QuesterX reviews the first 15 hours of Rift

It may well have taken us quite some time to get this review live (sorry Quester), but it’s still relevant and well worth the read. QuesterX is a seasoned massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG for acronym-loving folk) player, and he’s poured all of his wisdom and pinch of his malice into this Rift review. If you’re sick of World of Warcraft and want to see what other developers are trying to do to capture your MMORPG attention, read on! If you’re not into this sub-genre of gaming then read it anyway… Quester knows his shit.

Hi, My name is QuesterX and I was a World of Warcraft addict. I have been clean for two years.

My qualifications out of the way, I would like to set a few things straight about this review. The first is that any rating I give this game will be in light of the context that WoW is a perfect 10.
Gasp! Shock! Awe! Horror!

Shut up.

This ‘perfect score’ is not indicative of a ‘perfect game’ in the wider context. In fact, with its lacklustre graphics, poor latency (in Australia), lack of in game voice acting, disjointed storyline and grind, grind, grind, WoW is far from the perfect game.

However, when it comes to king of the mountain in MMO circles, WoW sits atop a tall hill of skulls laughing haughtily and drowning its opponents in money. Sure, pure numbers don’t dictate a ‘good game’, however, when you are talking about a subscription service, numbers are pretty much the only key performance indicator that you have. Thus WoW is the pinnacle; the ultimate. It is the only bar we have by which to set the standard and so it will be a 10 for the purposes of this review.

Something else I want to get out in the open is that at no point will I be saying ‘WoW killer’, outside of this paragraph. The very concept is ridiculous and insulting to game developers who are attempting to find a market inside a market. MMO isn’t a genre. MMO is a style of paying for a game. RPG is a genre, FPS is a genre. You have sub-genres within genres. WoW is an MMORPG. To say that something is attempting to be a WoW killer is to say that they are attempting to leech WoW’s current audience et al. This is something that no MMO/RPG/game should have on the whiteboard, except in their most fevered dreams. What I hate is when a review says ‘this is a good game, but it ain’t no WoW killer’. This sentence always devalues a game, possibly a good game, by saying ‘yes, your MMO has just come out and it is good, but you haven’t instantly taken the 11-million strong audience of the world’s most successful franchise… you NEWBS!’.

Thus, I feel justified in saying that I can safely compare a game to WoW in the simple terms of saying that WoW is the pinnacle, the dream, without going as far as to say ‘this game will topple the giant’. There are six billion people in the world, of which something like two billion have regular internet access… in other words, there are a lot of fish in the sea; coexistence is a possibility.

Starting up

When I got Rift working (more on that later) the first thing that hit me was ‘is this WoW?’ The answer is ‘no’, but the differences in the first impressions are incredibly subtle. Rift’s controls are exactly the same as WoW, the interface is exactly the same, the spell icons, the general style of art (faces are a little more exact), the feel of the game is WoW.

In my humble opinion, this is a good thing. I don’t know how they cleared this with their legal department, but ‘borrowing’ from the world leader—seeing that they got things right, especially in their interface—is a great first step.

In short, I felt at home. Speaking to my friend who has played WoW for the last four years, he gave me a little idea of what to expect moving forward and I was eager to try it out.

The Devil is in the details

As soon as you start to get to grips with the actual game, the real strengths of Rift start to shine through. While they may tout more impressive graphics and a slightly better AI for the mobs (NPC enemies), these are really not enough to set them apart from the game they are so evidently emulating. The differences are in the details.

Rift has a nice take on the class system. Anyone who has ever played a fantasy RPG will recognise the concept of classes: warrior, mage, etc. Rift has expanded significantly on this idea. Where WoW brought us ‘specialisations’, Rift has brought us a system whereby you choose three ‘souls’ (specialisations) that interact with each other. In effect, you have three separate skill trees to spend experience points on. Each skill tree grants you abilities and spells; both passive and active. It is up to the player as to which they make their main skill. The nice thing is that as you progress you come to realisations that a spell from one tree mixes amazingly well with the spell from another.

With each class you have nine different souls to choose from. The game gives recommendations for mixtures, which you don’t have to follow. Personally, I went for an aggressive warrior with an offensive bent, but you can mix and match as you want. This allows an element of individualisation and customisation that is not really evident in WoW. For those that haven’t played WoW, you can actually tell, by what a player is doing, the spells they are using, the pets they have, exactly what specialisation they are using because you only get three and generally (before the level caps were raised), you had to specialise in only one. In Rift you get more points to spend across more skill trees, so the fact that someone has two swords doesn’t immediately tell you what their capabilities are.
These souls are acquired in rapid succession as you move out into the world, so from the get go you are asked to make huge decisions that shape the way you will play the game.

Combat acts in much the same way as WoW. Party systems, loot systems, spell casting, etc. will feel natural to anyone who has had a passing acquaintance with the old gal. One nice point I would note is that the AI for mobs appears to be better with an honest to goodness line of sight issue. In other words, creeping through an area behind the backs of guards is actually possible in this game. This is not to say that ‘pulling’ a mob isn’t hilariously easy, but with some care and skill you can approach an area a little differently than you could in WoW.

MMO aspects

Of course, an MMO would just be an RPG if there wasn’t significant possibility for interaction between players. In WoW this is achieved through various means: chat channels, raids, parties, economy, etc. I am one of those players who finds in-game economies fascinating, and so it was this aspect of Rift that I especially wanted to investigate.

The Auction House in WoW was a place that I spent a lot of time. Before the patches, my friend and I actually found that you could play a WoW version of the stock market; buying low, selling high and making significant amounts of in-game money in the process. Even after the change, which effectively shut us down, the Auction House was one of my favourite things about WoW.

Rift’s auction menu is much the same as in WoW. The community is, as of the time of my review, not as developed, so the actual items on sale are not as widespread. But I found it reassuringly similar, even with some added functions that made it easier to navigate. Along for the ride is the mail system and cash-on-delivery systems. There too are the tailoring, mining, smithing, etc. trades that also made WoW a huge affair. Without having investigated these too heavily they feel similar, however, there appears to be more possibility for useful creation in the early levels than there was in WoW, which is refreshing.

World events are scheduled as well so that you can plan for them and be a part of the subsequent festivities. For more on that I suggest you go to Rift’s website.

Rifts
‘Rifts’ are an enormous part of the MMO aspect of Rift. The game takes its name from random instances that occur across the world. These instances generally need two-three people to tackle them and ‘close the rift’. To join a party one simply has to be nearby and click a button that appears on screen. A solid party can take down a rift in a short period of time, which then supplies them with rewards of tokens that can later be spent on items. Again, having only played for 15 hours, I haven’t had the pleasure to take part in many of these parties; however, it is clear from the outset that these will shape much of the players experience with the game.

Rewards
I mentioned rewards and this game is replete with rewards: rewards for finding sets of artefacts, rewards for crafting, rewards for rifts, rewards, rewards, rewards. The nice thing about each reward is that, generally, they are not that easy to get. Sure, sometimes you just have to find and pick up something off the ground, but generally, even with the artefacts (which I have spent considerable amount of time collecting just for the pleasure of it), you have to collect at least six. This means that just because you found the items and receive the reward doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone at your level also received that reward.

Thanks to all these little tweaks of the WoW spirit, Rift is refreshingly individualistic; you feel like your own character, not a carbon copy of the last thousand warlocks who have played before you.
Unfortunately there is just SO MUCH of the world I have yet to see and explore (I haven’t even got out of the first area yet… it’s big alright!) that an accurate picture hasn’t really merged within my consciousness yet. First impressions are that this is an impressive title.

The story and the world

One thing that a new player will notice is how immediately evident the overarching storyline of the game is. You start in the future, you get sent to the past and in the first hour you have seen the ‘baddy’ of the entire world.

The world is dying. Two factions have separate ideas of how to stop Armageddon. Every single quest you do furthers the story somewhat. I have to say after 15 hours of playing I have more of an idea of what Rift is about than I ever got in one and a half years of playing WoW.

What Rift lacks is delineated areas. I completely understand the wish to make someone feel like they are in a world rather than a game you can’t ever really get away from. But WoW has areas that are clearly delineated by colour scheme, music, feel and mobs. It’s nice to be able to go from a gloomy, undead forest to a rolling plain with blue skies. As I said, I haven’t left the starting area of Rift and I don’t much like the colour scheme. One might say that this is a really stupid reason to harp on a game, but one thing I loved about WoW was the vibrant colours. While I won’t actually mark Rift down yet for this, I will say that I hope it changes soon.

I have also found a city close to my starting point. However, wherein WoW one is drawn into Stormwind or Gnomeregan the first time they go there, I have to say I was left underwhelmed. Again, I am hoping that there are larger more grandiose settings later on.

The problems
Latency: Rift has, at times, latency so bad that you literally cannot play. Every MMO suffers sometimes, but with Rift this problem is more than just a small-time issue. At least once a day my ping would jump to over 1000m/s for about 20 minutes. Generally, it would hover at around 300m/s. This can make it jerky and difficult to find any sort of relaxation when you are constantly struggling with the controls.

The sheer overwhelming largeness: The starting area appears to operate on the presupposition that everyone playing has a level 80 WoW character behind them. The tutorial stage of the game, where they would otherwise allow players to come to grips with their character, the rewards systems, the auction house and so on, is brief to say the least. With respect to the MMO aspects of the game, the ‘hints’ system is sufficient to give someone an idea of what to do on a basic level, but even with almost two years of WoW behind me, I found myself picking things up off the dirt and saying, ‘WTF is this? Where do I hand this in? WTF is going on?’

The WoW factor: Yeah, I couldn’t resist. It’s there, it’s in your face. If you left WoW because you were sick of the graphics, gameplay, grind or interface, then Rift isn’t for you. I don’t know if this is necessarily a problem but I had to put it down somewhere.

The Updater: It took a torrent, two attempts to download and three patches to get the game working on my computer. All up this was about 18 hours of internet bandwidth and 19-gigabytes (the game x 2). I wasn’t impressed.

Then there is the fact that the game updates from a torrent system that downloads at either 100KB/s or 4KB/s, depending on the way the wind is blowing (apparently).

When you get in it’s worth a bit of struggle, and I am willing to state that computer issues on my end could have been at fault for the initial consternation, but the problem with the updater remains.

Conclusion (finally, aye?)
Sorry for the length of this review, but Rift is just so massive that doing anything less wouldn’t have scratched the surface; which, incidentally, is all I have done.

What I can say confidently is if you liked WoW but have run out of things to do, then a switch to Rift would do you good. If you have wanted to try WoW but have been afraid of joining such an entrenched community so late in the piece, then getting in on the ground floor in Rift could be worth considering.

All in all, it’s a fantastically large game that will take me a long while to properly come to grips with.
For now I will give it an optimistic 7 for the first 15 hours. If and when they iron out the latency that immediately goes to an 8. If you are interested stay tuned for a later (briefer) review after I have further explored the gigantic world that is Rift.

7

 

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  • Skotejay

    dont compare it to WOW, it aint that, though nice ideas borrowed from Warhammer and WOW with a few of their own (class system…talents) it is pretty decent but i was bored at lvl 29, not enough people playing at oz night time to be able to rift sufficently and nowhere near enough dungeons to gain fat loot, i regret paying a 6 mth subscription after the first 15 lvls…cant wait for BF3 now and maybe SWTOR

  • Skotejay

    dont compare it to WOW, it aint that, though nice ideas borrowed from Warhammer and WOW with a few of their own (class system…talents) it is pretty decent but i was bored at lvl 29, not enough people playing at oz night time to be able to rift sufficently and nowhere near enough dungeons to gain fat loot, i regret paying a 6 mth subscription after the first 15 lvls…cant wait for BF3 now and maybe SWTOR

  • Anonymous

    Mmmm, BF3. Can’t wait to see the multiplayer stuff they’ll be doubtlessly showing at E3.