Looking At Rift

Rift is not a Jesus game…let’s get that out of the way right now. It’s more like Paul…very important, but still not divine. Carrying on with the analogy, it won’t save your life in any way…and lucky for Trion, I don’t see them ever being in the position to rise from the dead (*cough* Warhammer *cough*). All that being said, Rift is an important release for us MMO gamers in that it’s the first fantasy MMO release of 2011 and it needs to show us that these types of games can still pack a punch. So…let’s get into the bits and pieces, shall we.

First thing I want to address:

Rift is NOT WoW…nor do you want it to be.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I guess it’s too much for me to ask to get others to judge a game on its own merit instead of holding it up to the impossible expectation of “beating WoW”. I thought we all got over…and accepted…the fact that no game will ever beat WoW. I think we need to declare that a debate as hashed out and completed in 2009. It’s now 2011 and it’s time to let it go and see games as stand alone products who will fail or succeed based on what they bring to the table.

Sure…Rift does have the standard UI and some quality of life features that we all know in other MMOs, but they really have no choice in the matter, do they? I mean, if they didn’t have all of that we’d all be bitching what a massive fail the game is because they don’t have the very basics. They put them in, and people bitch on how this is “too much like WoW”. Poppycock!!

I’ve been playing Rift since Beta 1 and the general chat channels consistently prove me correct in my standard of turning them off with each game that I enter. Clearly the folks who open their big traps in these games are: a) insane, (b) bitter and never happy or (c) trolls from other companies wanting to breed decent and hate (…yes..they are out there…). All of these types of people probably need to find another hobby because their bullshit doesn’t help my enjoyment of the game nor does it help Rift become a better game.

There are a couple things that make this game not like WoW:
1. The Rift System: You’ve read about this all over the place and by now, so you know generally what this is…in theory. In practice this mechanic MAKES the community work together. The Rift system is the community engine in this game. We don’t work together to close these things off, then the community suffers from out quest hubs being taken over. I’ve already seen this happen once and it pretty much takes a raid group of 20 to get the hub back…just to turn in your quests or get new ones. I don’t think gamers who discount this as WoW are seeing the true community potential for this system, but of course they wouldn’t because they’re too busy in WoW…PLAYING FOR THEMSELVES!!!

2. The Soul System. If you’ve truly played around with this then any “WoW” comparison argument falls flat on its ass. Again, you’ve see or read what this system is about…but think of “souls” as different sub-classes within the usual MMO archetypes. There are eight of them in total. With those eight souls, you can mix and match any that you want in sets of three….doing some quick math that is 56 possible combinations within each archetype using the formula (n!)/(r!(n-r)!) with n=8 and r=3 (…sorry…got math geeky there and I hope that’s the right treatment…). On top of that, you get to create 5 different builds to use at anytime. Builds are essentially templates that you like with the combinations described above. OK…so how does WoW provide that again? Oh right…it doesn’t. For WoW, it has only 3 combinations within each archetype over 2 builds. So, the math just doesn’t add up here. In Rift, this gives the player a larger amount of character functionality to play with…and haven’t we been asking for that?

3. The Art. It’s fantastic and nothing like WoW. Have you played WoW and Rift and actually compared them at all. Does the cartoony graphical art style of WoW at all look different to your eye when compared to Rift’s more “grittier” art style?? The graphics in Rift…think of a cross between AoC, WAR (…at launch…) and Vanguard (…but not totally as intensive…).

What can go wrong

Rift is riding a huge positive wave right now. From most of what I’ve read in the blog-o-sphere and from the forums, the general consensus is that Rift is on a very solid footing for launch. Beta 5 was very rough for Trion at the beginning due to various engineering and technical issues, but the speed and humor in which they addressed them was a good sign of things to come. Basically, Rift is theirs to fuck up….and many things can go wrong between now and March. They have to watch out for internal company drama as well as player driven drama. Given how intimate they have been with the community, this can kill them if they don’t manage it correctly. I don’t see their Achilles Heal as being anything related to the game itself. If anything goes wrong, it will be some kind of wildcard that they didn’t see coming. Very low probability…because honestly, they are tightly (…too tightly??..) controlling the information coming out of the company right now. PR and others from Trion have the whole internet tapped right now and not very many holes are left unplugged when it comes to community issues to addressed.

I really don’t see much going wrong with Rift post launch either. Of course, there are a couple of critical milestones that they need to pass. First is the retention levels after the first month. What are the plans going forward to maximize those? I’m sure there are plans, but I think Rift has enough going for it that…if left alone…retention will be where they need it to be. Second is the three month mark…or “The Player Bitterness Gate”, PBG for short. The PBG is when all of your heardcore players get to end game and start bitching about there being nothing to do. This then filters to new and casual players (…and media outlets…bloggers…) who then start to get disheartened about their future in the game. The PBG hit Warhammer quite hard when the “Player Bubble” hit tier 4. Finally, the one year mark. I think we can call this the point where everything is pretty much stabilized. They’ve got retention numbers, they’ve got growth numbers and about then is when we really find out how Rift did. Again, I think they will do just fine.

One last thing…the Player Bubble. Warhammer’s design was such that content that was dependent on other players was not necessarily…ummmm…there when newer players showed up. Public quests and RvR get pretty dead when the majority of the players are already at tier 4 and have no real reason to revisit tier 1. I’ve already heard that Rift is putting high level quests in traditionally low level areas, which gives me hope that the Player Bubble with be somewhat mitigated in Rift. They still need to watch out for this due to their Wardstone mechanic. You need to be able to make sure that the player population is spread out over the world so that player driven content stays alive in ALL zones.

So…I’ve written enough on this. Rift, for me is a great game and clearly I’m a fan. They had me at “hello”.

D out.

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