With so many free-to-play MMORPGs available, releasing a subscription based one is either a sign of developer/publisher madness or, in some rare occasions, of product quality. Trion Worlds’ Rift seems to be part of the latter and less than a week before the world of Telara will open its gates to its new inhabitants, the game looks ready to set new standards for the genre, especially when it comes to polish and game stability at launch. After no less than seven open beta sessions most of the game’s obvious problems have been ironed out, giving the players the opportunity to enjoy a smooth MMO gameplay experience from launch.
Rift’s feature pack doesn’t shine through innovation, and focuses more on improving and reshaping the old into something entertaining enough to meet the MMORPG player base current expectations. This general definition applies with no exception across the board and seasoned players will find it easy to quickly adapt to Rift’s ruleset. The class system, for example, limits the original choice to four archetypes: Warrior, Cleric, Rogue and Mage, all four names being self-explanatory for the fantasy setting. Each of them comes with eight specializations called souls, each with their own specific skills and abilities, and players will have the opportunity to use and combine up to three of these souls into one character. The system thus allows the creation of interesting hybrids and gives players a certain unexpected amount of freedom in building their characters. There are however some hard to ignore downsides of the system and the easiest one to spot is the huge amount of skills available to one player relatively early in the game. Each of the three souls has a skill tree in which players will be able to spend soul points obtained by leveling up. Apart from the abilities that are unlocked in the skill trees through soul point expenditure, there are others which unlock automatically when a certain amount of points has been consumed in one tree. The resulting amount of available skills is shocking and running around at level 15 with almost two full bars of hotkeys and expecting twice as many to become available by the time you reach max level can be a bit overwhelming to say the least.
Having so many tools at one’s disposal turns any normal PVE encounter into a non-challenging experience as there are no regular mobs in the game that can match the damage output, crowd-control and escape skills of any character combining three separate souls. Group or elite PVE tends to become rather chaotic because it is almost impossible to coordinate the abilities of 32 classes into a coherent battle plan. So in the end it’s better to just go with the flow, allow group members to make their own decisions, hope that everyone is on their toes and the battle doesn’t turn into a wipe because someone forgot to use skill 47 right after someone else used skill 32. Luckily every player will have group training by the time group coordination becomes really important in PVE battles, and this is because rifts aren’t in short supply in Telara.
Rifts are doorways which allow planar invasions and if not controlled, they threaten to tear apart the very fabric of the world. They appear randomly across the land of Telara and the invaders that come through them pose a serious threat to any ungrouped player. Rifts are highly similar to Warhammer Online’s PQs (public quests): they are split into several stages, they require several players working together and they offer rewards depending on the player’s total contribution to the fight. Unfortunately they are not as fun as WAR’s PQs. They spawn randomly and most players that will be involved in rift fights will just happen to be in the area and not actually looking for such a challenge, so the rifts’ difficulty level is adjusted to match the combat capabilities of on-the-spot pick-up groups. This allows situations in which some rifts will simply be ignored while others will get zerged by countless groups of players, making fights even more trivial than they usually are. On top of that the rifts’ stages involve killing mobs that become increasingly difficult from one stage to another, so even though there is a feeling of progression it’s not coupled with one of accomplishment, especially because the stages are not glued together in any way. I’ve participated in rift fights that lasted less than 30 seconds, all rift stages included. When it was all over and the crowd of players dissipated I didn’t feel like I had just stopped an invasion and saved the world, but like I had butchered a group of enemies, unfortunate enough to get spawned in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rifts aside, the game’s PVE experience, while not drifting away from the canons of the fantasy MMORPG genre, is entertaining enough to keep you hooked for decent amount of time. Quests are nicely linked together and easy to track, exploring the world has its fair share of rewards and following the game’s story can give you a feeling of purpose and belonging. The crafting system looks like a revamped version of the WoW one, with a few small differences focusing on things such as the maximum number of professions one can have (three in this case) and the interdependencies between them.
However, not the same thing can be said about Rift’s PVP and this is probably the section of the game that manages to perfectly emphasize the problems resulting from the daring class system. Based on instanced battlegrounds, player vs. player encounters turn into hectic button mashing sessions in which you will be spending half of the time trying to sort out players from their pets – since every class seems to have one – and the other half trying to identify the most important or the squishiest target of the opposing team. Since character silhouettes aren’t helping, skill animations aren’t clear enough, class icons are non-existent and the number of buffs a target can have at a low level is ridiculously large (thus identifying an opposing class by them alone is almost impossible), you will eventually, with a sigh, give up trying to play smart and just tab-target and then blindly go through the skill cycle over and over again. To make matters even worse, in Rift you can only see your own debuffs and dots on a target, even if the other players interacting with that target are part of your group. So coordinating with other players in PVP while in a PUG (pick up group) is a task many will find way too complicated. With a scenario like this happening at low levels when characters should be quite balanced, time-to-kill quite permissive for the defenders and the overall battle difficulty level low, I fear the end level PVP encounters will be the seeds of many complains.
But the game looks nice! I guess that will be the winning argument for many players that will choose to embark on the Rift journey. It looks nice, it sounds nice and it’s one of the most polished MMORPG I have seen to date. The graphic engine seems to have some loose ends here and there and it managed to make a high end PC cough up blood at full detail settings and drag its feet at a pace of 30 fps, but such things can be and are always subject so some post-launch patches and tweaks, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
Rift doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, takes no serious chances and breaks no boundaries. Every single composing element of the game has been used at least one time in the past in another MMORPG, but it would be a shame not to admit that Rift manages to blend them all together in a seamless fashion comparable only to that of World of Warcraft. The game will be launched in the US on the 1st of March and on 4th in the EU, and a comprehensive game review will follow on mmorpg-center.com shortly after.
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