Sunday, January 30, 2011

Preview: Rift Beta 5

"We're not in Azeroth anymore."

This is the tag line in a tv spot commercial for Rift, a new MMO from Trion. Rift is set to release here March 1st, 2011 and FI had the privileged to check out Beta 5 and give out some keys to our readers in the process. Being that I've been following the development of Rift since E3 2008, I was very excited to get my hands on this puppy. Now that the extended beta is over and I've had a chance to sit down I figured I'd put some thought into Rift and it's development thus far. I didn't have the opportunity to do everything I wanted to do, but I will comment a bit on what I did experience.

This was the largest Beta to date and to be honest I was expecting problems. Once I was all patched (which Trion let me do prior to opening up servers - smart move) I logged on to the "shard" or server list. I was dismayed to find them all labeled "HIGH POPULATION" at first glance. I decided to just pick one and to my surprise was let right in. While I occasionally experienced some server lag, it was temporary at best and was not crippling. While I can't say for sure if Trion filled these beta servers to a population they expect for release, if they did the live servers will be performing well.

Some people have said that the Trion interface is a WoW clone. Well to be honest, setting up the screen in this method is logically and saying they stole it from WoW would be like saying WoW stole it from EQ. I'm sure the people complaining about this don't even remember EQ. Trion has done something I think is both smart and challenging; the UI is 100% customizable. What you'd need at least 3 addons for in WoW you can accomplish with none in Rift. While this is GREAT for people like myself who crave customization, it can also be a bit daunting when you look at the screen to modify your interface. It did take me a few moments to get my head together but once I did I realized what potential this  has.

lols wher is da recount?
Callings / Classes
In Rift there are 4 main callings (Warrior, Rogue, Mage, Cleric) and many classes under each calling. While this creates SO many combinations, it was also an area I could see one area that needed inprovement. Let's face it, people are proud of their classes. They create a sense of commitment and understanding between that avatar and themselves. When I mouse over another player, I don't want to see what calling they are, I want to know what class they are! When people mouse over me I want them to see I'm a mighty Justicar and GTFO. Considering that Clerics can be a multitude of roles (tanking, healing, MDPS, RDPS) knowing WHAT they are is helpful. I can also see this being an issue for PVP as well. This isn't a huge deal (like a small tooltip change) and hopefully Trion takes a look at this. Zam has a great Wiki that outlines the callings / classes and what role they can play. I used this almost exclusively to find out my class of choice.

Speaking of classes, Rift brings a whole new spin on the idea of talent trees. You can mix and match each of your three choices for your talent tree to be whatever you would like. Zam has a great feature called a Soul Builder where you can see first hand how the system functions. For example in WoW, if you are a rogue you have 3 trees; subtlety, assassination, and combat. In Rift if you pick a rogue you can choose any of available classes. You might have a marksman / assassin / bard or a nightblade / riftstalker / blade dancer. It's all up to you. While you can mix and match, Trion does seem to help guide you along with some suggested pairings. For example my character was justicar / druid / shaman. This might just be suggested for the Cleric calling (given that we can do so much) but it was still nice to help those people out who maybe are as studious as some of us gamers. Now when we put points into our given trees, we learn some "root" abilities down below the tree. These talents make the core of what our class is and the deeper into the roots (and inversely taller into the tree) we go the less hybrid we are and gain some special (although not necessarily better) abilities. These root abilities do have multiple ranks and can be upgraded from a regular trainer.

So far the questing seems fairly linear and fairly standard. Objectives like go here, kill X mobs, collect Y items, use item X on object Y permeated my quest log. As for flow, you basically move from hub to hub, finish the quests, then move on. If it wasn't for the next feature, questing out be terribly boring.

Running to a Rift
Ah yes the namesake. Rifts are just like they sound. They are tears in the time/space that allow a bunch of baddies to come into our world. In the game these act a twofold purpose. First they dynamically change the landscape that you play on. Sometimes you can avoid these rifts, especially if they are higher level than you are, and sometimes you cannot. If you are questing in a hub and a rift drops, well you can very well avoid that can you? Rifts open up a public group that allows you to group with other people who you may not know. Think of it like the world BG's in wow. You enter and are put into a raid group to seal the rift. You fight waves of creatures (and a score is tallied based on participation) and in the end players are reward depending on their contributes toward sealing the rift. If you came in for the lass boss your reward will be less than someone that was there when the rift dropped. However you still still get something. You area also awarded experience, and (at least in Beta) a healthy amount as well. the dynamic nature of these rifts can be fun and exciting. As for once the novelty wears off, I'm not certain but for now it's a welcome reprieve from the leveling grind.

The graphics in Rift are awesome! Gordrin and I both agreed that Trion needed a bit of work to smooth out the movement (also we needed to adjust to it a bit as well) but that the graphics all around were very nice. The spells have interesting graphics, as does the terrain and creatures. One of my favorite mob graphics was the water elementals south of Freemarch near Trolling Post (see image below). The detail in the simplistic fluidity of that mob far surpasses anything I've seen in WoW. Certain areas have a very epic feel to them, while some of a very peaceful feeling. I can't wait to see what they have in store of raiding and graphics.

Click for a larger version
I think Trion has a solid game on it's hands. Is it a WoW killer? Maybe, but probably not. The issue with "killing WoW" is that you have to overcome two main obstacles. The first hurdle is the core make up of your game, meaning; graphics, features, size, story, scale, etc. If a company can take the lessons WoW has learned about what NOT to do, and create a polished game while keeping the community happy, you are hitting the ground running. The next hurdle is longevity. As long as WoW isn't outdated in it's technology they have the longevity with the customers and the lore to back it up. WoW isn't just a game, it's a sovereign nation. Even if you were to create a game that had comparable offerings, to steal playerbase from Blizzard is next to impossible. I'm sure players new to MMO gaming will look at both and I'm sure some will choose Rift. As for a mass exodus or even a small migration of gamers to Rift from WoW - that's just not happening. I don't say that to put down Rift or Trion, I do this to set a realistic goal of them to strive for. As long as they stay cutting edge and offer a high quality product to those who desire it, that is enough to keep Rift on the edge of being top dog. If they can accomplish that, it's enough for me to maintain a membership! One day down the road - who knows, Rift could be that next MMO goliath. Until then I'll continue to follow and enjoy my adventures in both Azeroth and Telara.

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