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First Impressions

William Murphy Posted:
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I’ve spent a solid six or seven hours playing Rift since its head start began on February 24th.  I know that might not seem like a ton to all of you, but for me that’s rather amazing.  I never have that kind of free time on a weekend.  But still, play the game I did and as I had done in beta and alpha versions previously.  This time however, I decided to roll up a Cleric to test how versatile the game’s ascended soul system could be… I was not disappointed.  For those of you who have been living under a very large rock for some time, Rift is newly minted developer Trion Worlds’ first foray into the MMO market.  There’s a lot riding on this flagship title to be successful and help drive the company’s future growth.  And while I firmly believe that Rift won’t magically please everyone in the gaming spectrum, I can confidently assert that it is without a doubt shaping up to be one of the most polished and stable launches in MMORPG history. 

Crowded Can Be Fun

I don’t know how long it will stay this way, but so far I’m finding the crowded questing areas at prime-time hours to be an excellent mark for Rift.  As stated, I’m currently playing a Cleric as my main on the Tearfall server, and being able to switch from my solo role to a healing role in Rifts is a godsend when major invasions happen.  There are sometimes literally hundreds of people participating in these massive events, and the server doesn’t crash, my system doesn’t chug.  It’s an absolute testament to the technology Trion has built on the back end of the game to see such stability even when such larger numbers are crowding and interacting with a single area.  Thinking back to how other games have been sent crashing during events like Rift Invasions, I’m beginning to think that this is the real area in which Trion’s game innovates. 

There were some massive queues to get into the game when the servers came up during the Head Start event, but at least for me by the evening these had lessened greatly as populations spread out beyond the starting areas.  And with the way in which Rifts actually work, I’m getting the feeling that having a steady and tight population on your server is something that is ultimately necessary to get the most out of the game’s world events.  The only downside of the launch’s populations is that completing your kill quests can be maddening unless you join a group (which is remarkably easy via the public group system) and take care of them that way.

The Innovations

At first glance it may be easy to dismiss Rift as YAFMMOROG (Yet Another Fantasy MMORPG).  Truth be told, if you’re sick and tired of the Everquest formula, you’re probably not going to find yourself enjoying Rift.  But for those who still enjoy the traditional gameplay method, there’s plenty about Trion’s rookie release to make it stand out from the pack.  The two most obvious features being the ascended soul class system and the dynamic events known as rifts.

The ascended souls are a great way to give players a lot of choices as to how the game is played at the individual level.  Basically each “soul” is a different skill tree, complete with plenty of unique spells and abilities, that represent a different take on traditional MMORPG archetypes.  The Cleric, being the healer, has a range of souls that cover everything from DOT damage classes to melee healers and AOE healers.  Each of the four souls that I’ve messed with thus far have felt distinct, which eased my worry during beta that souls would wind up feeling too similar to each other.  My Sentinel build is a much more prolific healer than my Purifier, and my Cabalist is a much better multi-target combatant than my Inquisitor.  But the Purifier excels in defensive shields and buffs, and the Inquisitor is a beast when it comes to single-target damage.  Each soul has its unique ups and downs, and mixing and matching up to three at once becomes a fun meta-game all on its own.

Rifts are the game’s namesake, so one would hope they’re more than just an ancillary part of the title’s overall scope.  I can see where some folks would simply partake in one or witness one from afar and say, “That’s just another type of Public Quest.  I’ve done that already.”  But there’s more to it than that, and to simply dismiss Rifts on that notion would be a misstep.  Rifts are leveraging Trion’s newly minted server platform to deliver consistently dynamic content based on the player activity in a given area at any given time. 

Sure in function, they play like WAR’s PQs.  You take out a wave of bad guys, more show up, and you take out them, until you finally take out an epic boss and seal the rift.  That’s the gist.  But what is most promising about this aspect of the game is how each event is driven by what and where we all are.  These aren’t just static presentations which will sit there unused in a couple weeks’ time.  They happen based on player activity.  There is worry for the potential problem then of lower-level areas being barren of real rift invasions one day when the bulk of player activity is at the end game, but that’s currently neither here nor there.  The real thing we should take away from rifts is that Trion’s server architecture has made it possible to do something we’ve been craving for years.  I can only imagine how this feature will grow and change in the coming months and years, and I sincerely hope other companies try to build upon similar ideas. 

A Little Bit of Everything

Rift is also a game that seems jam-packed with different things to do.  Pretty much anything that you’ve done in a previous title, minus perhaps player housing, can be found in Rift.  Those features that so many players claim are necessity for their MMO enjoyment can be found here.  There are collections out the whazoo for the explorers, plenty of crafting, a wealth of instanced and world PvP options, a fledgling but potentially vibrant economy, a fleshed out guild system complete with levels and guild perks, and even hundreds of achievements for those interested in such things.  And while I’m not quite at the proper level, there seems to be a great deal of repeatable instanced PvE content for the top level players as well, complete with lots of pursuable shiny things.  Basically, pretty much everything one has come to expect of a theme-park fantasy MMO can be found in Rift.

The Not So Great

The only downsides I can offer so far in my limited time with the game is that solo combat seems somewhat lackluster, based only on the fact that perhaps I’m tiring of tried and true highlight + hotkeys action.  Still, I find myself consistently having fun each time I log in because there are plenty of ways to join up with other players and grouping for the content is rather enjoyable.  You even get bonus experience for killing mobs when in groups, not some arbitrary division which makes grouping inefficient.  I’ve also not been high enough to compete but in one Wafront (Battleground, Scenarion, etc.) but chances are if you’re tiring of that kind of thing in your current game of choice you won’t be too thrilled with it here.  It’s fun, I just feel like I’ve done it before.  I’m more intrigued to see what Rift offers in terms of World PvP later in the game.  And lastly, there’s crafting.  I’m personally not much a fan of crafting in most games, because collecting ingredients and then clicking once to create dozens of useless vendor items isn’t up my alley.  But I know there are plenty of folks who love this type of thing, so I’ll simply say that it’s not my cup of tea and your mileage may vary.

Not A Reinvention, but a Refinement

I maintain my stance that Rift is a game for people who love the traditional take on MMORPGs and want something new with a mix of innovation and standards to play.  It is not a title for those disenfranchised with the old guard, and therefore if you find yourself waiting on a true revolution in how these games are played, I’d suggest you steer clear.  If on the other hand you have fond memories of Everquest, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, and you are merely craving something new along those more traditional lines I highly suggest you give Rift a shot.  It’s easily one of the most polished and fully-fleshed out titles to be released in years, and has something for pretty much every type of player.  Did it reinvent the wheel?  Not really.  But then, who’s to say it needed to?


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.