It’s been a hard couple of years for Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) fans. Seemingly every new release has proven to be an abject failure, launched in a half-finished state and quickly abandoned after failing to meet subscription quotas. Rift aims to break that trend and, more shockingly, may be the first game in nearly half a decade to do so.
Rift is not a re-invention of the genre; far from it. Rift is more a distillation of all that has worked in the past decade with a few unique twists added.
The story line of Rift falls somewhere between typical high fantasy setting and steam punk. Due to some bad decisions on the part of the planet’s leaders, the world of Rift is being invaded by beings from the elemental planes by means of, wait for it, rifts in space. They ultimately threaten to destroy the planet.
The players are divided into two factions representing the two different ways the people of Rift are trying to save their world. The Guardians have a faith based approach which leads to them having a very typical high fantasy feel, while the Defiant have turned to technology to save the day, giving them a very steam punk edge. The varying styles add a nice contrast to both the atmosphere and storyline of the game, along with adding some very interesting moments.
The most notable feature would be the way Defiant characters start the game, where they are sent back from a future where the world has been destroyed to prevent the destruction, ala Terminator.
Rift’s two major defining features are its character talent system and the titular “rifts.” Rift tosses away the rigid class structure of almost all previous games in the genre, instead opting for a much more fluid system.
Instead of picking specific classes, players choose general archetypes (warrior, cleric, rogue, mage) and then pick and choose three of eight unique talent trees to create their character. Further, each archetype is not as constraining as they may first sound. Almost every archetype has the ability to be a healer, damage dealer or tank given the right combination of talent trees. The result is an incredibly diverse system where the main constraint on a player is their own creativity.
The “rift” system represents Rift’s attempt to add a significant amount of dynamic content to the game. Rifts are randomly spawning portals to other planes, which, as portals to other places are oft to do, involves a large amount of evil things pouring out of them, which the player has to kill to close the rift. The rifts physically deform the land around them and can destroy nearby towns, meaning that multiple playthroughs of an area will never be the same.
Rift further delivers up generous quantities of both Player vs. Environment (PvE) and Player vs. Player (PvP) content. On the PvP front, Rift offers the standard fare of a series of battleground maps player teams can go head to head on, along with a significant emphasis on world PvP.
On top of the rift system the game also has a large amount of dungeons for the player, almost all of which have a very expansive, sometimes even maze-like feel. Rift also promises the regular addition of more dungeons/raids as the game continues, though as of now, only one raid is included.
Rift is a visual treat as well. The game’s graphics are stunning, with high quality characters models, detailed gear and an impressive atmosphere. However, it is very important to note that Rift’s graphics can also be the game’s downfall for those whose computers only meet the minimum requirements. Running on low settings not only downscales the textures of objects, but it also literally begins removing them from the landscape of the game. This leads to entire areas appearing empty. So buyer beware: this game is not for the dated computer.
Lastly, it cannot be emphasized enough how high the polish is on Rift out of the box. There are no game-breaking bugs, no major exclusions of content at the last second, no glaringly un-thought out features. In short, none of the types of problems that usually plague new releases of the genre exist.
Further the developers have already proven themselves to be incredibly fast responding to issues and responsive to player concerns, both hallmarks of an MMO that is likely to go far. While it is impossible to see into the future, Rift’s launch implies that this is a game which will be around for a long time to come, and is a must buy for any fan of the MMO genre.