of retirement to offer a defense, no, to offer a viewpoint on the upcoming MMO Rift: Planes of Telara.
To say "defense" would imply that I have somehow been effected by the assault against this game that is present on these forums.
To be honest, the arguments I have read on this site against rift have been primarily narrow minded and juvenile, while the arguments in defense of Rift have (except for the occasional fanboi post) been much more logical and rational.
So my piece to follow will try and highlight the pros and cons, and really analyze and predict what players can expect when logging into the world of Telara on a daily basis, not just what I think nor what I feel about said systems.
I should preface my piece by saying that I have been playing MMORPG's since UO around '99, pre-Trammel. Since then I have played nearly every major title for some period of time, though primarily I spent time in UO, E&B, SWG, and WoW. Brief stints with EQ2, LOTRO, EvE, WAR, TR, and FFXI.
*Warning* This will be a long post - read at your own risk! - you can skip around to the colored sections for summaries if you want to skim.
My computer sucks. It is nearly 5 years old and it's only saving grace is a fairly decent (yet still cheap) Nvidia 430GT graphics card. That being said, I was easily able to maintain very smooth and playable FPS during the Beta 5 event on Medium settings unless I was participating in a very large Rift/Invasion, where I'd generally have to lower my settings to maintain proper performance due to so much more activity on the screen to be rendered.
I also spent some time playing on my brother's fancy new gaming laptop at High and Ultra settings. It's the laptop that was designed to look like a stealth fighter.
Verdict- This game/engine is designed well in that it scales very greatly between sub-par systems such as mine and powerful systems to deliver extremely high quality visuals. The lighting and shadows in particular on Ultra and High settings were extremely impressive for a MMO. I noticed zero texture loading delays/issues even at extreme view distances.
Anyone with a computer that meets the minimum requirements for Rift will be able to have an enjoyable visual experience. It's no Age of Conan but it runs infinitely better and is universally more scalable. The "Low Quality Renders" option makes the game look 5+ years old, but you could probably run it smoothly on a Word processor laptop with built-in graphics.
9/10 for extreme scalability
During the Beta 5 event the server was taken down at least twice for patching and was brought back up within 30 minutes. The very first night, before Trion opened up additional servers and the original offerings were all full or nearly at capacity during prime-time hours, I was randomly disconnected a couple of times - always able to reconnect nearly instantly, but an annoyance none the less.
Once additional servers were brought up and balance was adjusted/distributed across them, this was no longer an issue.
During certain events such as large Rift and/or invasions, I would routinely be involved in groups of 20 to 100 players occupying the same zone/section of said zone. When I began to notice frame rate slips and stutters, I lowered my graphics settings and things smoothed out wonderfully.
I experienced a mob rubber-banding or my toon rubber-banding only a couple of times, and it was right before a server restart and patch and then never again after.
Verdict - Extremely impressed. Had to be one of, if not the smoothest Beta I have ever been a part of from a network standpoint. The fact I was able to maintain quality FPS during large scale events by lowing my graphic quality proved to me that any/all performance issues where on my hardware's end, not Trion's network.
10/10 for near flawless execution.
This game looks exactly like Warhammer Online with better player models. I think some of the textures for the Death Rifts were taken directly from the texture files of the Chaos.
Personally, I think it looks very nice - even if not at all original.
The armor models are very good though. Even early on in the game, the armor you get via questing, through Rifts, or crafting looks and feels very basic and generic Medieval, but it works. Perhaps I'm just so very tired of the overly-large and shiny models from WoW that I appreciate some simplicity now.
Higher-end models as seen in screenshots and on NPCs in cities look promising - promising to not have gigantic over-sized glowing shoulder pads. Win.
The mounts in this game are quite unique from an art direction standpoint. Undead looking gazelle beast things and twin-fox tailed lions with horns? Yes please.
I do have to note that the Rifts altering the landscape around them when they open is a fantastic touch.
I also have to note I never played out of the early zones - newbie tutorial, starter area, and 10-20 including capital city and only 10-20 on the Defiant side.
From what I have seen there are some very interesting and "moody" looking zones at later levels. That being said, I really enjoyed the simplicity of Freemarch. Sandy beaches, limited forests, wide open plains... it was a breathe of fresh air to explore in a zone that felt like it would actually exist in a fantasy environment i.e. it wasn't too over the top.
Verdict - I still need to see more before I can truthfully judge.
6/10 for lack of originality, yet some very strong points
So how did the flow, the pace, the spacing, and the placement "feel?"
For the newbie tutorial (first 6 or so levels) in addition to the little valley you first begin your adventures in the "real" world in (probably up to level 10 or so) the design felt very, very, and I mean VERY linear and forced.
No room for deviation, not much room for exploration, a very controlled space with hard walls and physical barriers to keep you contained.
But then you leave that tiny little valley... and a whole world opens up to you. Quite a "night and day" difference. Suddenly you find yourself in an expansive, open environment with many small little hubs, expansive fields, tons of room for exploration, and a real sense of grandeur.
Freemarch was massive, getting a mount at level 20 will surely help out a lot. I never felt like I was running forever (aka oh God I'm back in the Barrens!) but definitely a hike.
Verdict - I'm interested to see how the other zones, especially mid and high level zones play out.
8/10 for generic and maybe TOO newbie friendly starter areas, impressive and expansive world I can actually feel OK calling a world, and for well designed quest hubs I have no pressure to pay attention to.
Story and questing:
Hard to say to be honest. I didn't read too many quests because I don't want to spoil any story come release. That being said, the general story/lore of the two factions is varied and interesting, the battle between blind faith and blind reliance on technology.
I did play and read enough on both sides to appreciate how well that dichotomy is played out on either side. One quest via Guardians would say something like "We were trying to get across the bridge to save Bunnies from heretics when the vile Defiants blew it up" and on the Defiant side they'd say "We had to blow up the bridge to prevent the Witch-Hunting fanatics of the Guardians from coming and burning our books."
Very interesting, yet I feel in NO way qualified to comment further on the story.
As for the questing itself, it's pretty standard fair MMO stuff. Go here, kill this, bring me back this, etc.
Quest hubs would offer a couple of quests, maybe a small chain, always near the hub, and then send you to another hub. Very much influenced by the WoW-Cataclysm quest design rather then the Vanilla WoW "run back and forth till you pass out of boredom" questing model.
To be honest though I never felt pressured to quest. There are enough other things to do to help level up and enjoy your play time, unless the quest had a really good reward that was better then something I could craft, I generally skipped many of them.
Verdict- Pretty standard stuff here, but some interesting story/lore. Will have to really wait and see.
7/10 for generic MMO questing, some interesting and well done story elements, but props for not forcing it down our throats if we choose to pass.
Now into the real meat and potatoes.
First off, yes, in Rift you will have to kill things. A lot of things. I imagine it would be quite impossible to avoid killing stuff to advance in this game. No 100% crafters or non-violent options really.
That being said, the combat feels very much like WoW, but a little slower and more deliberate.
I'd say the pace of combat in Rift is somewhere between the button mashing bunny hopping face roll of WoW and the slower, more tactical EQ2 and/or LOTRO.
I was bored to tears of combat in EQ2 and LOTRO, and can happily say that I think Trion got the pace just right, right in the "sweet spot" between that and the ADD Mountain Dew hyped combat of WoW.
The combat does "feel" very responsive and polished. I remember in WAR there was a noticeable delay between hitting a button and bad things actually happening to your opponent, which drove me absolutely batty. Rift does again feel like WoW in the aspect that it does feel fluid and responsive, which is a good thing.
Resource management seems to play a large role. The Rogue archetype has combo points, which some complain about "stealing from WoW" but honestly it works well even for the ranged Rogue souls.
The Mage types build up Focus I think it's called? Something to be spent on more powerful attacks etc. while the Warriors have a system very similar to the WoW Retribution Paladins. Attacks build up a maximum of three stacks of Attack Points which can then be used for more powerful attacks and buffs/debuffs.
I will admit my knowledge of those three Archetypes is limited, as the game/souls/archetypes really don't "open up" till after level 10 or so, just like the world design. The only character I leveled up higher then that was a Cleric.
Clerics use mana and resource management doesn't seem to be an issue at all UNLESS you are healing, then mana becomes a balancing act or Regen vs. healing Throughput. As a DPS caster/melee DPS/tank the Cleric had very little need to manage their mana. Depending on what Soul you chose, like the Cabalist you've have other types of resource management.
Cabalist could channel a DoT spell that built up stacks (up to 3) you could then detonate for either massive single target damage or an AoE field of DoT damage. It really reminded me of a cross between a WoW Shadow Priest and Warlock, mixed in with a healthy dose of Shockadin/Discipline priest.
However, there are some gripes and/or concerns.
I found tab targeting to be a little off. I think generally when I'd tab-target I'd want it to cycle between enemies in my line of site directly in front of my character, but instead it seemed to do it's targeting cycle in an arc in front of my character, which often times left me to only be able to use the mouse and click on a specific mob to target it - which during fast paced Rifts or Invasions was a problem.
By level 10 or so you generally have a fair number of abilities already from your 3 chosen souls, and some are duplicates or simply not as powerful as their counterpart unless talented. I guess this is not a bad thing per say, but it does feel wasted unlocking cloned abilities you will never likely use in combat.
Verdict - A lot of potential, some kinks to work out, a good feel, yet nothing really new (which I don't think is really a bad thing i.e. it's comfortable.)
7/10 for doing things primarily right and good.
The one topic people have generally across the board been very favorable towards, and I am no different.
I love the Soul system in Rifts.
Each soul has a type, they can be either Offensive, Support, Healing, or Defensive.
I believe the Warrior archetype has primarily Offensive and Defensive souls, the Mage type has Offensive, Support, and Healing souls, the Rogue type Offensive, Defensive, and a Support soul, while the Cleric has Offensive, Healing, and Defensive.
There are the very "obvious" builds, the all out DPS choosing 3 offensive souls, the all out healer two healing + a defensive, the main Tank primarily Defensive etc.
The game even gives you recommendations as to which souls pair well together, and it is tempting to listen to their recommendations...
But go off the beaten path, create your own Soul combinations, and prepare for the most joyous of joys!
Want to be a stealthy assassin who also uses explosives and can tank? Go ahead. How about a melee heavy DPS Cleric who can summon companions and heal? Sure.
It all comes down to how you spend your points in a tree.
Splitting your points somewhat evenly across your three Souls makes for a very well balanced build I've found to be unmatched for solo play, questing, and minor/group based invasions.
Specializing in a specific soul as a primary and use the other two as support seems highly favorable for group play via dungeons or the larger, raid level Rift and Invasion events.
It is a versatile, extremely customizable and well done system. In terms of balance, it's really hard to say at level sub-20, but no matter what combination of Souls I chose I felt very effective and powerful.
Balance is going to be the hard part. With this many options, some are going to be overpowered and some underpowered. Be prepared for a WoW like constant balancing act of buffs/nerfs via patches. I honestly don't know what MMO is really all too different, but it will not be perfect.
Also I'd highly expect players to be rail-roaded into min/max specs for a given role for high level group and raid content. Honestly, that's to be expected.
But the GREAT thing is you get 4 builds you can save and switch between freely and you can unlock and use all 8 souls for a given Archetype to make your builds. So with one character, you can literally play the equivalent of multiple classes and multiple roles from other MMOs.
So you may have a solo-friendly "balanced" build for questing, some light Rift hopping and PvP, a role-tailored build for dungeons, raiding, and major Rift/invasion play, a full on PvP build, and still have another slot to play a completely different role.
Verdict- Extremely impressive and well done/thought out - well it be balanced? Probably never. But with 4 soul builds to save and 8 souls available on a single character, the possibilities and pros outweigh the cons significantly.
9/10 for truly innovative and unique design, yet a handicap for constant balance issues.
Another of the heavy hitters. The game is named after them and they are certainly a major selling point for the game.
There is a lot of information on Rifts out there, so instead of describing I'll try and instead give my viewpoints and feelings on my experiences with Rifts.
Your basic Rift forming and playing through is fairly straight forward and basic. Very similar to WAR's public quests, including the great Public Grouping features. Though the number of Rifts that spawn are dependent on the player population in a zone, and the difficulty of a Rift is suppose to scale with the number of players participating, I found that they do not scale up enough.
In the heavily populated starter zones of the Beta, the minor Rifts would come and go far too quickly. You'd barely have time to switch targets and cast a few spells/get a few hits in before the mobs would die. Randomly joining up in a public group to complete a Rift, blaze through it quickly, and then leave the group to continue questing etc. was a bit disappointing.
I can very easily see this becoming a rep/gear grind rather quickly rather then a fundamental game system.
That being said, Major Rifts and invasions are a whole different story. Playing with a small to medium sized group/raid and hopping from Rift to Rift was a lot of fun. Major Rift invasion could easily wipe a raid and were a very intuitive blend of chaos and coordination. Combined with boss encounters, the territorial control mechanics of defending outposts and cities while also going on the offensive to shut down Footholds was a very unique and Dynamic game play element unlike any I've experienced in a MMO.
Also, when fortunate enough to be part of a small group tackling a major Rift was quite challenging, requiring the fundamental basics of group dynamics and party play. As you level up the Rifts would start popping out Elite mobs and provide a real challenge and epic sense of danger and completion when finally able to overcome the enemies and close the Rift. Many phases of the Rift being on timers really gave a sense of urgency and importance to these major events.
Verdict - Scaling needs to be ramped up a notch or two to lengthen the encounter and really present a level of danger requiring coordination and cooperation vs. whack-a-mole zerging. Invasions and major Rift events are priceless and extremely well done.
9/10 for some tweaking/balancing to be done on top of an incredibly fun and interesting mechanic that really does bring something new to the MMO genre.
Not much to say here. It's good, it's fairly standard, combined with adding desired stats onto items and dying of armors, better then WoW but no where near as complete a crafting system as other MMO titles.
I did really enjoy that all crafting professions I tried allowed you to deconstruct items you find/loot/make in order to get some material resources back. I also noticed in the capital daily quests for resources that unlocked new recipes.
Verdict - Not quite sure how deep the rabbit hole goes, but on the surface both functional and useful, yet not a major game element as I've seen it.
7/10 for uncertainty as to what high-level brings.
I never PvP'd during Beta 5, but plan on making it a primary focus during Beta 6.
That being said, I think many of the open-world dynamics of objective control, invasions, etc. coupled with the potential for open-world PvP and especially on PvP servers could allow for a LOT of great potential for Rift to be free from the grinding based instanced PvP that ruined WAR and ruined WoW.
Verdict - We'll wait and see. Again balance could be a problem.
6/10 for hope.
Chat channels were terrible, so many WoW references and griping, much like your typical fourm... however I did find players to be generally helpful with questions, and there will be a LOT of debate and discussion over the details and finer points of the Soul system, which always leads to stronger community.
Verdict - your mileage will vary, but in general Trion is trying to make it easy to socialize and play well with others. Let's hope it works.
7/10 for Barrens chat, generally helpful and fostering a good discussion mixed with many social opportunities.
No idea. Never did any. I'm not sure anyone has done raids yet, but plenty of videos up on dungeons. Look to be fairly standard role based party structure, however reports of difficulty seem to be closer to Vanilla WoW/BC standards versus Wrath standards, i.e. likely not face roll and providing some challenge.
Verdict - I have high hopes, and I believe my high hopes are justified.
7/10 for hope and very positive feedback.
THE FINAL VERDICT
If you have read this long I applaud you.
I think Rift does a lot of things right. It's familiar, it's comfortable, and it's pretty standardized. Many would say this makes in a WoW clone or EQ clone etc., but I am rather of the opinion that it is smart game design to take what works, refine it, add your own flavorings, bake to perfection, and enjoy without guilt.
If you dislike WoW or EQ etc. and are more of a EvE/Darkfall etc. fan, this game probably isn't for you.
That being said, the Soul system is amazing and fresh, and the Rifts and Invasion are unique and interesting in with a few tweaks here and there could really be a major evolutionary step forward for the genre.
The level of polish and professionalism I have experienced playing Rift and researching Trion, listening to their development diaries etc. tells me that these guys and gals really do know what they are doing.
It may not be the game for you, but over all it is a very well done game and I'd strongly recommend it to any fan of the genre.
There are still two Beta events left (I think only two) so we'll see if my opinion changes after spending a lot more time with this baby, but all signs point to that I will continue to solidify my opinion as I play that this is a good game, plain and simple.
Thanks for reading.