Rift: Planes of Telara Reader Review

Don't ask me. Dear god, don't ask me to choose between this and World of Warcraft. There are some things you shouldn't have to choose between - Pizza and Pasta, the LOTR books and the LOTR movies, Tom and Ellie... you just can't decide, so why bother? Just enjoy both and be done with it!

But it wouldn't be much of a reader review if I copped out that easily, would it? So let's get this clear from the outset. I love Rift. I also love World of Warcraft. Both games scratch very different itches, and if I was really only allowed to play one for the rest of my life... eeurgh... oh god, I can't do it...

Okay, it'd be Rift. No, WoW. No, Rif... AARGH!

The problem comes at me like this - Rift is simply one of the most indulgent MMOs to come out in recent years, it's polished and refined, wih a real sense of purpose. Although I do take some issue with their promotional tagline "We're not in Azeroth anymore..." because sometimes, it can be a bit hard to tell. The games do the basics almost in synchronicity, with a really clever levelling curve, instance-based fun and games, PvP, duels... when it comes to the ground rules, the two games are seperated at birth. Addictive, moreish and ever so slightly bitter and yet sweet at the same time.

Rift, it must be said, is the better looking game. But then, that's not surprising for a new MMO - World of Warcraft is running on an engine that, by and large, has seen a few tweaks or modifications in seven years but it is by and large showing its age in some respects. Rift looks shiny and modern, at times generic but at others way ahead in the future. It's also not entirely PC-friendly. If you're not running a setup like mine, with parallel GTX460s and a not unsanitary 16GB of RAM, you're going to have problems when it comes to Rifts major selling point... the rifts.

Yes, the questing is generic go here kill X mobs pick up Y items kill Named Monster Z stuff. Much like WoW, it's pretty linear and whilst some missions are indeed very interesting and appealing, others are just mind-numbingly tedious in their own special ways. But then - quests, instances, PvP... all pale into insignificance to the Invasions. Rifts can be opened, or open on their own terms, and anyone can participate in three to eight rounds of monster-slaying lunacy. But then you have zone-wide Invasion forces, trying to weaken the wardstones and take over. Where they go, a trail of their elemental force can be seen to warp the surrounding scenery. Trees lose their leaves, the floor cracks, bubbles or is covered in water and ice. Taking down bosses - and completing any Rift-connected event - rewards Planarite and shards, which can be traded in for very strong gear tailored to that zones level cap. It makes for an at times slower but more interesting levelling experience, and ends up offsetting the generic grind grind grind with things that are still grind, but showy and somehow scary and important too.

Whichever side you pick - Guardian or Defiant - there is no getting away from the reality that I would prefer some more identity to my races. I mean, I like my Defiant Eft Bladedancer as much as my Worgen Rogue, but my Worgen Rogue looks somewhat impressive and feral and dangerous. The races of Rift are all, for lack of a better way of putting it, rejects from Telara's Next Top Model. They're pretty... but that's the problem. There's nothing SPECIAL about them. They're too bound to the idea of looking human.

That said, you're not likely to notice too much as the Soul System more than makes up for any shortcomings on the looks. In one regard, it's a bit like the WoW talent trees. You put in points, you power your abilities up, rinse and repeat. But that's putting it in its most basic terms. Let me explain...

I started off picking Bladedancer. I dunno, but it just seemed fun - a rogue class that combined dealing damage and dodge-tanking seemed quite fun (and I did enjoy Ninja tanking in Final Fantasy XI), so I grabbed that. Ten minutes later, I got my second choice of soul - Riftstaler, a spec designed around finishers that specialise in defense, increasing survivability. Finally, I chose Assassin - your average, full-fat DPS tree that deals in poisons, bleeds and all that usual shady nonsense. But I could have chosen Nightblade instead, which whilst also doing DPS primarily drops the poisons and bleeds for more arcane magical glowy stuff. Or Bard, for the extra buffs, support and healing power. Rift is nothing if not entirely flexible - some combinations may not make sense, but it signposts the basics - it is entirely up to you if you decide to experiment with something a bit different...

And then, later on, at level 15 you can access three more souls. By unlocking a bonus "role" slot, you can take an entirely different set of souls for a completely different role - so I took Ranger, for the animal magic and the pew pew, and combined it with Marksman (about slower but more accurate and powerful shots) and Saboteur (Bombs, traps, explosives... you know, the fun stuff). I had, in effect, made myself a ranged DPS as well and was flexible enough as a DPS to nab some instance runs - and it was great to flit between them as and when needed. Maybe next time I will take Assassin, Nightblade and Bladedancer for a serious all-out melee DPS spec. And then my original tree could be tuned to be more of a tanking spec with perhaps Bard for a bit of extra spice...

The flexibility of the Soul System is, in short, staggering. In no time at all, I had melee DPS, ranged DPS and a not half-bad tanking spec all ready to go. It's in that it takes the best from the past, from FFXI's very thorough class system and WoW's talent trees, and combines them into something that makes MMO addicts like me just collapse with massive grins on our faces.

That isn't to say, however, that Rift isn't without its flaws. I touched on two of them - the questing is generic grind upon grind, as is the crafting. Rift, when the show is really on with invasions and rifts and light shows and spells and people swarming around, unreasonably demanding on your average PC. It's also pricier than recent MMO releases, the levelling - whilst at times fun - is surprisingly swifter than it needs to be, sometimes the controls can be a bit wonky (especially when swimming) and, of course, it's a release client. It is buggier than a childs pram full of cockroaches (wow, that wasn't a pleasant mental image, I was just sick in my mouth for a moment...).

Rift is, on the other hand, a fantastic new MMO that deserves to do very well. It's addictive, moreish, there's a lot of fun and games to be had, the mounts and collecting of things is just right, the achievements system is more toned than that of its main rival... they just need to make sure at the top levels, the content is there. Because we're going to be seeing it very quickly, so it needs to be good and hold the interest.

It's a good, solid MMORPG that doesn't try to define itself as "casual" or "hardcore". It slots somewhere between the two, and decides it isn't going to budge - and that's fine too. It's sat down next to World of Warcraft, actually...

Which brings me back to the dilemma I couldn't quite come to terms with earlier. Which would I pick long-term if I simply had no other choice?

Actually, it probably would be Rift. As much as I love Azeroth and I have many friends and my own guild there, I have to be the one to say it - after six years, you'd think the quality of World of Warcraft would be more consistant. I've also largely only known Azeroth, and Telara is a wonderful new world to explore and enjoy, and the quality too is choppy at times - but you still feel somehow it has a bit of heart there.

And that is why we should welcome and support Rift. In a market dominated by Activision-Blizzard, it is so easy for games to try and avoid the fight. By labelling themselves, or by trying to do something very differently - and by and large failing at that. Rift isn't change - it's just the same thing, but with a shot of rum. It isn't trying to be different - it's trying to be a new and serious, lore-driven MMORPG. The kind we all enjoyed before World of Warcraft came along and divided the lines.

No, it may not be to everyones tastes - World of Warcraft isn't, after all. But it is competition - and a pretty serious contender at that. Which is, after all, what the MMO market has needed for some time - it's what World of Warcraft needed, it's what Blizzard needed, and it is what we, the players, needed. It's a toe-to-toe, staring each other in the eyes faceoff. There is tension. There is passion. There is, dare I say it, something rather beautiful in the air.

But if all of this means Blizzard pull their socks up now there's a new kid on the block and get some quality back into their game, then it will do the MMO market - and players of both games, whatever they may feel about each other - a world of good. Because all we want is to have fun - and both games deliver it in spades, and Rift really is the stiffest and probably best competition that World of Warcraft has seen since it took off five years ago.

And for that, Trion Worlds should be applauded. It would have been so easy to avoid a full-on assault... instead, they're taking on the giant at its own game... and I don't actually care who wins.

Actually, that's not true (I suppose my heart is always going to be in Azeroth and my guild), but regardless - let's hope there's no clear winner for a year or two, eh? We'll all reap the benefits...


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