Trion World’s long-awaited launch of Rift took place earlier this month, and was met with a significant amount of attention from the gaming public. As a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), Rift is subject to the same blinkered derogatory comparisons to the market leader, World of Warcraft, as any new competing title, but as with the recent launches of franchise tie-ins such as DC Universe Online and Star Trek Online, Rift is aiming at a very different market.
It’s true that Trion Worlds may cannibalise some of Activision-Blizzard’s audience, but the overlap is most certainly minimal. Rift concentrates its efforts on plot progression and the grand adventure, whereas World of Warcraft is founded on the principles of large-teams engaged in raiding prefabricated structures. A darker, more composed experience is present in Rift, but does that mean a better one?
From the very beginning, Rift attempts to impress a sense of individuality on the player. Choosing between two origins – the heavenly Guardians or rebellious Defiant – the player is, as if often the case, asked to make decisions that will affect them for the duration of the game without having any realistic idea about what impact the choice will have. The template character models during the character creation process show not only the darker world within which the events of Rift take place, but also a greater effort to keep up with the modern industry in terms of visuals: a game on the scale of an MMO may never be able to compete with the top tier single-player First-Person Shooter (FPS), but graphics have certainly progress significantly in the six years since World of Warcraft launched.
Rift offers players four classes to choose from, the predictable Mage, Warrior, Rogue and Cleric types, but the decision made now has far less of a bearing on the style of play than could possibly be imagined. Though the player will find their character continually bends towards the primary ‘calling’, as it is named here in Rift, a player can often aside in another class through their in-game experiences. Once the race and class selections have been made the player can customise the appearance of their character. Though fairly flexible (and more so with the access to dyes for clothing), players remain hamstrung by their earlier choices, meaning that Rift once again presents an MMORPG world of limited variety.
Stepping out into the world for the first time brings home the most significant result of that first decision between the Guardians or the Defiant. Both origins play a very different game from the very earliest moments and through the entirety of your quest. In the traditional MMORPG fashion, quests are given to players by Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and here in Rift players can gather many at any one time to complete at their leisure. However, there are obviously specific quests that continue the plotline and therefore must be completed to mark progress beyond that of simply your statistics or wealth. Rift is more comparable to a single-player RPG in this respect: much like the gathering and dispensing of information and rewards in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the main quest line is the only essential activity in Rift, and even that can be pushed aside for hours, days or perhaps even weeks, should you so choose.
Alongside the basic and plotline quests are the rifts themselves. Unsurprisingly playing an important role in Rift, the rifts offer unique rewards and the possibility to uncover a new soul – essentially the opportunity to realign your character as mentioned above. Rifts can be tackled alone, but even the game itself suggests you do so with other players in the current location, and the rewards are not diminished for doing so as long as the group leader plays fair. Rifts work in tandem with the quests, with many hours often lost to chasing them down instead of pursuing that which the game has instructed you will be beneficial, and this is most certainly one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. A personal goal, a hunt for an objective that has been placed for you to complete, but one which it’s very rare that Rift will actually command you to do so.
The rifts aren’t the only distraction within the world of Telara, of course. A number of Guilds are available, and the many collections will provide completionists with a ridiculous amount of exploration gameplay. The items hidden within the world for these collections are surprisingly well placed; it’s never a simple case of checking the corners of every new room. Rift again copies the single-player ethos of placing sought after items in areas off-the-beaten-path. If you find a location that looks a little disparate to the path you are advised for your ultimate destination, take it, you never know how significant the rewards will be, but it’s more than likely you will be rewarded.
As mentioned above, Rift is a much darker game than the majority of MMORPGs currently on the market. Clearly intended for late-teens-and-up, the exact opposite end of the market to the likes of the young teen’s Runes of Magic and younger still Free Realms, Rift provides a vivid depiction of mythical war and unease amongst the population of Telara. To suggest that Rift is a step ahead of the competition in terms of its visual quality wouldn’t be overstating the fact, but this just further adds to the annoyance of the limitations of the initial character customisation options; the unique and inspired presentation of the early stages is undermined by the identikit player characters wandering through it.
As the newest title gracing the MMORPG scene, Rift has a difficult road ahead of it, full of uneven responses and naysayers. For the most part, it’s a game which has all the right elements to convince players that it provides something unique, that it is able to co-exist alongside the mightiest names in the genre. That it’s biggest downfall at present is an occasional feeling of emptiness is more to do with the game’s youth than any misgivings on behalf of the developers, and as the weeks turn into months the issue is only likely to subside. Rift may be entering a fiercely competitive market with little to support it but word-of-mouth and a knowing online marketing campaign, but on the evidence presented thus far, that may well be enough to make it stand out from the crowd.