Hands On Event Report
It has been two years since I last saw the game then called Heroes of Telara. It was E3 2009, and the developers were excited to show off a fantasy RPG that was going to live and die by the awesome server-side changes that could be made to the game on the fly. Instead of waiting for expansion packs and massive multi-GB patches, the game was going to allow the developers to do some crazy stuff, such as sending fire demons into a town to destroy it, where upon it would still be demolished for weeks and months after the event. Pretty cool for something that would excite and enrage gamers.
Nearly two years later, and Heroes of Telara is now known as Rift. No longer an ambiguous fantasy RPG with some cool ideas and a lot of questions, Rift sets itself apart from the rest with a unique character customization and worldwide invasions. After all, its not every game that lets players journey through three class trees stacked upon each other, or take part in massive battle involving nearly every person on a server. These things have been talked about ad nauseum, and with the upcoming March 1st launch of the game, players are much more interested in the core elements of the title. End game, raiding, whether or not the crazy soul system is actually going to work, or will it result in lots of unbalanced characters who can’t do anything right.
Character races, tied to the two player factions (the god-chosen Guardians versus the humanistic techno-magical Defiants) seem to be interesting, and I’ve been told the race bonuses have been balanced and toned to make sure each one gets special benefits that are both useful and not game-breaking. Some early complaints in beta indicate that some of the races were unbalanced, but it seems this was addressed.
Developer Trion is still keeping much of the end game content under wraps, but I can confirm that there will be some exclusive content once players reach the level 50 cap.
Editor's Note: After speaking with the team at Trion, we found that our original text may have been slightly misleading. According to their representative, Rift will have numerous features at endgame. The reprentative went so far as to state that that the game will have more endgame content than any MMO has had at launch including: full zone events, scene events, 20 on 20 warfront (Battle for Port Scion), PvP advancement via prestige, raid rifts, one high level raid instance continuing the world's story arc, and two level 50 dungeons.
Thankfully, if those end game elements sound weak, every single instance in the game has an expert version. From the very first to the very last instance played, once players reach level fifty they can reenter them on this expert mode with new areas, new bosses, and new loot to make the retreads worthwhile. Sure, it’s rehashing content, but it helps pad out a title that is still just starting out.
The rifts themselves seem to be much more interesting. Placed around hundreds of locations across Telara are areas in which rift portals may appear. Scaled to fit the general level of players in that area, these rifts are themed after different factions that will also take part in invasions: Life, Death, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Each one have their own unique rules, and once these rifts have been activated, players will have to fight distinct elemental enemies, take out crystals, defeat a general enemy, and more. Sometimes placed under a time limit, these rifts allow for specialized loot, and are broken up into stages. They seem like a unique alternative to instances, dungeons and raids, and feel like open-based arenas with quickly shifting rules.
Invasions are, bar none, the most unique and exciting facet of Rift. Almost constantly occurring somewhere in Telara, one of the six enemy factions, as well as Defiants or Guardians, will charge into an area from a rift an attempt to take over. These are often worldwide events as well, and while some people may find the events to be intrusive to the rest of the game, the general consensus is that these are fantastically fun. Since the six factions fight each other as well, smart players will let the game “play itself” as say, Life and Fire forces duke it out. Once the enemy troops are weakened, smart players can swoop in for a kill. The invasions are all scaled to the amount of players and other variables in an area, and they can make a huge impact on Telara, as once players control a point, they gain area-based benefits.
PvP, thankfully can be as simple as flagging yourself in a PvE server as open to PvP, or a player can enter a PvP server to really make a personal impact in Rift. Many of the PvP players can organize groups to capture a point in an area. In PvP, there are almost no safe zones in the game, except for the two starter cities. Warzones, the arena-esque PvP modes with objectives, are standard capture the flag stuff.
We were fortunate enough to get some solid time with a level fifty instance in the snowy mountain of Iron Pine Peak. Facing off against icy water elementals, dire wolves, mad alchemists and a bloody fellow with no skin and an irritating method of freezing players in blood crystals, it was clear high-end play was going to require traditional Tank/DPS/ healing roles. Obviously, Rift doesn’t drift too much from other MMO end game mechanics, although the character customization should offer some flexibility.
That brings up a good point with Rift. Each of the four classes (Mage, Warrior, Rogue and Cleric) can technically perform the traditional MMO roles due to the unique system where players can run three skill trees concurrently, some classes are just better at being secondary at specific roles. For example, the tank cleric, I was told, can do the job just fine, although it’s better as a secondary tank. For a game that prides itself on letting any class be anything they want, players will still want to be thoughtful of what they roll. Thankfully, respecs are silly cheap, so there will be a long period of time while people figure out the best cookie-cutter set-ups for the classes. I’m generally pretty impressed with the skill system in Rift, but hope that it stays true to its goal of letting players go crazy with skills and still reward them.
During this last preview event before the game launches on March 1, I was fortunate enough to chat with some of the biggest fans of Rift, players who have followed the title from Alpha all the we to the most current beta. Consensus from them indicated Rift is most successful during the massive invasions and rift events. Soloing is perfectly feasible, and the game does a great job of letting players enter public groups and drop out when they need to.
If you have the rig to run it, Rift is a beautiful game. On the highest settings, ambient lights, plants, magical effects, massive architecture visible from all parts of the world make Rift come alive. The developers can change much of this on the fly as well, allowing for massive server-side visual changes for events. New content is supposed to come to Rift quite regularly, so expect the game world to be changing often as well. On low settings, however, Rift looks a bit…flat. But hey, if you’re running the game on a low-end laptop, you might deserve the vast swaths of texture, no shaders and bland lighting.
In the end, Rift still faces an uphill battle. Fantasy MMOs are very common, and while Rift has much setting it apart from the rest, if there isn’t a substantial install base within six months, no amount of dynamic world battles and server side changes can make it good MMO. Thankfully, Rift seems to have fair and reasonable expectations for the world of Rift. Now all they can do is send it out in the world and see what happens.