The RIFT Test Drive: First (and second) impressions

With the rather abrupt lifting of RIFT’s NDA, the floodgates are open for any and all alpha and beta testers to flow through the countryside, knock over cattle, sweep away homes and drown thousands of dissenting opinions.

Here is mine.  You should probably take strong headache medicine in advance.

The Inevitable Comparisons

Instead of slowly leading up to the conclusion, let’s tackle the two big questions that everyone has: Is the game good, and is it like specific other MMOs?

The answers are “Yes, although not perfect” and “Most definitely”.

Everyone seems to draw their own conclusion what game RIFT is most like, although three have been repeated most often: World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online and (oddly enough) Aion. RIFT is best seen as a melting pot of some of the better MMO designs and features in a highly-polished package (and, yes, from what I’ve seen, it’s an incredibly polished game already).  It certainly has the feel of many MMOs that’ve come before it, particularly WAR with its war-torn fantasy landscape, the PQ-like Rifts and even several of the classes.  There’s a bit of EQII’s collection system, World of Warcraft’s brand of achievement system, and so on.  Considering that Trion Worlds is made up of a ton of devs from many of these famous MMOs, it’s not surprising that they’ve held on to features that they’ve liked and have proven to be winners.

If you’re looking for an MMO to be really, really different and groundbreaking, it’s probably best to head on elsewhere — but that isn’t to say that RIFT is worthless.  There’s a LOT to be said for a fully-functional game that isn’t buggy to hell and back and has a ton of content from level 1 to the cap.  Whether this’ll be enough to establish the game as a contender or merely another indistinguishable WoW clone remains to be seen, but I haven’t seen a game look this good in beta in a long time.

Right Off The Bat…

RIFT just looks and feels slick.  I know it’s an underappreciated feature, but I really do love a good UI that is responsive, functional and easy on the eyes — all of which RIFT has in spades.  It’s a game that any MMO vet will feel incredibly comfortable jumping into without having to learn too much from the onset (although this ultra-familiarity may put some off, too).  Everything from the combat to the sales windows to the ranks of skills is an old hat.

In struggling to come up with an appropriate metaphor, I’d have to go with the thought of RIFT being the latest high-end luxury car model.  No, there’s nothing super-new here, just a slick presentation that handles well and gets you where you need to be.  It may be too much of the same thing for some, but WoW felt pretty familiar to many people on launch too and yet won a lot of players over due to Blizzard polishing it up to a glossy shine.  You never know.

Even so, I never felt deeply thrilled in that “Oooh it’s a cool new MMO that I really really want to keep playing!” way.  More of a “Ah, this is fun, but I’m totally cool closing the game out and doing something else for a few hours instead.  Either or, it’s all good.” way.  Part of this feeling comes from the fact that RIFT glues your hand to theirs (whoever “They” might be) and walks you through the first dozen levels or so without any feeling of immanent danger or challenge.  If I’m already feeling a bit bored with the quest hub-hopping thing by level 5, it’s not a good sign.  The Defiant starter zone took much longer to complete than the Guardian one, although both were well-done in presentation.

Fortunately, the world opened up a bit by the teens, and I soon stopped following the quest breadcrumbs to just explore and kill at whim.  Combat, while nothing groundbreaking, looks terrific, with excellent animations and effects and spell pizzazz going off everywhere.  I’d even go so far as to say that RIFT’s combat makes WoW’s visuals look practically prehistoric.

The first beta experience was plagued with severe issues of too many people trying to tag too few quest items/mobs, although Trion tweaked that to make it better for the second beta.  In my opinion, Trion did a good job of dealing with some of the more contentious issues from the first beta and fixing them for the second.  One example is that there was a lack of skill queuing, which meant that if you hit a skill during the global cooldown (which happened a lot) then the game would just give you an irritated “Just wait your TURN, sonny!” error message until the GCD completed.  Fortunately, Trion added a “soft queue” for the second beta, meaning that you could hit another skill within a half second of the GCD finishing up and it would hold your next action in the queue.  That made combat a heckuva lot better.

Souls and Rifts

So let’s get to the two features that RIFT’s been touting as its selling points: the soul system and the rifts themselves.

In talking with fellow RIFT players, I’d have to say that the soul system was brought up the most often when we’d share what we liked about the game.  It is, to be completely honest, awesome.  Not just awesome, but very much freeing as well.  If you don’t like feeling pigeonholed into your class limitations in MMOs, then you’re going to really appreciate the freedom that the soul system presents.

At the start, you pick one of three souls (classes) for your archetype (warrior, rogue, cleric or mage).  By level 5, you get your second soul out of the seven remaining.  Then around level 20, you get a third soul, and so on.  You can equip up to three souls at once to make a blended multi-class character, and further customize your build by investing soul points (you get one per level) into the different soul attunement trees.  Think WoW talent trees, but with added features.  (Note that they’re going to be changing how quickly you get your souls and soul points in future betas.)

What’s even better is that you can purchase “roles” which are saved builds, allowing you to easily swap builds (out of combat) on the fly.  For beta one, I had a warrior whose first build used the Reaver soul (lots of DOTs), and whose second pumped it into my pet with the Beastmaster soul.  If I wanted a better pet and the ability to run fast out of combat, I’d use the second role, or if I wanted to just hunker down and mow through bad guys, I’d go with my first build. Eight souls may not sound like a lot, but trust me, it ends up creating a massive amount of build potentialities.

A small but personally exciting feature?  Any archetype has access to a pet-bearing soul.  So anyone can have a combat pet!

It looks like the soul system is still in the middle of a lot of fine-tuning as the game heads into beta 3:

“In time for Beta 3, expect to see all of the souls available to choose from the outset, more souls available earlier in the experience, and more total points to spend. The system is there, and it’s fun, and there’s no reason to hide it from people.”

Rifts were an initial disappointment.  For all of the talk and hype about this centerpiece of the game, the rifts in beta one were pretty-looking Warhammer PQs.  Go in, kill a few mobs, zerg the boss, that’s it.  What we didn’t know was that the team was ramping up what rifts could do between beta one and two, and by the second they unleashed a full-scale zone invasion, with dozens of rifts, streaming armies and footholds across the landscape.

Once this happens, the game gets a heck of a lot more interesting, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was totally okay dropping whatever quest I was working on to fight back against a dynamic invasion.  RIFT does a decent job getting you the info — where the fights are, where they’re going, etc.  It’s certainly something I wanted to see more of, because it does draw people together instinctively and naturally, and it’s far more exciting than mere questing.

Assorted other thoughts

  • I like the idea of collections, especially with rewards attached
  • There are a lot of fun little surprises, such as an item that turned me into a jumpy, zippy squirrel for up to an hour (although if I did anything “non-squirrel like”, as the tooltip told me, I’d revert back to my old self)
  • Underwater sounds, effects and visuals are FANTASTIC
  • Some of the mob aggro radius is weird — I could run right next to a red enemy without getting aggro, while others would gun for me across the zone.  Also, it’s kind of hard to run away from your enemies when low on health — I ended up getting killed a lot this way.
  • I wish I could’ve run more dungeons.  I’m planning on this for beta 3.
  • Silverwood as a lowbie zone was a lot more interesting than the Defiant lowbie zone.
  • I wasn’t that thrilled with the fact that most of my gear upgrades came from quests, which meant that a lot of us were wearing the same outfits
  • Lots of neat death animations for mobs

It’s hard to give a sweeping, permanent judgment of RIFT based on two short betas, and I’m reluctant to do so — especially considering just how much they tweaked things between beta one and two.  I’ve seen a lot of quicksnap proclamations on the forums that show just how impatient we are to fully try things out.

For my money and short time in the game, RIFT is the real deal.  It’s polished, it works just fine, it seems a bit too familiar in spots, and it may have difficulty competing with other established games in the already-crowded fantasy genre.  Still, the soul system is inspired and rifts/invasions are quite cool, so I don’t doubt that this will get quite a few followers at launch.

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19 thoughts on “The RIFT Test Drive: First (and second) impressions

  1. I think that’s a more than fair analysis and agree pretty much exactly with your points (though I can’t speak too much of the WoW resemblances since I only dabbled in WoW at best). I found myself wishing for a lower-level dungeon to wet my feet in, since I never managed to get to leve 18 in either beta weekend.

    My main curiousity is whether Rift has a leg up if its main draws (besides souls and rifts) are its polish and content, since those are the two features no recent MMO has been able to successfully launch with. Will that be enough to push through players’ first free month? At any rate, it’s made a believer out of me by combining WAR’s feel with better graphics and PQs, and more importantly, made my maiden MUD class (cleric) fun and desirable to play again.

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  4. Very nice write-up.

    I think we’re really overdue for a polished, professional MMO that has a clear understanding of what it is and who it wants to appeal to. God knows that should be novelty enough!

    I’ll be buying it and playing it, and possibly for a good while.

  5. I ended up taking armor smith on one toon just so I could make my own gear, which was better than most quest gear I got. I also had a toon take weapon smithing because there just wasn’t enough decent one handed weapons coming to my dual weaponed class through quest rewards.

    The game is very polished I have to agree. I did see issues, but no more than you’d see on day one of any new MMO release. The game play was excellent and the soft cue for spells worked out great.

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  10. Good write up! I have some questions though –
    Is the world contiguous or instanced? (like GW or AoC)
    What is the crafting system like?
    What is level cap and what is the endgame planned to be?
    Is combat the holy trinity ie. dps-tank-heals or more random?
    Are all the boss fights scripted?
    Are items all-important — with gear resets expected with all additional content?

    Cheers!

  11. SM – The world is contiguous, the crafting system lets you pick 3 of gathering and/or crafting and works pretty much like WoW’s, the level cap is 50 with raids and 5-mans and PvP and rift raids, combat’s a lot more mixed because of the soul system. Haven’t done a lot of boss fights, but yeah, gear is important.

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  13. Here’s a question for ya Syp, let’s say I’m playing with a Warrior type Soul, running around hack’n slashin’. If I suddenly feel like changing to a Mage type soul, how does gear come into play? Would I need to collect another set of gear to reflect and enhance that soul, or will my Warrior gear suffice?

  14. Warriors can’t use Mage souls and vice versa. You’re confined to the 8 souls in your archetype.

  15. Ah, I see. So is it possible to be a “Battle-Mage” if you will? 2 handed weapon, plate gear, with a tad bit of offensive magic?

  16. You can be a battle-mage of sorts by slotting the Riftblade soul. This Soul has ranged elemental attacks as well as up-close warrior attacks. The closest thing to the Riftblade is the Herald of Xotli in Age of Conan, except with plate armor and no shape-shifting abilities.

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