It’s a common belief that you’ve got to have balls of mithril to enter into the MMO market these days. Not only is it a developer time-sink nightmare, and an incredible outlay in terms of server hardware, but there’s also the lingering gorilla in the mist that is World of Warcraft. For better or worse, games like Rift, Trion Worlds epic fantasy MMO, will always get compared to Blizzard’s juggernaught – either through disgruntled WoW players looking for an alternative, those who think WoW’s benchmark cannot be surpassed, or even those who think that for any MMO to cut the mustard it must depart from Blizzard’s model of UI design.
But Rift really does deserve better. It brings a lot of polished mechanics to the table, a rich array of player options, unique modes of gameplay and a rich world for it all to happen in. However, it’s also worth pointing out one even more important thing – we’ve stopped playing it, and really don’t have any passion to go back.
But that might just be us...
The whole setup of Rift is pretty much right there in the title. Due to dubious shenanigans to try and win a decades-gone war, the world of Telara is being torn apart by interdimensional rifts that can literally pop up anywhere. The game features two factions – the Guardians, who are reincarnated heroes, brought back to fight the good fight, and the Defiant, a technologically advanced faction that prefers personal choice to Gods-given destiny. Telara itself is a pretty stock-standard world, full of elves and dwarves, and slightly different versions on the Defiant side, and all kinds of familiar fantasy tropes. It is, however, riven by war, and not the more or less carebear kind of war you see in WoW. No, this one’s nasty, and has much more direct impact on gameplay.
In fact, while many compare Rift to WoW, it’s actually a lot closer to EA’s not-quite-there Warhammer Online. The faction-based combat, specific battlegrounds, and the way the rifts themselves draw all players into the effort to close them is very similar to Warhammer – it’s just shinier, and, to be honest, better implemented.
Character creation does a good job of getting you started on the game, and there’s a wealth of options to get your toon looking just right. Rift’s facial slider, in particular, is very well-implemented – it’s more of a three-way axis, and an elegant solution. However, it’s worth noting that choosing your class is a pretty unique setup. At first, during character creation, it’s pretty limiting, as there’s just the four basic classes – cleric, mage, fighter and rogue. You get more choice almost the minute you start playing, though, and that’s when the real crunchy side of the game kicks in.
Through the entire early portion of the game – the newbie zone, basically – you’re still choosing aspects of your character. Rift takes the unique approach of offering Souls, or sub-classes, that you can pick three out of eight available for each base class. And you can combine these in any way. What this leads to is you effectively choosing three talent trees to work toward and combine skills from. It’s, arguably, just about the most customisable class system we’ve seen in an MMO yet, with a lot of room for interesting, non-cookie cutter builds.
Of course, MMOs being what they are, the most effective builds have pretty much been worked out, but if that’s not your priority, you’ll dig the effort Trion’s gone to in this respect.