Spare a thought for those involved in MMO development. As consumers, we have high expectations from these makers of worlds: a new universe to lose ourselves in for hours a night, an ever-changing, polished and enticing world in which to invest both our free time and our hard-earned money.
Stray but a little and the behemoths of the genre will be there to regather those lost players, bringing them back into the warm, familiar fold. Implement functional design choices learnt from games with years of experience behind them and the cries of “this is just a clone!” will ring out across General Chat.
You can't please everyone.
Developers Trion understand this, and Rift enters the market as a fresh MMO taking inspiration from a broad range of titles released over the last ten years.
To even mention World of Warcraft when reviewing another MMO is a dangerous move. Fans of the game are all too ready to gather their torches and pitchforks and drive this new creation out of town: it has similar action bars? It must die.
Those with no attachment to Warcraft, and especially those with a deep seated loathing for the game, see any criticism as the bleating of a Warcraft fanboy. The line between inspiration and imitation is very fine. Arguably, Rift did itself no favours here by running the advertising slogan, “We’re not in Azeroth anymore.”
Yes there are similarities in Rift to World of Warcraft, anyone not taking lessons from that phenomenon is doing themselves a great disservice, but Rift also takes pieces from other, less divisive games. The art direction can often feel like the child of Everquest and Aion, and the public grouping system is strongly reminiscent of Warhammer Online.
To that end, it would be easy to peg Rift as an amalgamation of ideas taken from other games with a tweak here and there, and while there’s an air of truth to it, pigeon-holing the game as such ignores what makes it unique.
There are four character archetypes available in Rift: Mage, Cleric, Rogue and Warrior – but if you think you know the roles on offer, think again. Each class has the choice of three sub-classes, or trees to invest their points. Nothing new here until you register that these three sub-classes come from seven available to each class. The level of customisation available means that a character can be wholly unique.
Take the warrior, for example. With seven available ‘souls’ to chose from, his abilities can be mixed and matched to make a devastating melee character, a tank specialising in defence against magic, or melee, or both; an off-tank good at supporting others; a powerful, magic-wielding destruction machine; a heavily armoured defensive warrior capable of sucking the life out of opponents with damage over time death magic… The list goes on.
It can all feel a tad bewildering at first, but Rift gives you the choice of four available specs to jump between (once the slots are purchased) and nothing is set in stone. Anything about your spec can be changed with a minimal sum of money at any of your class trainers.
While, as in all games, there are the cookie-cutter or the "flavour of the month" builds, the option to create and bring something fresh to any group is available – and with a little experimentation you may find something that fits exactly what you feel like doing.
This approach to adaptation and the ease with which you can adjust your class bleeds well into to the Player versus Player environment.
With heavily objective-driven Warfronts, as the battles are called, team work is of high importance. The Codex is a node capture-and-hold mode, with one node being of vital importance and giving more points if taken.
Black Garden players are asked to keep hold of The Fang of Regulos, and in doing so accumulate points. The fang slowly corrupts and kills the player holding it, and with less points-over-time given the closer the wielder is to their base.
It’s also refreshing to see your team mates, in the calm before the storm, adjusting their build to meet what the team needs.
Questing, the bread and butter of any fantasy MMO, hasn’t quite kept up with the evolution seen in the build creation of Rift. You’ll still be tasked with the eradication of entire species, and walking 15 minutes to retrieve someone’s lost bauble. It’s not offensive, just a little samey.