Friday, March 18, 2011

Tripping the Rift

No, not that one, this one.  I started playing Rift during the closed beta.  I did not have a "VIP" invite, yet got invited to every single beta event anyway, so I have to wonder at the exclusivity of those VIP invites . . .

Well, anyway.  I've been playing the game for a couple of months now, and unlike many MMOs I could name (Champions Online, Star Trek Online, Warhammer Online, DC Universe Online) I have no regrets for buying the game at release and have every intention of playing for a while.  Is this the game that I'm going to love forever and never ever leave for any other game?  No.  That game doesn't exist, and I seriously doubt it ever will.  However, I played World of Warcraft: Cataclysm for all of a couple of days before abandoning it (again) for the potential I saw in the Rift beta.  I couldn't go back.

There are lots of bloggers screaming back and forth about how Rift is a total WoW clone, or how it's nothing like WoW at all.  The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.  Rift borrowed plenty of things from WoW.  This is hardly shocking, WoW borrowed plenty of things from EQ.  Believe it or not, levels, classes, hit points, mana bars, energy, different races, swords, spells, experience points, and quests were not invented by Blizzard Entertainment.  Rift sits firmly in the genre of "traditional" fantasy MMORPGs, and so naturally has many similarities to WoW.  Just as it shares many things with WAR, EQ, DAoC, and all the other fantasy MMOs that came before it.  This is gaming evolution at work.  The game is not revolutionary, it's evolutionary.

In addition to the generic genre mechanics it shares with WoW, Rift has clearly borrowed some things directly from WoW.  The interface is clearly derivative.  The combat point system used by the Rogue calling is an obvious copy of the combo system used by the WoW Rogue.  To argue otherwise is silly.  But guess what, there's nothing wrong with that.  Stealing things that work and incorporating them into your design is just part of good design.  When building a bridge you don't throw out all the lessons learned by bridge builders beforehand, you steal that suspension mechanic and run with it.

On the other hand, Rift does bring new things to the table.  The dynamic content provided by the Rifts and zone invasions sounds inconsequential on paper.  Wooo, a portal will spawn and spew out some mobs that I can zerg down with other players, yay.  Right?  Yet in practice, it adds something to the game that has been missing from modern MMOs (especially WoW).  Player cooperation.  Forming groups to fight rifts and invasions happens organically, almost subconsciously.  You don't yell in chat that you're "lfg for fire rift", people show up on their own and groups form.  The rift goes down and the group disperses.  It's not social on a communicative level, there's very little chat or organization, but it's the sort of gaming experience that could ONLY occur in a massive online game.  Invasions are even more spectacular, and really require the players in the zone to pull together.  Then you have the graphics and the soul system as two more features that really set the game apart from WoW.

Players who try Rift and go "meh, WoW clone" just don't get it.  And that's ok.  If you don't get it, Rift isn't the game for you.  If you tried it and didn't get past the tutorial area though you're doing yourself a disservice.  The tutorial area of Rift is the worst part of the entire game (so far).

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