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Rift Review: From A WoW Player

Developer: Trion Worlds | Publisher: Trion Worlds
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 03/01/11 | Genre: MMO

Rift owes some of its pedigree to a proud but failed lineage of MMOs that have attempted to dethrone that game whose name shall not be mentioned. Okay, I apologize. We do have to mention it here, because for the past 8 years, I've been a pretty loyal (and regularly paying) subscriber to Blizzard's juggernaut. And that's the gist of this article: what is Rift like for someone who’s only MMO experience has been hacking through the teeming wilds of Azeroth?

 

Rift is set in the world of Telera but all anyone really needs to understand is that Rift pretty unapologetically borrows a lot from World of WarCraft (WoW). This is not a criticism --this is as it should be. From Conan to Aion, the MMO-verse is littered with titles that tried not only to beat WoW, but also reinvent it. Trion, who Develops and Publishes Rift, haven't attempted to do this. Theirs is a game that liberally steals many of the ideas and mechanics that made WoW a success, applies a new coat of paint in the way of better graphics, sharp sound design, and creates what is arguably a parallel world to the one Blizzard has made.

 

In the game, you select between two factions to play: Guardians (Alliance) and Defiants (Horde). Both sides battle to save the world from being invaded and destroyed by waves of creatures who pour out of the frequently opening dimensional rifts in Telera. The Guardians are protectors of Nature, the Defiants prefer a technology-based society. The story I've outlined is admittedly extremely thin, but the storyline in the game itself is pretty weak and not presented in a way that makes the player feel like anything more than an extra. It seems more of an excuse to set up various locations and events and then dump the players into a scenario so they can move on to the next stage. If I seem flippant or dismissive of the story, I'm not trying to denigrate the game--the story just never seemed terribly compelling or important to me. Quests follow the same time-worn and reassuring formula codified in WoW: kill x; collect x; do x to earn reputation with y.  It works for Blizzard, so why mess with success. This has the added benefit of creating a very shallow learning curve. New arrivals to the game don't have to worry at all about figuring out what to do.

 

Character and class customization are given tremendous breadth of range here. In addition to the addictive degree to which you can tailor your character’s appearance, once you enter the game, the class selection is quite ample. You have four general classes: warrior, mage, cleric and rogue. Each of these grants nine separate specs, with a point-based talent system that permits allocation across three of those. And they vary exhaustively. For example, each main class has a spec  that is shared by all the others. The warrior can be a paladin, the cleric can be dps, the rogue can be healing support or a hunter, the mage can choose to be a healer.  Like WoW, you have to option to switch between specs. Where WoW allows two spec slots, Rift allocates five.

 

To its credit, Rift makes some additional changes to the standard WoW gameplay mechanic, which on the surface seem almost inconsequential, but these tweaks turn out to make the gameplay a lot more enjoyable. They're improvements that seem at once intuitive, but also make you ponder why that other game still insists you do things the old, slow way. This is not a comprehensive list, but it will give you an idea of the nature of these innovations:

 

The ability to loot several mobs at once instead of having to separately click each one. The ability to loot while mounted; or while fighting another mob without losing focus on the creature your killing. When clicking "Finish" to complete a quest, if you have other quests from the same giver that you've completed, the "Finish" option appears automatically for those too. Which translates to a lot less clicking. This accelerates gameplay flow and makes things feel like they’re progressing more fleetly. It's also just less frustrating. Rifts are often raid-based events, and joining one is as easy is riding over to the vicinity of said rift, where a "Join raid group" popup appears, you click it, and you've just become part of the raid. It's really easy, and tremendously helpful. And thanks to the last big patch, there is now a “Looking for Group, or LFG, option.

 

A final note in how the game feels; specifically, what is it like living in Telera as opposed to Azeroth? This isn’t as fair a question as it appears. Blizzard has had 8 years to polish, improve, aggrandize, and with Cataclysm, entirely remake the universe they’ve created. That being said, Telera feels emptier in many respects. Not necessarily in population, but in the environment -- zones that feel devoid of much variety or life. Textures are well rendered, but huge expanses repeat the same environmental elements with seemingly little purpose. Parts of Telera seem suspended or unrealized. Lastly, Rift is missing the sense of whimsy and self-deprecation that Blizzard has brought to WoW. There are few tongue-in-cheek pop-culture references and Telera is generally made to feel more serious than Azeroth.  For a game we have to pay for the privilege of playing, a little self-deprecation and self-awareness could go a long way.

 

Rift is not a WoW-killer. It probably never set out to be. Call it instead, WoW Jr. 

By Chris Acton - 06/04/11
ESRB Details: This is a massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game in which players complete quests and explore a fantasy world filled with inter-dimensional 'rifts.' Players can earn rewards, join cooperative parties, and 'level up' their customizable characters as they assume the role of humans, elves, dwarves, or giants. Axes, swords, and magic spells (e.g., fire or energy blasts) are used to battle human-like characters and enemy creatures (e.g., demons, wraiths, skeletons) in hand-to-hand combat. Battles are accompanied by metallic clanging sounds, cries of pain, and large splashes of blood. Players can deviate from one quest to briefly access a game area that depicts mounds of piled corpses. Some collectable items include beer mugs and wine; one sequence requires players to refill tavern patrons' mugs within a given time limit. The words 'bastard,' 'damn,' and 'hell' appear in the dialogue.
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