By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Senior Editor
Released in 2011, Rift was Trion World’s first MMO, and proved to be a success. Though it shifted from a subscription-model to free-to-play two years after launch, Rift helped build Trion to the large publisher that it is today. Set in a world shaped by elements and torn by an epic battle of good and evil, players take the role of fallen heroes called back to life to defeat the evil Dragons. Over the past four years, DizzyPW has summoned countless writers to enter the Rifts to return with the tale of this game’s review. Yet all disappeared, the rifts swallowing writers into the oblivion with a 100% success rate. Now with the rise of the Nightmare Tide, it was time to send the best (yes, me) to once and for all tell of the world of Telara, and the new paths to adventure it offers.
Character Creation & Customization
Rift offers two opposing factions to play as, each with their own set of races. The Guardians are the chosen of the gods, and consist of the human-like Mathosians, the pale High-Elves, and the stout Dwarves. The Defiants have forsaken the gods for their own technology, and consist of the darker skinned human Eth, the blue elven Kelari, and the massive bulwark Bahmi. Each race has its own unique racial ability and an innate elemental resistance, but otherwise are equal in terms of stats and class availability.
Initial character customization offers a moderate and balanced selection, with just enough sliders to get the job done. Among the options are face shape, eye color and scale, eyebrow shape, nose size and tilt, mouth size, multiple types and colors of hair, markings, and makeup, and body height and skin color. Hair and skin color also have additional purchasable options in Rift’s cash shop. It’s just enough customization to make your character distinct, without going overboard on shaping muscles or determining the size of your character’s ass. However, the lack of physical build selection is noticeable, because heights aside, every character of the same race and gender is the same shape.
You can also customize your appearance through the game’s Wardrobe system. This system has undergone a recent overhaul that makes looking cool easier than ever. Like the wardrobe systems in The Lord of the Rings Online or Guild Wars 2, you can collect the appearances of gear that you obtain as you journey through the world. These appearances become unlocked for your entire account, and can be used at any level. Unlike some transmogrification systems, Rift’s system also allows you to show yourself wearing any class of armor you want, rather than only the class of armor your character can equip. A robe-wearing paladin and a battle-armored mage, or any mix or match in between, is possible. Each piece of gear can also be dyed, with 24 basic dyes available and more unlockable. Your wardrobe appearances can be saved, and are not bound to the gear you’re wearing, meaning you can swap gear as necessary without ruining your ‘look.’
There are four core classes, known as “Callings”: Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue. Though these follow general fantasy archetypes, Rift does not use a typical “holy trinity” model of tank, damage, and healer. Instead, there are four core roles a player can fill – tank, damage, healer, and support. Every calling can be one of these roles, though the ability to use some of them ultimately depends on access to certain expansion kits. From here, Callings split into a vast collection of specializations based around a selection of Souls, sub-classes with their own talents, and the game’s talent system, called the Soul Tree.
As you play, you will learn to specialize your build through the selection of three souls within your calling and their talent trees in a “build your own class” style system. New players, or players looking for a no-hassle build, can choose a “Purpose,” a pre-made build which will automatically assign talent points as the character levels up. These Purposes have been built by top players in Rift’s community, for the most part, and have in-game guides on gearing and skill use. Alternatively, players can choose their own souls and talents. Since each soul offers passive boosts and active skills based on how many points placed into the tree (and where), the possibility for a custom class build is limitless, and Trion has done well in ensuring that souls are balanced enough that players won’t find themselves gimped if they step outside a standard cookie-cutter build. Custom builds are not, however, fool-proof: there is room for error and poor build decisions. With the option of pre-made builds and plenty of community build tips, this is rarely an issue. As a final note, you can save many of your builds as “Roles,” and switch between these as necessary out in the field – allowing you to fit the needs of a group easily.
The New Player Experience
Every new character in Rift must go through a basic “tutorial” zone before entering the world at large. It’s a long-standing MMORPG tradition, and Rift has undergone some refinement throughout the years. Through it, you’ll be introduced to your faction’s founding story and your character’s place as a hero in the world. You’ll also be talked through the game’s core combat mechanics and systems like items, equipment, maps, quests, mounts, and the rifts themselves. The tutorial experience does not abruptly end at the last tutorial zone mission, however: in fact, you will continue being gradually introduced to additional game systems throughout your first few levels with various quests, allowing you to step into the great big world of Telara at a slow and steady pace that won’t overwhelm you.
Rift veterans may remember how heavy-handed the old tutorial experience was, practically brow-beating tutorial ‘tips’ along the way. Thankfully, Trion has learned some valuable lessons about maximizing the new player experience, and while it remains mostly unchanged in content, it does a far better job at holding a new player’s hand gracefully, rather than grabbing them and yanking them along. One of the key changes in making this experience more enjoyable has been the use of Purposes in character creation itself. This gives a new player a basic build to work with from the start, rather than having to learn the mechanics of building their own soul tree at level one. Some of the additional side content, like collections, have also been put off to a later level. Meanwhile, a few new quests, or adapted quests, do a better job at introducing basic game mechanics.
Alas, the praise can’t last forever. By level fifteen, the amount of quests that players have at their disposal begins to explode, and by level 20, it’s possible to become completely overrun by quest chains that take you in multiple directions. Some quests a character might discover may even lead to far off challenges to unlock souls, tearing characters away from what would be the main storyline. Having multiple options at your disposal is a great thing, especially if you’re a veteran. For a new player, however, it can be confusing to figure out which quests you should be doing, especially after visiting your main city, or whether you should return to your original questing area and continue the story there.
Controls and User Interface
Rift is a traditional tab-target style MMORPG, which means the controls here are very familiar to anyone who’s been playing MMOs in the past five years. Movement can be accomplished with mouse buttons, arrow keys, or WASD keys; skills are executed by pressing their corresponding shortkey from the action bar. Almost every menu item in game has a corresponding shortcut key, and these commands can be fully customized in the game’s “Keybindings” menu. There is even an option for click-to-move. Because of the game’s complex interface, controllers are not natively supported or recommended. From wandering and chatting to collecting and combat, Rift is easily managed and controlled by even a novice PC gamer.
By default, the game’s user interface (UI) is relatively compact and leaves plenty of screen space for seeing what’s going on around your character without straining your eyes to see the map, chat, or quest objectives. Once again, the layout follows standard MMORPG conventions. Many sub menus have been compacted in the lower left corner of the screen to condense space, a much appreciated feature considering just how many various in-game windows you have to manage, but it’s easy to back out of these windows with a quick hit on the Escape key. Most windows also remain compact (and can be moved around on screen), with a few more annoying exceptions, like the Minions window. Rift’s UI is also quite customizable. Like The Lord of the Rings Online, you can enter an “Edit Layout” mode which allows you to move, resize, and change the alpha of any on-screen elements. And if that’s still not enough, the game also supports user add-ons and extensions, allowing you the same customizability level from the user side as you’d find in World of Warcraft.
Character Progression: Quests, Adventures, Rifts, Dungeons, and Raiding
Rift offers a large variety of activities to help a player level up, from solo content to content for public, pick-up, and pre-made groups. Like most traditional MMORPGs, Rift offers a long and interconnected web of story-driven quests, split between the two factions. While all players of a faction will start in the same areas, eventually areas begin to branch out and offer multiple options. Quests, for the most part, are designed for solo play. They are also tedious and inefficient for gaining experience, and many players now recommend to save questing to do in your spare time at max level, at least if getting to end-game is your primary goal.
Instead, Instant Adventures are the preferred level gaining experience source, and once you’ve run an evening of them, it’s hard to not go back. Instant Adventure (IA) is a system which allows you to queue up and party with other players in the system, a bit like a “Looking For Group” tool. However, instead of heading to a dungeon or raid, your group is summoned to a random area in the world, with each player scaled to the appropriate level, and issued specific Instant Adventure objectives to complete as a team. Each complete adventure is a chain of these objectives, usually completed with a final boss encounter or point defense. However, IAs are also endless and flexible: you can exit and enter at any point, and you can spend hours in the system without having to leave and rejoin. IAs are fast-paced, non-stop experience trains that can fit any playtime you have available. There are two major downsides to running IAs as your primary source of experience: you miss out on the story and achievements of the game’s quest lines, and you will often need to purchase equipment from the auction house or other vendors in order to stay geared up. IAs can also be unfortunately buggy at times, forcing players into a “dead” group caused by disconnects and inactive players, and the only way to get around these bugs is to either wait it out or hope to get lucky when queuing.
The open world of Rift has one feature that harkens to the game’s name itself: rifts. Rifts are random public events in which a tear opens up between one of the elemental planes and the world your character is in. These events offer a set of objectives, and a range of difficulties from rifts that can be done solo to those that need large groups to defeat. In addition to offering experience, rifts offer special currency which can be used to buy planar equipment and goods, part of every growing adventurer’s needs. Rifts can also lead to invasions, when multiple rifts open up across the zone and planar forces march against the zone’s strongholds, requiring players to come to their defense and eventually beat back the commander leading the invasion.
Dungeons and raids are also to be found in Rift, as expected. Both are fairly linear encounters, often with multiple quests sending the player to solve some problem like any good adventurer. Once again, Rift takes a fairly traditional approach to these areas. Dungeons are designed for five players, and have a minimum level requirement (though higher level players can scale down). Two additional difficulties, Expert and Master, add to the challenge of these places for players with better gear and pre-made groups. Otherwise, dungeons are fairly linear experiences that alternate between trash pulls and scripted boss encounters. Raids are designed for 10 or 20 players, and are arranged in tiers based on player gear. There are a moderate number of dungeons and raids in the game, but given the number of years that Rift has been open, it seems to be too few.
Recently, Rift has introduced “Intrepid Adventures.” These encounters are also found in the Instant Adventure system, but instead of placing players in a random world zone, it summons the group into a raid instance. This allows players the opportunity to experience raids like Hammerknell with the IA system, rather than seeking out a pre-formed group. While this may sound comparable to LFR in World of Warcraft, the system does not currently do an adequate job in making sure the group has sufficient players in each role, meaning a group can be without a necessary tank or support class to ensure optimal success.
Player versus Player
At this point you might be guessing that player versus player (PvP) in Rift is going to stick with the traditional MMORPG formula, and you’d be right. With two factions, Rift offers a very familiar set of PvP options. Players can PvP in the open world (optional on PVE servers), but few ever do. The occasional bored character heads in and sets foot in an opposing faction’s town or even main city for fun, but organized battles or raids are unheard of. Instead, players looking for that adrenaline fix must find it in Warfronts, the game’s instanced and goal-based PvP modes.
There are multiple Warfronts, and some of these warfronts may appear in special versions during events. Warfront goals and modes include Domination-style, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Team-defender style. Warfronts are, however, unlocked at certain level tiers, meaning that players looking to PvP as they level will find themselves limited in modes until they reach level 50+. At most levels, the experience gain from PvP is also quite low, making it a poor choice for progression. Indeed, PvP does not really begin to shine until max level.
There are two things characters earn when fighting in PvP: prestige and favor. Prestige is essentially a PvP experience system which determines your PvP rank and, in turn, access to special perks. Favor, on the other hand, is a special PvP currency which can be used in PvP shops for consumables and upgrades. Previously, favor was used to buy PvP gear; however, the PvP gearing system has now changed to reduce the need to farm favor constantly to get PvP gear (and subsequently make it harder for players to gear up through PvP). Instead, players can now obtain gear from supply crates dropped at the end of Warfront matches, and upgrade this gear through the use of favor. This area has been a somewhat sore topic in the Rift PVP community in the last year, but Trion Worlds has been working actively in the past few months to improve PvP gear so that it better matches the gear found from equivalent PVE activities.
The Extras: Additional Features
Rift has many additional features to try to keep players entertained no matter their play style. Collections, minions, and housing are the three major features (four, if you include an extensive achievement system) players will find to complement their gaming experience.
One of the first early systems that made Rift so appealing for some is the Collections system. Scattered randomly around the world, you can find collectible artifacts – unmistakable white shiny objects – that can be looted on a first come, first serve basis. These items can then be sorted into collections, dozens of groups of findable objects that tell a story or have a semblance of similarity. When a collection is complete, it can be ‘turned in’ to an NPC in the game’s main city to earn additional rewards, including a special currency called a Lucky Coin. Lucky Coins can then be redeemed for a variety of items, including exclusive mounts. Players can also find lore books in static places around the world to add to a separate collection that can be read through at any time.
Minions is a relatively new system to Rift (added in Nightmare Tide) which lets players gather some additional loot without having to gather it themselves. Minions are card-based mini pets, with two attributes that grant them bonuses to their adventuring loot roll. In addition to collecting minion cards – which can be found in many ways, including crafting and achievements – players can send these minions on missions. The minion feature will offer four random adventures (also presented as cards) at any time, ranging from quick one minute runs to longer runs that take many hours to complete. Each adventure has attributes associated with it, and matching minion and adventure cards with the same attributes grants a better chance at loot. Loot from these missions ranges from crafting items to artifacts and even housing items, making it worthwhile to keep your little critters busy.
Finally, there is Rift’s housing system, known as Dimensions. The Rift community has a great passion for Dimensions, with several large fansites showcasing creations, and it’s easy to see why. Dimensions are more than just houses, they’re “slivers of Telara” – small zones where players can get away in private, as well as show off trophies and their creativity. Inside a dimension, players can place items that they’ve found in almost any way they can think of, with the ability to resize and rotate objects with an incredible amount of fine tuning. Dimensional items can be found extensively across the world, making it easy to gather a large amount of tools and objects to customize a dimension. These items aren’t all just little house trophies, either: players may find full-scale boats, massive trees, and other grand features. Dimensions come in a variety of sizes, with some of the largest character dimensions supporting over 2,000 placed objects! And yet guilds, too, can have their own dimensions, which can support over twice that amount. The variety of landscapes and items is stunning, making the potential for dimensions practically limitless. It’s one of the best housing systems you can find in a traditional MMORPG.
The Cash Shop
Though initially released as a subscription-based title, Rift transitioned to a free-to-play model in 2013. The transition was smooth, and threw a needed lifeline to a game that many felt did not offer enough substantially different content from games they were already subscribed to. Rift has since thrived under the F2P model, adding new systems for all players and expanding the game content steadily. However, with the free-to-play label comes microtransactions, and Rift’s cash shop is not a dream come true.
The core game content – currently 65 levels of quests, dungeons, raids, and other adventures – remains open and free to all players, as do systems like Dimensions and Minions. But while even expansion content is not locked to players, there are certainly chokepoints that point players to the store. This includes eight souls, some of which are required in order to unlock a fourth party role for each Calling; underwater mount training for Nightmare Tide content; and the ability to send more than one minion out on a mission at a time. There are a variety of boosts in the shops, including buffs to favor, prestige, crafting, and notoriety gain. The remainder of the shop is mostly cosmetics.
Players who do frequent the cash shop, however, can earn loyalty rewards. Earned by buying/spending credits and REX (a player-to-player way to buy credits), loyalty points unlock both mini rewards and large set rewards as players continue earning. These rewards range from consumables to mounts, Dimension Keys, mini-pets, and even permanent account boosts. It’s a fair way to grant loyal buyers exclusive rewards, though players who do not earn them may find themselves missing out.
Look and Feel
Built with “AAA” quality in mind, Rift is a lovely game despite its growing age. There’s something about Rift that is very artsy in its approach: perhaps it’s the unique and twisted creatures you come across on your journey, or the soothing harp strings as you sit in your home city. Each area feels generally distinct and never empty or unfinished, showing the care in the designer’s crafting of each area. At max graphics, the game stands up to other MMOs its age, and was clever enough to offer a low quality option for players who wanted to play the game but didn’t quite have the rig for it. While it doesn’t have the smoothness of games produced in the last year or two, Rift certainly hasn’t aged badly.
Final Verdict: 4/5 (Great)
Now in its fourth year of service, Rift has grown from its earlier days of pay-to-play into a substantial and full-fledged free-to-play MMORPG. While some of its features, primarily PvP, still need some developer affection, Rift manages to offer a well-rounded experience without suffering a case of feature bloat. Though lacking in innovation, Rift’s traditional approach delivers a consistent experience to MMORPG fans. Its greatest weaknesses are a sluggish questing system and a collection of heavy-handed cash shop items that alter the game experience. If you’re a fan of the tried-and-true, give Rift a try. It isn’t likely to disappoint you.
Character Creation & Customization (4/5)
Pros: Just the right amount of sliders; extensive flexibility in class specialization.
Cons: Not enough variety in physical appearances of races; some party roles are cash shop locked.
The New Player Experience (3/5)
Pros: First ten levels give just the right amount of hand-holding.
Cons: Past level 15, quests and features can become overwhelming.
Controls and User Interface (4/5)
Pros: Traditional but uncluttered interface with little deviation from the MMORPG standard.
Cons: Some UI elements by default are excessively large and cover key areas of the screen.
Character Progression: Quests, Adventures, Rifts, Dungeons, and Raiding (4/5)
Pros: Lots of options for leveling; lots of group content.
Cons: Questing is tedious and slow; limited number of dungeons and raids to experience.
Player versus Player (3/5)
Pros: Multiple game modes and maps; recent changes improve gearing.
Cons: Gearing can be tedious; balance issues are a recurring theme.
The Extras (4/5)
Pros: Several good features to keep players busy at all levels; housing system is one of the best to be found in an MMORPG.
Cons: Minions system is limited without cash shop purchases; collections can be annoying to complete.
The Cash Shop (3/5)
Pros: Can purchase credits from other players with in-game coin; all core content available for free.
Cons: Several cash-shop locked souls; some systems limited without cash shop purchase.
Look and Feel (4/5)
Pros: Each zone beautifully crafted; high quality graphics for its time.
Cons: Beginning to show signs of age.