It’s been a while since I was able dig into Rift’s beta. Previously, I wrote my beta preview on about ten-plus hours I spent on the Alpha server. Don’t ask me how I got in there, as I’m entirely clueless myself. It wasn’t a “press” thing, according to their PR. But the beta client and the alpha client are entirely different beasts. For the purpose of stress-testing and preparing for launch, lots of different things are running in terms of the Rift themselves on the beta servers, and of course there’s the whole way more people playing part of it as well. I was able to put in a few hours during this most recent beta event, and I came away as impressed as I was with my initial take on the game up to level 20 or so on the alpha servers. The downside is that the alpha and beta experience are separated from one another, so I had to begin life anew as a Defiant (the Guardians are sissies).
I was pleased to find that there are some pretty cool Zach Snyder-styled slow-mo cinematics to get you up to speed with where you begin life in the game. It’s probably been covered to death considering how the NDA’s been down for ages, but as a Defiant you begin the game at what amounts to essentially the end of the world. Your people are valiantly struggling to send you back in time using the last of their great technological power as the world crumbles around them. Your mission (and you sort of have to accept it, no choice here): to help stop the dragons from being called forth and Regulos (big baddy) from destroying everyone and everything in existence.
The opening area is actually extremely well done, and I feel though it may be damning praise, gave me the same feeling Warhammer Online did when it launched. That is to say that before the curtain came crashing down on WAR, it was undeniable that its early game was rock-solid and a whole lot of fun. It really felt like a war was raging. In Rift, I really felt like I stumbled into the end of a world, the screen was shaking, the atmosphere is ripe with havoc, and it all sets the tone very well. The folks at Trion should be given an A+ on presentation, that’s for sure.
Initially back on the Alpha server I was a bit saddened to find that Rift played largely like so many games before it. For some reason, though no one in the company had ever promised otherwise, I was expecting perhaps something a bit more unique in terms of how it played. That said, coming into the Beta 5, knowing that Rift is essentially a highly polished traditional fantasy MMORPG, I found myself enjoying the content much more. The pain of letdown is tempered by expectation, and after some time off from Rift my expectations changed and I found the gameplay rather enticing. Is it still the same ol’ song and dance with hotkeys and quest-hubs and collect-a-crafting? Yep. But it’s well done, and as long as I can appreciate it for what it is, it’s fun.
The most enjoyment I had during the brief Beta 5 event though was easily running around the countryside looking for Rifts. They’re essentially Public Quests, sure enough. But the system Trion has in place detects player activity and scales the engagements based on how many players are there. In WAR I found myself ticked off later in the game when there weren’t enough people to do PQs with. In Rift, I’m not sure I’ll ever have to worry about that when leveling. I just hope people keep flocking to them with such fervor when the game goes live in March and beyond.
Like all MMORPGs, the game’s most fun aspects shine when playing with others. While Rift is highly solo-able, you’re likely to find more enjoyable action when doing Rifts, romping through dungeons, or engaging in the title’s PvP Warfronts (or open world battles on PvP servers). I’m largely a solo-player when progressing through the game’s leveling paces. But even I found myself joining open groups (so glad they included that) when in Rift areas, and often enough the groups would stick together and go forth just hunting, maybe doing some quests, and always eyeing other Rifts.
Some worries I have still are the facts that performance is spotty across a wide range of systems. There’s no reason a quad-core processor, a nVidia GTX 460, and 6GB of RAM on a 64 bit OS shouldn’t be able to put the title on Ultra and run rampant with v-sync disabled. Instead I’m running on High with an unstable 25-55 frames per second. Secondly I fear that as versatile and interesting the multi-soul system is a lot of the classes will wind up feeling too similar to make much difference. Different names for the same result being the chief concern. There are a lot of talents, but precious few skills in each soul to make them stand out from one another.
In the end though, as they closed down the servers for this event, I found myself warming up to Rift a little more. I knew going into the event that it was already a highly polished and deeply-featured game. And my thoughts that it’s largely like a lot of the titles which came before it haven’t changed. It’s still a traditional MMORPG with some great novelty in the class system and dynamic Rifts. I feel that Trion has a great chance to capture the attention of folks who want something like a World of Warcraft or a Warhammer or an Everquest 2, but don’t really want those games for whatever reason. It’s shaping up to be a solid and finely tuned game which will likely please a lot of folks looking for something familiar but new.