Rift, Early Review

Recently, I decided to try Trion Rift, a new MMO in the block. I haven’t had the time to explore the game at its full, but I saw enough to write some words about it.

My experience with Rift started with a free weekend — which Trion seems to be spreading around, just keep an eye around and you can get a free weekend of play too — but after playing it for 2 days and reaching the level cap (of 15 out of the 50 in the full version), I decided to get the game and its free 30 day included, after getting tired of World of Warcraft.

Comparing Rift with World of Warcraft is kinda obvious and somewhat “forced”: First, World of Warcraft is the largest MMORPG around, with 12 million subscribers[1] and it’s called the behemoth to be bested; Second, Trion used phrases like “You are not in Azeroth anymore” in some ads — Azeroth being the world of World of Warcraft.

So, let’s start comparing with the similar stuff: First, as any RPG, either single player or multi-player, you play character that, by completing quests and killing enemies, earn “experience”, which accumulate till you get enough experience to reach another level, giving access to more powerful attacks and abilities, which let you fight bigger enemies, do harder quests, to get more experience to reach another level. When you level up, your abilities are not set in stone, so you can customize your character in a way that fits more your game play. As in World of Warcraft (and EverQuest before it), there are three roles a player can take:

  • A “tank”, who should draw the attention of the enemies and take the blows while his/her friends take care of killing the enemies. For that, a tank have special abilities to mitigate or avoid damage taken, sacrificing damage done in the process
  • A “healer”, which should heal the group when they take damage and
  • A damage-dealer, which is responsible for killing the enemies before they can kill either the tank or the healer.

At first, Rift seems like the RPG with the least options of game style: There are only 4 classes you can chose to play: Warrior, Mage, Cleric and Rogue, compared with the 10 classes World of Warcraft offers. Even Diablo 2 (which is not a MMORPG, but includes RPG elements) without the later expansion came with 5 classes (the number goes up to 7 with the expansion).

But of those 4 classes, 3 of them can be tanks and 2 of them can be healers (and another one, although with very limited capabilities), which is pretty close to World of Warcraft numbers: of all 10, 4 can be tanks and 4 can be healers and 4 can be only damage dealers. This is accomplished by a confusing (at first) mechanic called “Souls”: In the Rift universe, players actually “tap” in the souls of old heroes, giving them different abilities to complete their tasks (of saving the universe, obviously). For example, a Rogue can, instead of fighting in melee range, chose a Soul that uses bow or gun and get a pet and fight as in World of Warcraft is the hunter class; a cleric, although just wearing mail (the second hardest armor type, behind plate), can chose a Soul that increases defenses and become a tank; a mage can take a Soul that instead of dealing a lot of damage, actually heals the party.

Although the range of possibilities is huge, the game keeps things nice and tied: First, each class have a base mechanic and keeps it no matter the chosen souls; Second, gear is constant no matter the chosen souls. For class mechanics, except for clerics, you have some sort of “stacking points”, with abilities that increase this count and others that use those points, increasing the damage: Warriors have attack points (stacking up to 3 points), rogues have combo points (stacking up to 5 points) and mages have charge (stacking up to 100). No matter what soul you pick, the base class mechanic still remains, meaning you don’t have to relearn the class when you decide to try something different. Also, gear is constant for the classes: Even clerics that decide to tank, requiring more Endurance (hit points) and melee attack power (most of cleric gear have spell power) get that from abilities, so the cleric can tank, heal or deal damage without requiring a new set of gear — in World of Warcraft, “hybrids” (the name classes that can do all 3 roles get) need a complete different set of gear when changing roles: A paladin tank needs a complete different gear when switching from tank to healer, leading to continuously running the same content over and over again, just to get the right gear. Obviously, this is easy to accomplish in Rift, with only 4 classes and each class with a different gear type: Warriors always wear plate, Clerics always wear mail, Rogues always wear leather and Mages always wear cloth.

Rifts is another thing that Rift have that World of Warcraft doesn’t: They are random events, which can spawn at any time. Basically, they are special points in the map, with special enemies, which give special tokens that can be traded with better gear once defeated. They also spawn what it’s called “Invasions”, which are basically small groups of enemies that will march to some player “safe base” and try to destroy it. To help players help themselves, the game create “public groups” once two or more players are close to one of those two, and newcomers are presented with a “join public group” option right on the top of their screen. This creates a feeling of “we are fighting for this” which brings players together. Unfortunately, once the players kill all the enemies, the group is not disbanded, which means, if you’re not paying any attention, you may run up around with a group of people without even noticing it.

Those events break the monotony of running around doing quests like “kill 10 of those guys” over and over again — which is a problem with most Rift quests and that World of Warcraft solved in the latest expansion with something that Total Biscuit called “magic wand quest”: Instead of mindlessly killing 10 of those guys, you get a special item (like a magical wand) that turns them into something else. It adds a little flavour to the quest, even if, in the end, you’re still just killing 10 of those guys.

Also related with Rifts are world events, eventually one “demi-boss” will get bored and decide to ruin the puny players questing and rift closing. This will spawn a lot of rifts all over the place, with a dozen of more invasions, which require the players to group up and fight to defend it while taking rifts and invasions down. Once a certain number of those are taken down, the demi-boss will show up himself/herself and players must, again, group up and fight it, which will give the players more powerful tokens.

But not everything in the garden smells like roses. As I mentioned, quests are really repetitive and lack some imagination. The scenery makes up a bit for it, but doesn’t solve that the basic mechanic of most quests is “go there and kill 10 of those guys”. Also, PvP (player versus player) speed is really slow. Either you’re ambushed by someone with a DPS so high you can barely see them or, when you join the warfronts — areas created specially for PvP, with objetives and such — the rhythm is so slow you feel like you’d either survive it or just die. There is no frantic pushing buttons, calling your survival abilities to get out of it like in World of Warcraft, killing any adrenalin rush you could get. Simply, there is none.

Overall, the game is prettier than World of Warcraft, still have some issues like repetitive quests and out of rhythm PvP, but one must also remember that World of Warcraft is 6.5 years old and that Rift is out for about 3 months only and, thus, a lot can still change while Trion polishes the game.

[1] Some people buy two or more World of Warcraft accounts and play more than once character at the same time, so it doesn’t mean there are 12 million players.