The month was November, the year was 2004 and the game was World of Warcraft. For their flagship MMO Blizzard followed their tried and tested formula: they took the best of what went before and they refined, tweaked and polished it, and scored another hit. WoW brought the MMO into the homes of millions of players and spawned a new expression at the same time - WoW clone.
The month was March, the year was 2011 and the game was Rift. I don’t like to use the phrase WoW clone, it’s a lazy comparison. So while I won’t be saying it, it certainly does get applied to Rift with considerable frequency. Partly this is because it is a name that’s attached to anything that came after World of Warcraft, especially if it has the nerve to use hotkeys and distribute hundreds of quests. Partly it’s because Trion Worlds, creators of Rift, used WoW to market their own game. It is a bold statement to advertise your flagship release using a double page spread in a magazine with the headline “We’re not in Azeroth any more”. More recently they have marketed Rift with the phrase “Join Our Horde”. Cheeky monkeys!
I bought the game at launch, but the game didn’t stick for me then. Now I’m back in and writing about Rift and what I’m not going to do today is directly compare it to WoW point for point and come up with a winner. I am going to take a look at how far Rift has come in its short life and weigh up whether or not it has the potential to live up to its boasts and become a heavy hitter in the very saturated MMO market.
As I write this Rift has been out for a little over four months and we have just received update 1.3, Waves of Madness. Trion Worlds promised players an aggressive update schedule and I would say that so far they have delivered. March 30th saw the release of update 1.1, River of Souls which had death rifts popping up all over Telara. There was a world event which players of all levels could participate in leading up to the unlocking of the River of Souls raid zone. There were also a boat load of fixes and tweaks and a handy feature allowing you to capture video and upload it to Youtube while in-game. Not a bad start.
Version 1.2 was the Spoils of War update and arrived on our hard drives on May 10. This time around Telara was subjected to a fire and earth based rift invasion. We got a new 10 man raid, a looking for group tool and appearance slots among many other features and fixes.
Unfortunately I missed these two updates as I was away fighting in other lands for my – and hopefully your – entertainment. I came back to Telara in time for update 1.3 so I’m going to have to judge how well the game is progressing based on the Waves of Madness patch.
For any MMO to have a decent sized content patch out within a few months is pretty decent, but for this to be the third one is impressive. Compare this to WoW (didn’t I promise I wouldn’t do that?) and you will see that Azeroth had three patches released in five months with two raids added and Rift comes in a month earlier with one raid per update. I know raids aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but as it is new content it is not such a bad benchmark. EQII managed to get their third update out in three months with several new instances and four raids added. SOE has a reputation for churning out content as evidenced by the Everquest franchise’s annual expansions for both EQ and EQII, whereas Blizzard is known for only releasing content “when it’s ready”. Rift’s aggressive patch policy seems to hitting the right stride so far, falling as it does in the middle of both those games schedules.
It could be argued that with content coming out thick and fast maybe these are missions and raids that should have been out at release. Instead of just opening up new instances which may or may not have been coded months ago, Rift patches have been heavily tied in to the lore of the game. Waves of Madness opens up Hammerknell, the city of the Dwarves. Our stunted friends have fled their home and sealed the door, and they are not saying why. However, before we get to stomp around in their ancient city and do some serious vanquishing there is a prelude event with daily quests to undertake, major invasions to fend off and rewards in the form of a new currency (Rune King’s Seals). It is unclear how long Trion Worlds can keep spinning out the current lore before players are crying out for the raids to take down their arch enemies. Will they let us spank Regulos any time soon? And if so, what next? Will there be bigger and badder big-bads around the corner? Only time will tell I guess. For now there seems to be enough unexplored lore to keep us going for a while.
So far I have found the Rune King’s Seals to be pretty easy to come by and haven’t had any trouble saving up enough for a new pet and an amulet which allows me to breath underwater. Even though I’ve just hit my early twenties – with a level cap of 50 – I’ve not felt left out of the new content. I won’t be running the raid for a while but it is good to be able to contribute in a small way.
Stability and polish seem pretty good, we didn’t get everything that 1.3 promised but the communication from the developers has been refreshingly honest. Coming to Rift after being a seasoned SOE gamer, this is a revelation. Getting info out of Sony’s devs often felt harder than jumping over the moon.
So let us get back to the expression WoW clone, as if I haven’t touched on it enough. It is no secret that World of Warcraft, while forging its own path, is also the product of studying other MMOs and learning the lessons that they have to teach. The greatest lesson that we can learn from Blizzard is one that its emulators have failed to grasp, and that is to take what has gone before and refine and polish it until it gleams like new. In this I’d have to say that, yes, Rift has indeed copied WoW as so many other games have, but Rift has done it where it counts and given us a proper game at launch paving the way for meaningful content updates instead of thousands of bug fixes making a released product feel like a beta.
I’m anxious to see what the future holds.