NOTE: This review does not take into account the 1.1 “River of Souls” content update. It was written before the patch was released and therefore will not take 1.1 into effect.
Let’s face it. Rift is a very well made game from top to bottom. From rookie development studio and publisher Trion Worlds, Rift is a flagship title that has launched with perfect timing to draw gamers’ attention. It is both highly polished, and technologically innovative. It may not stray far from tradition in terms of gameplay, but what it strives to do it does exceedingly well. In an age where many gamers have grown impatient with unfinished products, Rift is a very welcome addition to the stable of MMORPGs.
That said, Rift is not without flaws. In a lot of aspects, its systems have become dated. Combat, questing, and crafting all function superbly, but are bland due to the simple fact that they have been done this way before. Still Trion Worlds’ freshman release is fantastic example of the kind of care and attention to detail and polish this industry direly needs. It’s a title I would gladly and quickly recommend to any player looking for a new but familiar home, and yet one I would advise caution to for those who are in search of something truly revolutionary.
For the purposes of this review I purchased my own digital copy from Trion, but they were kind enough to grant me Digital Collector’s Edition status to get the ugly as can be turtle mount. I played well into my 20s on my Defiant Cleric on a PvP server, and into my teens as a Guardian Cleric on a PvE server. In total during the live release I’ve played around thirty hours, which has sadly made it impossible for me to truly review what the end game holds. I will offer what I know of that content, but will not make a final judgment on what level 50 has in store. I do believe that my time spent in Telara from Alpha through Live has given me enough insight to take a stand on Rift. Now, let’s get into the details.
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (Visuals)
Just when I thought I’d tired of the swords and boards fantasy trope, along comes Trion’s art team to make me reevaluate that stance. Rift is a very pretty game when your computer can handle it. And while it can run on a machine that can run Champions Online (my crap-tastic laptop), it doesn’t do so well. Make no bones about it to get the most out of Rift’s visuals you’ll need a decent video card and speedy CPU. I have an nVidia GTX460, 6GB of RAM, and quad-core clocked at over 3.2Ghz even I need to keep things at High (as opposed to Ultra) to maintain a steady frame-rate. Still the performance in Live is light-years ahead of the performance I experienced in Beta, and the simple fact that I can keep my settings on High during some of the game’s larger world events and not experience slow-down is nothing short of technical genius.
I will concede that the game’s style is very derivative of so much high fantasy. I mean, there are elves and dwarves and goblins after all. But the presentation from the way “QUEST ACCEPTED” pops onto the screen, to the sparkle of your chainmail is top notch. It may look familiar, like most games in this type of setting will, but it looks good. And that’s what counts. The way in which the surrounding world is affected by an open rift is gorgeous and I’d love to see the effect applied in larger scopes as the game grows.
I’d have liked more enterable buildings to make Telara feel more like a world and less like a very convincing amusement park. But my only real complaint can be laid against the melee animations for combat. They just don’t seem very powerful when compared to their magical counterparts. It’s hard to imagine the simple whack of a hammer hurting more than the hurling of a giant fireball. But I guess that could be said of many MMOs.
Mine Ears Have, er, Heard the Glory? (Sound)
Inon Zur has composed some of my favorite music in videogames. From Baldur’s Gate II: The Throne of Bhaal to Fallout 3 more recently, the man’s great at setting an epic tone that carries you from relaxing moment to harrowing battle. Rift’s soundtrack is no different. The large sweeping orchestral score is one you should expect of a game that takes its content this seriously. It’s not the kind of stuff you’ll find yourself humming, but the audio cues for when something terrible is happening or when you’re in a peaceful glade are welcome and very atmospheric.
Additionally, the game’s sound effects are an appropriate mix of clangs, thuds, gurgles, and battle-cries. Wolves sound like wolves, and goblins sound like what I suspect goblins would sound like. The way in which the aural tone changes when you near an open rift is also very well done. There was obviously a lot of careful attention paid to the sound in Rift, which is a largely undervalued part of any MMORPG experience when it comes to immersion.
Ascension Means Freedom (Character)
One of Rift’s chief innovations lies in the way it handles the class-based character system. Sure there are healers, tanks, and DPS classes but it’s the way in which Trion gives the player freedom to build and swap out their own combination of these that makes the old new again. Called “Ascended Souls”, Rift’s classes are split into four archetypes (warrior, rogue, mage, and cleric) which generally cover the roles you’d expect. But within each archetype are variations called “Souls” which offer their own distinct skill tree and abilities. For instance, as a Cleric the Cabalist is a damage over time DPS soul while the Shaman is a melee-focused DPS banger, and the Sentinel is single target and AOE healing master. Here’s the beauty: it’s up to the player to decide where they put their skill points, and they can mix and match up to any three souls in one build.
One can also have up to four builds (once you buy the extra slots) to switch between at any given time. For myself and my Cleric loving ways, I generally keep a solo build that offers DPS with some heals to keep myself alive, a healing build that I use for Rifts and group PvE, and a PvP build or two as well. One of the PvP builds is for damage output, while the other is for healing and I can switch out of combat at will depending on the needs of my team. It’s a brilliant system that allows players a lot of freedom to tinker and make their perfect class for every situation.