We Have RIFT-Off!

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Not too long ago, Raptr ran a promotion granting players using their desktop app a free copy of RIFT, the Storm Legion expansion, and 30 days of free play time for logging x amount of hours (if memory serves correctly, it came out to about 28 hours’ worth of play) in the trial version of the game.  I had been mildly interested in RIFT when it first came out, but at that time didn’t really have the time to invest in another MMO, so I was hesitant to drop $60 on it.  But here I had a chance to try it out in exchange for a few hours of my life as an unemployed bum, so I figured why not give it a shot now?

Since obtaining my copy, RIFT has gone free to play using an admittedly generous model.  Those who owned the game before the subscription change but do not wish to continue paying a monthly fee miss out only on some extra +XP and Notoriety (reputation) potions without having to lose out on character slots or zone access.  Had paid game time at any point in your account’s history?  Enjoy your heaps of Loyalty points, rewarded for each month you’ve ever paid, that can be traded in for vanity items from the cash shop.  It’s worth pointing out here that, as with Ragnarok Online 2, nothing you’ll find in the RIFT store is game-breaking.  Perhaps it’s even a little too generous, since the first week after the switch was a nightmare of crashing servers and extreme lag as curious players flooded the shards (servers), sending customer service wait times soaring from days to weeks for a response.  I don’t think Trion was expecting to gain so many new players, and as a result, got caught with their pants down; to their credit, however, they’ve been working diligently to solve problems that have arisen as a result of the population boom and kept the player base abreast of each issue with in-game announcements.  It’s actually somewhat hilarious, since their first ad campaigns for the game featured mild pokes at World of Warcraft, such as “you’re not in Azeroth anymore,” and Blizzard is in a prime position to troll them straight back with a “YOU WERE NOT PREPARED.”  Everything comes full circle, folks, especially on the internet.

The “Clone” Wars

Everyone I spoke to before I started playing insisted that RIFT was a World of Warcraft clone.  I went into the game expecting such.  After five minutes, however, it became abundantly clear that none of these people had ever played EverQuest 2, because if they had, they would have seen that it has far more in common with EQ2 than it does with WoW.  In fact, about the only similarities between RIFT and WoW’s current incarnation is that there are two factions and the talent trees are set up kind of like they were before they changed with Mists of Pandaria.

“But the UI is almost the same!” I’ve heard people insist, and while that’s true, EverQuest2 came out well before World of Warcraft with the same core UI that pretty much every MMO uses to this day.  And why?  Because it freaking worked, plain and simple.  A few people have asked me what I thought of RIFT, and my response is always “like EverQuest 2, but with much more polish.”  And that’s not a bad thing, because I’ve been having some serious nostalgia boners since my paid EQ2 account was cancelled (their free to play is not quite so inclusive, sadly).  Thanks to RIFT, I can relive…

Player Housing

Sweet mother of God, player housing.  I’ve had it on my wishlist for World of Warcraft for as long as I can remember, but it’s an opportunity that a lot of MMOs seem to miss.  Take a bit of instanced space, grant players the ability to add furniture, plants, pets, accessories, et cetera, and bam, you’ve got a fully-customizable mini-game.  RIFT offers dimensions of varying scale and complexity that fulfill the same purpose, both for the individual player and for guilds.  Each character can take on a very simple How To Dimensions quest just a few levels in that rewards them with the key to a small hilltop dimension called Warden’s Point and a treasure chest full of some basic dimension items to get them started.  Further dimension keys can be earned with special reward tokens, purchased in the cash shop, or bought for various amounts of platinum.  Once you feel you’ve dressed up your dimension to the very best it can be, you can choose to allow other players to tour your house, and even rate it, all much the same as EQ2.

But RIFT actually overtakes EverQuest 2 as far as player housing is concerned.  In EQ2, you can only rotate house items vertically or horizontally without having to use a third-party mod, which is sort of a bummer because it means you can’t easily turn a stained glass floor tile into a stained glass window by rotating it to fit on a wall.  RIFT, however, grants the ability to rotate in three dimensions by default.  Scaling, movement, and rotation are all further simplified by the use of arrows as visual aids so that you can more easily see what you’re doing with regards to these modifications.

Whereas EverQuest 2 featured a robust community centered around these digital dollhouses, it seems to be more of a niche aspect in RIFT.  Part of this may be due to the fact that after getting the key to your first dimension, RIFT pretty much leaves you to your own devices.  Want new items for your dimension?  Either purchase the finished product or find out where to buy the appropriate crafting recipes.  A few items can be randomly fished up if you’re lucky enough.  Unlike EQ2, you won’t find them as quest rewards or in reward crates from turning in artifact collections (more on those in a bit), nor can you set your companion pets to roam around your dimension as part of the scenery.  All in all, it seemed like they picked up on this great idea and just kind of let it drop.  The most recent RIFT patch, Empyreal Assault, introduced over one hundred new dimension items available for purchase, so I’m hoping that this is just the start of great things to come in the area of player housing.

Artifact Collections

In EverQuest 2, you will occasionally stumble across mysterious shiny patches on the ground.  Clicking on them will reveal a collectible (and tradeable) item that can be added to a particular collection.  Complete a collection, and you can receive special collectible items that are only available as collection turn-in rewards, companion pets, dimension items, gear and weapons… the sky is the limit.  In essence, it’s a worldwide scavenger hunt, and your worst nightmare if you’re obsessive-compulsive like me.

RIFT’s artifacts are nearly identical, with the exception of the rewards.  Each turn-in grants a Lucky Coin, either as a stated reward or tucked away inside of a larger reward crate, which can then be turned in for companion pets, dimension items, mounts, or other vanity items.  The crates themselves are pretty lackluster, typically consisting of a couple of  potions and buff scrolls and a handful of coin besides the aforementioned currency token.  Some collections consist of the pages of a lost book; retrieving all of the pages and turning them into the collection vendor will grant you a completed copy of the book that you can click on to learn, which will store the text away for later perusal.  The books are almost like artifacts themselves, except there’s no achievements that I’ve been able to find that center on them, a seemingly missed opportunity for those with a love of lore and item collection.  EverQuest 2 offered a number of books that could actually be stored in player houses, many of which started quests or were rewards for completing them, but in RIFT, they are merely supplemental notes.

Art Style

I’ve heard several people complain that World of Warcraft’s art style is too cartoonish for them.  If you share that opinion, then you’ll probably like RIFT’s graphics.  Like EverQuest 2, it relies on a somewhat realistic style, eschewing unnaturally bright and vivid color palettes in exchange for tones that are much more likely to be found in nature.  Character features and proportions are also more in line with what would be actually possible in real life (assuming, of course, that elves actually exist).  Of course, since it’s a much newer game, it’s a bit more visually appealing than most of what can be found in EQ2.  Want to know how long an area has been in the game?  Look at the cheese factor of the graphics, and you should be able to figure it out.

That’s the main problem with realistic graphics — they go out of date much quicker than extremely stylized game art.  Look at L.A. Noire, which upon release was heralded as a breakthrough in photorealistic animation and design, and just two years later is much less impressive.  Hell, I remember picking up SoulCalibur III on release day, thoroughly beating it while freaking out over how realistic the graphics were, and then a few days after finishing SoulCalibur V going back to it for nostalgia’s sake and being totally confused as to why it now looked like a blocky, embarrassingly outdated mess.  The technologies behind creation and rendering are constantly improving, which is great, except that without doing a massive overhaul of a game’s visuals every six months to a year, the aesthetic aspect is left behind.  A cartoony art style may make some people roll their eyes, but it stays relevant for a heck of a lot longer than its more realistic counterpart.  RIFT looks decent now, but is already starting to look a bit dull in some areas, and as its visual stimulation becomes more and more lacking, Trion may find it difficult to keep some players’ interest.

Alternate Advancement vs. Planar Attunement

NOTE: Explaining these systems is a daunting task in some ways, so I’ve done my best here to go over the basics.  I highly recommend using the links below to do your own study and let people far more skilled at detailed explanations than I handle the finer points!

EverQuest 2’s Alternate Advancement and RIFT’s Planar Attunement are similar in that both are earned alongside regular XP and use skill trees separate from the regular talent trees to add supplemental buffs and abilities.  But where PA is used to grant small buffs and abilities related to completing elemental rift challenges, AA is a hybrid of both supplemental points and what would be considered normal talents in other MMOs.  The amount of regular experience gained can be lowered in favor of obtaining AA more frequently or raised for powering on through the levels.  Whereas you can only spend a limited amount of AA in each sub-tree, those used for Planar Attunement will limit you only by there being a finite number to choose from.  Dedicated RIFT players could, theoretically, earn enough PA to max out every single elemental attunement.

Planar Attunement can also be increased using consumable items that occasionally drop from planar rifts and are granted as rewards for achievements that require completing a set number of quests in each zone; higher-yield versions can be obtained by completing certain quests in the Storm Legion introduction line for Queen Miela and completing planar rift challenges for the Torvan Hunters faction.  No PA can be earned from any source, however, until level 50 (the original level cap), unlike EQ2’s Alternate Advancement, which unlocks at level 10.

But In General…

The story in RIFT is surprisingly unique, blending some sci-fi elements with the expected fantasy bits.  You are one of the Ascended, a hero resurrected and sent back in time to stop Crucia from destroying the world.  Rather than having factions warring over cultural expansion, the Guardians are those who choose to still follow organized religion and the Defiants are basically Atheists.  Neither side is particularly good or evil, but merely clash over their spiritual beliefs.  In fact, guilds and parties are not faction-exclusive; that is, you can have Defiants and Guardians playing and communicating together on PvE servers (PvP servers maintain their separation simply because, well, you know, that wouldn’t work out very well for PvP).

The Starting Line

The character creation screen offers a ton of options with which to customize your new hero, something that I love seeing in MMOs.  Though it does still rely heavily on presets, there’s enough of them in each category to allow for a good sense of individual identity, although the differences between a few of the facial presets were so slight that they were barely noticeable even on high settings.  I do like the fact that for dwarves, there are non-stereotypical features available (i.e. not everything is a square jaw and a bulbous nose).

I enjoyed the lore in RIFT so much that I was a bit disappointed upon discovering that there’s only two possible starting areas in the game — one for each faction — which means that leveling alts of the same faction becomes monotonous very quickly.  With each faction having only 3 races to choose from, the designers could even have added in a “shared” starting zone for two of them and had a separate one for the third if they didn’t want to design three separate areas; the story is definitely rich enough to support delving a bit deeper into the backstory and culture of each race.

Souls, Abilities, And Migraines

There are four classes to choose from — Mage, Rogue, Warrior, and Cleric — which can be further specialized using the Souls system, essentially an “oldschool” (read as: before Mists of Pandaria) talent tree where you can select the three paths available to you, either by choosing from a long list of available souls to create your own combination or, if you’re not a number-cruncher, from one of the many presets offered.  Your souls can be reset at any time for a pretty nominal fee, which is a good thing, because you’re going to be using the everliving shit out of that feature.

The theory of souls is neat, but in practice, it’s overwhelming and much more complicated than it needs to be.  You don’t learn new spells by leveling your character; you have to spend points in each of your soul trees in order to unlock them, and there are a lot of them to contend with. Many of them are identical (or at least nearly identical), which gives any rotations a sense of monotony further enhanced by laggy controls.  The global cooldown, or GCD, is supposed to be 1 second, but it ends up being more like 2 because all too often there’ll be an additional second’s worth of delay between pressing your hotkey and the spell’s execution, even on instant-cast abilities.  I’ve checked my connection during the worst of it and found no problems on my end, but from talking to other RIFT players, it seems to be a common problem.  Spell cast times for my Cleric have a baseline average of about 2 to 3 seconds with no “haste”-type mechanic available on gear while leveling, even well into the Storm Legion areas for the high 50s.  The only mitigation I’ve been able to find so far for cast time is in the various soul trees, and then they only affect specific spells.

The soul trees themselves feel bloated, with plenty of lackluster or PvP-oriented abilities that really aren’t useful to someone wishing to stick with PvE.  You could trim out three tiers from each tree and greatly improve the entire experience of speccing a character.  Options are great, don’t get me wrong, but there comes a point where the player is presented with so many of them that it becomes an information overload.  Creating a viable spec on your own, from what I’ve encountered, practically requires a Masters degree and a burnt offering to one of the Elder Gods.  Talents that sound great in the tooltip barely make a difference in your survivability or damage output.  Pick even a slightly wrong combination, and you’ll find yourself unable to face off with mobs of your own level.  There seems to be exactly one, maybe two viable combinations to use during leveling, though it’s admittedly not so bad before hitting level 50.  Once you do ding with the old level cap, however, prepare to frantically respec again, because…

These Aren’t Your Average Mobs

Ember Isle, previously the highest-level zone in the game, recently had its difficulty nerfed to fit in better with the rest of RIFT vanilla.  Storm Legion, on the other hand, is an exercise in frustration.  The disparity in hit points between regular mobs and yourself is nothing short of discouraging (you may have 11k HP, but a mob of your level will have around 57k) and they hit like trucks.  There were times that I felt as if I were trying to solo an equal-level dungeon, and that’s while using a spec that’s been confirmed viable for Cleric leveling.  If you have to take on more than one mob at a time, you’re probably going to die a horrible death.

Storm Legion is about the time that I stopped logging in regularly to play.  It’s been almost a month and I’m still stuck at level 57 because I got tired of being unable to complete even the most basic of quests on my own — The Fiance is always happy to jump in and help me out, but I don’t want to have to rely on him being around and take him away from what he’s doing just to finish a simple kill quest.  In Mathosia (the “vanilla world”), I could solo group quests.  Once I hit level 50 and left for the Storm Legion continents of Brevane and Dusken, I was quickly humbled.  The spec that you use from 1 to 49 is not going to cut it from level 50 to 60, and even when you find one that does work, you’re still going to feel terribly gimped rather than like you’re the badass hero selected for resurrection that the story claims you are.

It gave me the feeling that Trion expects you to have run vanilla endgame content and geared up that way before starting on Storm Legion, which is a bit unreasonable considering the flood of new players coming in now that they’re free to play.  The vast majority of players are not going to go back and run this old content.  It’s unfair to expect them to do so.  My fingers are crossed that we’ll soon be seeing the same level of balance brought to the Storm Legion content, which could be achieved one of a few ways:

  • Nerf the hit points of regular mobs by about 15 to 20%
  • Cut enemy mob damage output in half
  • Buff player damage output by 50%

At this point, I can say that the original RIFT is a pretty decent game.  Storm Legion, however, is discouraging.  Challenges are great, but if you set the difficulty of the challenge too high, people are going to eventually hang their heads and give up, especially when they discover what kind of quests they’re going to be devoting most of their playtime to.

Carnage Quests

In Mathosia, you’ll run across a few carnage quests, which are grind quests (“kill x number of mobs” or “kill these specific named mobs”) triggered upon killing a relevant mob and featuring an auto turn-in.  Most of them are easily discernable by a gold sunburst at the beginning of their nameplate.  RIFT recently hotfixed these to require fewer kills — quests once requiring 16 kills now only require 12 — which was appreciated, because at this point in MMO development history, mindless grindfests are painfully outdated.  All in all, the carnage quests in Mathosia aren’t so bad.  There’s not too many of them, but there’s enough to give you a little XP boost from time to time.

Then you go through the portal to Brevane and Dusken.

Suddenly it seems as if a developer at Trion Worlds stood up in the middle of their workday and screamed “HAY GUISE, I LEARNED HOW TO CODE QUEST TRIGGERS!”, snorted his body weight in cocaine, and then spent the next week with no sleep cranking out carnage quest after carnage quest.  If there are 112 quests available in a zone, 60 of them will be carnage quests.  They come at you with such frequency that it borders on abusive.  And from a quest design perspective, they’re lazy.  There’s no storyline associated with them, you just kill a random mob, the quest auto-accepts, and you’re given an objective to complete.  Once you’re done, you can automatically turn it in, take some gold, Sourcestone tokens that can be turned in for decent (as long as you’re no higher than level 54) gear, and an amount of XP inferior to what you’d get doing regular quests, and stumble right into another one.  It’s a cheap way to pad out a player’s quest log without having to actually put much effort into doing so, and that is a real shame because the story behind many of these zones is absolutely fascinating, but gets cut short or, at times, even eclipsed by this cheap filler.

Cartography Woes

Here’s a question for all of you World of Warcraft players out there: remember Azshara?  Not the shiny, easy-to-navigate Azshara that was totally revamped with Cataclysm.  I’m talking about the Azshara of the olden days, when level 60 rogues would still farm those never-present slimes for the tablet fragments with approximately a 1% droprate and figuring out how to get from one side to the other was an hour-long ordeal.

Pretty much every zone in RIFT is set up like that, and there are no flying mounts.  Enjoy.

On the bright side, dungeon layouts are very intuitive and efficient.  Take a linear route through to each boss and quest area, and you’ll end up right back at the beginning for easy departure.  They should have let that guy work on the zone maps.

Hope You Like Rifts!

Possibly the most unique thing about RIFT is… well… the rifts.  As you’re questing in the various world zones, you’ll come across rifts in the dimensional fabric full of planar invaders aligned with a particular element, and I swear it’s not as Captain Planet-y as it sounds.  Defeating each round of invaders will lead to a new stage, and completing them all will close the rift and give you a hefty chunk of Planarite, which is used as a currency to purchase special abilities related to rift-hunting.  Lucky players may even find themselves rewarded with randomly dropped mounts, pets, and Planar Focuses (special equippable items that give passive buffs to stats and resists).

It’s a neat idea, but outside of the starting areas, these rifts are probably not going to be soloable for you at the appropriate levels.  The first couple of stages are easy enough.  The bonus stages, however, are timed, and if you don’t satisfy the kill objective before time runs out, the rift will disappear but not count as “closed” and cause you to miss out on loot.  Timed quests are one of my least favorite game mechanics, and this doesn’t help my opinion of them.  It’d be nice to see the timer removed, which would make closing these rifts a lot easier for solo players, especially since some of them will spawn roving packs of planar invaders while open that apparently have the same ninja skills as the Devilsaur of Un’Goro Crater and will thus murder you before you even realize they’re nearby.

Every so often, zone-wide invasions will crop up that grant everyone in the afflicted zone a list of objectives that must be fulfilled in order to end it.  Ending the invasion is in everyone’s best interest, as not only are the rewards usually pretty decent, but those traveling caravans of death I mentioned before?  Yeah, they’re everywhere.  They run roughshod over the landscape and, if left unchecked, will even take over main quest hubs, rendering turn-ins and safe travel impossible.  Unless there’s enough people in the zone to shut the invasion down quickly, or the objective is failed quickly enough (letting towns be overrun, wardstones destroyed, etc.), your best hope is to basically leave for a while and come back later when it’s over, although even after the invasion ends, invader footholds and mobile packs don’t disappear until they’re killed off.  It’s still very possible to return in 20 minutes and find five or six packs’ worth of invaders have taken up residence in a town you need to access.  What starts off as an innovative feature quickly turns into a massive pain in the ass.  A simple fix would be to set these invasions to only occur when x number of appropriately-leveled players are present in the zone; if this is already how it’s been set, then some serious tweaking of that variable needs to occur.

Crafting Is Pretty Okay, Though

I love crafting in MMOs, so upon finding out that I could have three main professions in addition to Survival (essentially Cooking and First Aid rolled into one) and Fishing, I did a little victory dance.  Despite RIFT’s similarities to EverQuest 2, they mercifully did not borrow the crafting mini-game.  Click on the item you want to create, stand near the appropriate forge or workbench, and let ‘er rip!  For smelting and refining lumber, you can eventually learn spells that will allow you to craft 20 bars or planks at a time, which cuts down on the time required by a huge amount.  Some crafted armor, weapons, and accessories can be improved by using special Augments that add a bonus to a particular stat, though even without them, they usually outclass quest gear by a small amount, meaning that YES, you actually have some incentive to level them as you go rather than waiting till max level!

Every day, you’ll have a random list of work orders that can be completed using your professions and turned back in to the crafting quartermaster in exchange for Artisan Marks.  These tokens can be used at certain vendors to purchase recipes you won’t otherwise learn from your trainer.  Each profession can also craft special items for dimensions, the recipes for which can also be obtained this way.

At crafting level 300, you’ll be able to do a weekly work order that requires some higher-end items to make a consumable lure that opens special crafting rifts.  These crafting rifts function like the planar rifts you’ll find across the world, but enemies will drop crafting items.  With the expense of the items required, however, I was a little disappointed to find out that each lure could only be used once rather than giving you a permanent spell with a 24-hour cooldown.

Fishing is, as in every MMO offering it as a learnable skill, boring to level.  Much like fishing in real life, I suggest cracking open a beer (or soda) to enhance the experience.  What makes it slightly less painful is the fact that it uses targeting circles for casts.  Remember when I got all Dickensian Orphan levels of wistful over changes I’d like to see in World of Warcraft’s professions? Yep.  When I wrote that, I hadn’t yet started with RIFT, but apparently I’m on the same wavelength as someone on the design team.

RIFT is, at its core, a good game, and holds a lot of promise, but perhaps what’s so frustrating about it is how many of its flaws are simple balance issues.  I give their development team a lot of credit for the rapid and consistent release of hotfixes that are finally starting to address some of these issues, but they’ve still got a little ways to go before achieving their full potential.

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