F2P Rift Opinion
by Tyler Edwards, July 3, 2013
I remember trying Rift shortly after its release. It struck me as a technically competent if slightly overcomplicated game, but I also found it lacking in originality or personality, and I ultimately moved on to other games.
However, I stayed abreast of Rift's development over the years, and I was continually impressed by the rate at which Trion was able to add new features and improvements to the game. It left me curious to see how much Rift had changed, and so when Trion finally succumbed to the free to play craze, I hopped on board and gave the game a second chance.
Did Rift succeed in winning me over the second time around? Only one way to find out...
What's changed, and what hasn't:
The basics of Rift remain the same as I remember. A few mechanics have been tweaked, and the starter quests have been altered slightly, but much of what I saw was familiar.
The phrase "WoW clone" gets thrown around a lot, but Rift is truly deserving of the term. Aside from borrowing nearly all its interface design, game mechanics, and questing conventions directly from the juggernaut of the MMO genre, even much of Rift's lore and many of its races seem lifted directly from World of Warcraft.
That's not entirely a bad thing, though. WoW is a proven model, and Rift takes nearly everything it does well and polishes it even more. It makes for a very smooth experience, especially if you've played WoW.
A few significant changes did strike my eye. Rift now features open tapping on all enemies, similar to Guild Wars 2, which is a very welcome improvement. The two playable factions, the Guardians and the Defiant, can now freely group and interact, and both sides seem to be getting along well.
I also noted that Rift no longer has falling damage. You'd be amazed what a massively positive effect this has on one's gaming.
Of course, the biggest change is the transition to free to play. From what I saw, Rift has one of the better free to play models around. The restrictions on free players are minimal, and while the cash shop is absurdly extensive, it manages to avoid crossing the line into true obnoxiousness.
To put it simply, if no one had told me Rift was free to play before I joined, I probably never would have noticed the difference versus when it was a subscription game.
I got soul(s), but I'm not a soldier:
One of the few things that is somewhat unique to Rift is its "ascended soul" class system. For those unfamiliar with the system, it allows players to choose one of four broad "callings" and then create their own class by choosing three souls. A soul is somewhere between a talent tree and a full class.
I had mixed feelings on the soul system when I first tried Rift, and my second attempt at the game hasn't changed that.
The problem with the soul system is that it's very complicated. Each soul is a sprawling tree of different passive and active abilities, and juggling three at once is a recipe for a headache. To make matters worse, you're expected to handle all this complexity immediately after character creation.
I think the soul system would feel much more user friendly if the souls simply unlocked at a slower rate. The complexity would feel much less overwhelming if it took until level twenty or thirty to get all three souls.
Maybe I was just making poor choices, but I also found there wasn't a lot of obvious synergy between the souls I'd chosen, so I had trouble figuring out the optimal rotations - an odd feeling for someone with as much MMO experience as I have. I eventually found it best to just focus on one soul's abilities and use the others mainly for passive bonuses and utility skills, which left me wondering what the point of having three was.
Since I tried Rift last, Trion has added a number of premade builds to help new players choose a good build more easily. When I first heard about this idea, I thought it was an excellent addition, but in practice, I'm not sure it helps much.
Ultimately, it's still throwing a huge amount of complexity at you very early on. Having a roadmap may help, but it's not a very elegant or effective solution to the problem.
Furthermore, giving people premade builds destroys the main positive of the soul system: the ability to design your own class. After all, what's the point of all that customization potential if you're just going to tell people what to do?
On the plus side, you can choose to ignore the premade builds and make your own, with all the positives and negatives that entails.
So... much... content:
If there's one problem that dogs all MMOs, it's the constant struggle to have enough content to keep players from getting bored. There's a prevailing perception that no developer on Earth is capable of producing content faster than players can consume it.
Trion's response to this idea seems to be, "Challenge accepted!"
Rift has the usual leveling path of kill and collect quests. These are generic in the extreme, but they're well paced, and leveling goes by at a brisk clip. Trion seems to have mastered the MMO model of parceling out small rewards just fast enough to keep people hungry for more.
There's a lot more to the game than quests, though, even at low levels. There's also a healthy offering of dungeons that can be easily accessed via an automated group finder - something that really should be standard for all MMOs these days. I found the dungeons a little on the easy side, but that's to be expected from low level content.
Then there are the game's titular elemental invasions, the rifts, and other dynamic events. These are nearly constant, and if you don't mind a little travel, you could probably level almost exclusively by rift hunting. In my experience, the rifts are rather simplistic and completely trivial in difficulty once you have a few players helping, but they are an excellent way to break the monotony of questing.
One feature that was new to me this time around is instant adventures. I thought these would be like the skirmishes in Neverwinter or the scenarios in WoW -- mini-dungeons for small groups - but they're actually just an endless stream of random kill and collect quests being zerged by a gang of players. I found them mind-numbingly easy and repetitive, but I suppose they're a good source of experience for those who don't mind a little grinding.
Another new feature is dimensions, Rift's take on player housing. Dimensions are incredibly easy to use, and every item in your dimension can be manipulated to an insane degree, allowing you to assemble even the simplest items into... just about anything.
The power of dimensions is staggering, and I had a lot of fun designing mine, but then I ran into the issue I always do with player housing: What's the point? Once you've built your ideal home, there's really nothing to do there. It's a Godsend for roleplayers, but for the rest of us, it's hard to get excited about a feature that offers no gameplay to speak of.
And then there's PvP, artifact hunting, fishing, crafting, and probably more stuff I didn't even get around to trying. Rift is overflowing with so much content it embarrasses the rest of the industry.
The quest for personality:
Rift is a very impressive game, and technically speaking, it's easily one of the best MMOs around, but my biggest complaint with it still stands: it has no soul.
The art design is bland and lacking color. The story is so thin, generic, and poorly written it makes you wonder if they were even trying at all. The game as a whole lacks any semblance of personality or any feature unique enough to hook me in.
Rift is a fun game. It's polished. Its gameplay is addictive. It has few, if any, glaring flaws from an objective design perspective. But that technical perfection came at the cost of a lively and compelling virtual universe.
In an odd way, Rift is one of the best arguments for video game as art I've seen. The only major problem with Rift is that it's merely a game, not art, but that's enough to drive me away.
Is it worth it?
For a lot of people, the answer to that question is probably an emphatic, "Yes!" For all my complaints, Rift still stands as one of the most well polished, content rich, and technically impressive MMOs on the market, and now that it's free, it's a staggeringly good value. For anyone less snobbish than me, I highly recommend Rift.
For those looking for something a bit more unique in an MMO, those who are sticklers for compelling lore, or those who are already heavily invested in another MMO, it's probably not worth making the jump to Rift.
For everyone else? Start downloading now.