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Rift Beta 5

So in a move that even I consider a bit odd, I tried out Rift for a week during it’s Beat #5 event. I had first heard about the game when Penny Arcade and Steam started advertising it, and at that time I decided to go search for materials about it.  After my initial search I had this to say about it on Twitter.

I don’t understand #Rift. It looks like another wanna-be #WoW with only a few new ideas and poorer art direction. 2011′s Warhammer Online.

Now mind you, the whole time there was one feature about the game that really interested me – it’s “Soul Tree system.”  Eventually I read enough about it that I decided “You know, if I get a chance to play this for free, I’d like to see how that damn thing works,” and then there was a Beta Event this week, and Curse.com was handing out keys for free, so I got one and I played it.  It’s now over, and I thought I’d share my thoughts.

So how was the Soul Tree system?

Long story short, when you roll your character in Rift, you choose 1 of four classes:  Warrior, Rogue, Mage and Cleric.  Mages and Clerics use Mana, Rogues use energy and combo-points like in wow, and Warriors have a system reminiscent of Warhammer Online’s “Action Points,” with their own system called “Attack Points” on top of that, which is like combo points except the only go to 3 and stack on your character not on the target, so they can be used on any target, not just the one you hit with the attack point building skills.

However, all this class choice does is place a general archetype for your character (and role… sort of… more on that ahead).  The first thing you do as a new character is choose a “Soul” to take on.  You see, by choosing the class, you’re choosing what set of around 8 different souls you want to take on, and these souls, become your “talent trees,” so to speak.  By the time you leave the starting zone (in this beta, I guess others were different?) you had 3 souls, ergo, three talent trees, and had in a way invented a custom class.

For example, let’s say you roll a warrior and decide you want to go melee DPS.  You’d start with Champion, a soul that most strongly resembles Arms tree from WoW.  Then let’s say you pick up the Riftblade soul, which allows you to add some ranged magic and mage dot variation to your attacks.  Finally you pick up Beastmaster soul, to give you a pet who fights in melee with you.  Bam, you suddenly have a powerful solo farming questing build.

But what happens if you need to tank?  Well, there are quests you can undertake from the faction’s capital to add more roles (think dual spec except it goes up to 4 and you can start adding rolls at like level 10) and any class trainer can reset any of your roles for almost no money (reseting a role not only resets your points spent, but also lets you choose what 3 souls to have in it again).  So, you setup another role where you’re a tank, taking paladin (blocks and counters), Reaver (dots and threat), and VoidKnight (anti-magic defense).  Switching between them is pretty quick outside of combat.

The result?  Despite your initial choice, through proper use of the soul tree system you can be one of two, maybe more roles in a given situation, and the low cost of respec and the eventual ease of aquiring more souls just invites experimentation and play. Of course, I’m sure once the game comes out and there are top-tier Raiders, “the elitist jerks” of the world will figure out how to min-max everything and it will ultimately suffer from the same problem WoW’s talent trees do, but for the short bit I was in the beta, it felt like a fun and magical place to explore.

There’s another really neat thing I like about the Soul Tree system in that it brakes up the effects into “Branches” and “roots.”  essentially, the “Branches” are what we think of as a typical talent tree, but as you put points into a given soul, abilities unlock from the “Roots” regardless of where you spend the points. What’s great about this is it means that no matter how you build your Paladin soul, there are certain mission-critical skills you know you’ll get, and these skills are often chosen knowing that you may be relying heavily on this one soul to get the job done, so it has a nice variety of attacks you can use to keep yourself from being ineffective.

Overall Beta Impressions

Story

The game’s plot was… good.  Not mind shattering, and certainly not going to live up to the quality of WoW as of Lich King, let alone whatever Cataclysm is up to these days.  Still it is an interesting twist on the fantasy norm.  Due to the SHORT time the beta was active, I focused on playing the Defiant faction, so I have no idea how the Guardians play.  From what I hear, there are a lot fewer kids playing Guardian right now than Defiant.

The world of Telara is basically under attack by planar forces.  The gods have historically helped defend the world from planar invasions, one of their tools of which being resurrected heroes called “Ascended.”  However, for some reason the gods have failed to defend the world from the latest efforts of Regulous (the arch-villain)  and while some have remained faithful, others have sought to invent their own ways to defeat the evil without the gods help.  To that end, the Defiant have turned to Herecy and Technology to figure out how to defeat the rifts with their own power,  while the Guardians continue to channel the faith and laws of the Gods to try and stop the threat.  The two factions hate each other, ergo, your Alliance and Horde for this game.  There are six races to choose from, Guardians getting Elves, Dwarves, and European looking humans, while the Defiant get Kinda-Earthy-Looking-Big-Humans, Middle-eastern looking humans, and Corrupted-Elves-with-weird-skin-colors-and-face-markings.  I made one of the corrupted elves because I could easily make her resemble my NE Warrior Tanadel from WoW, though honestly, the races are so blaaahhhh you should just play one of the two humans IMO.

As a Defiant PC, you emerge from a tube from which the Defiant have successfully engineered their own Ascended using their technology.  The problem?  It took them until near the end of the world to figure out how to do it.  You have to get your ass to a time machine they call “The Failsafe” that will take you back to when it was built and try and save Telara from before Regulous succeeds.  The n00b zone is actually a fairly cool instanced off entire zone in which you were fighting your way through the invaders who would end the world to get to this failsafe.  It’s cool by vanilla WoW standards however, and lacks any of the nice touches of the DK start zones in WotLK or anything I’ve heard about from Cataclysm.   Still it was fun to play through.

Once through the time machine (about level 6) you begin defending the zone of Freemarch through a series of your typical suite of “Go there, kill X things, gather X things, or use this item on this object, and then come back to me” things.  I didn’t in my 15 levels of play see anything from the questing to suggest it’d be revolutionary, but it DID do a number of smart things that would make it far better than the questing in Aion or vanilla WoW. One example of this is if you show up while someone is killing a named mob, and you help kill it even if you’re not in their party, you might still get credit for it.  I say might because I ran into 1 quest where this wasn’t the case and it was annoying.  If the quest also involves activating an item and someone not in your party but very close to you activates it, you’ll also share credit.

Rifts

The part about the game’s PvE play that was fascinating however had nothing to do with Quests. The rifts, of the game’s namesake, add a level of chaos to the zones that can be interesting and quite lucrative. While you and our fellow players are out killing their X wolves/undead/whatever, a tear in the fabric of space and time may open over your heads and an invasion force from another plane might break through.  This immediately causes a structure much like Public Quests from WAR or Champions where the pug of people nearby need to complete various objectives to seal the rift again.  Sometimes they are minor rifts and this is easy to do and access to basically free loot.

Othertimes however, the forces of the other plane take their invasion VERY SERIOUSLY.  A ZONE WIDE public quest will start as around 20 rifts will open across the zone, spewing out elite mobs with the goal of finding, destroying, and occupying towns and quest hubs throughout it.  If the players don’t band together and stop them, their towns WILL fall and you WILL NOT be able to hand in your quests because your quest NPC WILL BE DEAD.  I got wrapped up in a massive Death Rift invasion and was defending one town for like an hour, as wave after wave of elite mobs tried to (and succeeded twice) to take it out. While we were doing that, other parties across the zone were finding rifts and sealing them, so that reinforcements couldn’t go through.  Finally, the lord of the assault appeared and the players had to destroy him to end the event, returning the zone to normal.  Though I died A LOT during this event, I gained nearly 2 levels and far better loot than I would have from questing and, quite frankly, it was a lot of fun fighting off the rift invasion.

I’m a little worried though that this rift mechanic may suffer from the same problem WAR did when it’s population dropped.  They better plan on scaling these Rifts to how many players are in the zone, otherwise this system could be VERY ANNOYING instead of anything resembling fun.

The Combat

The combat could be summed up really easily as “WoW with more options.”  Seriously, it’s very very obvious where the game’s designers got their inspiration for the souls and their abilities.  In my time playing I saw a “mortal strike,” and “execute,” and “overpower,” an “eviscerate,” a “slice and dice,” a “evasion”, you get the idea. A lot of mechanics are the exact same:  bodies aren’t solid, you must be facing your target to hit it, mobs come in normal, elite, and boss form, potions operate on a cooldown, there are various consumables you can use to augment a fight, etc etc etc. From a core gameplay standpoint I think Rift thinks that the more it’s like WoW the better, so that those who come from it will spend less time confused and more time just getting shit done.  Again the big different isn’t the skills themselves, but the synergies that you get to create by mixing them with skills from other souls.  I mean honestly, in Rift, you could make a Mage who is part Fire Mage spec, part Affliction Warlock spec, part Restro Druid spec.  I’m not kidding.

So if you like the Combat in WoW, you’ll like the combat in Rift.  The only wrinkle is I wasn’t able to find a “true Hybrid” class, though I didn’t play the Cleric Archetype at all during the beta.  It sounds like if I had I might have been able to find “a tough melee fighter with healing buttons,” build but I wanted to try and get to as high of a level as I could before the end so I could see PvP and dungeons and as it stands I didn’t make it.

The stuff I didn’t see

The game also has dungeons and pvp.  It has battlegrounds, its first dungeon is level 20, and it has mixed faction zones to encourage world PvP.  I didn’t get to see any of it, though what I heard from guild mates was that it was at least decent, if not very fun.  I heard one guy describe the first Rift dungeon as “Very linear, but also overall well designed.”

Oh yeah, and I found a guild to run around with during the beta.  This is why I’ve been on our vent less this week as they basically don’t use /gchat at all in favor of vent.  Decent group of guys, play all kinds of different games, haven’t decided if I want to roll with them or not.  If they played Guild Wars sure but they don’t really.

Final Verdict

Is Rift a fun game?  Yeah honestly I’d say it was.  Of all the WoW spin-offs I’ve played (Aion, WAR, Runes of Magic) this one definitely was the least frustrating and most polished and just felt nice to play.  It lacked Aion’s senseless grind and bad quest count and it lacked WAR’s unpolished graphics.  And while I stand by my previous statement that it has worse Art Direction than WoW, at least on the character model standpoint, the world design and special effect design is actually really good, and quickly starts making up for it.

Does it have enough going for it to make you play it instead of WoW?  Based off what I’m hearing from Cataclsym, I’d guess no. It’s not like the game isn’t going to have an upfront box cost plus a monthly fee, so if you’re in WoW keep playing it.  As for me, I’m not sure.  If Rift came out today, I wouldn’t buy it, because I still have more fun vanquishing Tyria or beating Guild Wars campaigns than I do playing Rift.  That being said who knows, after a while I might miss the game’s unpredictable nature with the Soul Trees and the Rift invasions.  I might also miss the guild I was rolling with because they were descent dudes overall.  I’ll probably try and do the next Beta event when it happens.

Rift is out in early March, for those who care.

6 Responses to “Rift Beta 5”

  1. avatar Paul Says:

    Should have asked more questions to the players and community. Sounds like you dove in headfirst and decided to draw your conclusion from that…which is great for you but really makes your opinion kinda hollow.

  2. avatar Vergil Says:

    First, thanks for the reply :)

    Second, I actually made an effort to be quite social during the beta. As I mentioned I joined a guild whose members are taking their entry into Rift very seriously. Even though I didn’t get to experience everything in the beta’s short time, I did make it a point to hear what I could. For example, I couldn’t make it to the first dungeon, but I asked a lot of people what they thought of it.

    As for diving in headfirst, that’s what most people are going to do when the game comes out, as they do with any video game MMO or not. If the game doesn’t do a good job of explaining itself up front it’s going to have problems. Frankly I think Rift did a good job of keeping things clear and simple, except that it’s hard to tell what will and what won’t be an effective soul build. That’s true of any talent-tree-esque system though, and the cheap respec made figuring that out yourself or through conversation fun instead of frustrating.

    If you feel there are any inaccuracies feel free to point them out.

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