So I figured I'd do a follow up to my post-beta 5 impressions.
I will once again try and remain objective, though of course my own bias is nearly unavoidable.
This will be another long post, but I will try and format and highlight the key points/scorings for easy skimming.
I'll say once again I have a very old PC. My newish Nvidia GT 430 really just doesn't have the horse-power to do this game justice. That being said, I ran this phase of beta on the lowest possible settings, the absolute minimums to maintain 30+ fps at a playable rate.
I experienced no graphical glitches or anomalies, yet without all the lighting and shadow effects etc. I probably wouldn't have noticed any engine-wise graphical issues anyway.
Verdict: Extremely playable if you meet the minimum requirements, but don't expect much.
Score - 8/10 for scalability.
Trion used this beta to try and bring their servers down, to see how much load they could really handle. I must say, that I am impressed.
Massive invasions did NOT bring the server I was playing on down (Lotham PvP) at least not when I was playing. I would get a slight decrease in FPS with some stuttering during massive events with anywhere from dozens to a hundred players on screen, but I do still strongly feel this was due to the general crappiness of my PC rather then their network code.
There were a handful of times during a large invasion when I was near the Defiant capital of Meridian that I would not be able to target a mob - I'd click on it, it'd highlight then un-highlight. I'd have to physically aggro the mob with proximity to get the targeting to "stick" and they'd occasional rubber-band to melee range on me.
Verdict: Very solid.
Score - 9/10 for playability, massive scale, consistent good performance.
Won't cover this one too much in depth. You either like it or you don't. It's fairly generic high fantasy with a heavy resemblance to Warhammer Online. Again I will say that their are flashes of brilliance in some of the characters/mobs/architecture or armor/weapon models.
Verdict: Like it or don't like it, too subjective really.
Score - 7/10 for lack of originality, however a style I personally enjoy due to the simplistic Medieval feel.
I quested enough throughout both the Defiant and Guardian style to get a better feel of the story. Reading through quest text, there is a strong narrative that drives the otherwise mundane quests. The story does flow between points logically and upon completing all the quests in the Defiant starter zone I was rewarded with some sense of completion for the story of the zone.
That being said, the story really finishes in the instance for the zone, the Iron Tombs.
In terms of lore, Trion has done an incredible job. Nearly NPC you talk to has an option to click to hear a bit more about them, the area you are in, their story, etc. There are dozens of books and artifacts to collect that each are readable and content tidbits of story and history and lore.
Verdict: It may be fairly generic fantasy stuff, religion vs. science etc., but it's very well done and presented in a way that the explorer is rewarded for their efforts.
Score - 8/10 for generic yet extremely well done.
Questing (direction, variety, etc.)-
Questing in Rift is very typical, standard fair MMO stuff. That being said, it is more along the lines of Wrath of the Lich King / Cataclysm questing from WoW versus Vanilla/Burning Crusade questing.
There are a lot of quests, and they are mostly the same 4-5 types. Kill, collect, interact, travel. There is a good sense of pacing and flow. You generally go from hub to hub, not staying at a specific hub for too long, instead doing a few quests/chains then moving on to the next hub. I find this to be very good considering the zone feels extremely large, even after you get a mount so there is not too much running around.
The quest rewards are also very nice and frequent. That progressive sense of power-growth via items that accompanies character growth via leveling up is balanced well.
*NOTE* major point here you shouldn't miss. I quested levels 1-15 entirely in a two player group with my brother. The additional XP for being in a group counters the XP split for killing mobs extremely well. Also, kills are counted for both players and more importantly, if a mob drops an item you need to collect, BOTH players can loot it off of the same mob.
This is huge. Now, collecting items in the open world still required each player to find and collect their own quantity, but respawn rates were fairly high.
What this really means is that there is NO disadvantage to questing in a party. In fact, due to the congestion of MOBs in some questing areas, it's actually easier and more efficient to quest in a group because you have less chance of dying when you pull 3-4 mobs by accident, which happens more then you might enjoy and generally kills you unless you can self-heal or tank them all.
I have heard at higher levels questing becomes more challenging and pretty much requires you to either group or be able to self-heal or tank multiple mobs. The implications of this combined with what I have experienced?
Party play in the open world is back! If you want to solo grind quests to max level, you may have extreme difficulty unless you choose a fairly balanced spec capable of self healing, crowd control, damage reduction etc.
This may infuriate and drive off many more WoW-experienced gamers. It may sell to more traditional/party friendly MMO veterans. That being said, Trion gives you FOUR talent specs at a time for a reason - more later on that.
In the last few quest chains/quest area in the Defiant zone of Freemarch, I found the mob congestion + difficulty to be too high for my Warrior to solo effectively as a purely DPS spec. I spent too much time drinking to recover after fights, had to be extremel careful about pulling, etc. After switching my souls to a defensive tank build (primarily Reaver - DoT based defensive tank) I was able to survive much easier and take 2-3 or more mobs at a time, but killed individual mobs much slower.
Verdict: Very standard MMO questing, but done learning the lessons of other MMOs in terms of flow/pacing. Incredibly well-fit for grouping, with some much needed challenge.
Score - 8/10 for bringing nothing new to the table, but doing it as well as the other guys in a "modern" way. Bonus points for group play and increased difficulty!
Both the Defiant and Guardian starting zones feel very large. Where as the Defiant zone is more open, more fields and plains kind of thing, the Guardian is a sacred forest setting. Again, I must point out that the starter experience, the first 7-8 levels in the tutorial area + the little valley on either side of the bridge are VERY linear and small. Almost claustrophobic.
After this point though, the game world really opens up. Sticking to the roads/paths will certainly keep your travels faster and safer, but there is a LOT of terrain to explore off the beaten road. At least, it FEELS like there is a lot.
I think part of that is due to the relatively slow movement speed of characters. You don't seem to run as fast as other games like WoW.
I did some questing and exploring in the second tier zone for the Defiant, the Stonefield, and this zone has a bit of a northern-highlands kind of mountainous/Scotland feel to it. This zone also feels extremely huge even with a mount, though in comparison to Freemarch (Defiant first tier zone) it doesn't look as big due to the mountainous terrain that is impassable and must be travelled around, not over. i.e. you can't see as far in a particular direction due to the mountains.
The dungeon I went in, the Iron Tombs, feels very much like a traditional crypt/dungeon. Dark, moody, atmospheric. The general layout was easy to understand and follow, and it felt very much in place in the world of Rift.
That being said, like was said in the Art Style section, it's quite the generic tomb. My group didn't finish the instance (more on that later) but overall I'd say it was designed well and of a scale similar to maybe the original Wailing Cavens in WoW - so quite large and sprawling.
Verdict: Solid design, massive feel if not massive real-estate, variety and continuity. Still have to see high level zones to judge.
Score - 8/10 for a well designed world that feels more open and larger then it really is, reserving some judgment for higher level zones and dungeons.
I once again went the armorsmith route on my warrior to craft my own armor. It is fairly easy to keep your crafting skills up to pace with your gear needs as you level, i.e. you can make stuff you actually use. Also, I really like how if you are crafting gear simply to use up mats/try and grind out points in your profession, you can de-construct the "trash" crafted items for a chance to regain some of the material costs, thus allowing you to grind up a bit more, faster, to get to unlock more useful recipes.
Again, no idea what crafting is like at max level. Not much experience with any crafting outside of the armorsmith route.
Verdict: So much I do not know, but what I have seen is pretty standard with some nice twists/additions.
Score - 7/10 for doing nothing "wrong" and some things right, with a fair dose of uncertainty.
Nothing new to report. I widely stayed away from Rifts this beta as I was more focused on leveling via questing and PvP to get a more varied and wider viewpoint. I did a LOT of Rifting in Beta 5.
Just go read my previous blog lol but I'll sum up my feelings for ya.
Verdict: Very solid, invasions have extremely high potential, nice deviation/break from questing, certainly adds a lot to the over-all gameplay but revolutionary? Remains to be seen.
Score - 8/10 for invasions and for deviation/distraction.
Definitely have a bit more to say about this after Beta 6. Both positive and negative.
On the positive side, the system works well and each build feels different. Having so many choices per class to choose from is amazing, yet also maddening! I spent a lot of gold and time respeccing trying to find a build that was "perfect" for me... however in the end, at least for me, there was no perfect build - they all had their strengths and weaknesses. Which I put down as a positive.
On the negative side, balance did seem a little off this time around. In both PvE and PvP it seems that Clerics were just godly with their self-healing and defensive abilities, coupled with solid damage output it made questing and Rifts etc. so much easier.
As a Warrior, I could take one mob down quick very easily, two mobs without dying but I'd generally have to spend some time recovering after. As a Tank/defensive Warrior I'd be able to take 2-3 mobs without having to recover after, but killing was quite a bit slower.
However on my cleric... I could take on 4-5 mobs my level or higher and just DoT them up, shield myself, heal myself, burn them down, beat them down... it made the leveling experience 10 times easier, if not necessarily as fast.
My brothers Rogue could burn down mobs twice as fast as I could on my Warrior, and thus could take on a few more at a time and just burn them down fast enough to not die as often. So maybe it was just that the Warrior DPS builds were extremely underpowered this round of Beta. We'll see how things are patched out for the next phase.
*NOTE* I think we are going to be somewhat pigeon holed into certain soul builds for leveling as a given class. You need, and I mean really need some survivability and/or healing to quest comfortably. I guess that is why Trion gives us four builds at a time, and it's remarkably cheap to purchase your first alternate build.
Verdict: Still a great system, so many choices and the ability to store four builds at a time is great, but the balance did feel off this cycle and COULD be indicative of things to come... which worries me.
Score - 7/10 for some extreme balance issues within an incredibly good system.
I only played the one dungeon, Iron Tombs, and only twice and didn't get far at all the first time, and only two bosses down the second time.
Why? It was hard.
The first time the Cleric tank (Justicar) just wasn't cutting it. No threat output, no situational awareness, was a nightmare right from the start. I was ranged DPS on my Cleric (Inquisitor/Cabalist.)
The second run, I tried tanking on my Cleric as Justicar. Extremely difficult. Threat generation seemed really bad and even being a few levels higher then the "starting" level of the dungeon and being decently geared, I was just taking stupid amounts of damage the healer could not keep up with.
Maybe it was partially the healer, but my general assumption/deduction was that the Cleric is NOT meant to be a main tank, more of a back-up tank/healer combo or off-tank type. This could change at higher levels, but sub-20 I just didn't feel like the class could hack it. I was running low on mana nearly every pull trying to maintain threat.
This is coming from someone who has tanked everything in WoW for 6+ years.
There are nice additions here, instead of marking the targets with symbols the group leader can put numbers over the mobs heads - 1,2,3 etc. which made coordination on the fly much easier. Telling people "focus on number one first then move on to two" was simply easier then some skull/x/square kind of order.
I think even these low level dungeons (15+ for Iron Tombs) are going to require at least one dedicated main tank (warrior) and main healer (cleric) to have a smooth run unless you grossly out level them.
By dedicated I mean all 3 souls defensive tank souls for the MT, 3 healing souls for the main-healer etc.
That being said, the other three group members can add a LOT to the party's chance of success by off-healing, crowd control, debuffs/buffs etc. Having a rogue who had a Bard third spec was extremely useful for buffing and off-healing.
So in that sense, this dungeon really reminded me of a classic WoW dungeon, but a level 50-60 dungeon in the amount of coordination and dedication to one's role that was required.
The boss mechanics I saw were interesting. The first boss was a straight up tank and spank with periods of higher damage output, this made having a Bard off-heal extremely useful. The second boss had two phases, there were actually three mobs you'd first kill one at a time, a healer, a tank/melee dps, and a caster dps. After they all died once they all rezzed and you had to take all three at once.
Extremely challenging for our group. We ended up having the Rogue switch to his full healing Bard spec so we had two healers, and had the other Rogue with Ranger use his pet to off-tank one of them while we burned the rest down.
Some may hate this, but I am very intrigued. I guess only having one dungeon per 10 level range (at least during level up) they made the dungeons long, sprawling, "epic," and challenging.
Verdict: Newer MMO players may absolutely hate them, but fans of older EQ/vanilla WoW style dungeons have a lot to look forward to. You will need to multi-task and bring more to the table then high dps to be successful.
Score- 8/10 for high hopes and solid party based game play with a decent challenge.
I did a fair amount of PvP on both my cleric (17-18) and Warrior (ended up at 20). I'll talk first about world PvP... I didn't see any on Lotham.
The zones are divided in such a way that the first two zones for each side (probably till about level 30ish) are completely separate from the other side, yet the 2nd teir zone (19+) on a PvP server auto-flagged you for being a contested zone.
I believe the third tier zone (and possibly every zone after) is contested as well as contains content for both sides and thus world PvP is MUCH more frequent (on PvP server or if flagged) and I believe this is where they really start with the open-world PvP objectives to capture/control.
I just don't know. Next phase I'll have to try and get a toon up to that level range and into the third tier zone.
In terms of instanced PvP, the Warfronts... if you played Warhammer Online skirmishes, you know what to expect. An Arathi Basin style capture/control points around the map that opens up in the 20-30 range. A "hold the briefcase" that opens up in the 10-19 range...
Mechanics felt solid, not at all glitchy and felt very fluid like WoW battlegrounds versus the mess that was WAR PvP.
*NOTE* Balance and strategy though.. really hard to say. I ran a couple of Warfronts with my brother (Cleric) as a pocket-healer for me (Warrior) and I pretty much dominated. Still felt like I was killing pretty slow though.
If they enemy has a healer, you've got to focus fire and take them out. They can easily heal through 1-2 players damage output. It's bad. Real bad. Generally you'd have 3-4 players focused on killing a Healer which made the Healer stick to only healing themselves, which left the rest of your team capable of focusing down the other enemy players. If they had multiple healers cross-healing themselves and each other... good luck. No way to beat that.
Having a raid leader who marked focused targets (1,2,3 etc.) made thing 10000000x times easier and vastly improved chances of winning the match.
One on one, if you are fighting a healer you have to out-last them, which is hard to do. You have to out-last their mana pool, I found it impossible as a Warrior or Cleric (ranged dps) to out-burst their healing potential.
In non-healer vs. non-healers 1vs1 fights I found things to be quite balanced. By the upper teens it's easy to have snares/roots in your arsenal as both melee and ranged as well as some counters like fears/dispells.
The healing is a major, major problem. It's way too powerful in PvP.
That being said, healing felt extremely UNDERpowered in PvE dungeons... as we have seen in WoW over the years, it's an extremely difficult balancing act to get right.
Verdict: Ran smoothly and well, didn't see any world PvP but know it is there, balance is quite a mess with healers absolutely dominating this cycle. We'll have to see what changes Trion makes.
Score- 5/10 for being playable and fun but it's 100% about team composition and coordination (i.e. healing) right now.
It's beta right now, it's free to play and just about anyone who wants a key can get one quite easily. So in my opinion you have to take community with a grain of salt, it will not reflect the community at launch.
That being said... this beta phase it was like going back in time to WoW Barrens chat. It was awful. Real, real awful.
Generally players you ran into in the world were nice, helpful.. they wouldn't ninja your quest objectives (obviously some @$$holes out there would) and if you pulled too many by accident many times another player would jump in and help you out.
I found it completely and 100% necessary this beta to customize my chat settings, to make a new window that only gave me system/server/game world messages as well as party/raid/PMs.
The chat was just.. unbearable.
HOPEFULLY when the game is released all the complete and total MORONS who apparently spent their entire play time trolling the chat channels talking about WoW and how much this, that, or the other thing sucked will be no where to be found.
But, like on these very forums at MMORPG.com, the idiots usually have the loudest voice and are most plentiful.
Verdict: Please, dear God and baby Jesus, don't let these whiney, self centered, cry-baby trolls even touch a keyboard ever again.. or my ignore list is going to be huge!
Score: 2/10 for the "magic" of mostly-open-beta free-loader chat channels.
Rift is a good game. There are some issues that still need to be worked out before launch. Hopefully players were smart enough to actually provide in game feedback or feedback on the beta forums instead of just bitching on MMORPG.com forums or their own whiney blogs. I did both :)
I do have a sneaking suspicion that this game will grow tired and old for those who do not embrace the social experience of the MMO genre via guilds, partying to level, dungeons, Rift groups that actually talk to each other and communicate etc.
I think Trion is really pushing for a return of the really social aspect of MMO gaming. They are making it completely possible to solo to the top but I don't think it's going to be an enjoyable experience for those who do when compared to a game like WoW where it's easier, faster, and with the use of their Phasing tech tells a better story.
For the group play, guild friendly, social/communicative types I think Rift is going to be a wonderful experience for.
So in that sense, Rift really is a bit more "old school" and kind of a return to some of the basics, while presenting them in a modern/current way.
I should also note that the level of polish and professionalism displayed by Trion both in and out of game is top notch. If anything, having faith in them as a developer gives this game a lot of hope and the potential to live up to its promises, which is something that many of us who were jaded by some of the more recent releases should be happy about.