The first big massively multiplayer online role-playing game to hit in 2011 is undoubtedly Rift. Currently scheduled for a March 2011 release, Rift, developed by Trion Worlds, has been holding closed beta events to allow players to test the game. We got to spend quite a bit of time exploring the early levels of Rift, and so far, the game is shaping up beautifully.
Before we could begin our journey in the planes of Telara, we had to choose our character's origin, more commonly known as our faction. In Rift, there are two origins to choose from: Guardians or Defiants. Simply put, the Guardians strongly believe in the old Gods and, more than anything, strive for peace for the citizens of Telara. The Defiants on the other hand, strive for innovation and advances in technology to obtain the most power. We went with Defiant.
After choosing our origin, the next step was choosing a race. Since we went with Defiant, the available races were the reclusive yet brutish Bahmi; the scholarly, nomadic Eth; or the spiritual Kelari. The Guardians have three races as well: the creative and skillful Dwarves; the elegant, wise High Elves; and the honorable, strong Mathosian. As is true for most MMOs, each race has its own set of racial abilities. These range from passive talents that reduce all damage taken for the Bahmi, to actual spells like Second Wind for Dwarves, which allow them to regain 30% of their health over 6 seconds.
We went with a Kelari because she had a racial that increased her critical strike chance. In Rift, you choose one calling, or class, and then split that calling into a few specific specializations, called souls. The four callings available are Mage, Cleric, Rogue, and Warrior. Once in game, each calling can then split into three of seven available souls. If you're familiar with other MMOs, think of getting three talent trees at once out of seven available trees. It seems a bit overwhelming at first, but it's actually a very intuitive and innovative take on character customization. We went with a Mage, whose souls were Pyromancer, Stormcaller, and Elementalist.
One thing to note is that as our character progressed, we gained points to put into our souls. We wanted our character to be a Pyromancer first and foremost, and use the other two souls as a kind of sub spec. Also, as you spend more points in the tree, your character will gain more “root abilities”. Where you spend points in the tree is up to the player, but root abilities are spells that all characters get, based upon how many points they put into that tree.
As we began our character's journey, aside from the soul trees, the experience was strikingly similar to that of our other MMORPG experiences. Right away the controls felt intuitive and very similar to other current MMOs. Aside from the UI, the first thing you’ll notice when you load into Rift is how absolutely gorgeous the game is. With the latest beta patch they fixed anti-aliasing in the game, giving it a much smoother look than ever before. Any angle we turned the camera, we were able to get beautiful shots of the sky, the plains, the ocean, even the various menacing Rifts were a sight to behold.
The entry level quests on the other hand, were not so fascinating. All the way up to level 20, the available quests were fairly mundane. Once you talk to a quest giver, an icon appears on your mini map telling you exactly where to go, and a quest tracker helps you to find out what objectives are left to complete. Rift's quests mostly consist of killing a number of mobs, or picking up a number of things off the ground. Repeatedly. The story and lore of Rift may be excellent, but there is no incentive to actually read any of it.
Luckily, if you don’t enjoy this monotonous type of play, Rift does offer an alternative to questing, and it's what the game is named after.
Elemental rifts spawn randomly around the zones. The sky will turn dark, and a huge jellyfish monster – or some creature related to that particular element – will descend from the sky to try and ruin your day. And give you a lot of experience points. Rifts are great fun, and they basically work like a mini gauntlet. Several stages of monsters spawn, one after the other, until a mini-boss spawns. For each stage, you get a ton of experience points and loot, and once the mini-boss is slain, the Rift will seal and disappear.
Rifts are constantly spawning all over the map, and every so often a zone-wide event will occur where dozens of Rifts will spawn at once. This was by far the most fun we had playing the game. Joining a huge raid and going out as a massive group to kill dozens of Rifts was absolute fun, and a great deviation from the monotony of questing.
Besides Rifting and questing, players can also participate in player vs. player activities called Warfronts. The only Warfront available at low level is called Black Garden, and it's essentially a game of keep-away. Aside from various class balance issues, which will always plague this game because of the variety of class specializations, Black Garden seems like a well thought out PvP zone. The Defiants are up against the Guardians in a 10v10 matchup, and whichever team can hold onto the Fang of Regulous item the longest will win. The team holding on to the Fang accumulates points based on how long they have it for. But to make it more interesting, the player holding the Fang takes more damage the longer they hold onto it. The first team to reach 500 points wins.
As it stands now, in its fifth closed beta test, Rift still feels a bit incomplete. While the callings and their various souls seem like a great idea, they are a handful of tweaking and balance issues to be addressed. However, the biggest problem is the lack of fast transportation. There is currently no way, that we could find, to quickly get from one end of a zone to the other, which is a huge problem when the game focuses on getting to Rifts quickly.
That said, we're very optimistic about Rift. The game's graphics, fun class combinations, and Rift mechanics do make for a very enjoyable experience. So far, Trion Worlds seems to be listening to their already rapidly growing fan base, and they seem determined to give them an enjoyable game. During the next Rift beta, we'll take our Mage even further through the ranks, and hopefully see more intricate and exciting quests, zones, and experiences.