Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rift - is it worth it?

Hail rats and ratslayers.

I have been away from WoW and Ravenholdt for a while now, and before I left I wandered around bored and annoyed with the direction Blizzard is taking the game - which shouldn't come as a shock to any ganker who's been playing for a while - yet time and time again we are taken by surprise and duly slapped in the face and kicked in the groin.

After a couple weeks of not playing any mmorpg I decided to try out Rift with some friends. I was told that the world pvp was exquisite, but I had my doubts because it looked eerily like WoW; the user interface could very well have been Warcraft's had they decided to brush it up at some point. However, I carefully placed those doubts aside in the back of my mind as I gave the game a go. At this point the beta stages were over and the 8-day head start for those who had pre-ordered had just come to an end.

The adventure commences - Firesand EU, PvP-RP
You begin in a starting area which is cut off from the rest of the world, Telara. The quests are simple and straightforward, but most of all uninspiring. The thing that catches your attention early on is the talent tree. It is rather complex at first, but soon enough you get the hang of it.

The talent trees, or soul trees as they are called in Rift, grant abilities and passive bonuses through branch and root advancement. The former works much like WoW's talent trees, you spend points and you unlock tiers as you go higher up in the tree. Root advancement automatically unlocks abilities after you've spent a certain amount of points in the soul tree. Each level you get 1 or 2 soul points, and at the maximum level, 50, you can spend 66 points.

As you progress throughout the first levels you unlock and choose your first three souls. They work similar to the different talent trees of each class in WoW (such as the rogue's assassination, combat and subtlety trees), except there are 9 to choose from (the remaining 6 are unlocked later on by completing quests).

 Each class (rogue, mage, warrior and cleric) having 9 different souls to choose from, which often include tank, dps and healer souls, is both a blessing and a curse. While it means that there is huge flexibility (not to mention that you can not only have dual spec like in WoW, but quad spec if you've got the gold), it also means that in PvP situations many will be running around with strong self-heals.

You exit the starting area at around level 6 and enter either Freemarch or Silverwood, depending on whether you chose the Defiant or the rats. This is where most people will start to appreciate their surroundings. At about level 18 they have stopped appreciating their surroundings because they're still in the same, huge zone. At this point there is no world pvp either, and you are unlikely to find any until as late as level 25 when you get to Scarlet Gorge, which is the third zone (if you count Freemarch as the first). Since my biggest concern and source of entertainment in mmorpgs is ganking, I skipped the second zone, Stonefield, and headed straight for the Grand Canyon-esque Scarlet Gorge.

The difficulty of questing varies depending on your spec, but in general I would say it's much more challenging than WoW's. I doubt anyone will manage to get to 50 without dying a few times. Personally I must have died 30 times while questing, and I'm currently at level 38.

PvP: quality or quantity?
And so we come to what we regard as the make or break of an mmorpg: PvP. There are no arenas in Rift, and the gear you get doesn't depend on the skill factor as much as the time factor. Similar to vanilla WoW, you get better PvP gear as you progress through ranks at level 50. As I am level 38 at the moment I have no first-hand experience, but according to Reavan the grind is monumental, and you are better off simply getting PvE gear. The fact that the Defiants lose the vast majority of Warfronts (instanced cross-server battlegrounds), if you are to believe Reavan and Astartel's incessant whining, doesn't help either.

This brings me to my next point: Warfronts. They are very similar to WoW's battlegrounds, and slightly less entertaining. It also feels as if a victor is decided in the first minute of each game. There are rarely any matches where the score is more or less equal, rather once one side starts to fall behind they all seem to give up. Personally I have won the majority of the warfronts I've entered, but it remains to be seen how it goes at 50.

The Black Garden: capture the Fang and hold it for points.

Scarlet Gorge rumble

None of that matters of course, as long as above is good. So, is it? First off, you encounter it very late. When you do, it's rather good. It doesn't surround you, it's not behind every corner and under every rock - but it's definitely not hard to come by. If you feel like you haven't gotten enough, you can simply waltz to the nearest rat hub and start nuking. If you do it well, you won't attract any guards, and if you do, they're quite easily dispatched.

Another thing is that a higher level doesn't necessarily mean you will kill all below you. Apply some common sense and skill and you will soon find yourself toying with people 5 levels above you granted that you're using a good spec. Some specs are strong. Some specs are shit. The spec that I am currently using is mainly sabotage. It's so fucking overpowered that small planets have begun revolving around me.

I started out as assassin/riftstalker, but with that it is virtually impossible to kill a warrior of the same level. A guild member was killed by a warrior ten levels below him. Another guild member couldn't kill a level 36 healer while he was at 50. Oh, and pretty much everyone in the guild is a rogue. The class balance is very poor at the moment, although it seems that every class has a few combinations that come out on top.

At this stage being a melee rogue is rather tough, regrettably - and personally if I cannot kill every class in a certain spec I tweak it so I am enabled to. On the whole PvP is enjoyable however. There will always be a flavor of the month, such is unavoidable. What is avoidable on the other hand is making yourself a victim of the fotm specs.

Something I like about Rift is that you can communicate with the rats through /say, /yell and /emote. This is good for RP, good for taunting your opponent, but mostly good for receiving whines and complaints in person. No need to log onto the forums and shed tears, now you can pour your heart out (figuratively and literally) to your aggressor without delay! To the left you see some rat calling Voidwatcher and me cowards. Interestingly they outleveled and outnumbered us.

The name of the game - a novelty soon to fade away or something that will remain interesting throughout? Rifts spawn randomly all over zones with mobs pouring out of them. When you approach one you can choose to join a public group, which enables you to defeat the rift invasion with other players.

Sometimes you can defeat rifts on your own, but the extra amount of planarite (currency used for e.g. buying gear) is not worth it most of the time. Do them as often as you can and you'll benefit from the rewards. To the right you can see a Scarlet Gorge map filled with rifts (dots) and invasions (crossed swords).

So then, what's my verdict? So far I am enjoying the game. It exceeded my expectations and as long as you don't get feared into rocks (hasn't happened to me yet, but I've heard plenty from Astartel), you will barely find any bugs or other technical faults. I can scarcely imagine that there has been a cleaner mmorpg launch in gaming history. What 50 looks like I am not one to say, but once I get there you will get the full report from your favorite investigative journalist.

Over and out.

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