Review Date: April 6 2011
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Developer: Trion Worlds
ESRB Rating: Teen
You've probably noticed that the number of fantasy MMORPGs on the market has soared to such heights in recent years that it's getting hard to tell one from the next. Rift enters the scene with its own take on elves and dwarves, as well as a remarkably complete set of features for a game of this kind. They've also introduced a dynamic spawn system that they are hoping will breathe new life into what is, by now, a tired formula. Can Rift set itself apart from the competition, or have we all played this already with a different skin?
Once again we have 2 playable factions, in this case The Guardians and The Defiant, each of which has 3 races. Neither faction is really evil, although they are at war with each other and the undead armies of Regulos, a dragon god that is currently Rift's foremost protagonist. Given that there are High Elves and Dwarves on the Guardian side, I expected to see orcs on the Defiant side, but instead they went with 3 original races: the Bahmi, the Eth, and the Kelari. While many games aspire to have starting areas for each race, Rift has only 2 - one for each faction.
Callings and Souls
Rift has 4 basic "Callings," each of which encompasses 8 "Souls," or classes. Souls are much like talent trees, and you can choose from several of them to build your skill set, which allows for a great deal of flexibility. In fact, the combinations are so numerous that there is a real possibility of making bad choices. Fortunately, you can switch between up to 4 "Roles," each of which includes 3 Souls, and skill points can be reset for the usual in-game fee.
The Soul system is one of the most unique aspects of Rift, and it lets you build a character with a lot of versatility, especially if you employ multiple Roles. All of the Callings have offensive, defensive, and support Souls to choose from. This means that a Mage, for example, can put skill points in the Chloromancer Soul and gain some healing abilities. Callings still have their specialities, so it's unlikely a Mage could heal as well as a Cleric, and Warriors have limited support skills, but a single character can perform a wide range of tasks. Each Calling also has a PvP Soul, which is advanced by engaging in PvP combat.
Although a little overwhelming at first, building a character in Rift is very engaging, and you're not left feeling like you're going to end up identical to everyone else in your class. The disadvantage to such a flexible approach is that it can be difficult to balance, especially when it comes to PvP.
Graphics and Interface
Telara is a visually impressive world, especially on a high-end system capable of rendering all of the lighting effects and shaders. While character models are nicely detailed, some of the animation seems a bit off, particularly when mounted, and certain pets appear rather lifeless. Some recent MMORPGs have opted for a cartoony art style, but Rift has gone with more realistic proportions, textures, and colors.
Rift's interface is very nearly identical to that of almost every major MMORPG since World of Warcraft, which isn't surprising. All the movement and camera controls, as well as most of the default keybinds, will be immediately familiar to most MMORPG players. And it's all adequately customizable, although the game doesn't yet support WoW-style add-ons.
Questing is central to character progression in Rift, and the game's largely derivative nature is evident here as well. You'll be tasked with the usual pesk reduction operations and deliveries, along with a sometimes tedious amount of running around right-clicking on things. The map keeps you headed in the right direction with quest objectives clearly marked, and it comes together as expected. While it emulates WoW's questing quite closely, it falls short on variety and it doesn't have any of the area phasing introduced introduced in the last two expansions, so it feels a bit old.
It stands to reason that Rift's most distinguishing feature is the rifts from which it gets its name. Rifts are temporary links to other "planes" that allow hostile creatures to invade Telara, and they can open up unexpectedly almost anywhere in the world. These visually spectacular events are open to all nearby players, much like Warhammer Online's public quests. As players approach a Rift they are invited to a group and rewards are automatically distributed as Rift mobs are defeated. If players don't successfully close the Rift it becomes a foothold for the invasion, and they can even overcome settlements, affecting players access to quest givers and vendors.