Tripping the RIFT

Obligatory logo!

The biggest MMO since World of Warcraft was released to the masses recently and to help some of you that may be on the fence, I wrote this ridiculously long review. I was lucky enough to receive a VIP invitation to the beta events from a friend at work (Thanks, Mike!) and it was, in a word, fuckingamazing. Don’t question it, just go with it.

Molding the clay

So the first logical place to start is, well, the beginning (after all of the installation stuff). The character creation screen is pretty in-depth as far as options go. It doesn’t give you quite as many options as Dragon Age Origins does, but it is far from being as restrictive as World of Warcraft. There are reasons for the approach that each game takes and each one has its merits along with its faults.

WoW wants to get you in and get you playing as fast as possible. A few faces, some hair styles, skin color and you’re done. Time to start saving the world from whichever villain is currently threatening the safety of the kittens. Happy_face.jpg: You get to start playing quickly. Sad_panda.gif: with hundreds of people on your chosen server, you’re going to run into someone that looks exactly like you. A lot.

DAO wants you to feel like that character is unique and all yours. You aren’t creating a character, you’re giving life to a person. You even have control over the angle and expression of your unit frame avatar and the voice you use when shouting out “Oh, fiddlesticks, my mana seems to be depleted!”. If you were so inclined, you could create yourself with the vast tools at your disposal in the DAO creation engine. Good times: You could create a new character every day from now until the day you died and they could all look completely different. Hangover: HOLY SHIT THIS TAKES FOREVER!

Rift plops you down right in the middle of these 2 vastly different creation styles. You have a lot of options to make the character feel like your character, without having so many that you spend an entire day tweaking and adjusting the distance between the eyes so that you look like a vicious monster killer and not a candidate for a helmet and a seat on the short bus. You have all of the WoW controls with some notable additions like height, eye color, facial hair color… the end result is, hopefully, a character that is unique enough that you feel like a special little snowflake in less time than it takes for you to get pissed off and just click the “Accept” button so that you can start playing.

Oooo! Shiny!

I triple dog dare you to stick your tongue to my armor!
Worst. Vacation. Ever. This is bullshit, Phyllis. Next time, we’re going to Vegas.

I’m not going to talk about any of the story. You’re not here for that. You want to know how the game looks, how the game plays, and if it is worth your subscription fee. Let’s start with the eye candy.

This game is absolutely gorgeous. Everything about it is just breathtaking. The character models are top-notch, the environments are rich and they feel like real places, the spell effects will often make you say things like “Dude, bro… that was awesome guy. Dude.” Okay, maybe they won’t deplete your mental facilities to that extent, but you get the idea. Fire has embers popping off of it, lightning crackles menacingly, ice… uh… looks cold. In order to see all of these fancy effects you’re going to need a fairly meaty system, but chances are if you’re a gamer and you’re reading this blog you already have one.

The particle effects are particularly impressive, and it is there that the rich details really come out. The best effects are the ones that you don’t notice because they enhance the experience instead of jumping out and screaming “Look at me! Look how pretty I am!” The little insect swarms that you run past without noticing the first time, the fog rolling off of an icy path, the way that shadows contort and dance as a fireball flies by… the little things like that are the ones I am talking about. You don’t really notice them at first because they feel like they should be there. Details like those draw you into the game and make you feel like you’re in a living world.

I have to say, though, that after several hours of play time my favorite effect is still the level up animation. The first time it happened it was a surprise to me. Not only was I surprised at gaining a level because I was so engrossed in the game that I wasn’t paying attention to my little experience bar, but the effect itself was definitely an attention-grabber. It makes leveling up feel like an accomplishment every time it happens. What? No I’m not going to show you pictures. I’ve got a little video for you though.


And now, some comparison screenshots courtesy of the intarwebz!

One Talented Mothershut-yo-mouth

The next big thing you’re going to encounter is Rift’s version of the talent tree, or as they call it the Soul Tree. Their take on your character’s talents, like their character creation menu, takes a bit from other games and expands upon them. Every time I try to describe the Soul System to my gamer-geek friends, I tell them that it is like a cross between the talent trees of WoW and the Job System from Final Fantasy Tactics. Take a look and I’ll explain in more detail after you look at the tree.


I hope you like buttons

Now you can see from the picture that I’ve chosen Paladin as my main soul in the center and Warlord as my second soul to the left. These are where the FFT Job System comparison comes from. You’re getting the benefits of what would be 3 classes in any other game. In the next picture we see that I have chosen Void Knight as my third soul and have assigned a few talent points.


I fucking LOVE buttons!

Something I found really interesting about the Soul System is that it grows like a natural tree would. As you place points in the “Branches” and work your way upward, the “Roots” grow deeper, opening up more specialized abilities that are specific to that particular tree. Where you place the points in the Branches has no bearing on which abilities open up in the Roots. You can go any direction you please as you go up, and the Root abilities will always open in the same order. If you look at the roots you can see that some of the abilities have red numbers on them. This is the number of points you have to place into the Branches in order to open up that skill. I also want to point out that the secondary and tertiary trees will provide a few Root abilities just for choosing them, regardless of whether or not you place any points in the branches.

This level of character customization makes every player feel like he or she has 100% control over the development of the character. The math geeks (I don’t mean that as an insult; we are all geeks here) will surely get their hands on this and eventually come up with the best possible combination of Souls and talents to maximize efficiency in your chosen role, but for right now it’s amazing how many choices we have as players.

A Hero’s Reward

Somebody pee on it before it starts spreading!
This is the California Summer zone.

Now we are getting into some of the big differences between Rift and that other game that everyone keeps comparing it to. Every MMO has quests, and every quest has rewards. Sometimes it’s just some number of experience points and some money, but quite often there are more “tangible” rewards. Choices for new weapons, some armor pieces, a new trinket to add to the collection… these rewards are simultaneously exciting and frustrating. How many times have you turned in a quest and had to choose between 3 different rewards that are all equally useless. Not useless because you already have better items equipped, but because you can only wear cloth and you’re looking at 1 leather piece, 1 mail piece, and 1 plate piece. Rift has solved that problem in 2 ways, and they are both equally exciting from a player’s standpoint.

Solution number 1: Quest rewards change based on the class you have chosen. While playing the game with a friend I noticed that he was picking up new armor pieces every time wee turned in quests. I didn’t remember seeing any of those pieces in my quest reward choices, so I asked where he had gotten them. When he said that they were from the quests it dawned on me that I hadn’t yet seen a quest with a reward that didn’t benefit me. If you’re playing a cleric and you’re running around with a warrior, even if you’re doing the same quests you’ll be getting completely different rewards. Not having to choose between shitty-reward-#1 and WTF-am-I-going-to-do-with-this-reward-#2 based on the vendor prices, you can choose based on which one is more beneficial to you.

Solution number 2: Crafters can break down weapons and armor to reclaim some of the materials. This has got to be one of my favorite features out of all of the new stuff that Rift has introduced. In some games when you break down a piece of armor or a weapon, you receive enchanting materials that you can then use to make new gear a little bit stronger. In order to break the gear down, you have to have a specific profession and it will only work for items with magic properties. With Rift any armor crafter can break down any piece of armor to reclaim materials. Say you’re an Armorsmith and you need some leather to complete your next piece. You could walk to the auction house and get boned, or you could just reclaim the leather from that armor you were planning on vendoring. It’s a great way to make sure that you never really feel like you’re wasting your materials just to level up your professions and I honestly don’t know why someone didn’t think of it before now.

Another big difference that I love about Rift is the AOE looting system. How many times have you created a corpse pile and then had to click each and every one of them to get the loot? Chances are if you’re a Protection Paladin or a Mage of any kind, the answer is “too many to count”. If you get enough bodies in there, looting takes longer than killing. Rift has solved this with the AOE loot. Right click one corpse and all of the corpses nearby that are lootable by you will happily place their goodies directly into your inventory. While playing WoW I have helped a lot of friends level up faster by running them through level-appropriate instances. Because I have a Protection Paladin, I just gather up the entire instance and laugh at them as they die at my feet. After it is all done though, we end up with about 3 hojillion bodies (approximately) that need to be looted. With Rift, that will never take more than a few seconds. 1 click and you’re done. Because this is

Creepy on the left is actually a pet. You get to control that. Yeah. Awesome.
… and Grandma says she really misses you. You should reanimate her once in a while.

a kickass feature introduced by a competing game, Blizzard is likely to introduce it into WoW soon, provided enough people cry about it on the forums. And oh, how forum posters love to cry.

Toppling a Giant

HA! No, seriously, nothing is going to “kill” WoW. Stop saying “Warcraft killer” because no game will ever have that power. Even if they lose 80% of their subscribers, that will still leave them with over 2 million people paying them every month. That’s still more than any of its competitors ever boasted even at the height of their success. Blizzard is still perched high atop its mountain of money, looking at the bottom of the slope as WAR, Age of Conan, Aion, Star Trek Online, City of Heroes/Villains, DC Universe Online, EVE Online, Tabula Rasa, (deep breath) Everquest 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Vanguard, Final Fantasy 11 and 14, and Rift fight for the scraps or find themselves crushed under the weight of a colossus. But that doesn’t mean that these games can’t find success. In fact, I think that Rift has a better chance than all of the others for 1 reason: they pulled a Blizzard.

Blizzard’s basic strategy can be broken down thusly:

  • Find popular game
  • Take the good stuff
  • Dump the bad stuff
  • Add to WoW
  • Profit

WoW itself was basically created by taking everything fun about Everquest and getting rid of the silly bullshit. Nearly ever popular feature that has come out in recent MMORPGs has been emulated by or added to WoW shortly after the game released. Trion Worlds just took Blizzard’s formula and applied it to their game. Instead of trying to make a run at Blizzard’s fan base by giving them something completely foreign (Hey there, Aion! How’s that flying thing working out for you?) they took WoW and improved upon it. They aren’t going to “kill” WoW, simply because Blizzard is the only thing that can do that now. But with the strategy they have taken here, it’s not unreasonable to think that they could very well carve out a nice little place for themselves next to the giant.

The Verdict

Rift is a lot of fun. I’m sure that if you actually read this far you had that figured out by now. It’s definitely worth the hard drive space and the subscription fee. Don’t listen to the haters that are going to say “It’s just WoW with rifts. Who gives a shit?” because those are the ones we call “Fanboys” and we ignore them on principle simply because their irrational attachment to a game makes them incapable of thinking objectively.

9 thoughts on “Tripping the RIFT”

  1. I liked the review, but isn’t this an error?

    Solution number 1: Quest rewards changed based on the class and you have chosen
    Class and you have.

  2. Pingback: A Time To Kill… Dicks

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