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.