There’s a common theme among fantasy MMOs. It doesn’t matter what game it is, you can expect to find the same three character classes. There’ll always be a plate wearing warrior type that’s ready to soak up the damage and a cleric or priest (or even minstrel) type that throws out healing.
Then there’s the spellcaster. Mage, warlock or elementalist, there’s always someone throwing around balls of some description. They also tend to have similar mechanics for casting spells and so on. How can a new MMO make itself feel any different?
The Rift World
Rift is set in the world of Telara, a place built by old gods at the intersection of several elemental planes. The planet is made largely of Sourcestone, a rare metal that is the source of power for a vast number of inhabitants. The world was a place of peace, tranquillity and general nice stuff.
The Blood Storm (made up largely of Internet Dragons, their minions and those they can coerce) have a taste for Sourcestone and decided to try and eat the entire world. They live in the elemental planes and arrive for their planetary buffet through weak points or rifts. This isn’t great news for the inhabitants (i.e. you) who spend most of their time fending off the Riftspawn and taking the countryside off the menu.
With any game like this you need some element of PvP, which is neatly delivered in the form of factional conflict. On the one hand you have the Guardians who worship the old gods (who they call the Vigil) and use Sourcestone to help commune with them. On the other hand you have the Defiant who think the gods are all pretty pointless anyway and use the same stuff to power their many machines instead. This clash of ideologies has caused all-out war between the two groups, who seem to be more bothered about settling old scores than stopping the end of the world.
Not That Classy
Trion has heavily slimmed down the class selection in Rift, opting for four ‘Callings’ instead of Warcraft’s ten. The staples of Warrior, Mage and Cleric are all present with Rogue making up the fourth.
Instead of providing a huge range of classes, Rift provides eight different talent trees for each calling. By attuning your character with the soul of a particular ancestor you gain access to their talents. You start off being able to learn three souls, although you can pick up more later.
Mages have three different types of soul available – damage dealing, group support and healing. Yes you heard me. Mages get a healing tree. Even better, any combination of souls can be selected. Although some tend to work better in combination with others, you’re free to choose as you like.
Some of the souls will feel instantly recognisable. Pyromancers, Warlocks, Elementalists and Stormcallers all have semblances of Warcraft fire mages, warlocks and shaman. Necromancers have a bit of a spellcaster hunter feel to them, their undead pet doing most of the damage.
The Dominator and Archon are the two group support souls, each of them providing a unique role in combat. The Archon drains the power of their enemies before channelling it into their allies and their own magic. The Dominators meanwhile specialises in terror, fear and damage reflection.
The Chloromancer is an interesting take on healing, where the effectiveness of your heals is controlled by the amount of damage you deal. More damage equals bigger heals, which makes for much more interactive healing than just watching health bars.
The Roots of the Tree
Soul Trees in Rift have an important difference to their Warcraft brethren. You start earning points to spend in your trees right from the get-go. As you spend points in a particular tree, roots emerge underneath it. These roots unlock further spells associated to that tree than you can then use straight away.
The amount of points you can sink in a tree is capped by your level, so don’t expect to unlock everything early on. You still have spell ranks for these new spells as well, so you’ll still be visiting your trainer on a regular basis.
Swapping Souls and Shifting Trees
As you progress through the end of the beginner experience and approach level 20 even more soul options become available. As mentioned before you’ll gain the ability to become attuned with the remaining souls in your calling after a bit of legwork.
You’re also able to pick up multiple talent specialisations from your calling trainer. And yes, multiple does mean more than two. With eight souls available you can have a maximum of four different combinations, providing you with the maximum choice between group roles, solo PvE and PvP.
Pruning the Trees
Through the testing of the last couple of betas a couple of things have hit me. The really obvious one is the amount of clutter that exists in the trees and roots, meaning that as you approach endgame you end up with more buttons to push than Mission Control. In an effort to give players something shiny every few levels you get to this “too many options” problem. They really need to take a chainsaw to these trees, streamline them a lot and remove redundancy.
Then there’s the issue of balance. I’m not sure how far Trion hope to push balance between different roles, but I can imagine it’s going to be hell trying to balance that many different calling and soul combinations so that they’re all attractive for endgame raiding and PvP. Then again, will they bother? By making dedicated souls dedicated buff/debuff machines, it feels like you’ll be bringing people for their abilities.
Negatives aside, I have been having a lot of fun in Rift. There are echoes of my time in Vanilla Warcraft where everything was new and the whole world was waiting for me to explore it. While the game really needs a meaty machine to do it justice, I’ve been able to get a reasonable experience from my 3-year-old Core 2 Duo 6600.
I’m also enjoying the playstyle of the Pyromancer-Elementalist-Stormcaller setup. The “ground” abilities that put a very small self-buff zone on the ground are an interesting twist on turret-types, while being able to summon tanking earth elementals is a huge bonus. It might end up being just a different way of slicing the caster-with-pet cake, but having options is all part of the fun!
The core feature of Rift – the dynamically spawning rifts that spew forth all manner of meanies – is also huge amounts of fun. I’ve often been running around doing quests, seen a rift, ran up to it and get a ‘Join Public Group’ button pop up. From there it’s hack and slash your way through waves of invaders and bosses (and sometimes special bonus bosses) before receiving loot at the end for your efforts.
Add random invasions and event quests and you’ve got some really fun combos. The way groups form, take care of business and then disperse is really good at helping to bring players together. It’s this trick of making content that benefits random players grouping up to defeat it ad-hoc that’s really engaging for me.
Judge for Yourself
Dropping cash on a new MMO is not easy in this day and age, and is definitely not something I’d encourage without a bit of research. If you’ve got any lingering questions then please ask away in the comments.
If you’re interested in giving it a go yourself then there’s an open beta event running for a week from Tuesday 15th Feb. You can find more information on the Rift website, including details of how to sign up. I’d strongly recommend trying out their take on the Mage class and the Soul system for yourself, even if you never pick it up at launch. Besides, free gaming, right?