One of the first things most people who are enjoying the Rift beta events will tell you when you ask about the game is “where the hell did this come from?”, “I had never heard of the game before” or “I forgot I even applied to this beta”. That response is almost universal. I’m not quite sure who was following this game before two months ago, despite Scott Hartsman and other fairly big names that are involved.
I have to start this mini review with a disclosure. Scott Hartsman is probably my favorite lead man in the MMO space in the post WoW era. For those not familiar he was the point man in turning EQ2 around from its launch state. He took EQ2 from a game I was going to take a pass on to a game I ended up dumping thousands of hours on.
I had heard about Rift by way of Hartsman involvement some time ago but I had put it out of my mind. When a few guildies from Aureus Knights got in to the first beta some details started to come out. The first impression of most people was that the game was oddly polished. Let’s be honest in an era where Final Fantasy XIV’s abysmal launch is front of mind a little polish on a new titles goes a long way.
By the third phase of beta impressions were still favorable. The game was polished, it was well put together, it was a feature complete modern quest driven MMORPG, it was not terribly innovative but an evolutionary step forward. Some called it a WoW clone but most that did found themselves still logging in, finding enough that was different, enough that was fresh to make logging in worthwhile.
Beta 3 is where I got my first taste thanks to a friend willing to let me use his account. I didn’t get far, in fact I didn’t even get out of the tutorial but the game felt like it had potential, that for once someone was releasing a platform for the future, not just a straight to bargain bin retail box.
The biggest highlight of beta 3 for me was duoing with a buddy. I was a bard and he was a mage and it was actually fun to just do our questing together. The group dynamics felt good, there was decent XP flowing and you could tell (later confirmed by my first dungeon experience – more on that in a bit) the game was built with grouping in mind. In the age of the sologrind this was reassuring.
That brings us to this past weekend, beta 4. Aureus Knights decided to check out the Defiant faction this past weekend so I was starting in a new area. The tutorial flowed nicely with some cool shiney splashed around. You start off in the future and get sent back in time to save your people. The future is the opening walled tutorial and the past is the “real world”.
Once out in the real world you quickly encounter Rift’s most touted content – the Rifts. The “big sell” with Rift is that the world is dynamic, in constant threat of invasion from other planes of existence. A Rift is a tear in the fabric of the universe that gives other planes access to attack your home world. The first two or three you encounter in the world are fairly static, intended to introduce new players to the concept. They feel very much like an early public quest in Warhammer Online. However when you get out in the wider world you discover the system has a lot more depth. Rifts open up and spawn invasions. Invasions establish foothills. If the players don’t respond to the threat of the Rifts they will quickly find themselves overrun, with whole towns taken over.
Another cool bit of dynamic content is zone wide quests that seem to spawn every 24 hours or so. The events start with some broadcast messages explaining that so and so baddie from the lore will rip your collective faces off if you don’t do X Y and Z. X Y and Z would be tough enough on their own but Rifts begin to spawn EVERRRRRRRRRYWHERE (and I mean everywhere) and you have to defeat them while meeting other objectives.
The rewards for beating rifts and these major events are pretty solid, with the ultimate reward being a currency token that is relevant to your tier. These tokens can be spent for gear, buffs and other items that improve your character.
The biggest downside I’ve seen in the game so far is that failing a major event has no consequences. I’m not sure if this is a beta thing and they are still tweaking it (I suspect it might be, the event last night just vanished all of a sudden) but there needs to be a reason to want to defend your territory. Yes you can lose the quest hubs, but not following through on a major event should have long reaching consequences.
These dynamic events have been extremely fun to participate in. Last night Aureus Knights hosted a “Rift Raid” event to seal Rifts so we could level our guild (guild leveling is done through quests, we had a quest to seal Rifts – I’ll post more on the guild system at some point but the early indications are that it is pretty sweet) and we had around 10 folks come out. Everyone had a blast and the rewards from items to XP were great. Just playing the game the way I wanted last night, not looking at my XP bar I clocked 2 levels doing rifts.
One of the big criticisms I’ve seen in quite a few places is that with one starting zone per faction the game has limited replay value. I just cannot understand this argument at all, from a strictly on rails PVE questing point of view, sure. But the game is about so much more. You can get XP doing PVE quests, PVP in Warfronts, Rifts, grinding and a lot more. I ended up at level 18 last night, I hadn’t done a quest since level 12. The dynamic content is going to add a lot of replay value as long as they continue to work on injecting impact and meaning on the results.
There were two other elements of the game I really fell in love with this weekend: the soul system (class system) and dungeons.
The class system in Rift allows you to take on 3 classes at one time within your archetype. The archetypes are the usual Warrior, Rogue, Mage, Healer. Within those roles though there are about 5-10 “souls”. At the moment (and I suspect in to release) I am playing a Bard/Ranger/Riftsomethinger and it is brilliant. I’m a huge bard guy, I love providing buffs. But being able to bring in spells and abilities from the Ranger class is fantastic.
There are literally endless posibilities for the classes players will be able to build with the soul system. Min/max’ers will find a way to do their thing but it is going to be one hell of an effort.
Can I just stop and say thank you to the Rift dev team for making a real bard? For developing a game that makes support roles viable? SO GOOD. Also – twisting is kinda sorta back with the Rift bard and I am a-o-k with that. It’s not true wrist breaking twisting but it is short duration buffs that you can use to play to situations. Fantastic stuff.
Dungeons. Talking about support roles takes us to this next topic quite nicely. This game is built for grouping. The out of the box pve experience might feel like a modern on rails quest MMORPG but at the heart dynamic grouping with varied classes and approaches is alive and well. Grouping is a lot of fun. For easy encounters our group could draw on their damage focused abilities. For difficult encounters we could switch tactics. Last night we had two bards in our Dungeon Group and when the going got tough we’d switch to playing healing buffs and using combat abilities that also healed our group. When we’d take down the big mobs I’d switch to unleashing my Ranger abilities, causing muchos hurt.
The dungeon we did last night was extremely fun and well designed. It had interesting scripting and a great ambience. When you walked down in to an area that was ultimately haunted the world got dark and you really had that momentary “oh shit – what is about to happen”. That particular room also was built around being a tribute to ghost busters and that went over well with the group.
I’m keen to see what else they’ve done with the dungeons in the game but if this is the indication of the quality of the content we are in for a real treat.
So there it is; Rift beta 4 is the point I get on board the train. I plan on pre ordering this week and can see a fairly bright future for this game, something I haven’t been able to say in a new release in quite some time.
The biggest source of my faith in this game? I’m not pre ordering it because of the hype. I’m pre ordering it because I played the game and really enjoyed it. That feels very foreign.
For those who are planning on playing and looking for a guild be sure to check out Aureus Knights.
Sometime about a year ago I decided to take a serious shot at getting to level 80 in World of Warcraft. I had been playing Warhammer Online and the lack of depth PvE in the game was killing me and I really wanted to sink my teeth in to something deeper.
For a time I stuck with my goal of getting up there in WoW – I made it to around level 35-40 but the new Everquest 2 expansion was calling with lots of new dungeon content to try out. Group play, particularly in focused PvE situations (Dungeons and raiding in particular) are really what make me tick with MMOs and the EQ2 expansion was focused almost exclusively around that – so it was a bit of a dream come true so WoW lost out in the end and I went off to play EQ2.
For various reasons after about a month and a half I just couldn’t stomach playing EQ2 any longer (I think I’ve hit that.point with EQ2). For a few months I drifted and even took a full break from MMOs at one point. All of this until around June/July when I decided once and for all I was going to suck it up and get the Level 80 in WoW MMO-goal checked off of my list.
I’m happy to say I’ve finally done it – it took quite a bit of effort (I did the last 20 levels in a pretty hardcore amount of time – I was pure heads down focused on leveling) but in the end it was totally worth it.
I also have to give Blizzard a lot of credit – both the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions were huge evolutionary steps for the game. Even after climbing this mountain I’m not convinced I would have enjoyed vanilla WoW if I would have done the drive to 60 back five years ago – I still think the game was too generic-MMO but with the two expansions, especially with Wrath you could tell Blizzard was finally figuring out how to tell a story and drive some really compelling content in an MMO.
I have a post that’ll be coming soon(TM) comparing raiding in EQ2 and WoW. We’ll find out if the journey was worth it…