8.0 Overall Score

Written by on April 14, 2011 in

RIFT is an expert refinement of the MMO formula established by World of Warcraft. It learns from nearly every lesson of Blizzard in the years since WoW’s release and adds a bit of its own flavor.

As a longtime videogame enthusiast, it’s easy for me to always look for the next big thing. I want every game to move the artform forward in some small way. I celebrate those games which give a big push. That’s why, when I started looking at RIFT, my first question was, “What does this game invent?” The answer is not really all that much. Fortunately, the quality of this refinement of the modern MMO is far above anything else I have played. It almost feels like a leap forward even though not all that much has changed.

Aesthetically, the game borrows the stylized look of WoW but modernizes the visuals to make them quite impressive. The towns I have visited thus far (including the Guardian home city) have not had the scale of a WoW city. Frankly, they are a bit underwhelming. Other areas of the game are downright impressive. In particular, I worked through the first instance and found that, near the end, I was amidst a blizzard which made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of me!

I’m assuming most of the readers have played MMOs. Trion Worlds have made thousands of tweaks to that formula I couldn’t possibly recount. For the most part, MMO players will feel at home. Two differences really stick out in my admittedly limited (in the scope of MMOs as games with hundreds of hours of content) and casual experience with the game—one mechanical, one more atmospheric.

The biggest mechanical departure is in the soul system. Rather than picking a class and customizing the talent tree, players are given an extra layer of significant customization. RIFT is boiled down to four “callings” which serve as an analog to classes. The difference is that, within the mage class, I could have a DPS build or a healing build. Within the cleric class, I can build to any of the standard MMO archetypes (DPS, tank, or healing). I do this by selecting three souls within my chosen calling which determine the abilities I may learn. It opens up the strategic possibilities a great deal.

Once I gain a few levels, I can swap out a different set of souls on the same character any time I am not in combat. Looking for a group with your DPS build, but all the open groups need healing? Switch it up on the fly. Trion has learned that players become attached to their characters while sometimes wishing they could have a different set of skills, and they make it possible.

Games of this ilk are not known for any sense of urgency. By providing it, the MMO experience changes pretty dramatically. RIFT accomplishes this through a fantastic dynamic event system. In a typical MMO, I get a quest from an NPC which I may complete at my leisure. In Telara, I’m questing in an area when I notice a passing invasion force heading for a nearby town. If I don’t stop them right now, they will take the town and setup a stronghold. If I am able to stop them, I may be able to push back to their source (often the titular rifts) and retake that area preventing other invasions from moving to other parts of the world.

This is happening now. If I log off for a week and come back, there may be other invasions occurring, but this invasion will have run its course. I need to act (or not act, should I choose) right now. It’s rooted in a game mechanic, but I refer to this as an atmospheric change in the genre because it does far more to change the way I feel while playing than the way I actually play.

However, I do notice changes to my playstyle as a result. I’m very likely to participate in a dynamic events because they have that feeling of urgency. They are also implicitly social. It’s difficult to take them on alone, and it’s easy to join a group with the people in the area. I don’t really have to coordinate anything or even talk to anyone at all—an important fact to an anti-social nerd like me. The grouping happens because it is mutually beneficial to all parties, it’s easy, and it’s low maintenance. All these factors create a recipe for world events that makes them feel much more vital than any run-of-the-mill questing I could be accomplishing.

RIFT is not without problems, but they are barely worth a mention. I would like to see a group-finding tool for instances. Trion has already promised such a tool will be made available. The swimming animations are a bit jerky. Traveling is more labored than it should be in the early game. My biggest problems are tied up in my own expectations from new games in a genre with well-established norms, namely that said norms be torn to bits. RIFT surprised me by being the game that changes little, refines a lot, and reinvigorates my interest in a genre on which I burned out long ago. They aren’t breaking new ground, but the old ground seems much more fertile than I first thought.


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Author: Devon Campbell View all posts by
Devon's childhood has crept way into adulthood... and he's cool with that. He's embraced it by continuing the nerdy pursuits of his youth and indoctrinating his poor wife, Tiffany, and daughter, Ambria, thereby possibly spreading the disease to them. They don't seem to mind so much.

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