Now with three beta events under my Rift belt, it is finally time to weigh in.
I have been fortunate to be a part of the Rift experience since the start of alpha testing, and I have seen significantly more content than the beta events let on (past level 20 on the Guardian side).
But this is not going to give anything away about the game; the actual content of the game can and should still be a surprise and wondrous discovery to the players. This will instead focus on what was done right about the design, and what was done wrong.
First off, Rift does not break significantly new ground. Those who were hoping for the pipe dream of a revolutionary MMO will be sadly disappointed, as they will always be disappointed, because there are significant structural limitations built in to the way computer games are made and interfaced with.
Second, those who were hoping for a completely unstructured sandbox experience will be disappointed. Rift is very much a “themepark” type of game, with lots of fun attractions, but a far cry from the “make up your own game” MMOs they fondly remember from the mid-90s.
Third, do not listen to the naysayers that say that Rift is simply a reskinned version of WoW. Yes, there is much familiar from WoW and Everquest within Rift, and with good reason. Former Everquest developers feature prominently in Rift‘s development.
But the game has managed to be a refreshing amalgamation of what other games have done right, while fixing quite a bit about what they have done wrong.
Foremost among these things should be the rifts, being titular and all, and the much-lauded “dynamic content” featured within the game. Indeed, rifts are quite a bit of fun, but a little hard to tinker with in terms of balance.
The basic idea is this: planar tears will randomly appear in the world, which can then be opened by players using specific items (triggering rifts to be completed by groups) or opening on their own. A rift that is left open will eventually spawn invaders (groups of monsters lead by an elite or champion-level mob that will go and attack camps and towns, killing NPCs) and footholds (where a monster manages to take over a town or camp and set up an attackable portal that summons even more monsters). Left unchecked, rifts can tear up the map. They also provide excellent rewards, especially in the form of motes that can be traded in for quite excellent blue-quality gear.
The bad thing about rifts is that they cannot be soloed, fairly requiring grouping to get through. While everyone is limited to the first 20 levels and maps are fairly crowded, this is not a problem. But, as it stands, the guild system is not robust enough, nor is there a public party option as is found in Warhammer Online. Each of these will need to be revamped by launch, and yes, I have submitted these multiple times during my extensive feedback.
The actual questing experience is very straightforward: enter area, get quests, complete quests, be given breadcrumb to new area, rinse, repeat. Several of the quest lines are ho-hum (Silverwood) while others literally shook me in my socks (Gloamwood).
Questing provides a bit slower of a progression path than does rifting, but a more consistent level of rewards. The best path is to quest to get a basic set of gear and then rift until one has enough motes to buy the blue-level gear, and then finish up the questlines for the big rewards at the end.
My own experience of PVP has been minimal, so I will save that for future columns.
I am also not at endgame level, so I cannot comment on that, but suffice it to say that I have been tantalized by what I suspect are end-game rift events.
So far, the animations and graphic quality seem slightly above par. This game will not melt GPUs, but it does look sufficiently updated from current-gen MMOs to entice people with shinies.
For more casual players, there are robust crafting and collecting systems, including crafting quests, which provide a quick way for crafters to level up.
Currently, banking systems are a little on the light side, and the auction house is lackluster, but at least it has one, cough FFXIV cough.
The other big “reveal” now that the NDA has dropped has been the Soul system, and this is what I will devote the rest of this column to.
Far from being the static, pre-built talent trees of most MMOs, the Soul system allows players to play mix-and-match within one of four archetypes: Warrior, Rogue, Priest and Magician. For instance, Warrior souls (of which I have been exhausting the possibilities!) are a balance between offensive and defensive classes, with some interesting mixes thrown in. For instance, the Beastmaster class is a pet class… a plate-wearing, shield-capable, two-handed weapon pet class. The Riftblade is a two-handed weapon wielded, plate-armored RANGED class, with an interesting mix of both ranged and melee abilities, making it a danger from two distance of combat. The Void Knight excels at tanking magic-based enemies, while the Reaver (my personal favorite) has enough self-healing abilities to solo very difficult content!
Three of the archetypes have a tanking Soul, which is rather useful when it comes to multiclassing. Poor mages are left out in the cold without a tank, but this is because they are mages. They do get a healer, so there’s that for consolation. Neither melee class has a dedicated healing soul.
Players also have the ability to purchase up to four “roles,” where a role is a combination of any 3 Souls available to an archetype. For instance, a Warrior can have four roles. Currently, my Warrior has three Roles: a pure tanking role (Paladin soul only, with only the basic abilities of the Void Knight and Warlord); a soloing role (Reaver, with basic abilities of Void Knight and Beastmaster); and Paragon (a dual-wield Warrior class with support souls of Champion and Riftblade).
As players put talent points (one for each level) into a Soul tree, they also unlock abilities based on how many points are spent within the tree, as well as gaining the abilities from talent points. Thus, players can chose to spend all 51 talent points in a single tree, unlocking the 51-point “root” talent as well as gaining the maximal amount of talents from that tree. In that instance, the other two souls assigned to a role will simply provide their base abilities to that role. The Beastmaster soul, for instance, grants its owner a pet without a single talent point being spent, as well as a combo-point builder attack. Small bananas next to the deep-tree talents, but certainly nothing to sneeze at when it is effectively free.
As is stands, the keystone talent of a Soul can be reached in only 31 points, thereby making it possible that a player could feasibly create a 31/10/10 or 31/20/0 talent build within a given role, allowing them to mix and match. The permutations are quite large, and as each Soul tree contains talents that are obvious increases to damage-dealing, tanking or healing power, as well as small-use situational PVP abilities, deep theorycrafting is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the game.
Players are allowed to mix and match based on their desires and unique playstyle to create truly diverse and useful characters, much more like a pen-and-paper game than an online game.
I foresee that this will lead to some interesting balance issues… but it may be easier to simply offset dangerous power in one class by giving other classes a way to exploit its weakness. For instance, most Warrior souls lack the mobility seen in other classes, with the exception of the Champion… who lacks the defensive abilities of, say, a Void Knight or a Paladin. So while the Champion can move around, he is susceptible to quick damage. The Reaver, on the other hand, has tremendous staying power thanks to his self-healing abilities, but Reaver damage is quite low until Reaver diseases have had a chance to ramp up. Enterprising players might think a mix of Reaver and Champion sounds good, but there is always a weakness to exploit for every strength.
The Soul system is extremely well-designed, and I cannot wait to try and break it when the game goes live.
So, in the end, will this convince anyone to actually go out and buy the game at release? I hope it does; Trion is taking a bit of a gamble by throwing a lot of money at good talent in the hopes of creating a blockbuster MMO that makes them a lot of money in return, and I think they are on the right track. Their beta system is generating the correct amounts of interest and the finished game will be worthwhile. It is important to distinguish what the game is, and what the game is not, however. It is simply an update of existing MMO tropes that fixes a lot of the issues people currently have with games and blends it all together into an interesting, frothy mixture of fun… that will never recapture the nostalgic remembrances of old-timers who want to turn MMOs back to the niche hobby of Internet nerds with too much time before the non-nerds came and ruined all their fun with insistence on accessibility and fun for everyone, and not just those people that can spend seven to eight hours a day playing a game.