I’ve played a lot of MMOs in my day. Even though I’m not playing as much as I used to, I still have a couple of MMOs in my weekly rotation. So, when I was presented the opportunity to try out Rift, the new MMORPG from Trion Worlds, I hopped in with both feet.
On the surface, Rift is a lot like other MMOs. There are two opposing factions, an overarching evil trying to destroy the world, and a bunch of player-controlled heroes (called Ascended here) out to stop it. However, there are some obvious (and not-so-obvious) differences here that are worth talking about.
First up, let’s talk about the class system. At first glance, Rift offers up only four classes (referred to as callings): Warrior, Mage, Cleric, and Rogue. While this sounds simplistic, it’s actually anything but. Each calling offers a number of souls to choose from. Each soul represents a specialization in that calling, and each player can equip three souls at once.
For example, a Mage can choose from several options as he progresses through the game. He may choose pyromancer, elementalist, stormcaller, necromancer, warlock, or a host of others. Because of this variety, two characters that are the same class may have vastly different abilities and roles. There are rogues that can tank, mages that can heal, and clerics that can DPS. The rigid roles you’re used to in MMOs are right out the window here.
The other obvious difference is the rift mechanic. Similar in concept to public quests in Warhammer Online, rifts are dynamic public events that can spawn anywhere in the world. A tear opens between the planes, and creatures stream through for you to defeat. Each rift has stages. Completing the stages in the alloted time will net you rewards, experience, and bonus stages. Rewards from completing rifts may be gear, consumables, or items you can collect and exchange at a planar goods vendor.
What sets rifts apart from Warhammer’s public quest system is not only the randomness with which they occur, but the effect they have on the world as whole. If a rift isn’t sealed in a timely fashion, the invaders will establish a foothold, and will begin raiding nearby outposts. This necessitates not only closing the rift, but also eliminating the invaders and all their footholds.
At times, the denizens of other planes will actually invade the world of Telara on their own hook, opening a number of rifts simultaneously. These events can get quite hectic as you and your fellow Ascended try to close all the rifts, defeat all the invaders, and then take out a large boss. These events were really what sold me on the concept of Rift, as I joined up with well over 100 players in defeating the first boss we faced.
The PvE questing system is mostly standard fare. You’ll be killing mobs, gathering items, and taking out specific targets. There’s a decent amount of story here, but you aren’t required to read it if you’re not into it. Its pacing is a little varied, with quests feeling like they flow fairly well, and rifts and invasions moving along like a Ferrari on the autobahn.
On the technical side, Rift is quite impressive. While it’s not offering up photorealistic graphics, the visuals are quite nice, especially the environments. Character models and foliage aren’t as well-rendered as a game like LotRO, but they still look fine. Locations, such as the Defiant capital, Meridian, are almost stunning to look at. One of my particular favorites was a church in the Stonefield zone. Surrounded by haunted graves, it also sported some seriously cool low-hanging fog.
The most impressive technical aspect of Rift was how well it ran even with large groups of players clustered together. Even with somewhere around one hundred players onscreen at once, the game was still smooth and playable. Obviously, frame rates dropped, but even on my 2 year-old PC (which still exceeds the recommended requirements), I had no stuttering or graphical problems.
As a whole, Rift has a great feel to it. It offers variations on the standard MMO theme that are fairly substantial, and the dynamic content keeps you glancing at the map as you wait for the next rift to open up. While nothing looks to be unseating World of Warcraft from the top of the MMO heap anytime soon, Rift is offering up some new ideas in a very familiar, accessible package that could appeal to fans of the genre. I won’t be surprised if Rift is a success, provided that Trion keeps the content flowing once characters begin to hit the level cap.
If you want to see what Rift is all about, you can visit the official game site. Rift will land in stores March 1.