RIFT

I'd done the whole RIFT free trial thing before, but I'd stupidly activated it during my university exam period, so I couldn't totally commit myself to the game and I lost my seven days before I knew it. And I didn't really care. As it turned out, I was bored halfway into level five anyway; the old style of quests and the rather dreary Defiant opening area just bored me to tears. I knew that the eponynmous rifts were going to be good, but I just didn't have the time, and what time I did have I couldn't be bothered to use getting through a shitty starting area.

Since I've been playing an awful lot of World of Warcraft again, I decided to give RIFT another go, mainly because I could see my life disappearing into an Azeroth-shaped hole of archaeology. I started another free trial account (don't tell Trion!), and decided to kick things off differently thsi time. First of all, I chose to become a Guardian, the religiously inspired faction of RIFT. I'd originally avoided these god-botherers because they were so uncool when compared with the machine using Defiant, but I wasn't planning to keep this account even if I bought the game and I wanted to see how the Guardian opening held up to the Defiant.

What immediately struck me on choosing my faction was the tiny differences in race between the two sides. Both sides have a human and an elf. Granted, the third race does mix it up a little (Dwarf and Bahmi), and each is completely different since one is tall and stocky whilst the other is short... and stocky. It really seems like creators of fantasy MMOs have run out of ideas where races are confirmed. It really came to a head in FFXIV when I was asked to play a 'Hyur', or whatever stupid name they'd chosen to fill the role of 'human'. Everyone just seems to want to take the archtype and then change the name so that they can make stab at originality. I don't know whether they're too scared to move away from the stereotypes for fear of alienating people, or whether they're purely lazy. I really hope it's the former, but this halfway-house of creativity just isn't cutting it. I really don't have a problem with playing a human, or an elf, so if you want to put one in your game please stop changing the damn names and hoping we don't notice, because we do. Fucking 'Elvaan'.

Anyway, I'd chosen a Bahmi mage for my last character, almost entirely for the pleasure of making a huge and hulking avatar into a physically frail magi. The spells had real bite and impact to them, but the change in the spell themes across the sub-classes was quite off-putting - one minute I was throwing fire, and the next I was calling the forces of nature. Perhaps I was choosing the wrong schools when I picked a healing school next to the purely offensive pyromancer class, but it didn't feel quite right, especially when compared against the rigidly organised spell schoools of Azeroth. We most certainly weren't in Azeroth any more.

That attitude reflected in the quest structures. Over the months since Cataclysm's release I've grown accustomed to the much easier structure of new-WoW's quests. Quests in Cataclysm generally have a nice gloss over them to disguise what would otherwise be a boring 'go-here-and-do-this' experience. For instance, an otherwise boring go-to mission to get intelligence on an impending alliance between two enemies leads to hiding in a wardrobe and spying on the meeting itself. Instead of telling you what's happening, new-WoW prefers to show you, and this adds a whole new cinematic experience to otherwise boring MMO questing. RIFT, for some god-awful reason, has decided to stick to 'fetch-this', or 'kill-this' quests, and this really kills the opening scenes of the game when you're stuck doing the worst part of an MMO for far too long. I just wanted to kill some god-damn rifts!

Once you get past that though, as I finally did with my huma- sorry, Mathosian rogue, the rift mechanic was as good as I was expecting. Whilst I initially had to do some boring quests to get my levels up, the first time I ever came across a group of players battling to seal a rift it was an exhilarating experience. Obviously, I dove right in and at the end of the event I received a small amount of loot all to myself. From that point on I was hooked on rift warfare, and I happily trotted across the map to help seal rifts. As an ascended (a person able to house multiple souls - read, 'classes'), you also have the option to open a tear and let the rift through. I assume this is so you can start the battle on your own terms, and the tooltip for the ability even hints using it against enemy territories. Whilst this adds a whole new level of strategy to the game (I imagined opening a rift, defending it until it got really big, and then letting it loose) I just used it just to have a good fight. And that was great, because most people seemed to have the same idea as myself, and not long into the first phase I was often joined by other players, eager to gain their share of the loot. Sealing a rift comes in several phases, the earlier stages being easier than the later ones, and each have their requirements to finish, and each has their own amount of loot. This is meant to give everyone a chance at some loot, even if they can't fully seal the rift by themselves. With this, I was able to start a rift without worrying about not being able to finish it as I knew people would usually be on their way to help me, and even if they weren't, I could still slip away with some loot.

With this happy little side-quest open to me all the time, I did much less questing and my progress through the levels slowed down. Oddly enough, I found this to be a tremendous boon as during the first day I had already hit level eleven. Since the free trial only lets you level up to level fifteen, I saw my prolonged exposure to be a good thing and ever since I started doing the rifts 'full time' I never really bothered to go back to doing quests. At this moment in time, I would still happily level up purely on the backs of those rifts.

Not much compares to when a rift bursts into the world. The ground shakes, the land around you warps and changes, and... things come through the epicentre of the rift. You actually feel that there's an event you have to take part in, and you genuinely feel a threat towards the world. If left unchecked, they can and will spread across the zone. The first time I encountered a full-scale invasion it was an amazing thing. Multiple rifts opened across the zone all at once and each spewed forth their share of invaders to attack the nearby towns. These too come in phases - defeat the invasions, then the rifts, and then the large boss who comes at the end. These bosses are huge, and whilst it takes away from the game somewhat to just have to hit it for a good fifteen minutes until it drops, without having to use any tactics, it's still fun and really great to see so many players co-operating for the world's good.

And the loot of course.

The bottom line is I got bored, again. But this time I came away with positive feelings towards the game. I played the trial until the end, and I actually felt like I'd enjoyed myself this time and experienced something different. It's not a WoW-killer; it's too different in too many ways. But isn't that what the market needs to have: not stuff that's trying to beat WoW, but better it? Bring new stuff to the table and stop trying to be WoW. Be your own game, and succeed on your own terms.

I was happy to not be in Azeroth any more, but being away from WoW didn't really come into my mind whilst I was there. Instead of playing a WoW-killer, I was playing RIFT. And that's good.

Adios.

I forgot to take any screenshots whilst playing, so poo on me. The free trial can be found on the RIFT website. It's subscription-based, but the trial is long enough to decide whether you want it or not.

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