Monday, April 4, 2011

Rift blitz review

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.

Rifts spew increasingly difficult waves of monsters and after defeating each wave you can click a small icon in your rift window to get your reward. Rewards are for the most part in the form of tokens (think emblems) which can be exchanged for various items from special vendors.

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)!


Gyldenfeax said...

Give that poor elf some food. Preferably something fried.

Of late there seems to be a lot of talk about Rift on quite a few of the blogs I read. It hasn't really tempted me so far but I think it's good that a MMORPG has come along that offers a real alternative WoW, even if it's quite similar. Hopefully the WoW developers will take notice and improve their game as a result.

Due to moving house and longer hours at work I've been away from WoW for about 2 months and in that time I haven't missed it much. It was getting to be a bit of a grind so the break was pretty welcome. Lately I've been thinking about returning.

What I think WoW can learn from Rift is better character customization and more random events to shake up the constant grinds a bit. Most of the armor models available in WoW are good but each class ends up looking the same. I'd love to be able to keep level 85 gear and it's stats but look like I did in Burning Crusade or late Wrath pvp gear.

I know some people hated the scourge invasion at the beginning of wrath (or end of BC) but it really mixed things up a bit. Cities weren't safe anymore so it made getting around less predictable. If Blizzard could do something like that every now and again, even if it was limited to 1 area or city it would spice things up a bit.

Rift won't kill WoW, but it will hopefully create some rivalry and competition and make a better game as a result.

Paul said...

I'm just glad to see my trial didnt go to waste in my email inbox.

Paul said...

One thing I like about crafting is that you can Salvage Or Basically Disenchant any item you can craft or drops you find in the class you can make like weapons, armor or trinkets.

Yea, Rift is a wow knock off. I am enjoying it. There are several things that drove me from playing wow. The major thing was that I didn't like anything they did in BC. I actually stopped playing when BC came out and waited for LK to come out.

I don't care about lore in games. At all.

Cataclysm was a huge let down for me, I am just not impressed with any of the "new content". Wow has been reduced to a came of "buff pallys/nerf locks" or "buff hunters/nerf hunters next patch".

Even in LFG or most guild chats everything has been reduced to Gear score, If youa re not in a raiding guild or have a core group to get decent gear to get a good gear score you can forget about any endgame or raiding.

Again this is all my opinion. If you enjoy playing wow, by all means have at it! I had fun playing for a while but, I don't think I will go back. The only thing that will kill wow is wow or maybe blizzard pulling the plug some day..

Cold said...

Nice review man!

I'm not leaving WoW or stopping blogging about it either, but this article helped to answer some questions I had about Rift simple from a curiosity standpoint.

Redbeard said...

I can agree with your assessment of Rift, especially the outsider status of the Defiant. The game was definitely created with WoW in mind, and a beginner to MMOs would have a much harder time of picking up the game. In that respect, LOTRO is better. Not as smooth, but better.

Lugnut Daffodil said...

I played it for three weeks. Not too much game time.

The gameplay and mechanics they absolutely nailed. Instead of trying to waste time re-inventing the wheel, they took what works from WoW and improved on what didn't work. Brilliant move!

But man oh man I couldn't escape the fact that the game world/characters/story/monsters/environment was just made to order, and had no sense of style or character at all. At least, nothing that made it look unique. Maybe it was because for the first 15 levels (thats as far as I got) you're still stuck in the same dang zone, or maybe the world entire is generic looking, or maybe I'm just weird. But at any rate I lost interest and stopped playing....for now at least.

But again, they were absolutely on target with everything else! Rift is an awesome game and will be here for a good while to come, no doubt about it.

Darth Solo said...

@Gyldenfeax lol, call me shallow but I prefer toned ladies. The ones in Rift are very nicely modeled. The dwarf in fact impressed me more than the others because she's not as wiry, though still toned.

The random events really are cool. And you have the option of not joining if you don't feel like it, or quitting at any point between the stages. I believe that these invasions are scaled in difficulty depending on how many players are around.

Rift is very good competition for WoW, I agree.

@Paul thanks again! I've said this before but Cataclysm, although it was the biggest expansion and brought the most changes so far, has become stale quickly.

To be honest, I'd play Rift for a few months if it wasn't for the fact that I don't really feel like playing another MMORPG for a while. Also, I'm hesitant to pay the $50.

@Cold thanks! If you can get an invite or a trial run, give it a try.

@Redbeard yeah, it really makes it easy for WoW players to get into. Strangely enough, even though LOTRO might be easier for players new to MMOs, to me it seemed that it had a steeper curve (not by much) compared to Rift.

@Lugnut Daffodil I think more games could benefit from observing how Rift did it. And yes, 15 levels in the same area is a little bit boring but unfortunately the trial didn't give me the chance to more on. On the other hand, there's plenty of content in that single starting area for more than 15 levels.

Echo said...

I switched to offline FPS and RTS games (I was a RTS lover back in time) and definitely abandoned MMORPGS in general. No matter who, how, when, where... a MMORPG is a time-sucking-machine.

It's not just a matter of self-controlling. You can do it, of course. But let me say that: the "social" aspect of MMO's is complete bull*hit.

If you want to "socialize" and "have friends" online, you just need messenger (or a similar tool) and *ANY* game will do fine.

I'm now playing a multiplayer game called HOARD (Steam, 10$, and I already got friends and new people to play with.

It's not a time sucker, you do not need to study, level, grind, invest time on it. You enter, play, have lot of fun and leave. Like a chess game, like any game should be.

MMOS are all but "social", in my opinion. They work because they lure you with achievements, gifts, pets, virtual gold, competition, leveling... You really think you are doing something important.

The truth is, you spend a lot of time doing repetitive and stupid stuff that -in my opinion- is the exact opposite of "fun". And even worst, quests and rewards are always the same over the course of years: kill XX mobs, gather YY items, deliver ZZ to someone.


For years.

Darth Solo said...

Ah yes, Hoard, I just read a review about it the other day. Sounds like fun though the reviewers concluded that it can get repetitive. I'm obsessed with finding items and building a character so that's why I like RPGs so much. The next big thing for me is Diablo 3. In the meanwhile, WoW is losing its flavor.

Echo said...

Yes it's true, it can be repetitive if you play it intensively. But it goes fo 8.99$ on Steam, in my opinion it's worth the money. Just try the demo, it's free and can give you a nice 1st impression.

I can't wait to put my hands on Diablo III too, I really can't wait.... but -thanks God- that wont be a grinding game like WoW and will be fully enjoyable in single player.

Darth Solo said...

What worries me about D3 is that they're putting too much emphasis on the online component, and all that crap. I just want a single-player game that I can play off-line but apparently they will make it hard for you to do so. But we'll see.

Anonymous said...

Hey Solo, what was it about LOTRO that you felt made it not worth playing?

Darth Solo said...

LOTRO just didn't "click" for me. It's hard to pinpoint and I don't remember much because I tried it last year but it just didn't appeal to me. I had a 10-day trial (that was before it became free) but I only managed to play for about 2 days before I got bored. I might give it another try though.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to be a fan of the Lord of the Rings story to like the game. That's the market they go for I am sure.

Darth Solo said...

Oh boy, you just don't know how big a fan of LotR I am! Seriously, I've read the book 3 times, the Hobbit even more. I've seen the movies I don't know how many times. I think the movies are probably the best movies ever made. I cried when Gandalf "died" in the first book and at the end when they all get on the ship.

But the game didn't do it for me. However, time heals everything and I definitely plan to give the game another try.

~B said...

I dropped my WoW account and bought Rifts after doing the beta. No doubt it has a WoW feel to it, but that's OK or so I thought. I also bought 6 months worth of time (for $60), but for some reason I just can't get myself to play all that much. It's a pretty good game, but I was burned out on WoW and I think this is just to similar, although I love the Rifts and public groups.

What I'd really like is to see something completely new come along that just turns MMOs on their head, but I don't know how likely that is.

Darth Solo said...

~B I won't buy another multiple-month subscription ever. My biggest mistake was a few years ago when I bought a 6-month WoW subscription, only to quit WoW 1 month into it. Waste of money. From then on I went month-to-month.

IMO the WoW killer will be another game from Blizzard. Other companies just don't have the finances and knowledge that Bliz has accumulated.