The real Rift review

I did not want to do a formal review of Rift until I hit 50, but seeing as this continues to get more and more out of hand, a character at 42 will have to do. So this review is of the pre-50 game only, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about the end-game content when I reach it.

The first thing to understand about Rift is it’s not looking to reinvent the wheel or shock you with a radical twist on the MMORPG genre. It’s a themepark in the tradition of 2004 WoW, but with well-applied lessons learned over the last seven years. If you deep down hate themepark MMOs, or are completely burned out on them as a whole, Rift won’t help you. If, however, you like the basic concept of a themepark, but find the games you have tried up to this point lacking in one area or another, it’s likely Rift has fixed or smoothed out that issue.

Rift is a good looking game that runs well on lots of hardware (last night a guild mate ran it on his laptop that has less processing power than my soundcard). If you have high-end stuff, Rift offers a lot of fancy effects that really make it a great looking game. If you don’t, Rift will scale down appropriately and still let you experience most of the basic visuals, minus the really fancy lighting or texture tricks. In other words, Rift does not turn into a SNES-looking game at low settings, nor does it allow those with high-end hardware to see important game-affecting details that those without don’t.

Rift’s core gameplay is the very familiar solo-quest method, but spiced up in a number of ways. Not all quests are solo, and while many are kill/collect X, you will find enough quests that mix things up to keep things interesting. The writing is solid, as is the lore. There are more than enough quests per zone to get you to 50, and zones are laid out in such a way that you often return to previous hubs more than once as you progress. This keeps each zone feeling active, as you see different level players criss-crossing areas, and you never ‘finish and forget’ a section. Like most things in Rift, the questing has all the features you would expect; easy sharing, the ability to see who in your group has the same quests, sharing of quest drops/kills in a group, quest locations marked on your map, customizable quest trackers, etc. If a current MMO has a feature, odds are good Rift has it built-in.

Questing however is the basic content of Rift. It’s good at what it does, but for me it’s more a compliment to everything else than the real meat of my gameplay. Completing quests, for me, is the filler between all other activities, and Rift has plenty of those.

The biggest, and in many ways most subtle, is the rift system itself. Rifts will randomly open up across a zone, with major (group) or minor (solo/small group) flavors, and closing them is not only a source of solid XP, but reputation and a sub-currency as well. Ignored rifts will send out mobs to attack quest hubs, and the longer a rift stays open, the more mobs it pumps out. If the mobs are not dealt with, they can and will overrun a quest hub and ‘convert’ it to their own faction (fire, water, air, earth, life, death). This is never a permanent change, but does create a reason to group up and react to what the zone is doing. From my experience this works well, and players are very willing to fight back and reclaim a hub or close a rift. The easy and smooth public grouping feature really shines here as well.

When enough rifts have been closed, a zone event gets triggered. Events are large invasions, were numerous rifts open up and the mobs make a concentrated effort to attack the player hubs. These start simple in the beginning areas, but different twists get incorporated as you advance to higher zones. If you are questing, it’s difficult (but possible) to ignore such an event, especially because the rewards are very worthwhile and they make for a great excuse to stop what you are doing and join in.

These events also make for great pre-made (guild or otherwise) group content, as a focused effort by a group can not only be extremely rewarding, but can lead to an event being successfully completed. The beauty of the system is that if your guild has the players online to attempt such an event, you can ‘force’ it by running around and closing rifts whenever they pop up (which they do frequently). I’ve already spent many hours simply “rift chasing” with my guild, and its great fun. Minor rifts we can close quickly and efficiently, while major rifts are almost always a race for our five to see if we can reach the bonus stages. Same goes for the invasions, our group has been getting better and better at holding down key points or objectives, and our success rate reflects this.

As we play on a PvP server, rifts and invasions also affect this aspect. Normally when you see an enemy player out in the world it’s 50/50 whether a fight breaks. If you have a group closing a rift, and an enemy group shows up, a fight could break out as neither side needs the others help, while clearing out the current group means you get more access/contribution to said rift. If you only have 3-4 people working on a major rift, and an enemy shows up, you might (should) allow them to help out in order to reach the bonus stages, benefiting everyone. The factions can communicate with each other, so you can always tell that lone enemy to help out and that you won’t kill him. Whether you do or not after is up to you. The same happens after an invasion event; right after the boss is defeated, a large brawl usually breaks out. It’s quick, meaningless PvP fun for a minute or so for those who want it, and again, just adds one more short activity to mix things up.

More could certainly be done to make world PvP better in Rift, but what is there now is ‘good enough’, and very similar to the early days of WoW world PvP where players fight at various points just for the sake of fighting.

On all servers you have warfronts, which are queue-up instances PvP areas with objectives. These are well refined in terms of length (10-15 minutes), they balance well (neither side will have more players than the other, and the player cap will slowly be reached rather than one side filling up to fight half a team), and have their own reputation/currency systems. A new map opens up at 10 (kill the carrier), 20 (capture/hold objectives), 30 (capture the flag), and 50 (have yet to see it), while you never lose access to a previous map. The rewards are comparable to dungeon-quality loot (blues before 50, purple at 50), and the XP is significant enough that you could gain a considerable amount (or all) of each level just from warfronts.

Rift is certainly a PvE-first MMO, but its PvP feels like more than an after thought, and is quite enjoyable for what it is. If you queue up with a group, you are rewarded for good play and can make a very significant difference, which to me shows that things are well balanced and reward individual and group skill rather than simply coming down to who brings the better gear. The excellent soul system (more on that shortly) factors in heavily here, and not only allows you to specialize your role, but construct a well-complimenting group.

Speaking of group content, Rift is not lacking when it comes to dungeons, and the ones I have seen have all been above-average to great. Again the situation here is more “everything works, well” than mind-blowing newness, so if you hate 5-man group dungeons now, Rift won’t change that. If you do enjoy them, especially with a bit of a challenge (when you run them at-level), Rift delivers. The ones I have seen (all of them up to level 42) have all been 45 minutes to just over an hour in length, depending on your level and how carefully/slowly you need to execute pulls and recover from wipes. If you are 2-3 levels above, you most likely can steamroll the place and more or less ignore boss tactics, but at-level or slightly below the tuning of the encounters really shines and you will be nicely rewarded for solid group play. Each dungeon has also had an interesting and zone-appropriate theme, along with story-driving elements contained within.

In a “we are not in 2004 anymore” move, Rift launched with all dungeons have two different difficult levels at 50, and this includes more than just increased mob/boss stats. As we are running these dungeons pre-50, we are seeing portions of the map (Rift has built-in dungeon maps) blocked off, making us wonder what we will see when we come back for round two. End-game content also includes raid rifts and raiding instances, but again, I’ve yet to personally experience any of this. From talking to a few guild members who have hit 50, they have had good things to say about that part of the game, so I am excited to experience it myself. The one thing I do know is Rift is not lacking in options at 50, even at launch, and Trion (the devs) have already stated that they will be adding content aggressively in the months to come.

Crafting is decent, as it contains some nice twists (extra items to boost an item’s stats, daily quests to build up currency to buy additional patterns) and feels like less of a grind than in other games. The progression curve is also smooth, meaning you won’t breeze through the first tier only to have a massive grind to finish it off. The items you can craft are useful if you keep up with it and don’t min/max at all times, but depending on what you have been doing (lots of dungeons or just questing), you might to through spans where you don’t use anything you make.

Soul system. To me this is what really brings everything in Rift together, and what will no doubt be remembered as the thing Rift did best. At first glance it seems like a slightly more flexible talent tree system, but the more you take advantage of it, the more you realize just how important and fun it can be. The four base classes (warrior, priest, rogue, mage) are little more than guidelines to a character (how squishy you are, where you will likely stand in a fight, how your armor looks), as each class can fill a number of different roles based on their soul combination, and switching between those roles is fast and easy.

The flexibility and ease-of-use is what really shines about the system, as you can not only experiment with different combos until you find something to fit your style, but you also never have to worry about filling only one role for group content. The warrior class can, for instance, tank, support, or dps, and can do all three well. I’ve yet to see a group turn down a dps warrior because they would prefer a rogue, and this does not even get into what dps soul combo that warrior is running. Mages and rogues can heal, a priest can dps, a rogue can tank, etc. The system is flexible enough that you can have people switch up roles right after you have entered a dungeon, and you won’t be crippled by a second priest switching to dps.

I play a warrior currently, as does a fellow guild member I play with often. We run different dps combos, different tank combos, and different PvP combos. I’ve at least tried all of the souls, and even though they do share some similarities (most have a taunt, a combo-dump ability, a charge), the differences are significant enough that they feel like playing a totally different character. This is not a 2-3 abilities difference here, like it has been in other MMOs. Add in that the second and third souls can be different combos, and that you can put different point amounts into the different souls, and there are a lot of possibilities here. I can’t speak for end-game, but up to 42 I’ve had many very viable combos, and I’ve yet to play one that felt significantly more powerful than another (and I’m a min/maxer at heart). Perhaps at the world-first raiding level, there will be an ‘ideal’ setup for the toughest 20 man raid, but maybe not (League of Legend, for instance, is min/maxed to hell and back, yet even at the highest level people still debate different builds for different champions, so it’s not a guarantee that there has to be one ‘best’ build; good balance can lead to more options).

A few other quick notes (this is going to end soon, I promise): Rift’s systems and complexity unfold as the game goes. How you play at level 1 is different than how you play at 25, and at 50. The same goes for the difficulty. If you find everything too easy, it’s possible and a fun challenge (rather than feeling like smashing your head into a wall just to do it) to attempt content at just a slightly higher level. The game does not hard-punish you for doing so, and will reward you.

The artifact collection system is a small but fun addition, and keeps you spinning your camera and checking behind crates or rocks. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit climbing up a tree or on to a strange ledge just to grab that little glowing ball. The various world puzzles and treasure spots are also fun to track down and solve (not to mention being very rewarding), although a few of the puzzles could use a little more instruction/clarification. The game has achievements, world first server notifications, and other little touches to show not only a highly polished product, but one with a lot of different systems all expertly put together to form something much greater than any one of it’s parts.

If you enjoy themepark MMOs, Rift as a whole is the best one yet. Not for any one reason, but for all of them.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Combat Systems, crafting, Inquisition Clan, MMO design, PvP, Rift. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to The real Rift review

  1. silvertemplar says:

    PHew that’s a long read, but a good read. I think Rift is a well rounded game, definitely worth a play through :).

    • Anonymous says:

      Hmm. I installed the free trial – it’s visually stunning by I found the interface and difficulty with completing simple quests – for example, talking with quest NPCs – so annoying I just deleted the entire thing to free up hd space. Glad to hear other users enjoy it, but I’m underwhelmed.

  2. PeterD says:

    Dammit, I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here. Scary :P

    I’m happy with Rift. Like you said, it’s not a revolutionary game, and it’s not trying to be. What it is trying to be, and successfully I feel, is a very good alternative to WoW.

    Despite what Tobold seems to think, I believe you can be sick to death of WoW and still enjoy Rift. Like you said though, if you’re sick to death of themeparks Rift isn’t going to help you.

    Now if someone could just make a Sci-fi MMORPG of Rift’s caliber I’d be a very happy man (hey Trion, new project?). Yes, SW:TOR is coming, and I’m sure it will be very good, but Star Wars has always felt more like fantasy in space than science fiction. I was sad when Imperator was cancelled . . .

    • SynCaine says:

      Trion has a Sci-Fi MMO in the works, although they have not released anything about it, but they have a page for it on their site.

      I’d love to do a “why Rift is not WoW” post, but I doubt anyone could look beyond “But SynCaine, you have not played WoW since 97, you know nothing now, it’s like totally different in ways you can’t possible image!!!”. Might still do it though.

      • Shadow says:

        It’s supposed to somehow tie into the SyFy channel and an upcoming show or some-such craziness.

      • Sean Boocock says:

        Lol you haven’t let that stop you from commenting in the past, recent or otherwise, on the current state of WoW.

        Also, why Rift is not WoW at one level answers itself; they are unique entities with different sets of properties. If your post is to be about the size of the intersection of those properties, then that’s fine but it’s also in line with pretty much all the coverage I’ve read on Rift. WoW looms so large in those discussions because Rift belongs to the same genre of MMO that WoW helped refine, and some six years on WoW continues to be the dominant force among “themepark” MMOs. Rift is written in the vocabulary that WoW made MMO vernacular, even as it seems to say some fresh, new things.

  3. pkudude99 says:

    I’ve been enjoying Rift quite a lot too. I’ve got my cleric up to level 35 now, and oddly enough, it seems I’m asked to tank for instances more than anything else. I’ve only healed 1 dungeon, dps’ed a few here and there, but tanked a lot. TBH, I think I’ve only ever been in 2 groups with warriors tanking either. It’s usually me, another cleric, or a rogue tanking.

    I also enjoy that I can be in a group with 3 clerics and 2 rogues and we can still be successful. Or be tanking as a cleric while being healed by a mage and having 3 warriors be the dps. It’s nice to be able to simply advertise “need tank” or whatever and have a plethora of available people who can step into that role — though the amount that I’m asked to tank makes me think it’s still a fairly unpopular role. Ah well.

  4. bonedead says:


  5. Zapod says:

    I am only level 12 but am a bit puzzled how the soul system works. I picked up a quest in Sanctum which offered a druid token as a reward? I am playing a cleric class. My cleric has three different trees but I am mainly putting points in Justicar. Does the soul system mean you can switch to another class?

    • Zapod says:

      I guess I need to read some documentation but I also find the artifact system confusing. I collect three of a set them click (or was it right click) on the completed artifact and it disappears?

      • Eudaimonic says:

        You can swap your souls any time you want, you can not swap your calling (a cleric can not become a warrior). Druid is a soul within the cleric calling. You can also preset up to 4 “roles” so you can swap between them without going to a trainer. My endgame 50 Mage currently has a PvP role, a Heal/Buffing role, an AoE DPS/Debuffing role, and a DPS role in his quiver. There are some dungeons where I swap roles every time we reach a boss fight. Some bosses must be debuffed. Some bosses we need extra heals. Some bosses I just go to town with DPS. etc. I wish I had 10 more roles, actually, because it’s fun to tune a role for every specific encounter you might come across.

        There is an artifact tutorial quest in Sanctum.

      • pkudude99 says:

        After you hit level 13 you can quest out the 5 souls you didn’t take in the tutorial. The class trainer also allows you to purchase additional roles (specs) that as long as you have 2 seconds out of combat you can swap to.

        I have a Justicar/Shaman/Warden build I use to tank, an Inquisitor/Cabalist/Sentinel build I use for dps and leveling, and a Warden/Sentinel/I don’t remember role for healing. Works nice! Makes it so that if a group for a dungeon needs a tank, healer, or dps I can be that and go on in.

      • Mallika says:

        Others have touched on the souls, so I’ll talk about the artifacts. When you right click, up pops an artifact set that you can put the artifact in. Once you click the + sign to add it to the collection, it disappears from your inventory but is added to your collections. You can access your artifact collections by pressing C to bring up your character screen, then clicking on the COLLECTIONS tab. You’ll see them there, and there’s a drop-down filter to see all, incomplete, complete, etc.

        Once you complete a collection, turn it into an artifact guy in your city, and you’ll be given a Lucky Coin, or some other additional things depending on the collection (equipment, gold, a pet, etc).

        • Mallika says:

          One last note: those Lucky Coins can be saved up to buy special stuff from the artifact guy.

  6. Angry Gamer says:

    Great review I liked your even handed approach. I also liked how you ranked the various features and provided insightful commentary on them.

    I only disagree on the idea that the soul system is revolutionary. I do like it. And I do like the role flexibility that it spawns. However, I think it’s a bit like a radical re-creation of talent point customization. Not revolutionary…

    BUT, I personally think the Rift system IS the revolutionary part of Rift.

    I see glimpses of how it’s embedded in the game at a fundamental level. All of these things are possible given this robust a tech platform.
    -world wide war pvp with ancient stones as flags
    -elemental factions fighting competing invasions in high level zones
    -raid content spawning sister rifts in lower levels that if downed at same time offer mucho rewards
    -wardstone defense strategy being rewarded to end invasions

    Frankly the permutations are endless and are EASILY supported with a monkey level intern and configuration scripts.

    So while Star Wars needs to get voice actors, programmers, admins to work 3+ months to give new content. Rifties can create new content in 3 minutes.

  7. SM says:

    I agree with almost everything you say. I got bored with wow a while ago but Rift is wow-ish enough that it doesn’t require re-learning everything yet unique enough that I enjoy the new world. Wow gameplay = race-to-level-cap then race-to-best-in-slot-cap. Rift is much broader and players have choice again. Some people want to raid, some want to rift-chase, others want to do collections, achievements, etc. The main thing is that it is fun and the community isn’t hyper-critical of one’s inability to play “their” way.

    That basic model combined with polish makes Rift the best release in a while.

  8. Kilratha says:

    I do not play but wanted to say how insanely confused I am…This game was just released bug free(ish) and content all there all the way up to the level cap? Stable servers?

    Do they not know how MMO’s are released? They really need to get their act together, and quickly crash some servers and call it “Growing Pains” otherwise we might come to expect this from all future MMO’s I am highly disappointed in them for raising my hopes for all future MMO’s

  9. Bhagpuss says:

    Nice review. Pretty much agree with everythig you said. I’m at 44th on my mage now but I’ve slipped and started levellling up a rogue and a cleric. Got another week off work coming up though, so I hope to get to 50th soon.

    On the soul-build thing, I only found out yesterday that you if you have a third soul that you’ve spent no points in, which I guess most people do, you can swap any of the other 5 souls into that slot at will, at no cost or penalty. Very handy.

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  12. Hatch says:

    great write up. thanks for the post

  13. dan owens says:

    i liked rift at first but i wwas alrerady level 25 by the time i left the first area and it only goes to 50 plus the same redundant rifts i mean ya the rift concept is awsome but dang trion think u could make some of the rifts different therre all the same. plus whats with the wipe invasions ur server cant handle start to have fun with a major invasion and bam rift cuts it off plus it took 16 hours to start the game because they couldnt figure out what they did with the so called convienient digital download WARNING DO NOT DOWNLOAD DIDGITAL BUYT HARD COPY IT TAKES FOUR DAYS TO GET IT DIDGITALLY NOT VERY CONVIENANT . BUT ALL IN ALL I LIKED RIFT AT FIRST but its lack of content or should i say the very same content at every level shows lack of imagination .

  14. sara says:

    Don’t know what computer you have but I downloaded digital copy in an hour.

  15. Seijin says:

    Great review. I concur almost universally.

    However, you are dead wrong about performance on non gaming set ups.

    While a gorgeous game on a good rig, On minimal settings Rift is intensely drab, and actually worse than WoW on minimal settings. The textures are flat and washed out, animations are clunky and the game just gets flat out ugly. My buddy saw me playing it and installed it on his laptop (Core i3, 4gigs ram, intregrated gfx) and it honestly looked and played like a completely different game.

    The one place where wow has an edge is here. You can have a piece of crap comp, and even on minimal settings get decent graphics with good performance. Rift looked AWFUL.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, gotta say when I dabbled in the beta I had to have the graphics turned low, and it looked pretty bad. That being said, it doesn’t turn me away from the game.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Who wants World of Starcraft. *nonchalantly raises hand*

  18. Milano says:

    How is the game doing today? A followup would be much appreciated

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  20. Anonymous says:

    really enjoy reading your review, it has been a great help for me in understanding the game’s system in a non-bias way also convinced me to really try it out!

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