I’m not going to call this a “first impressions” right now. That’ll come next Tuesday on the official launch day of the title. I mean, by now if you’re reading this you pretty much know what Rift is about and how it’s a traditional fantasy MMORPG. So instead, I figured I’d use this week’s Rift column to talk a bit about the experience of hopping into a hotly anticipated MMO’s first hours of play. I had to work the day job on Thursday, which meant I wasn’t going to get home until 5:30 EST or later. All day long I read about horrific queue times, a sure sign that lots of folks took some time off and pre-ordered Rift to get in on the new fantasy MMO. Needless to say, I was ready to go home, log in and wait a couple hours before I could play. Amazingly, perhaps due to my Irish heritage, when I logged in they just opened a new PvP server called Tearfall. I grinned sheepishly, clicked, and away I went creating my Bahmi Cleric.
Once in the game, I was pleasantly surprised by a major increase in performance on my machine since the Beta test stages. On Ultra I’m currently running at a steady 45-60 frames even with hundreds of players crowding the world. It’s a testament to the game’s rather ingenious server technology (which is where Trion says their games is the most “next gen”) and the only downside is that it seems to force a short draw distance with lots of pop-in when it comes to players and NPCs. Terrain and wildlife is fine, but when there’s a hundred plus players in an encampment, you will see some amazing vanishing/reappearing acts.
One thing I’ve noticed with this Head Start is that Rift, like so many other games, is a title that’s best enjoyed in the company of other people. In the Alpha version of the title, I was always one of only a few online. In Beta, I was one of many, and in the Head Start, I’m one of many more still. I can definitively say that the Head Start experience, even with so many hundreds of folks running around the starter zone, is much more enjoyable than when the game is lighter on population. The Rifts and the public grouping lend themselves very much to a higher population of players. Really, it’s not at all unlike another game (WAR), and I mean that in the best of ways. Of course this sentiment means that Rift needs to maintain healthy server populations, but the same could be said of pretty much any MMO.
I will say that the drawback of starting a game on day one, even a pre-order head start event, is that so many other people will be vying for the same objectives and kills as you. The bulk of questing in Rift is made up of kill this and collect that type content, and players who are unwilling to group up will find their first few hours rather annoying. My suggestion, as I quickly learned, was to join a Public Group at a rift event, and then remain in the thing once the rift was defeated. Most everyone willingly did so, and the next thing you knew you were roving the grounds with a group of twenty or so players taking out quests like they were nothing.
In fact I only had one real issue in my first few hours of play: a highly anticipated new game brings with it all kinds of people… including those who like to cause problems for the rest of us. See the picture below for proof that Rift’s early days are not at all unlike WoW’s ongoing days. That turtle is a collector’s edition perk that you can ride right as soon as you can check a mailbox. This means pretty much everyone was riding around on one. And some “precious” few people realized they could cause a lot of grief by standing over NPCs so that players couldn’t turn in quests. Very funny, right? Luckily, pretty much everyone trying to just play the game reported the culprits and he was removed in quick succession.
I made it all the way to level 10 in about four hours of play. This weekend I hope to dive into Warfronts, and if I’m lucky get high enough for my first live dungeon. In all, without getting too far ahead of myself, it seems that Trion’s launching one of the most stable and polished games in recent memory. It may not be a recreation of the wheel, but judging by the number of people playing and having a good time, it doesn’t need to be. Tune in next week for a little more detailed first impressions of Trion’s flagship MMORPG – Rift.