Archive for December 29th, 2010

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Torn By Rift: Beta Impressions

December 29, 2010

Opinions and impressions of Rift have been pouring in since the NDA dropped last week, and I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth.

I’m going to echo a common thread shared by all the beta reviews I’ve read so far, and call Rift a “chimera” in the genetic sense. Make no mistake, Rift is a whole new animal, but it does very much strike me as a creature composed of tissues of several other MMO species. Some say Warhammer and Aion, and a lot more others say World of Warcraft, and while I’m loathe to jump onto the tired old “hey, let’s compare every new game to WoW!” bandwagon, I have to admit there’s a lot of truth to that. Not that I have a problem with this; as many of you know, I’m a big fan of the “tried-and-true” and the “if it ain’t broke…”

Most of the write-ups have been generally positive and people genuinely seem excited. However, on a scale of 1 to 10, my own enthusiasm probably comes in at a very average 7. But before the torches and pitchforks start waving, let me just say that I did have a lot of fun. There’s certainly a lot to like about Rift, but after participating in two beta events and now being about halfway through a third, parts of the game still leave me underwhelmed.

Let’s just put it this way. Rift personified is a refined gentleman, cuts a great figure and has all the right moves, but hang out with him long enough and you’ll find he’s just your regular Joe who likes his joe regular. He’s agreeable to everyone, audacious enough to be a just little adventurous, but somehow still lacks the assertiveness to really stand out.

Okay, now that I’ve gone from comparing Rift to an animal to comparing it to a man, I’ll stop metaphorizing and get into specifics. Upon your arrival in the game, you’re presented with the interface for the first time. No surprises there. Then you start your first quest, which sets the tone for the next 20 levels pretty nicely. No surprises here either. Players are funneled from one area of a map to another like an assembly line, with questing being pretty much your standard MMO fare — which I’m totally okay with, by the way, but I’m nonetheless a little let down by the execution. I take a look around the beautiful world of Rift, and for lack of a better term the game environment truly does feel “alive” and the visuals seem to have their own personality. Ironically, I didn’t get that feeling from the questgivers and other NPCs. At all. They could have been wooden sign posts for all I know. Nothing in the text really drew me into what I was supposed to be doing, and I was disappointed at how little I was able to glimpse of the lore from the quests themselves. For a world rife with such history, its denizens seem rather “character-less”. After a while, I started skimming the quest texts, but certain important NPCs will still give dialogue options to delve deeper into their stories, which I really enjoyed.

I also adore the soul system. Though I personally found it beneficial to continue investing heavily into my first soul even after getting my third (for now, anyway), I love having options, and any game that strives to give the player more choice gets an A+ in my book. Given more time, I can see the soul system keeping me very busy trying to figure out combinations and I think it has very good long-term potential. More flexibility in MMOs is a trend I would like to see continue.

The other major draw of Rift are the rifts (shocking, right?) and while I’m all for dynamic content in MMOs, its lasting appeal remains to be seen. The first rift incursion I jumped into was with about a dozen or so other players and it was positively orgasmic. I had such an amazing time, honest. But by the time the 9th or 10th rift descended right upon my head, I was like, “Oh my God, again?!” I’ve spent more time trying to avoid rifts than trying to find them; they’re quite literally everywhere. It is quite an experience when you’re in a group, however, and it’s nice to be able to jump into one for a little excitement to spice up your leveling. You can gain quite a lot of experience doing nothing but rift-hopping.

I also enjoy playing the Defiants more as a faction (which explains the Kelari-centric screenshots of my Mage, Caidia) given their love for technology and magic. You wouldn’t imagine the two to be likely bedfellows, but the resulting look and feel is very striking (just look at that friggin’ mount!) Despite being the “chosen of Telara’s gods”, the Guardians didn’t speak to me on the same level, not to mention I was really turned off by their opening movie sequence. The visuals were fine, but the voice acting left a lot to be desired.

Overall, there’s nothing all that markedly different about Rift that sets it apart from its peers in the genre, but when it comes to execution and polish, this game certainly has a leg up on the competition — especially when you consider the fact that it’s still in such an early stage. And really, I don’t mind more of the same as long as it’s well-presented and playable, and Rift has got that part covered. Believe it or not, while it’s arguably falling out of fashion, I still play betas to test. I do my part flagging down the bugs and glitches, but I also like giving positive feedback where it’s due, and in the end I think I had just as many good things (if not more) as the negatives to say to the devs. Things I liked ranged from the little things (like the transparent map when moving, or the ease of AoE looting) to more general topics like the awesomeness of the unique soul system.

I had fun. As a gamer, that’s really all I can ask for. How long it can keep people’s interest is another story, but what we’ve experienced is still just a mere fraction of the game. In the meantime, none of my thoughts are set in stone, and I’ll keep playing and testing with an open mind to see what else they have in store for us.

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