When you first start up Rift, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've seen this game before. With the art style, the interface, and the basic structure, you see the influence of World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online all over this massively multiplayer online game. (And of course, those games dripped with the influence of earlier games, like Everquest and Asheron's Call.) Its derivative nature was the first thing I noticed about Rift, and when you see screens and gameplay clips, it might be the first thing you notice too. The good news is that Rift is more than just a clone. I've been playing it for a week, and the game has absolutely grown on me. I am still a week or two from delivering a full review, but I wanted to share some thoughts and invite those of you who have entered the world of Telara to share your own as well.
I think it should be said straightaway, however, that in an age when few online role-playing games feel complete upon release, Rift is one of the most slick and refined MMOGs I have ever played during the launch window. I fondly remember the mostly trouble-free launches of Dark Age of Camelot, Earth & Beyond, and Asheron's Call 2, but even then, few games of this ilk feel like they have everything they need from the beginning. Final Fantasy XIV was missing an auction house and quick travel (among many, many other things); Champions Online and Age of Conan had noticeable content gaps; and Star Wars Galaxies lacked vehicles and mounts. Rift has had a few short downtimes for hot fixes, and I have run into login queues here and there, but otherwise, it is a working, attractive, playable game out of the box. All of the basic features you need in an MMOG are here from the get-go, without having to trust in a patch that may or may not come. Of course, patches and fixes will come; they always do in such games. But Rift isn't a shell, meant to have mechanics bolted on at a later date. It's a fully featured MMOG waiting for you to play it.
And if you are already playing it, I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am right now. There's a certain amount of chaos when you begin. Rift throws a lot of lore at you at once, without much of an introduction. The tutorial gets you up to speed well enough: You are an "Ascended," resurrected and sent back in time to fight the forces of the evil Regulos and halt the apocalypse before it occurs. Quest givers throw a lot of backstory at you, but it's all a bit scattered, like being dropped into the middle of the third installment of a fantasy trilogy. The confusion is compounded once you start looting items and earning different currencies, unsure of how to use some object or another or where this or that currency might be usable. But once the game allows you a moment to breathe, you can get up to speed with the intricacies and start enjoying what makes this game uniquely "Rift," and not "just another fantasy game."
Rifts and invasions are key to setting Rift apart. Everywhere you go, portals from other dimensions open into Telara from which nasty demons pour out. These events seem to happen almost anywhere and everywhere. One of the most memorable moments I have ever had in an MMOG was the first time such a rift opened right on top of me. The sky darkened, purple gunk erupted from the ground, and nasties appeared in flashes of blinding light. Nearby players converged on my location, and we defeated these demonspawn, the game automatically inviting everyone to join a raid group. You might think of rifts like Warhammer Online's public quests, except that rather than having to go to the quest location, the quest location comes to you. Marauding creatures parade down streets toward villages, and you might join a throng of other players as they pass, hunting down these monsters to halt the invasion. Rifts lend welcome unpredictability to a genre sorely needing it.
The other aspect of Rift that sets it apart is its class flexibility. You choose a main class to start with, but within it, you equip three souls. Souls are essentially subclasses, and when you level up, you spend skill points in any of the three. This improves skills you have earned and allows you to learn new ones. It also lets you mix and match to make your own class, though some classes are better fits than others. (After all, no one wants to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.) You aren't stuck with the same three souls for the duration, however; instead, you earn more as you complete quests. My current mage is a necromancer/warlock/dominator, which I enjoy not just because it is a pet class, but also because I can do ranged DPS (that is, damage per second). I can also help with crowd control by, for example, turning enemies into squirrels. (This is incredibly helpful in player-versus-player matches.) But in time, I might swap in other souls to see how I fare as a pyromancer or summon the power of wind and rain as a stormcaller.
Of course, these mechanics are wrapped into a by-the-book, quest-focused RPG. But they go a long way toward making Rift feel truly fresh--a big surprise if you judge this book by its admittedly derivative cover. I need to spend more time exploring this world, clearing dungeons, and closing rifts before I can deliver a more definitive word. But I offer a strong preliminary recommendation for now; not just because Rift makes a few nifty changes to an aging formula, but also because it does so in an elegant package that looks great and runs beautifully.