Players: 1+ Player Game | Genre: MMO
Over the years, I have spent a considerable amount of time playing Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMO's). Despite my love for the genre, only a few of them kept my interest over a long period of time. I have spent time in Ultima Online, World of WarCraft, EverQuest 2, WarHammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and countless others that don't exist any more. Today, the only title I continue to play on an ongoing basis is World of Warcraft. But after 5 years of the game, it has grown slightly stale and I have been looking for an upgrade. Along comes Rift--and with it--the promise to give me a more satisfying experience. So I entered the Private and Public Betas...
In the world of Rift, an interesting thing takes place. Players only have four classes to pick from. While this would lead you to believe the game is narrow in scope and lacking depth, this is far from the truth. Players choose Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue classes. Once you begin the game, you will choose a primary sub-class. This is your first Soul. Your souls give you the powers and skills. Within the first few hours, players will have selected a total of three souls. As the player progresses through the story, you will be able to earn additional souls through questing.
What this system allows is the ultimate in customization. You can purchase up to three additional Soul Sets, for a total of 4, to give you three Souls in each. This allows for you to customize your character, when out of battle, to face whatever challenges you encounter. No longer will players find themselves jumping to load up an alternate character (known as an Alt) to finish a dungeon. They simply must be out of battle, and change their souls. As a warrior who reached level 25 in the Beta, I had two different Soul sets. This gave me a Tanking Role I used in groups and a Damage Role I used as I solo. These played completely different and offered great variety to my gaming.
The interesting thing about Rift's characters is that there is no wrong way to play a class. If you encounter users telling you "oh you have to use these souls..." They are wrong. The developers have created their classes to be played how you want to play them. If you encounter problems, just change your souls and keep playing. Each Soul Set allows for you to plug in the same number of skill points, spread on the three Soul Trees. Now when I group, I can be any type of player I need to be for my group. This is an amazing feat and something no other MMO has ever done before.
Logging into Rift for the first time, I encountered a ton of slowdown and lag. Also, the graphical rich experience that I was promised seemed fairly lackluster. I soon discovered that I logged in the middle of a really heavy stress test. This accounted for the lag and slowdown. Since that time, I have played smoothly 99.99% of the time. Regarding my issue on the graphics, I looked in the settings and found that my system was auto-detected with rather low settings. Running a gaming laptop, from the fine folks at PowerNotebooks.com, with an i7 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 1GB Radeon 58550 HD, I moved things over to the "Ultra Settings." With a few visual tweaks and AA turned up from there, I was getting a consistent 26 to 32 FPS and getting the eye candy that I craved. This game is beautiful and stunning.
As the the game looked great and was now running lag-free, I continued on to discover the next hidden gem within the world of Rift--the aptly named "Rifts." Rifts are world events that spring up all over the map and impact both Guardians and Defiants. Imagine an octopus dangling from the sky with gloomy colors and you get the idea of what a rift looks at from a distance. Early levels on the Guardian side feature Fire, Nature, and Death rifts. Fire is red, Nature is green, and Death is purple. These Rifts force players to work together to close them by fighting off multiple stages worth of enemies that "warp" in. If players ignore these Rifts, they will send out large armies of really powerful, Elite, enemies to create footholds around the world. This causes several problems: (1) Footholds can be created on top of questing areas. (2) Footholds can be placed inside towns. (3) Footholds can spawn more enemies. (4) Questing NPCS, regular NPCS, and Guards can all be killed.
Such a thing happened several times in the Beta 7 event and players were forced to rush to areas, on the map, where "Invading Forces" were creating footholds; in order to dispose of them and to ultimately get to the Rifts so they could be closed. When entering an area where Invaders or Rifts are located, a button pops up at the top of the screen to "Join Public Raiding Group." Instantly you are dynamically grouped with other real players as you fight off waves of enemies, communicate with each other, heal one another, and have loot and gold shared within the group.
For participating in these groups, players are awarded a special currency that can be used to purchase elite weapons and armor, and other items to assist in Rift and Invading areas. After extensive playing time in Rifts, I was given not only EXP but enough currency to purchase a couple of pieces of high-end armor.
The most interesting thing about Rifts is that they can occur at any moment. Players can log in only to find that they are right in the middle of an invasion foothold. Others will find their questing interrupted by invaders or a Rift that pops up right where they needed to go. This forces you to actually participate with others and makes the world feel more alive and real. Rift is anything but a static game and brings new joy to the words "Massively Multiplayer."
Rift looks to be one of those special MMO's that comes up once every few years. I would argue that the last such MMO was World of WarCraft (WoW). It is interesting to note that Rift does borrow heavily from WoW. This is probably due to several members of the WoW team coming over. I must stress that Rift doesn't feel like a WoW clone any more so than WoW was a clone of other MMO's before it. Rift shares some of the same keys to open up several areas of the UI. But other games, especially console games, all share similar controls as well. We will look closer at the similarities in the future.
For now, know that Rift is coming on March 1, 2011. The game is largely polished, ready for primetime, and is eager to be filled by players looking for a new twist on a great genre. Pre-order the game now and you can participate in the HeadStart program on February 24 to gain early access to the final game. Players will also find special Founders pricing for $10 a month when you buy a 6 month, renewable, gametime package by March 15. Click the links to learn more.
Before we end, I must note that I spent very little time with the PVP portion of the game and only participated in one instanced dungeon. I will look more at PVP and instanced dungeons in our review of Rift.
I have enjoyed my time in Rift and am looking forward to spending more time in the world and giving you a full review.