So I gave Rift a try recently. Mostly due to being under the weather and finding myself with some spare time on my hands. I doubt I have much more to add that bigger and better bloggers than myself haven’t already covered. But I’ll try anyway.

Yes, it is like WoW. The thing is, that statement is entirely unhelpful. There are oodles of games out there like WoW:

  • Fantasy 3rd person MMORPG.
  • Subscription payment model.
  • Levelling based progression.
  • Quests.
  • Two faction consensual PvP.

If anything I would say Rift is more like Aion. Graphically it is closer to Aion than it is to WoW. The back story also shares similarities: two factions split from one origin, fighting each other and a common foe. The user interface is closer to Aion than it is to WoW. Though it is more flexible, having a layout mode (like WAR only well implemented). The crafting model is almost identical, only without the annoyance of Aether collection.

One of the strong comparisons being made with WoW is how slick it is. How polished it is. Frankly, this says more about the sort of shoddy workmanship gamers will put up with if this is somehow a selling point!

So in what way is Rift unique?

The two big selling points are the soul system and the rifts, and I’d say both of these work quite well. The soul system is on the face of it just like choosing a spec like other games. However, you are getting to choose 3 spec lines from 8 available (for each class). You pick these up over the first few levels and it can feel a bit daunting trying to work out which to go for. The bit that isn’t immediately obvious is that these spec lines control what spells you get. Instead of each class getting their class spells as they level up, spells are learned based on how many points you’ve got in a spec line. So two mages with different souls will have entirely different spells.

One of the nice things I found with this (especially when compared to recent WoW’s dumbed down model) is that you get something new every level. The most boring level will be one talent point to spend that doesn’t grant you any new abilities. Most levels though will grant you a new ability as you spend your talent point (the roots of the soul tree).

The downside is that there is a vast number of options and a vast number of abilities. In practice you’ll work out which are the best and stick to them. So some abilities won’t see much use. You get enough talent points to reach the top of one soul tree and get most of the way through a second (or fill out the first soul tree should you wish). Whilst you could spread your points across all three trees I suspect the best builds will be one main tree, a secondary tree and then the third tree either for the free abilities or for cherry picking a first tier talent.

I like the souls approach of Rift. It certainly has a lot more to choose from than WoW’s current paired down talent trees. I like the way spells come from the roots of the trees as you spend more talent points in them. My gut feeling though is that optimal builds will become the norm and many abilities and talents won’t see much use. It is very difficult to create truly balanced choices, especially with the number of options Rift has provided. Only time till tell whether this boils down to a true choice or whether there are “must have” talents.

And so to the rifts themselves. These have, obviously, been compared to the PQ system from WAR. Rift’s rifts are much more dynamic than WAR’s PQs whilst at the same time being less diverse and interesting. The rifts are all about invasions from other planes. They’re thematically associated, so fire, or life (fae), or undead for example. They can appear anywhere across the map and vary in strength (i.e. level). To defeat a rift, simply kill all the mobs, of which there will be several waves, culminating in a bonus boss mob if you’re quick enough.

As well as rifts there can be invasions which will be a boss and associated mobs who appear and make their way towards a landmark. There are also wardstones. There are good ones, which can be taken over my invading mobs and the invading mobs can also place their own wardstone. A wardstone is guarded and sends out occasional invading mobs towards nearby landmarks.

So far so good. Lots of dynamic content that can pop up anywhere, even in your quest area. Anyone can take part and there’s a public group system to team up. However, with one minor exception they’re all just mobs to kill. The one minor exception was a rift that had some crates which could be destroyed to clear that wave. It is, afterall, an invasion system. But it would be nice to have some variance on the gameplay maybe.

Where it really takes off is when a full scale zone invasion happens. Suddenly the zone will be covered in rifts, wardstones and invasions. The whole zone will become a quest zone with a shared achievement to defeat the invasion. This will be by clearing a number of rifts, and defeating a number of enemies. There’s a lot of running around, some very nice mobs (I was most impressed by the giant treants) and a gathering together towards the common goal. Or a fun zerg, depending on how you look at it.

They do add a dynamic feel to the world. I do fear they’ll suffer like WAR’s PQs did over time in that they only really work if there are enough players around to take part. Which is fine if you’re on the crest of the levelling wave but if you pick the game up in 6m time you and the two other people who are actually around might struggle. It makes the world feel more alive than a sequence of static quests does, and in a better way than WoW’s phasing (which is really just static quests in a semi-instanced world zone) does.

I think this sort of feature is good, but I also think it hasn’t been perfected yet. Perhaps GW2 can show us the way?

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