The creators of RIFT went out of their way to simplify some of the most fundamental MMOG gameplay mechanics people have been experiencing for nearly a decade all while refining and polishing the product which clearly was built as a mixed tenuous labor of love and exhaustive work.

Many people are quick to discount a new MMOG, talk about what they don’t like, criticize every little thing and refrain from truly taking the world in before deciding to share their thoughts. As most gamers don’t have a clue as to the sheer amount of work that goes into a MMOG, I can say from experience that RIFT has an absolutely monumental amount of work behind it, and that work not only shows, but it glows.

We could quite possibly be looking at the most successful MMOG since the release of World of Warcraft, and I do not make that statement lightly, rather quite factually.

Travelling through Telara on my Shelly Steed with Piggy Protection

RIFT features beautifully crafted environments which utilize perfectly smooth interactions and hand crafted environments paired with some of the smoothest and fun gameplay I’ve ever experienced in a MMOG. There is no question the developers at Trion did their research and had the goal of creating a product which could compete in the AAA MMOG space right at launch. This is quite an undertaking given the most successful MMOGs on the market have years of expansions, additional content and refinement behind them. Releasing a new product that feels the same level of quality (if not higher) than the other leading MMOGs is a monumental accomplishment, and the folks at Trion have been successful in this goal.

I’m going to review the different systems of RIFT and touch on every core feature the game has to offer. Feel free to comment and provide any additional feedback that you have regarding what you read here or experienced yourself. I hope this review provides helpful information for those who are interested in MMOGs.

RIFT: Planes of Telara

Release Date: 03.01.2011 (Pre-Order Headstart 02.24.2011)
Custom Features: Rifts & Dynamic Events, Wardstones, Guild Perks, Multi-Class “Soul” System
Strengths: Graphics & Environment, Overall Gameplay, Quests, Open World Combat, Smooth Server Patching & Performance, Solid Client
Weaknesses: Poor Auction System, No Integrated Voice, No Guild Hall
Notes: Fun, Simplified, Refined, Quality
Billing Style: Subscription

Mechanics

Economy, Travel, Crafting & Harvesting, Housing, Marketplace, Achievements, Pets, Collectibles, Reputation, Death, Custom and Companions.

Mechanics covers everything under the hood; the gears and widgets behind gameplay.

The Economy in RIFT is hard to get a pulse on as it takes time for such a key system to grow in a live environment. There are multiple types of currencies ranging from the rift-reward Sourceshards and Planarite to the PvP Favor, Coin (Plat/Gold/Silver), Tradeskill currency and Artifacts. All can be used to purchase items from Planar vendors and patterns from Tradeskill vendors.

The auction house is rather basic and in my opinion is one of the weakest features of the game as there is no price tracking or and it’s a pain to constantly be managing and looking up going rates. Players should look forward to visiting the Auction House and posting items. In RIFT it’s more of a task than anything else.

There is no marketplace to purchase items with real cash, but that’s just fine as RIFT doesn’t focus on such mechanics.

Traveling is nominal as each major city is connected with a portal or “Porticulum”; other than that you’re stuck with Recall and a mount, and there are no flying mounts. However due to the layout of camps and quest givers, it’s not really that big of an issue as you only need to head back to a major hub to train your skill ranks every even level.

The first mount you can purchase (around level 12-15 if you save) grants a 60% speed increase and it is very easy to get knocked off. However it works just fine giving the layout of the game. The next mount you can purchase is a 90% speed mount, and you need to be level 40, but when you get it, it’s very much worth it. Note there is no mounted combat.

The Crafting UI

Crafting is fairly basic and allows you to augment your created wares with specific crafting enhancement items to give statistical bonuses. Each character can select three of the nine tradeskills available (six crafting and three harvesting). The six crafting types are Apothecary, Outfitter, Armorsmithing, Runecrafting, Weaponsmithing and Artificing. Crafting is easy enough where anyone can do it and enjoy it. I for one am not big in crafting, but I found myself crafting in RIFT because it was so easy. Another important part is the items you craft are actually useful, so that’s good balance . One can also Salvage items to extract materials. Harvesting is fairly basic as well with the three types being Butchery, Foraging and Mining.

There is no housing and no guild hall. Granted the game’s focus is on experiencing content in the open world (and instances), I believe MMOGs that want to create a strong bond between the players, especially in guilds, need to include features allowing guild members to meet, organize and interact. Everquest 2 is king in this area and other MMOGs should learn from what they have done.

There are 7,030 achievements. Plenty to achieve yet I did not see how the player can use the achievement points for anything in game other than a “I did this” and a guild notification update paired with a shiny flash.

It’s difficult to tell how diverse and fun the companions are, but they seem fairly standard. Note in RIFT your pet is your fighting pet and your companions are the visual/collector pets.

The game does feature an Artifact collection system (not to be confused with the Guild Artifacts, which are covered below) where you can encounter “shinies” on the ground. Collecting a whole set of artifacts rewards you with “lucky coins” which can be turned into a vendor for a Lucky Coin and a cache. The caches are tiered according to what zone the artifact set came from and contain random items ranging from potions and gold to epic weapons and armor. Players who turn in artifact sets get different tiers of the Artifact Collector achievement.

The reputation system is fairly standard and there are many quartermasters in the game which sell items based on reputation.

Death is a hybrid system of Soul Walk, Resurrect and Respawn. Soul Walk allows you to respawn within a specific time limit where you died which is very nice for when you rarely die (you can just continue on as if you did not). If you don’t choose Soul Walk, you teleport to the nearest graveyard and have the option of being resurrected by the spirit guy or running through the neverworld back to your corpse. Your soul loses a percentage each time you die and a healer needs to repair it for an amount of coin. My personal experience was the death system is well done and works just fine and does require the player to pony up some gold if they die too much.

You are Dead. Welcome to the Ghost Walk!

The custom features of the game as it relates to mechanics are Rifts, Footholds, Wardstones and Roaming Mobs. They are new, fresh, well done and a lot of fun. These features also add a dynamic to the game that can offer a break from the quest and level grind. I give tribute to Tabula Rasa here as it was the first MMOG to really adopt the “source and roam” of mobs. Something else I qualify as a custom feature is the Open World Combat. RIFT has this on scale I have not seen before. To be running around doing quests and seeing perhaps one or two others and suddenly have a whole gaggle (40+) of people run by (people who don’t know each other who just joined up in process) all heading to the major rift that just opened on the other side of the hill is pretty impressive, but more importantly: fun and exciting. Granted Dark Ages of Camelot was really the first to have the large groups on a mission (that I recall) in the PvP areas, this is different as it’s in the open world and people who don’t know each other join up and work together toward a common goal. Another neat feature of fighting in the Rift or Foothold combat are the rewards. While the core currency reward for these events is Planarite (discussed later), you can also get some nice item drops. Wardstones offer protection to the quest hubs through buffs and debuffs of attacking forces as well as a daily quest, and if a wardstone is destroyed a foothold can spawn. If all Wardstones are captured, a boss spawns once per day. More details can be found here.

Pets (which are the fighters in RIFT) are well done, simple, focused and smooth. I saw no pathing issues and the pets behavior is solid. The only concern I would have here is all hunters will have the same pet at the same level. If you’re running solo, you use the pig. If you’re in an instance, you use the dire wolf. A little diversity would be nice. Perhaps pet augmentations?

An important thing to mention is in RIFT the Tab key actually works (for selecting targets). Well done!

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Content

Character (Race, Class, Custom), Lore, Quests, NPCs, World, Ambiance, Instances, Enemies, Items & Inventory, and Expansions.

The overall breadth of what a game has to offer across the board. From Quests to Classes, Character Creation to Lore Participation.

The RIFT Class Breakdown

The Character and class features in RIFT are a hybrid system where you choose “souls” to represent your characters abilities. There are four core class types – Warrior, Rogue, Cleric and Mage, and under each are eight sub-class selections. The player can choose three of these sub-classes (or souls) to be active at any time. For example a Rogue can be a Ranger, Marksman and Bard. Players can mix and match class souls as they see fit and unlock the soul abilities by spending points. Players can also obtain more than three souls and switch between them. This allows for quite a bit of diversity and allows players to choose the souls that represent their gameplay style. However there’s even more to this. You can configure four different soul configurations, so with one character you can have 4 core soul configurations of 3 souls each, covering a total of 12 combinations, and even better you can switch roles anywhere, and it also switches your action bar configurations. So if you’re running around doing quests solo as an offensive mage and get invited to an instance, but they need a healer, no problem. Just switch to your mage healer soul setup. Granted you need to have acquired the souls and configured all of the point, overall it’s a very interesting concept and I do not think many people realize the versatility of this system. This includes the ability to switch your roles at any time, allowing for much more complex boss fighting that requires a single party or raid member to be “multi configured” for each boss. I’ve been in an instance more than once where the leader recommends the party switches to “soul configuration X” before the next boss.

There are six Races available. The Guardian faction has the Dwarf, High Elf and Mathosian where the Defiant faction has the Bahmi, Eth and Kelari.

Customization of your characters look is fairly basic and limited, but well done for what it is.

The Lore of RIFT is pretty unique and for those who like interesting stories, it’s fun to follow. I honestly don’t think the Lore is any more in-depth than other AAA MMOGs though. Every game has its story and most AAA titles tell that story well. Given I do not feel as if RIFT is behind six years of expansions of games like WoW, that’s commendable given it’s a new title that doesn’t feel any weaker in the lore department than its well-established competitors.

The Quests in RIFT are perfectly integrated to the point of being the best MMOG quest system I’ve seen. Note this is not because the quests themselves are completely unique or new as most of them are pretty standard. I say this because never do you wonder where you should be going or what items give what quests. Also when you mouseover any mob, world item or inventory item, it tells you what quest it’s related to. Also, if a quest requires an item to be used, the icon is part of the quest UI so you can just click it without having to search your inventory. When you pick up an item that offers a quest, you’re informed. While you can only track five quests at a time, I found it to be more than enough to play and have fun as the quest hubs are generally designed so you don’t have more than five quests at a time to pursue.

The NPCs are fairly standard but there is a nice visual diversity to them (especially between the Guardian and Defiant Factions). The voice acting is well done as are the scripted events.

The World is seamless save the Instances and the overall design is a combination of technical practicality to support large groups of players engaging Rift attacks with smooth uninterrupted beauty. The range which you can see is also extensive, allowing far away peaks to show in a fairly realistic fashion. Many are unaware of the technical balance necessary to support not only the visual environment of a game, but the ability to allow a hundred or more people on the screen at once to be fighting a common enemy, all without bogging  the client down. RIFT pulls this off exceptionally well, perhaps the best of any MMOG.

Underwater Environment

The Underwater areas are well designed and surprisingly aren’t annoying as they are in many other MMOGs. The game also provides a long amount of time to hold your breath, which is nice.

The Ambiance of the world is also exceptionally presented as you truly feel as if you are in the environments because of what you see and hear. The little tweaks to combat sounds, mob sounds, etc. make all of the difference. Unfortunately the Music isn’t very memorable and the sounds of the rifts being open all around you can get a bit repetitive.

The Instances are well done and the boss fights both challenging and entertaining. The game launched with 9 instances (Darkening Deeps, Realm of the Fae, Deepstrike Mines, Abyssal Precipice, King’s Breach, Iron Tomb, Runic Descent, The Fall of Lantern Hook, and Greenscale’s Blight). While that may not sound like much, they are very well done, fun and can be “run” on standard or expert difficulty, and expert isn’t the exact same thing again; expert difficulty adds new story, bosses and more, thus enhancing the instance experience. There are also end-game “raid rifts” which can be considered instances, but they are out doors and the public can participate if they desire.

The Enemies are fairly diverse, nicely textured and well animated. Lots of undead, Giants and other critters. The wisps actually look and move like wisps. The art team went all out on developing many of the creatures as they are truly unique, but not too alien. However the mobs will often spawn on top of you which can make things challenging. The design team did a very good job of defining the cultures of many enemy races. This is apparent as you enter different areas which contain a new creature type and you get a good feel for how they live and behave based on the design of the structures they inhabit.

The Items in RIFT seem fairly standard when compared to other MMOGs as you can find the “Huntsman’s Ring of Valor” which has extra Strength, and then find the “Huntsman’s Ring of Endurance”, which replaces the strength bonus with endurance. Items come in the traditional white, green, blue and purple, and a nice bow drop from an instance sure can make a substantial difference in DPS for a ranged class. Inventory is managed with bags you can craft and upgrade and I did find my bags filling up quite often. Another note is there is no item repair  in RIFT, nor is there ammunition for ranged weapons. However I was having so much fun, I didn’t care that I didn’t have to spend money to repair my gear or make sure I didn’t run out of arrows. There are also runes which augment your gear (i.e. add damage), but I didn’t get too far into using those (which I’m sure play a critical part in the end game). For custom stat augmentation, RIFT has a Planar Focus “belt” which allows the character to mount planar items with modifiers they acquire through various means, the most common being rift battles. One must upgrade their belt to gain access to more slots (the current largest belt having 4 lesser and 2 greater slots) and its easy to “socket” in the modifiers. For those who run multiple soul configurations and regularly switch between these configurations, one can keep different belts with different configurations on hand and switch between them on an as needed basis.

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Community

Guild, Grouping, Events, Social Network, Population, and No Spam

All things community related are covered here.

The Guild system is fairly basic and allows the members to level the guild through Guild specific quests (one example is for the Guild members to kill 1,000 Rift Creatures). Guilds have something called Perks where the leaders can choose from a multitude of features to enhance the members. The potential here is a guild can be customized with certain features and benefits which is an interesting concept. Note Guild Perks require Guild Artifacts (which can be purchased from the Guild Charter Magistrate, not to be confused with Artifact Collections) to activate. One can also buy Guild Rally Tokens which transport a member to a Guild Rally Banner (obtained and set through Guild Perks). Guild Banks were added with the 1.2 patch.

A Public Raid with Boss

The Grouping and Raiding system is hands down the best I’ve seen. Very friendly, easy to use and join existing groups, and overall a good experience. Simply put, it brings people together through the public grouping system. If you come across somebody who is on the same quest you are, just click them and then the “add group” button on their portrait and it automatically forms a public group. If you come across an already existing public group, a button appears at the top allowing you to join them. This is a nice and easy way to meet people and work together with strangers.

Events in RIFT are directly tied to the unique features of the game, but I’m sure they’ll have fun with Christmas and other holidays. Even without custom run events based on in-game lore and real holidays, there are constant events taking place throughout the world in the form of the dynamic content.

There isn’t a Social Network designed for RIFT, which is surprising. They do allow you to Twitter achievements and post pictures with yfrog, but there is no public character sharing or lookup system like The World of Warcraft Armory. I believe Trion will need these systems up and running quickly as people want to not only share their accomplishments and allow others to look up their details, players also want to be able to look up quests and items.

The Population of the servers is very high. I saw players everywhere and regularly came across “hordes” of people banded together tracking down the bosses in the zones. The world was a very busy place, but there was plenty of content and the spawn rates of creatures and Rift events adjusted accordingly.

There was a spam problem at launch, but it seems to have been handled.

Gameplay

Combat, PvP, PvE, Progression, Learning Curve, Replayability and End Game

A critical core category covering the shared systems of the games. I could have combined this with Mechanics but I felt it was better represented as its own category if players wanted to weigh the two against each other.

The Combat of RIFT is perfectly smooth and feels more like a single player game than a MMOG. This is a very good thing as the visuals, response times and overall combat interaction are very refined. One thing the folks at Trion have done is integrated “action items” such as potions and damage/affect trinkets which the players can regularly use in combat. This makes things a bit more fast paced and action oriented. I think they created a very good balance here and RIFT has the smoothest combat of any MMOG I’ve played.

PvP is fun. It’s hard to tell how PvP is going to balance out with so many subclasses, but the foundation is there. The game features Prestige Ranks which can unlock PvP Souls. More in the video here.

PvE is rock solid as well. Mob spawn points are perfectly laid out and there are plenty of challenges mixed with casual fun play. The only gripe is how mobs will spawn right on top of you and boss mobs will often respawn almost immediately when an area is packed with people.

Character Progression via quests is very linear, but by participating in Rifts, PvP and Instances, the player can diversify their gaming experience, which is good. While the quests are linear, they have an excellent balance and are still very enjoyable.

The Learning Curve is very easy. The built in tutorial paired with the well-designed UI makes everything easy to use.

I don’t think anyone knows what the replayability is going to be like just yet. I believe the different subclasses have enough variety that players can be entertained making different combinations and character types, and the rift events are enjoyable to participate in. However in the end, it all comes down to end game content. Trion did put out a video showing some of the end-game world-based raid content. Apparently crafted planar lures are going to be a big part of creating custom “Rift Raid” content. There are also going to be raid instances for groups of 20 players. The question is what balancing act is the game going to have in the area not only of instances and content, but items and management of economy. A successful MMOG must have a solid economy to support proper replayability. Let’s hope RIFT pulls it off.

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Technical

Operation, Interface, Graphics, Sound, and Account

This core category encapsulates everything of a technical nature and where we cover key systems such as Graphics and Sound.

The overall technical operation of both the client and server is executed flawlessly and I never encountered as much as a single crash, bug or hiccup. The Servers are rock solid as I engaged in raid combat of at least 40 or more people and never had so much as a lag spike. Reboots did occasionally take place during the BETA, but you could tell the developers were busy monitoring, tweaking and refining the systems. One can also tell the database back-end and integrative server systems are also state of the art as there is next to no latency in doing anything. Well done, Trion.

The Interface is excellently designed with full in-game customization. While there is currently no Add-In support, Trion has stated there are future plans to support this.

An Impressive looking Fire Rift

The Graphics are exceptional, especially for those who can run on Ultra or Ultra plus. The particle system is also beautiful, giving the visuals a very refined look. There are also physics involved in some of the object movements and behaviors. Things look and act as they should. Make sure you turn on the anti aliasing if your video card can support it.

The Sound FX and Music are crisp and clear.

Account management is very well done as it’s easy to manage from the website.

One interesting note is it appears the servers for RIFT are hosted in… Villahermosa, Mexico!

Support

Help, CSGM (“Customer Service Game Master”), Online Support, Wiki Player Support, and Forums

Players often complain about the level of support for a game, but rarely seem to forgo playing because of it. However it’s good to know before jumping in what sort of support reputation a MMOG has, that way if you run into problems you aren’t surprised at the results.

The in-game reporting system is well integrated and easy to use. Unfortunately, there’s not much more I can review here as RIFT is a brand new product and hasn’t established a reputation with the live player base just yet. These things take time. I do see good interactions in the forums though, and am hopeful Trion does a good job in this area. I also notice the handling of server downtime and patching is very well done and usually very accurate.

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Conclusion

RIFT is an exceptional game, of that there is no question. I believe may players enter the game and think it’s pretty but just like any other MMOG, but as they play the game, they realize they’ve forgotten about how they thought RIFT was like another MMOG and are immersed.

I have yet to see a new MMOG launch with the frenzy RIFT has with the number of players, servers, and forum activity. The headstart program resulted in so many people playing, it was quite an experience; and the server I was on didn’t crash once. With 57 servers at launch in North America alone and the evening population on most of the servers ranging from Medium to Full, there’s no question Trion has an initial hit on their hands, but can they keep their subscribers?

For those who are considering RIFT or have played it just for a few hours, keep in mind that players have become so desensitized to MMOGs it’s nearly impossible to rate the potential of a new MMOG based on just a few hours of play. Time is required to really get a feel for the world, and while the first hour of experience does set the stage of things to come, the game must offer an experience which blurs the first hour into a continuing immersion of fun and interest. RIFT accomplishes this and before you know it, you’re saying “that’s pretty cool” as the refined quality of this game sucks you in and allows you to dominate your enemies in a multitude of different ways all while being properly rewarded by your efforts.

MMOGs are more than just games. They are living breathing worlds which people not only become a part of and invest time in, they also play a huge part in a person’s experience of life and imagination. This dynamic is evolving as our culture becomes more and more immersed in online products and that changes the nature of large scale persistent world design as developers not only have to focus on the necessary technical and experience-based aspect of the product, they are charged with the task of creating a world people want to be a part of and “live in”, and this is no easy task.

Starting out in RIFT

Will people want to live in the world of Telara? Is there enough content to compete with other MMOGs with years of expansions?  Is the Subscription requirement of RIFT going to turn off prospective players in an emerging Free to Play (F2P) and real-money Marketplace? It’s hard to say as there are many potential outcomes, but I believe Trion will pull it off. The key here isn’t to make the right decision out of the box, the key here is to build a stable company and product which is capable of properly reacting and adjusting to the needs of the market. Is it possible RIFT may be F2P or a Hybrid MMOG by the end of 2011? Of course, but who knows. What counts is Trion has built a solid beautiful world which offers great gameplay, immersion and enjoyment, and they’d done it on an unprecedented scale for a company’s first product.

People may ask: Is RIFT worth the $49.99 purchase and $14.95 subscription fee? In my opinion, based on what I have seen and experienced, the answer is yes. It’s worth spending the money to determine if Telara is a new world you want to be a part of for months and potentially years to come.

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About The Author

Mr. Allen has an extensive background in technology spanning 20 years including software architecture, design and development, project management and leadership. He specializes in corporate planning, productivity and collaboration, and is the creator of the games Mordor, Demise, Horizons, and Alganon.

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13 Responses

  1. Smidgen

    Very nice review, I hadn’t been planning on playing another game since I’m on WoW burnout, but you’ve made me rethink my choice.

    Reply
  2. Ken

    If you pre-order and pay in advance your monthly payment could be as low as $10/month on average. That requires a 6 month commitment…but after playing the final beta, I have no doubt I can enjoy myself playing RIFT for at least that long. I managed to play WoW for about 5 years, but the last 2 I only stuck around because of all the great people that my wife and I had met and were in our guild. We were happy to find that most of our guild preferred to go with us to a new game and all of our guildies who tried the beta, save one person who had connection problems, pre-ordered and signed up for 6 months. The final beta didn’t feel like a beta at all. It felt like a refined product that had been on the market for years. My wife is so excited about the head start, she’s ordered me to stay home all day so we can storm through to Meridian right away and get our guild formed ASAP, and then start chasing down those rifts. Good thing I already had the day off from work!

    Reply
  3. Stayonboard

    Excellent review – pretty much spot on and very objective. I also thought it was “another one of those” and was even against buying it originally. I was in beta 4 and only actually played in the last open beta as my interest just wasn’t there. The first hour was “meh”… the first 4 hours was “hmm… this is neat” and by hour 10 it was “zomg – thank you Trion”! I was shocked – SHOCKED – how immersive the game was and how I really enjoyed jumping in groups to close a rift, kill an invasion force or just simply quest or PVP to my hearts content. I really like that there’s not one way to level (IE: Quest… like every other game) and I found doing rifts/invasions, etc gave me MORE XP than the standard questing (although it was close – you could easily justify grouping the entire game if you wanted to).

    Thumbs up from me – good work Trion. See you in 2 days!

    Reply
  4. Andy Poquette

    That was the most in depth, informative review of any game I’ve ever read.

    Fantastic.

    Reply
  5. Jondoe

    I was doing some WoW research and navigated to Thottbot.com. They were advertising open beta for RIFT on the home page, so I was like “Ya know, why not?”. That was four days before the beta closed. In the four days of playing beta7 I was not only convinced to purchase the game, but even got some friends to try out the beta and agree to purchase the game.
    I couldn’t put this game down the moment I hit Silverwood and participated in the goblin boss invasion.
    24 hours and 45 minutes…

    Reply
  6. Russty

    Very interesting review and I shall be playing the game in a few days.

    I played WOW for 4 years and the fun has gone out of it. You must be a professional raider in a guild to get any good drops.
    At least this game appears to have the fun factor that WOW has dropped.

    Like being able to join in a rift battle and get some reward for your effort.

    Yep, I shall give it a go.

    Reply
  7. Godcloud

    Excellent Review! Reading your review makes me proud I paid for a cd-key and subscription!

    Reply
  8. Ob

    THIS is truly the first viable alternative to World of Warcraft!!!

    Reply

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