I had a chance to take Rift for a test-drive after snagging one of their VIP beta keys that were being handed out on Fileplanet. I really have not been following the game very closely to be honest until a few of my guild members mentioned it. When the opportunity came up, I decided to go take a look at their Beta 3 event.
I have been reading up about the game on the forums here and in some other places and I noticed that a lot of the feedback was sort of mixed on whether or not the game offered any innovations or if it was more of the same. All that being said, I'll admit I went into this with pretty low expectations given a lot of what I read. Regardless getting the beta up and running was fairly painless, so let's go take a look.
Character creation starts off with you picking your race. Now normally in a lot of games, the race you pick can often times be trivial outside of cosmetic appearance. Your racial pick does seem possibly a bit more relevant in the fact that each race does get some unique abilities. I honestly did not get a chance to play the game out far enough during the Beta 3 event to find out if they really matter, but I figured that it is worth mentioning if you have an idea of sort of class archetype you are leaning towards. Either way there are 3 races for each of the 2 sides, I ended up going with Guardian during the beta event.
Once you race is nailed down, you'll be asked to chose from one of four different classic class archetypes. This pretty much puts you under an umbrella of 8 other classes in that archetype that you will be dabbling with during your character's life, but I'll explain more on that a bit later. Once that's settled it's time to customize your appearance. I'd say this phase offers a moderate amount of options, definitely a lot more than probably WoW and WAR offer, but not quite to the degree that Aion gave. Still I have to say it was a bit more than I was expecting given how low I set the bar for myself.
As your first foot steps into the world, you'll be greeted with that all too familiar user interface that seems to have been copy and pasted into every MMO since 2004, which may not necessarily be a bad thing to a lot of people who will instantly understand what they are looking at. Not only is the UI familiar, but many of the same hotkeys are also present for quickly pulling up your character, opening your backpack, and checking your quest log. Just in case you were dropped on your head as a baby, Rift comes with a tutorial that breaks it down for you holding your hand down to pretty much every detail. Not a bad thing for an MMO newcomer, but most people will probably turn this off instantly. Fishing around in the various option menus, I did find a UI customizer that lets you rearrange every aspect of the UI.
As soon as you get your bearings you are greeted by your first quest giver who has the all to familiar icon over their head. This first quest essentially is a device in which you end up deciding on which of the 8 classes in your archetype you will be. I personally was looking to play some sort of range archer type class, so I ended up picking the rogue set at character creation. Under that umbrella I was about to chose from a variety of different classes (6 out of the 8 visible in above screenshot). I ended up settling for marksman as my first choice and went on my merry way to start doing some quests in the starter area, which is not really connected to the main world at all. Questing in general is exactly like every other theme park MMO in recent memory, that being the standard "kill ten rats" and collection quests for the most part.
The newbie areas kind of surprised me with the shear amount of chaos going on around you when you walk outside the starting building. For a game that seemed hell bent on holding my hand and coddling me in the tutorial, the starter areas drops new players in the middle of some sort of massive battle where monsters seem to be mounting some sort of assault. These standard quests lead you through pushing through their line ultimately up to a rift encounter which introduces you to one of the key mechanics the game is based around. Overall graphically, the game struck me as a little underwhelming at first. The graphics are clearly nowhere near the Aion level, but on par or slightly better then Warhammer Online (although its been a while since I've played WAR so I could be mistaken). I think once I got out of the chaos of the starter area, the graphics and performance seemed to increase substantially. By the time you step foot in the real world, your character will have chosen 2 more souls (classes) to accompany your primary class you originally picked.
The class system is one of two aspects of the game that I experienced that jumped out at me as very interesting. In most MMOs the player picks their class and that's pretty much locks in you in for the rest of your character's life. Rift allows you to take on upwards of 3 classes in total to help players customize for themselves how exactly they want their character to progress. The above screenshot shows my characters skill tree given the classes that I chose, Marksman primary, with Assassin and Ranger secondary. You may want to click HERE for a larger version so you can examine it easier. This system pretty much takes the standard 3 talent tree system we see to an elevated level.
You'll notice that each of the class trees has a top area where points are spent, and a bottom area which dictates at what point investment level new skills are unlocked. To use my own goals as an example, I wanted to create a ranged DPS class that could stealth and have a pet. My primary class Marksman to my knowledge fulfilled my role of being a ranged single target DPS type. By taking on Assassin as a secondary, the ability for me to acquire stealth became an option after a 4 point investment into that tree. By taking on Ranger as another secondary, I gained access to the pet, hence completing my vision of what I wanted my class to be (we won't ague the viability of my picks for the sake of argument, but you get the idea). Now being that I picked Rogue at character creation, that means that theoretically I can mix and match and 3 of the 8 subclasses under the Rogue umbrella of classes. The good news is that Rift allows you to change any and all of your class choices in game in the form of a respec, including your primary. This gives the player a lot more insurance in case they decide maybe another class in their chosen archetype is more desirable than their initial choice. Word on the street is that when your character reaches the max level of 50, you should have 66 points to spread around among your 3 different trees.
Moving away from the class system, the second aspect of the game that jumped at out me as being interesting was the Rift system. The simple way to explain Rift events would be to compare them to the public quest system found in Warhamer Online. They are public events that have multiple phases that involve PvE encounters in which players contribute towards completing, and in turn get rewarded in the form of faction reputation and token items. The token items can then be cashed in at the appropriate NPC for various item rewards. Rift's can be spotted easily by the fact that players will notice a large wormhole in the sky with tentacles flying out of it, and they are also conveniently marked on the map. So far everything sounds pretty similar to WAR's PQ system.
Upon further examination there seems to be a bit more to this system that I originally thought. In addition to the public quest aspect, Rift's also add a dynamic mechanic to the environment in several ways. For starters, the location in which the Rift's appear is not static. During the Beta 3 event, I noticed Rifts opening everywhere including right in quest hubs where the monsters slaughtered all of the local NPC's. In addition, if a Rift opens and is left unchecked it starts to spit out raid size monster armies that roam the countryside and even launch attacks on towns. During the end of beta testing, an incident occurred where many Rifts open simultaneously literally decimated the area I was questing in (see above screenshot). Players had to get together and push back the monster armies and seal up the Rifts to try to restore order. Finally worth mentioning is that I found participation in rifts to be a pretty good means of leveling compared to doing the generic quests, at least in the lower levels I experienced.
Now that we covered the two main aspects that jumped out at me, I want to quickly skim over and weigh in on some other aspects of the game. There seems to be some sort of PvP system built into the game in some form, but in all honesty I did not have a chance to experience it at length. As a guild we made sure to roll on a PvP server in the beta, and I did some enemy players in my leveling area. Despite being on a PvP server, they were not allowed to attack me without me getting flagged for PvP by attacking them. This kind of left me wondering what the real difference between the PvP server and the normal ruleset is. That being said, I did notice there are some sort of PvP levels and there are rewards at a store than can be bought for some sort of tokens or points from PvP. I noticed the usual array of items of various power levels, but also I noticed a special PvP soul (class) available for purchase for each archetype. Whether there is enough meat to the PvP system I can't really say at this time, but I think this missing variable will be key to determining the game's longevity.
There is a lot of discussion on the forums here and elsewhere that Rift is very generic in a lot of aspects compared to other theme park MMOs. I have to say after playing the Beta that there is indeed a lot of weight to this opinion. Combat is generic, questing is generic, crafting is generic, the world overall seems very generic. Touching on the topic of the world itself, it does strike me as very linear and on the rails, at least from what I've seen so far. I think Rift will suffer from Aion syndrome in terms of leveling up additional characters may force you through the exact same content you did the first time around, as opposed to WoW and WAR which offer a variety of different locations at different level ranges. The only saving grace here is since you can juggle your class around within your own archetype, it should reduce the need to roll an alt somewhat.
Despite how generic most aspects of the game are, the good news is the game does seem fully functional and not a complete debacle like some other recent games. There seems to be a decent amount of polish and a lot of the things you expect in an MMO are there and working. I visited and used a working auction house, used the mail system, tried to create a guild (although didn't have enough time to get my friends to sign the charter), and saw a working achievement system akin to WAR's tome of knowledge. For all intents and purposes, Rift's systems seems to work and does what it sets out to do.
The question is will it be enough? Honestly at this stage I have to say it is definitely too soon to tell. If you are sick to death of the theme park formula, this game will send you to the hospital. If your OK with this type of game, you may find Rift to offer some new twists on an old formula. I think how the PvP shakes out will be critical to seeing if this game can weather the storm of new MMOs that might be coming in the next year. If the PvP falls a bit short, I can't imagine players having much reason to ride Rift out any longer than the next big thing like Guild Wars 2 which won't have any sub fee. Of course if you've been around the block for a while you know that a lot of balls have been dropped in these parts, so I guess anything is possible. I guess we will have to wait and see what is revealed in future beta phases to ascertain a more complete picture of Rift.
Co-Leader of Inquisition