Over the weekend I've been playing a little Rift. You know, the WoW "clone". I received a 3-day invite from Paul Gillett, so once again, thank you very much Paul! If it hadn't been for your invitation, I wouldn't have tried this game.
Rift marks the 3rd MMORPG I've tried, first being, of course, World of Warcraft. The second one, which I never mentioned here before, was LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online), a few months before it went F2P (Free to Play). My conclusion back then was that LOTRO wasn't worth playing even for free.
Rift, on the other hand, seems to be on the right track. Let me get one thing out of the way: my limited time with this game left me with the powerful feeling that it is WoW with a different skin. I will try to elaborate on this farther on.
There is little doubt that Rift is a modern MMO. From what I've heard, it launched without major hitches, except perhaps a few balancing issues here and there. In my limited time with the game, I did not experience any bugs or other problems. The game feels solid but it has already had a few patches to fix glitches.
The feeling that this is an almost-carbon-copy clone of WoW was strong throughout my experience. Some things are different, of course. The way you create a character, for example. It's cool that you can play around with your new character's facial features and I especially appreciate that you can vary you avatar's height. Too bad you can't change their body type: fat-thin.
In WoW I don't like playing female characters but I thought I would give them a whirl in Rift. And I think I fell in love. These have got to be the sexiest looking females in any game I've ever seen. The models have a high polygon count and it shows! Call me a perv but for the first few levels I took off these ladies' clothes just so I can stare at their perfectly sculpted bodies. If a dwarf chick can look like this... then I want to be a dwarf!!
Seems like I got sidetracked there for a bit. Anyhoo, Rift's graphics in general don't seem that much better than WoW's but character and NPC models are more detailed. WoW has had incremental graphics updates over the years and it has aged very well, however, its visuals are more cartoonish, while Rift's are more... realistic. One thing that I can say for certain WoW does better is the water.
There are 2 opposing factions in Rift: Alliance and Hor... I mean Guardians and Defiants. I didn't pay attention to any of the story so I don't know what the deal is with these factions but they each have 3 races. The Guardians (good guys I believe) have humans (only they're called something else), elves and dwarves. The other guys have some other type of humans, some sort of dark elves and some sort of barbarian humanoids.
Each race has 2 racial abilities, one active, one passive. The passive ones are usually a resistance of some sort. The barbarian-type bad guys have an interesting active ability on a short cooldown which allows them to jump a fair distance so that makes it easier to move around until you get a mount.
There are only 4 main classes (only they're called "callings"): warrior, cleric, rogue and mage. Each of these classes can access up to 3 "souls" which are essentially skill trees. While the skill system is different than WoW's, I can see what they did here.
In WoW, say, you have a hunter which has 3 trees: beast mastery, marksmanship and survival. In Rift, you pick 1 tree to start off with, after a few quests you can pick another tree to add to your existing one and later you get a 3rd tree. In Rift, instead of WoW's 3 trees per class you get 8 + 1 (PvP). However, these 8 trees are what you would get in WoW if you pooled together several classes. For example, Rift's rogue class has similar trees that a hunter and a rogue would have in WoW. So you just mix and match them. You can be a marksman (using ranged weapons) and a saboteur (using explosive devices) and an assassin (using stealth), all at the same time.
While this may seem revolutionary and/or really cool, in practice I found it rather annoying because you end up spreading yourself too thin. This is compounded by the fact that the game doesn't allow you to allocate too many "talents" into a tree until you've leveled some more. So if you have leftover points, you will have to put them in a secondary tree.
In the end, the system is similar to WoW's, except that it's done backwards. I found that I wasn't using the active skills that came with a secondary tree. As a side note, as you allocate more "talents" into a particular tree, skills are automatically unlocked for that tree. So at 2 talents you get a new skill, at 6 another, at 8 another and so on.
There are so many similarities between Rift and WoW that it's hard to know where to begin. I think the best indication is when all the controls are so identical that it feels I'm playing WoW. Rift even has an authenticator and a launcher. The shortcuts are the same, the window elements are the same, even the emotes are the same!
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? The makers of Rift have certainly got this because they have unashamedly mimicked many of WoW's best features, and even its control scheme, perhaps to attract some of the veteran MMO's clientele but also as a way to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
This can be both a blessing and a curse. WoW fans will get into Rift in no time at all. My learning curve was almost zero. On the other hand there's this persistent sense of deja-vu, which might cause some players to ask themselves whether they are still in WoW.
While the visuals are good, I can't say I was overly impressed. The Guardian starting zone looked like any other generic RPG zone, with green grass, hills and trees. The buildings do seem more polished than in WoW and so do the friendly NPCs. The enemies, however, weren't very impressive: just your garden variety goblins, dark elves, ghosts, skeletons, wolves, bears and so on. I must mention that I didn't tweak the graphics settings at all; I just let the game decide.
The quests are rather boring and most of them are of the usual "kill 10 rats" variety. In general, they require you to kill stuff, gather stuff, speak to an NPC, activate stuff in a certain area, loot stuff from bodies and so on. As a result, I didn't spend one second reading the quest text. Luckily, Rift has very nice quest tracking features, complete with way-points which guide you to the quest location.
Unfortunately the demo only allows you to reach level 15, which I attained in 8 hours. I played a marksman with ranger and saboteur sub-specs, which means I was a ranged damage dealer with a pet and also some explosives (which got neglected). Pets seem rather lackluster, in that you can't tame wild animals. Instead, your skills dictate what pet you get. This might change later but I didn't get the chance to test it.
One thing that Rift does better than WoW is that it allows you to learn 3 professions. On the other hand it doesn't have secondary professions but the advantage here is that you can learn all 3 gathering professions: essentially mining, herbalism and skinning. Herbalism is actually called "scavenging" (it also lets you gather wood) and skinning is called "butchering" (you can also collect various animal body parts).
I found it funny that things which are the same thing as WoW are called something else in Rift. For example vitality is called "endurance", agility is called "dexterity", instead of gold/silver/copper there's platinum/gold/silver, reputation is called "notoriety", battlegrounds are called "warfronts" and on and on. I'm surprised guilds aren't called something different.
Mounts are done in a slightly different way. It seems that there's really no minimum level for getting a basic mount (60% increased speed), and the only requirement is to have enough money. The cheapest one was around 2 platinum 50 gold, which took me all of 8 hours to acquire, thanks in no small part to the fact that trial accounts cannot sell stuff on the auction house. I had to make my money by vendoring everything I found and/or gathered or got from quests and monsters.
Rift's innovation is, of course, rifts. Rifts are tears in the fabric between dimensions which allow various elemental types to invade. They occur randomly throughout the world and players have the option of closing them when encountered, by defeating the monsters which pour out of them. There's a cool system in place which allows you to join a public group on the fly, once you get close enough to a rift. You just click a button called "Join public group" and bam, you're in a group.
Apart from rifts, there also seem to be random invasions of the various quest hubs and cities by large groups of monsters. I found it a lot of fun to join these groups of defenders on the fly and kick monster ass. There's also a type of public quest which becomes active when these invasions occur, though I haven't had time enough to figure out how they work.
I barely got a taste of Rift but I generally liked what I saw. This game felt leagues ahead of LOTRO and certainly more polished. Too bad there isn't an interesting story behind it. Or maybe there is and I didn't have time to look for it in the limited time I played. Rift made me curious to find out more about the other zones I haven't discovered yet, to get to max level and to explore what else it has to offer. I don't even know what the max level is (I assume it's 60), nor how dungeons work or how PvP is done. I don't have any interest in PvP anyway.
Finally, the question which begs asking is this: is Rift worth playing? If you're sick of WoW to the gills but want a game which is both familiar and new, and you don't mind paying the full retail price ($50) for the game client in addition to the $15 monthly subscription, then Rift is certainly a worthy proposition. In fact it is probably the best non-WoW MMORPG at the moment, at least until the Star Wars MMO comes out.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to play this great new MMO. However, I still feel that WoW is the more mature game, with greater content and infinitely better lore and story. And I won't even mention everything that I have invested in WoW: all the high level characters, all the played time, all the gold. Starting a whole new complex MMO from scratch is a daunting task but not outside the realm of imagination. At some later date, when I am completely bored with WoW, when I have sufficient spare time and when the Rift client will be sold at a hefty discount, I may yet give it another try. And when that happens, I can already tell you that I will like it.
P.S. Here's some more sexy (hide the kids first)!
Patch 1.0.5 commentary
6 months ago