As you might be aware, I participated in the fifth Rift beta event and I have to say that I’ve had more fun than in the previous event I was in. Reasons for that might lie in the class choice and the fact that I’ve devoted more time to the game than previously. Regardless, here are my thoughts (sorry for no pictures, I always forget to take them, go google Rift instead).
Things to keep in mind: So far I have only participated in two Rift beta events. I have only two characters, a cleric and a rogue (both Defiant), with the rogue being the highest of them at rank 21. I’ve participated in five or so warfronts, seeing both of the ones available at my rank. I have also ran the Iron Tombs dungeon once.
I realise my sweetheart MMO WAR is in a tough spot, so I do not consider myself a fanboy of any current MMO. I’m trying to look at Rift as unbiased as I can. If I make comparisons of Rift with any other MMO it is not because I’m trying to accuse anyone of stealing/copying anything (one can say that copying existing features and improving on them is the only way to make an above-average game), but rather as an attempt to understand and gain insight into certain features and game components. With that out of the way:
The bad stuff (booo)
Yeah, let’s start with the bad stuff.
Art and visual design
I know the art direction is supposed to be your bog-standard fantasy with a heavy steam punk influence (at least on the Defiant side), and in the beginning it works. But then it all starts breaking down into different parts that don’t really work together. For example, as I understand it, the basic premise of the story is that you are a reborn hero sent into an alternate dimension to right the wrongs that happened in the past (but in the dimension you were sent from). Setting aside the unnecessary complexity of the story that ends up creating more of an entangled mess, rather than an impression of something fresh and unique (world is in danger, you need to save it), there’s an apparent problem with art and design once you do that travel. Things there are almost exactly the same as where you came from, only a bit more green. Asha wears the same armor, the gadgets and people all look the same as before. I’m probably missing something here.
Then you have weapons models that look exactly like certain weapons from WoW. I understand it’s hard to come up with thousands of unique weapon designs, but an exact copy? The armor design is mis-matching to the point of ugly and generally looks uninspired, it just doesn’t work (at lower levels at least).
The mobs range from walking Anubis-like hounds, to familiarly looking water elementals, black shades of pure evil and undead, all in the stretch of a five-minute stroll.
The first and only real village (with proper houses and all) that I found, was a standard idyllic wooden fantasy village, all fine. But then you arrive into Meridian, the first city, and it turns out to be a couple of basements behind a marble plaza rounded by pillars, a nice green training grounds and a lot of stairs. There are no houses. Not what I imagined a city to be like.
All of the above makes me think of too much being crammed into too small of a space. It all looks like the art and design direction didn’t have a vision and didn’t even try to make a unifying, all-encompassing effort. Every artist and designer seems to have been given free rein and allowed to go wild with their imagination. Which is usually a good thing, but within constraints. A lot of MMO developers seem to think that without an established IP, the game should look as wild and unique as it can, in order to establish its own feel and look. But they seem to forget that a strong, planned vision of the design and look is still needed, for the MMO to make a lasting impression.
A side note: I don’t think that the “fantasy realism” or “cartoony realism” look as I like to call it, works. You either go for one, or the other. They don’t work together. But that’s just a personal opinion.
One of the more prominent features of Rift is the soul system, which explained plainly, allows you to pick and match three talent/mastery/specialisation trees out of the eight available to any class. This allows for a large amount of customisation, with an inbuilt dual-spec feature.
The only problem I see in this, otherwise interesting and useful feature, is that even with the constraints of certain souls being available only to certain classes, it’s going to be a nightmare to balance the PvP aspects of the game. It’s inevitable that certain souls will be branded as PvP ones and others as PvE ones and with that the whole aspect of playing with whichever soul you want falls apart. It seems Trion realised that and implemented PvP souls that are intended for PvP use, and with that pretty much gave a sign of how the balancing is going to be done. Certain souls will be balanced for PvP use, others for PvE use and cookie cutter specs will be made. This will keep things balanced, but unfortunately kill the promised variety and shatter the dream of true hybridisation and any smearing of the archetype/class lines.
From what I’ve seen, and you may say I haven’t seen enough (certainly not the end-game), here’s what Rifts are. They are the idea of a Public Quest (PQ), not taken further, but side-ways, along with some streamlining done to the concept. Public Quests, by their design in WAR, are quests that everyone can take part in, without prerequisites other than being in the area. That’s the public part. The quest part is some kind of a story and a goal to be achieved arising from it, in order to reap the rewards. WAR had hundreds of unique (some not so much) PQs that ranged from collecting items, destroying them, killing mobs, interacting with items, etc. They would be quests that are public.
In Rift the PQs don’t need a story behind them, because the main story of Rift provides one for them. The story of a goddamn mess with Rifts popping everywhere. And then you realise that the PQs in Rift are nothing more than hordes of mobs being killed in stages. Kill ten of the little mobs, then five of a bit stronger ones and then a bigger boss mob. Granted, that’s not different from a lot of MMO quests these days, and WAR had that kind of PQs aswell, but it had a lot more variety. I’d call Rift’s version Public Grinds (PG) or something, but Public Quests they are not.
Why there isn’t more variety is clear. In order for them to be truly random, they can’t have been scripted or coded because they would end up being complex and not-random. Or maybe it’s just laziness.
And so, with a streamlined PG interface, none of the contribution bugs that plagued WAR and a lot mobs to kill, rifts will appear everywhere, frequently. The first few times it’s fun, but after you realise that they’re very similar, don’t offer much in the way of real rewards and that you are essentially grinding currency, they become annoying. Especially when the invasion PGs happen and kill all your quest NPCs because no one beside you can be arsed to defend them. I presume Trion have a script in place that determines the number of rifts/invasions depending on the number of players in the zone, otherwise some less populated areas might become impossible to quest in.
So, are Public Grinds a fresh feature of the upcoming MMO? They sure are, they spice up things and provide something to do beside questing, instancing and warfronts. Are they a feature that needs to be hailed as the necessary and welcome MMO evolution? No, not unless Trion can do some really fancy stuff with them later on or in the end-game. But since I can’t envision them taking form of randomised rifts, but rather something like mod-driven server events (the two are vastly different), I don’t think that will happen.
Forgive the strangeness of this paragraph, I don’t really have much experience in describing instances.
Note the singular use of the word, as I’ve only done one. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but that isn’t surprising since I am not a huge fan of PvE, scripted, instanced, phat-loot one, or otherwise. The word I would use to describe Iron Tombs is adequate. It looked very dark, even with the brightness set to recommended, so I can’t really describe it with more than a dark, dusty tomb. Which I guess is what it’s supposed to be. Right. Next, boss fights. Nothing extremely hard or challenging, being only a speed bump on the way to loot even without knowing the tactics. Which I guess is what the first instance in the game should be like. It wasn’t long, and not that rewarding. But worth running at least once to do the quests and see it.
I understand that there are several difficulties to an instance. I’m basing that off the fact that the achievement says “complete on any difficulty”. If so, I haven’t been able to get any info on that and am clueless as to how the instance looks like on other difficulties. Apologies.
All in all, it’s not something to be in awe of, or make someone buy the game. If that someone is me, that is. I guess this part is as subjective as it gets, with all the different PvE tastes these days (you’ll get a different answer to the question of which MMO has the best PvE depending on who you ask, a lot of different answers that is).
Animations feel shabby at times, especially when I see someone jump while running and continue running while in mid-air. Bugs like that shouldn’t be around in an AAA MMO. Maybe it’ll get fixed by the time game is released.
There is no such thing as a bolster in warfronts, and I’m assuming other forms of PvP (if there are any). People might say that it’s okay cause it’s more challenging this way. I say humbug! The challenge is in facing an opponent on equal grounds. Where’s the challenge in slaughtering helpless players 10 levels below you? And if you claim to enjoy struggling to kill a player 10 levels above you and that it’s a real challenge and a test of skill, I’m going to say you’re a masochist and I don’t ever want to talk to you again.
I guess this isn’t a real complaint, but the crafting system is nothing new. It’s there and it’s adequate. And to be frank, quite stale.
The game also seems to be having major problems with ATI graphic cards. When I tried playing on high or even medium settings, my Radeon 4890HD did funky things. I’ve never had problems with playing games with similar system requirements on medium or even high graphics settings, but in Rift my computer would restart every so often. I tracked it down to GPU voltage jumps, which overtaxed my old (and frankly in need of a replacement) PSU and caused the system to shut down. I know I’m treading on thin ice with a PSU that barely satisfies the GPUs power requirements, but I’ve never had any problems even in games far more resource hungry than Rift. And it seems that I’m not the only one with an ATI card having problems, looking at the beta forums.
I’m also having a problem with the client successfully launching only one out of five times. After I skip the intro movies the game just hangs on the Rift logo. It seems people are having similar problems with loading, with the game hanging at a certain percentage.
It seems I can’t blame this on the game, but rather on the engine. Rift has the exact same problem with player positioning as WAR. You’ll have melee hitting you from way beyond their reach and there will be times when you will be too far away, while at the same time be too close to your target to use any ability as a ranged character. Blame it on Gamebyro I guess.
Lastly, and this is nitpicking, when you enter water the player camera get’s confused and doesn’t quite know whether to stay under water or on the surface. Which results in any activity in the water bits of the game being obscured by the camera being on the wrong side of the surface.
The good stuff (me like)
I like how I can be a ranged rogue pewpewing mobs in the morning, and then switch to a stealthing class in the evening for some PvP. Though there isn’t much reason to switch because a Ranger/Marksman/Saboteur is pretty much the best in both roles. This is exactly the kind of problem I was talking about in the section of bad stuff above. There is plenty of choice. But who in their right mind would choose to play an inferior version of a class when they can pick the best? The choice is there, there’s just not much incentive to make one.
One of the things that I suspect has kept me playing, in addition to being bored of WAR and the game’s novelty factor, is that I have been playing a class with a concept I’ve never seen or experienced before. It’s a ranged class with combo points and finishers. If that sounds extremely powerful, I can tell you it is. Ranged finishers are deadly and I’ve had one of them crit a player 4 levels above me for over 600, which at that level is pretty much half the total health. This class will get gutted if the game has any serious end-game PvP.
Rift has taken the concept of open groups further. Unlike in WAR, you don’t even need to start a group for other players to join it. Whenever you are in the area of a rift a button pops up, saying “Join an open group”. And it does just that, it puts all the players around you in the same group, with the press of a button.
Though it can be annoying, being forced into a group just because someone pressed a button. I don’t know if there’s an option to automatically prevent anyone from forcing you into a group in the settings, but one should be implemented if there isn’t. At one point during an invasion, I found myself being the leader of a raid group that started when someone pressed the button while we were duo-ing a small rift. I didn’t ask for that.
From what I’ve seen in warfronts, the PvP is in no way bad. It’s entertaining enough, even with me being a complete noob. Though I have to say I miss the iconic design of WAR’s careers and gear that helps with identifying the enemies. Most of the time I have no idea whether I’m target a healer or a mage and I can in never differentiate between a rogue and a dual-wielding warrior.
Again, an evolution of the completely customisable UI we’ve seen in other games. But this time, unlike in WAR, it has all the bits right out of the box. UI done right.
Anything not mentioned in the above two sections isn’t there because it either doesn’t affect the game enough or is simply standard, adequate and therefore not worth mentioning.
I enjoy Rift enough to log in at least once per two days for a few hours during beta events. But I’m not excited enough about the game to buy it and commit to it. Mostly because I can’t see this being a “PvP-first” MMO I’m looking for and because there aren’t any other features of the game that would interest me enough.
It’s true that the game is in beta and it might change, but honestly, with one month left to launch there won’t be any major changes. And it’s also true that I haven’t seen the end-game, which usually makes or breaks an MMO. But I wouldn’t be able to see the end-game until one or two months after the launch anyway. I can always keep my eye on the game and jump in if it turns out to have the awesomest of the most awesome end-games ever, or something.
Curiously enough, I was recently invited to participate in the alpha testing. I’ll probably be playing a lot more Rift in the next month, but I’m unlikely to write any more posts about it for fear of mixing up the beta and alpha experiences and breaking the NDA.
Though you can be sure I’ll post if I change my mind about getting the game. Which is quite unlikely. Never say never, though.