So I recently commented on Red Cow Rise about how much I don’t really like pulling up Google Reader and seeing a post from a WoW blogger I really enjoy reading only to then discover that they’ve published yet another article about Rift. I also wrote something along the lines of: “I’ve been experimenting with Rift in the last week or so, but I have no intention of blogging about it.” Something like that. Or maybe that exactly. No matter.
Point is that I’ve decided to flout my word and write a post on my WoW blog about Rift. I’m doing so in case there are any of you still out there who, like me, wonder what all the hype was about and whether you might enjoy it. I’m aware that many people may not be interested in this topic, so I’ll put the rest of my post underneath a cut so as not to take up anymore space in your feeds today.
I like WoW, will I like Rift?
Quick answer: more than likely. Rift’s play-style is nearly identically to WoW’s. The user interface is almost the same, questing is almost the same, dungeons are almost the same. You’ll find a faith-based faction (Guardians) with 3 races that will remind you of the Alliance, and another technology-based faction (Defiant) with 3 races that will remind you of the Horde. Rift has talent trees, which I’ll go into greater detail about below, which may remind you of WoW’s talent trees at first glance. Because of this, it’s going to be extremely accessible to you if you are already familiar with WoW’s gameplay.
What did Rift learn from WoW?
Accessibility of the important things, even at lower levels. Dual specing (and up to quad specing) is available from your trainer immediately, regardless of level, as long as you have the money to pay for it. Buying additional specs becomes more expensive for each additional one you purchase, but getting to two is very cheap. That means that basically every new player will be able to have both a leveling/DPS spec and one for another role like tanking or healing. Mounts are also available from level 15 (I believe – this is when a quest giver sent me to the faction’s main city to speak to the NPC who sells them), and are relatively cheap as well. The first tier of mounts are painfully slow at the 60% additional speed that WoW originally used.
Customizable characters. Easily my favorite thing about what I’ve done so far in Rift is that I created a high elf version of Tzufit who looks exactly like Tzufit looks in my head. The creation screen reminded me quite a bit of the one used in Sims 2, with a variety of sliders and color choices for different features. The sliders are pretty well done – even if you try to make something that looks strange, you almost always come out with a believable (though possibly ugly) person.
Rift has also made a really cool step into making its UI inherently customizable, meaning add-ons like Xperl, Dominos, and Bartender would be totally unnecessary here. You can move around pretty much every element of your UI without having to mod the game at all. The one glaring omission from Rift’s UI is that you cannot seem to be able to turn on enemy (or friendly) nameplates. Your own nameplate and your target’s will show up when you enter combat, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn on nameplates for everything around you. That’s a pretty huge oversight, and something I’ll need to find a mod for if I intend to play the game seriously at all.
What does Rift still need to learn from WoW?
LOTS. And I’m saying this as someone who’s mostly enjoyed my experience with this new game.
First, and probably my biggest complaint, is that Rift uses spell ranks in exactly the same way that WoW used to. Just as it used to be in WoW, it’s kind of a royal pain in the butt to run back to your trainer every level or so to see if your spell ranks need to be updated. Removing this from WoW was one of the best changes Blizzard made. Because the ability to quad spec means that you could end up learning all possible abilities from the class you choose, that also means that you’ll have to cycle through each of those specs every time to train to make sure you have the most current rank of every single spell.
Rift suffers from yet another pre-Cataclysm Azeroth issue in that it also has painfully few flight points, or porticums in Rift speak. In the zones I’ve encountered so far there’s only been one porticum in each. The zones are not small, and on a 60% run speed mount, getting around takes up a good chunk of time.
WoW has gone a long way in the last year or so toward ensuring that the game is truly accessible to beginner players. There are tutorials, beginner tooltips, and the new talent tree system really helps new players understand what they’re supposed to be doing as each spec. Rift has some of this: a tutorial, tooltips over the souls that tell you whether they’re “offensive,” “defensive,” or “healing.” They lack a lot of the polish that you’ll see with Blizzard, though. WoW has had 6+ years to figure out what sort of wording in talents and tooltips is going to confuse its subscribers, so we end up with everything being pretty idiot-proof. When I read my abilities in Rift, I still manage to feel like an idiot about half of the time. Maybe I’m the only one …
What about this whole “souls” talent system?
One of Rift’s major talking points is its Ascended Soul talent system. After choosing one of the four available classes (Warrior, Rogue, Cleric, Mage), your character will then be able to choose 3 “souls” or talent trees from within that class for each of your specs. Each soul specializes in something different, and this is where you can find talents that will allow you to perform a particular role (as a healer, tank, etc.). There’s no real structure to what you do with the talent points you get as you level, so basically every spec you can make is going to be some kind of hybrid.
That sounds like fun, but in practice I’m just not sold on the idea. I’d done a little bit of reading on the different souls before I started my first character, so I had a vague sense of what I wanted to do. You’re given the opportunity to choose your first soul when you turn in your very first quest in the starting area – fine, that makes sense. About 5 quests later, you choose the second one. Another dozen or so after that, you choose your third. Having to pick all 3 souls at such a low level really surprised me; I assumed that it would be spread out among the first 10 levels or so. Since you have to choose all of them so early on, though, you’re really flooded with new abilities from the start. If you follow the in-game suggestions about which trees pair well together, you’re likely to end up with 2 or 3 abilities that do exactly the same thing. The soul trees are, in general, bloated and redundant – as I suppose they have to be in order to allow people to customize and hybridize as they want.
Honestly, I don’t like it. It’s too much being thrown at you in the first 15 minutes of playtime without enough clear information. Rift is in the very early life of an MMO, and that also means that you’re going to have some difficulty finding good outside resources for help. WoW has an amazing expanded universe of blogs, guides, databases, and forums devoted to helping beginners figure out what’s going on and helping advanced players who want to min/max. There’s simply not a lot of information out there yet for Rift, and most of what I found was either bad, contradictory, or outdated. This isn’t the game’s fault – it’s something that will develop with time – but it is a reason that I, personally, am not going to be able to be as invested in the game at this point.
To be fair, there are some really fascinating souls within the classes. The saboteur is a rogue soul with combo points based upon ranged attacks … those ranged attacks involving throwing charges onto your target and then detonating them for your finishing move. It’s incredibly fun, though it also makes me pretty sad that there are no gnomes in Rift to enjoy this. Rift has also played around a bit with the notion of which classes can fill which roles. There is a rogue class that can tank, for example, and a mage class that can heal. I rolled the new Tzufit as a mage so that I could try out the Chloromancer healing tree, which I’ve mostly enjoyed. I’ve healed the lower level dungeon, and it was a really cool experience since all of my healing was dependent upon how much damage I was doing. Again, Rift does have some very fun and creative new ideas.
How is Rift different from WoW?
The biggest difference you’ll notice is the style of the graphics. Rift attempts to be very realistic, whereas WoW has a more cartoony, though distinctive, look to it. While I love the character customization allowed by Rift’s more realistic graphics, I found myself missing the colorful and recognizable elements from WoW. Rift ends up being a lot of greens and browns, just as a real forest would be. This one really comes down to a matter of personal preference, but my preference goes toward WoW in this case.
One of the things some of my guild members like about Rift is that there’s “always something to do,” thanks to the rifts and invasions that randomly spawn throughout the world. This definitely does mean that you have something else to choose from (Do I want to do dailies? Do I want to quest? Do I want to help seal rifts?), but it also means … that you have something else to choose from. With my fondness for alting, I already get a little bit overwhelmed by how much there is to do in an MMO, and how to juggle my time. Rifts are one more thing that easily distract me. I decide to start sealing one rift near where I’m questing, and an hour later I’m on the opposite side of the zone after having sealed five more rifts and with no idea of what quest I was doing or where. I suppose that’s probably fun for some people, but I’m entirely too big of a fan of organization and planning to be happy about it.
Hands down, the biggest problem I have with Rift is the storyline. The lore in itself is fine – typical sort of fantasy apocalyptic scenario in which extremely powerful beings are trying to take the world for themselves because it’s not just any world, it’s a super special powerful world. My problem is more with the lore established for your character in the Guardian and Defiant starting areas. In both cases, your character has died. For the Guardians, the gods have chosen a few dead heroes who they’ve decided are worthy to be “ascended” – i.e. raised from the dead and reanimated with the soul of a former champion (hence the “souls” system). If you roll Defiant, you have also been raised from the dead and given a hero’s soul, but your people have used advanced technology to do so – no gods needed. The Defiant starting zone begins a while into the future, when things have started to go terribly wrong in the war against the Rifts and all hope is lost. You’re sent back in time with instructions on how to resurrect other fallen heroes in hopes that this will turn the tide of the war in the past.
So as far as I can tell, if you’re on a roleplay server in Rift and not some kind of colossal Mary Sue, then you’re doing it wrong. If you have any intentions of being an Everyman character, you need to get them out of your mind right now. Of course, I can see how some players might get confused about this, since they go from being the savior of the world to being asked to haze freshman students at the local magic college for a few pieces of gold. Having special savior characters as the norm makes absolutely no sense in an MMO. Save that sort of thing for a single-player game.
I like WoW’s approach to this far more. Blizzard gives you a vague idea of what’s been going on with your race since the Third War, and then dumps you into your starting area to imagine your character’s history as you please. The WoW equivalent of the Rift starting zones would be something like: “Deathwing is threatening to burninate all of Azeroth. You’ve recently died in battle, but don’t worry! You’re going to be resurrected and we’re going to stick the soul of either Tirion Fordring, Garona Halforcen, Jaina Proudmoore, or Malfurion Stormrage inside of you so that you can save us all!” No thank you.
So, Tzufit. Are you going to keep playing Rift?
Eh … maybe. I do like the Chloromancer soul, and I’d like to experiment with it some more. I like that there are quests I haven’t done yet in Rift, and I’d like to see more of those.
What it comes down to for me, though, is that given the choice between a brand new MMO that’s still working out its growing pains or one that’s had six years to get a lot of really stupid things out of its system, I’m going to choose the seasoned veteran. Yes, Rift has learned some things from the six years of WoW history it has to look at, but I can’t honestly say that it’s really improved drastically on anything. The lore turns me off, the graphics become stale after a while, and the talent trees still feel like a tangled mess. I’ll play until my first free month runs out, and beyond that I can’t say whether I’m willing to spend the $15 subscription fee.