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Rift could very well be the first major attempt to disrupt World of Warcraft's dominance. My DarkZero Review.

From first sight of Rift's marketing campaign – 'We're Not in Azeroth Anymore' – it's clear that Trion Worlds are aiming Rift directly at the World of Warcraft fan-base. In fact, a quick glance at some of Rift's screenshots might leave you with the impression that it's just a shiny clone of Blizzards phenomenally popular MMO. And while that may sound like a death wish on Trion's part, they're packing a pretty mean punch with Rift. Rift is probably one of the only MMORPGs to release as such a solid and polished product.

Rift's plot revolves around Regulos, a dragon god from the Plane of Death. He seeks the destruction of Telara after having his body banished in a war from some time before. Creating rifts throughout the land of Telara has helped Regulos almost completely wipe out the planet. The only things stopping him are the two factions called the Guardians and the Defiants. As an Ascended you start in a world that's broken, destroyed and on its last legs. It's your job to go back in time and save the impending doom of Telara, no matter what faction you select.

This is the first decision you need to make when you create your character in Rift. The two factions featured can't be simplified as the good side or evil side. Instead the developers have given them different viewpoints of the world. The Guardians are the side that follow the way of the Vigil, worshippers of the gods of Telara. Guardians hope their prayers lead to help in defending against the troublesome invasion by Regulos. Defiants on the other hand don't believe in any gods, instead trusting their knowledge of technology and science to help prepare for war.

On your first visit to the character creation you'll notice that each faction has three races with their own characteristics, looks, abilities and background story. These classes, called 'Callings,' are the barebones to setting up your character's abilities. The real deal with Rift's classes comes in the form of the Ascended soul-tree system. The four Calling classes (Warrior, Mage, Cleric and Rogue) act as the backbones to the eight different types of souls the class can have. Each calling has its own unique soul trees to master, adding to numerous customizations of your character. You can see what is available by checking out the official description (http://www.riftgame.com/en/classes/).

By the end of the tutorial level you'll have selected three of the eight soul classes available for your Calling. For example, I decided to use the Mage Calling as my backbone, giving me access to different types of magic based soul trees. The game gladly helps you by saying which souls work best together, but there's no harm for MMORPG experts to explore freely themselves. The game doesn't give you enough points to max out all the soul trees, instead you'll have to use your initiative to set up how you want your character to act as, such as a Healer, Range DPS, Tank, etc. It's a challenge because if you aren't careful you can mess up your character's capability to be useful, but a nice talk to your specific Calling trainer will allow you to reset your skill points.

Developers at Trion Worlds have also taken into account players who want to have multiple layouts of their souls. Players are allowed to purchase additional specification slots allowing them to have different soul tree layouts to switch between on the battlefield. This is helpful if you want to change dedicated soul types, without having to rebuild your soul tree every time you want to swap.

And so it seems that Rift is slowly starting to show some differences between itself and WoW. One other major feature to set it apart from Blizzard's game is the random Player vs. Environment (PvE) events that happen across the game's locations. You'll be happily running along and then BAM! A giant rift opens up in the sky and tentacles come out, and the ground becomes twisted as waves of enemies poor out to attack. If anyone is local, then the simple click of a button allows them to join a public party to take on the challenge that the rift carries. It's worth doing these as if you beat the rift, you'll be rewarded with some goodies to loot with the group.

These happen often and are plotted around multiple locations on the map, so you always end up being quite close to one. This is truer when an invasion happens and numerous rifts open at the same time. Invasions are a more extreme version of rifts as they come with bigger tasks to complete than simply closing the rift. You'll be alerted by a loud calling horn to let you know an invasion is starting.

Rifts really do add a change of pace to the typical flow of an MMORPG. If people ignore the rifts then after a while enemies begin to overrun towns and locations, almost acting as if the CPU wants to play some Player vs. Player action against your faction. It's also a neat little way to form parties with random people, since after closing the rift the party remains together until the players opt to leave.

This is everything that Rift has to offer… that's new to the genre anyway. Everything else featured will be familiar if you have played any MMORPG over the past few years. This isn't a crack at Rift however, as what it does take from everything else it does it well; sometimes even better than the competition.

For example, Rift features refined dungeon designs that have multiple pathways, interesting puzzle/quest elements and an Expert mode that extends the length of the dungeon with additional areas and new harder bosses. The only downfall about experiencing these dungeons is actually trying to get a group going. There's no dungeon finder implemented, so instead you have to spam the chat hub advertising for members or wait outside the dungeon with the "/sit" command twiddling your thumbs.

If something was to bring Rift down a bit, it's the crafting system. A character can have up to three different professions. It feels fairly average as all you do is simply gather materials and then return to a crafting area to build the item. There are crystals that you can implement to change the stats, but that's about the most interaction you are going to get with crafting. What I did notice is that there are plenty of items to collect. For example there are different types of rocks that are acquired by beating the rifts, these are used for buying rarer items.

Lastly the Player vs. Player (PvP) is also quite standard. Called "Warfronts" this instance PvP battleground allows you to fight players from other servers. At the moment there are two types of gameplay styles, a control point based mode and capture the flag. A lot of the end game stuff seems to be aimed at beating the expert version of the game's ten dungeons, as these are all made for people who have their characters at the max level of fifty.

Whilst looking beautiful by MMO standards, the game itself doesn't require a beast of a PC to run. It's very friendly for old PCs and is only demanding if you want to go pass the "Ultra" graphics setting. Doing this on a Intel Q9950 Quad Core with 4GB DDR3 ram and a ATI 4870×2 graphics card led to a frame rate of between 25-35 frames per second at 1920×1200 resolution. But the only difference between Ultra and maxing it out in custom settings is the draw distance, shadow quality and particle effects. So if you want to get smooth frame rates while doing that at a high resolution then you're going to need a brand new graphics card.

MMORPGs are a hard genre to review since they live and die by the players and how much the developer keeps supplying new content to the game. I can easily say that if reviewing them was based on how well they are polished at release, then Rift takes the crown as the best MMORPG available. Right now it seems that Rift is getting the additional content and improvements needed to give it some staying power in the market.

If Trion Worlds keeps on the ball we might have the first game to have a really good stab at taking some of Blizzard's customers. For fans of WoW, Rift is a familiar yet refreshing new adventure, and Telara welcomes anyone even a little fed up with Azeroth.

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