For two MMOs in the same genre — fantasy — LOTRO and RIFT offer wildly different experiences. Neither are necessarily better or worse in my book, but as I flip between them every night, I’m acutely aware of the difference.
LOTRO is the more serious of the two, the one that’s much more grounded in its world. Its IP dictates a cohesive narrative that makes it easier to understand where one fits in, and the world seems far more vast and real (for lack of a better term). It’s like a good drama movie: usually deeply satisfying and memorable, yet it takes some personal energy to push myself into a long play session. LOTRO isn’t a light-hearted affair, and its combat, text, and mechanics require some attention and patience.
On the other side of the divide is RIFT, the hybridized love-child of WoW, EQ2, WAR, and Scott Hartsman’s genetic kookiness. If LOTRO is a rich drama, then RIFT is a popcorn action flick. It’s more accessible because of it and more instantly satisfying, yet perhaps not as filling in the long run. While LOTRO is more rigid in its class design, RIFT sits back, kicks a boot up on the table, and drawls, “Whaddya want, pard’ner?” I like fighting much more in RIFT, because the animations are more engaging, the fights go a LOT faster than in LOTRO, and because I’ve tailored a build to fit how I like to do combat — not the other way around. RIFT has some sense of world and lore (I do read it, and especially like the scripted events), but it’s much more of an arcade experience, through and through. If you like big numbers, flashy words, and goofy achievements, it’s for you.
Both the drama and the popcorn action flick appeal to me, which is why I’m greatly enjoying each of these (and I fear for my time once TSW comes out next month). I’ve gotten much more into achievement hunting this time around in RIFT, which has actually opened up parts of the game to me I ignored or didn’t notice the first time around (more on that some other day). LOTRO puts me in the shoes of a mere mortal — talented, but mortal nonetheless. RIFT casts me as the fantasy equivalent of a superhero, just perhaps without flight and all of the emotional baggage. It’s the KA-POW! to LOTRO’s elegant blade thrust.
And while I mentioned RIFT as the descendant of WoW, EQ2, and WAR, I think it surpasses each of these titles in ways that aren’t often acknowledged. Saying “RIFT is just like WoW” is kind of a disservice to both of those games. RIFT looks and handles so much better than WoW, while WoW has a much larger world and far fewer dynamic events.
It’s shaping up to be a good gaming summer. I’m about halfway through the Great River for my Captain, after which I’ll be primed for the expansion, and I’ve almost hit 37 with my Cleric in RIFT. I’m not so much worried about levels there — I anticipate hitting 50 within another two zones — but I do want to explore all of the zones, do my achievements, and get in a good spot to head into the expansion when it happens. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and even though I’m making good progress, I’m not sure I’ll be done by the end of August.