Friday, June 3, 2011

Rift: First impressions

Finding Rift for sale on Steam a couple of weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and decided to try it out. Here are some assorted impressions based on about two and a half weeks of play.

The presentation is outstanding. The graphics are beautiful even on my middle-of-the-road machine. The music is varied and appropriate to the settings. Performance has been flawless except for a handful of the inevitable bugs in any new MMO. And generally the game feels very complete. So a big thumbs-up to Trion for releasing a polished product.

The invasions are super fun. My second night playing, a huge fire invasion erupted in Silverwood and I had a grand time running around with an impromptu raid group fighting off invaders and closing rifts. The event culminated in a huge boss fight, and I ended up with enough loot to buy a shiny new weapon from the rare goods vendor. The whole thing was exactly the kind of thing I like in MMOs--dynamic, open world play. Hopefully this will become a trend in the industry. I do have some concerns with how long invasions will stay interesting, expecially if the endgame is heavily instanced, but for now they're a lot of fun.

The character build system is fun, but not quite as focused as it should be. Each class has several different "souls" out of which you can choose three, and each soul has a variety of skills. So the result is that you can customize a character pretty much how you like, and with all of the skills from three different souls, you have a ton of abilities at your disposal. The problem is that, despite the huge number of skills, many of them are generic and also duplicative across souls. For example, in my current Inquisitor/Sentinel/Warden build, I have three DoTs, two knockbacks, four direct damage skills, and five heals. I would have preferred fewer skills but more uniqueness. However, I was able to build a character that appeals exactly to my playstyle, and that's not possible in less flexible systems.

Other than the rifts and soul system, the game is pretty much a copy of WoW and includes both the good and bad points of that game. The quests are the kill-ten-foozle variety, the crafting system is a sidelight, PvP and dungeons are almost entirely instanced, and solo combat reduces to executing the same skill rotation on every monster. Presumably the intent was to feel familiar to WoW fans, but it doesn't feel like Trion put as much effort into the non-rift elements of the game as they did into the rifts.

I did appreciate the fact that Trion made an effort to appeal to Explorer types by including hidden puzzles, cairns, and artifact collections. Of these, the puzzles and cairns are quite fun, and often require the player to go off the beaten track to find them. The world designers also made mountains generally climbable, with few invisible walls, which adds a fun mountaineering element to the game. The artifact collections, on the other hand, are a bit grindy, and feel more like a checkoff list than exploration for its own sake.

In sum, Rift is a very polished, traditional MMO with one great new feature. If you enjoy games like World of Warcraft, you'll almost certainly like it. If you don't like WoW, or are tired of that style of game, you probably won't. But its focus on dynamic, open-world gameplay definitely makes it worth trying.

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