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Preview | Rift

A Rift in the matrix?

Format: PC | Genre: MMORPG | Publisher: Trion Worlds | Developer: Trion Worlds | ETA: 04/03/2011

Sinan Kubba contemplates giving up his social life in favour of RIFT.

SO RIFT is now in full flow on the back of a strong beta phase, the reassuring news of a million accounts already registered, and a relatively smooth launch – minus a bit of server queuing here and there.

Last week at a London press event, representatives from developer Trion Worlds gave off an air of confident nervousness ahead of the launch. That may sound oxymoronic but it’s totally understandable.

Trion Worlds may be releasing their first MMO, but their 200 or so employees boast some of the most experienced people in their field, Across various individuals you probably have a collective that has worked on every major MMO since Ultima. So while lying ahead is the daunting task of ensuring the smooth launch of a game in such a competitive, risk-heavy genre, the Trion team is quietly confident.

A new ruler?

So far the confidence appears to be justified. People seem to be enjoying themselves in Rift’s dense world of Telera, some loudly singing the game’s praises in chat. It’s early days yet, of course, and there are many more obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest may be to really demonstrate to outside players what separates Rift from other major MMOs, and in particular World of Warcraft. At a glance the former is very reminiscent of what is the undisputed leader of the pack.

Many of the same memes run through opening areas. Big things like armour, vendors, interface, quests, basic consumables and trade skills all seem like paraphrases of the equivalent in Blizzard’s game. European Community Lead at Trion Worlds, Sebastian Streiffert, explained to me why this design is quite deliberate and how playing the game soon reveals its unique nature.

“Well, if you have played MMOs before, what you’ll see in Rift is very familiar because we’ve taken a lot of the good things about MMOs and applying them, putting them in there, so you have the basic structure. But then, to make it very fresh, you have the class system, the dynamic content, the lush new graphics – I’m sure you’ve seen some of the real cool-looking areas today – but yes, it’s one thing to say we have these unique features, but it’s another thing when you actually try the game, get in there, and realize it’s freaking awesome. The rifts – that’s how I got my learning with the game.”

Sebastian is referring to the rift invasions, which are in many ways the game’s unique selling point. These are randomly spawning tears in the world from which all kinds of monsters invade to try to set up footholds to take up further attacks from. They are often tied in to larger world quests affecting the entire zone you’re in.

War of the Rift

I’ve stumbled into a few on my early travels and, with the opening areas dense with characters, I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of players pile in on monsters to try to frag em up in the allotted time. Certainly based on first impressions, the rifts and subsequent foothold invasions are a whole lot of fun, often on a very large scale, and Trion’s drum-beating description of them as dynamic appears quite fair. When you see a horde of enemies come straight for where you are while you’re quietly trying to hand in a quest, it’s unsettling at first, and underlines the potential impact they can have. Will Cook, lead designer of the rift events, explained some of the process that went into them:

“We have a big old list of things we’d like to do, and even I have a ton of things that would be crazy in any game, let alone an MMO. Half of those ideas though seem to have made it in the game anyway, I mean I never thought they’d get in there. I never thought we’d get [rift] invasions on the road, taking over quest hubs… that sounds like suicide. You never stop a player from leveling and questing. That’s dumb! That is a rule: never put bad guys on the road. What we realised, though was [if we] put bad guys on the road in the right spot, players don’t always have to defeat that challenge, they can just dive off the road. It’s like the Hobbits from The Lord of the Rings when they’re being chased by the Nazgul. It’s an incredible experience. These are crazy ideas that no one thought would work, but we’re actually getting a lot out of them.”

The underlying feel I get from Trion Worlds and from my early time with Rift is that the developer is not that fussed about enticing new players to their game… which makes sense, really. The MMO audience may be continually expanding, but Rift is nothing like the new breed of MMOs such as DC Universe Online and The Old Republic. It shares its lineage with traditional thoroughbreds like Ultima, Everquest, and of course World of Warcraft. In many ways, large and subtle, it’s trying to one-up them – to be a WoW 2.

Continues…

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