Every time a new fantasy MMORPG is released, its success is often based on whether or not it's a "WoW killer." Going off this model, no fantasy MMO released in the past six-and-a-half years has been a success, as WoW is still going strong. Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online... all of them tried, and all of them failed. But with Rift, an MMO developed by Trion Worlds, beating WoW doesn't seem to be the primary goal. Instead, Trion has used WoW as the model for their game, and simply built upon that. The result is a game that feels extremely polished and enjoyable, although lacking in originality.
If you weren't a fan of WoW, then right away I can tell you that you won't enjoy Rift. Trion borrowed A LOT from Blizzard in creating their MMO, from the user interface, to the way PvP is handled, and even the colour-coding of gear. Of course, the reasoning from Trion behind this is perfectly understandable: WoW is the best, and we want Rift to be just like that. It might look like Rift is just ripping-off WoW, but that's just kind of how the MMO genre works. Remember, WoW was just a rip-off of Everquest, right?
Rift takes place in the world of Telara, a fantastical realm that is closely connected with the six elemental planes: Life, Death, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Players are split into two factions: the Guardians and the Defiant. The Guardians are comprised of the races chosen by the Gods to save Telara from Regulos, the Dragon God of Death. The Defiants, on the other hand, have turned away from the Gods in favor of magically-infused technology, and plan to stop Regulos using their own methods. Each faction has their own unique storyline and starting zone, and offers very different outlooks on the world of Telara.
Right from the beginning, Rift draws you into the intricate storyline that Trion has produced. Instead of killing boars and gathering wood for the first few levels, you're dropped right into an epic battle against Regulos' armies. Whether you're a Guardian or a Defiant, you're quickly introduced to the Ascended Soul system, which is the game's class system. In Rift, there are four "callings" that players must choose from: Warrior, Rogue, Mage, and Cleric. From there, you get to choose three Souls, which essentially act like talent trees from WoW. The great part of this system is that each calling has nine different souls to choose from. For example, a cleric that wants to heal can choose the three healing souls: Purifier, Sentinel, and Warden. Or, if they want to deal melee damage, they can choose souls for that: Justicar, Druid, and Shaman. Or maybe they want to be melee/healer hybrid, and choose a mix: Shaman, Sentinel, Justicar.
Initially, you can only pick three souls, but at level 13, you can acquire all of them through quests. There are so many different soul combinations available that each character can have up to four different "roles" (think dual-spec...times two!). Since there are so many different combinations, there is no real "cookie-cutter" build for each calling. And there's no need to level up a bunch of different alts either, as each calling can serve as a tank, healer, or damage dealer with the right combination of souls. The customization the Ascended Soul system offers is incredible, and is easily one of the best parts of the game.
The gameplay in Rift is what you'd expect in a MMO. You have your spells and abilities laid out on a hotbar, and you press the corresponding buttons to kill your enemies. There are multiple ways to level up in Rift, including quests, PvP, and instances. You can also level up by closing rifts, which are portals to the elemental planes which open randomly around the world. These events are kind of like public quests from Warhammer Online, where you join up with other players to complete certain objectives.
The first time you help close a rift is simply awesome. A giant portal opens in the sky, and enemies start pouring out of it, and it's pure chaos. The more you participate (dealing damage, healing others, etc.) in the rift event, the more you're rewarded. And if players just ignore a rift, enemies will continue to pour out, and will eventually overrun towns and quest hubs.
The problem with rifts is that there are only a few different scenarios for rift events in each zone. After you've closed about four or five rifts, they start to feel pretty repetitive. By the time you're almost finished a zone, you'll find it harder to go out of your way to help seal a rift, when you can just let other people do it instead.
The quests in Rift are enjoyable, and similar to that of any MMO. Fetch quests, killing X amount of enemies, escorting an NPC... all standard fair. Again, if you didn't enjoy questing in WoW, the quests in Rift probably won't hold your attention for long. However Trion did a good job of integrating storytelling into the questing experience. Little in-game cut scenes with voice-acted NPCs really help immerse the player into the experience. It took Blizzard two or three expansions to make their quests like this, and Trion accomplished it on day one, which is impressive.
For fans of PvP, Rift offers Warfronts, which are essentially the same as Battlegrounds in WoW. There are four different Warfronts available right now, and range in size between 10 and 20 players. The cool thing about Warfronts is that there are multiple ways to win them. For instance, in Port Scion, the Warfront for level 50 characters (the current level cap), players can either win by acquiring 1,000 points (by completing a number of different objectives), by killing the opposing team's high commander, or by acquiring the most points in 45 minutes. This keeps the games from lasting for several hours, like Alterac Valley did back when WoW first launched. PvP in Rift is really fun and fresh, especially because there are so many class combinations and no one really knows what they are doing yet.
The instances in Rift are incredibly well-made. The Realm of the Fae, for example, is the first dungeon that Guardian players will tackle at around level 17. The instance starts off in an enchanted forest filled with faeries and mythical beasts, and eventually, players make their way up a steep mountain where they run into blizzard-like conditions. The whole feeling of the dungeon is pretty epic and that's only the first one in the game! There's no looking-for-dungeon tool to help find a group like there is in WoW; however, since every class can fulfill every role, I haven't had any problems finding groups.
The graphical style in Rift is that of a realistic-fantasy world, kind of like Dragon Age. On high settings, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. The colors are vibrant, the environments are detailed, and the backdrops provide some pretty epic set pieces. The player models look great, and animate smoothly. And it's the little things that you really notice; like when you click on another player, your character's face will look at them and follow them. The soundtrack is also very well-done, and helps Rift create its own identity within the fantasy genre. And intense combat music starts up every time you start fighting an enemy, which is awesome. The only bad thing about the sound design is that some of the sound effects are bland. Hitting enemies with a hammer or mace weapon, for example, sounds tinny and just doesn't have the impactful sound that it should have.
In the end, Rift's success will ultimately be based on whether the end-game content that Trion provides is compelling enough to keep players coming back again and again. As of right now, it's too early to tell. However, based on what I've seen so far in Telara, I'm very optimistic. MMOs on launch are usually buggy, laggy, and not much fun, but Rift is already extremely polished and fun, and it will only get better. If you're looking for a new MMO, definitely check out Rift.