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Platform

PC

 

Genre

MMO

 

Publisher

Trion Worlds

 

Developer

Trion Worlds

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

March 1, 2011

 

 

- Lush and engaging visuals
- Musical score is well played and excellently employed
- Incredibly flexible character development options
- Highly detailed and engrossing world

 

 

- Gear switching not nearly as easy as build switching
- First world event finale less than optimally concluded

 

 

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Rift

Score: 9.0 / 10

 

rift          rift

 

The great white whale of the MMO space over the last few years has been the fabled “WoW-killer.” Many have come right out of the gate claiming to be the mythic beast, yet failed to deliver and have since passed into obscurity. Others have coyly danced around it, never openly proclaiming themselves the long anticipated slayer of the Blizzard juggernaut, but often insinuating as much, and their efforts usually come to naught. Several MMOs have wisely said they’re not out to kill WoW and just focus on delivering a high quality MMO experience. Rift: Planes of Telara falls squarely into this third category. What’s more, they deliver such a high quality

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experience that they perhaps come closer to being a WoW-killer than any MMO to date.

When you examine the visuals for Rift, you come away feeling very impressed. The art team clearly wanted to make the environments that the players move through feel like an actual environment as opposed to simply a zone. Forests feel like actual forests instead of just collections of trees

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scattered about here and there. Desert canyons feel arid and wind scoured. Even in dungeon design, one feels the difference between a tomb and a mine, however little some players might believe the difference to be. Even the rift events that occur in each zone don’t just hold an elemental theme but give the impression of an alien reality trying to superimpose itself, however briefly, onto the rest of the world.


The game’s visual effects have, for lack of better description, a sense of proportion and scale to them. The rifts that form can be seen across a long distance given the right vantage point, indicating their comparatively small size geographically yet also indicating how even a pinprick hole in reality can dwarf the inhabitants of that reality. Mages hurling fire and lightning certainly give off a visual “tell” about the nature of their magic, but wildly over-the-top special effects are not what Rift employs. It’s not a restraint in the effects department so much as the power of suggestion, the idea that mages are brushing only the barest surface of the awesome forces that fuel their spells, conveyed by less obvious eye catching but still highly detailed effects. The end result seems to help with the immersion in the game world. Rather than showing you a bunch of eye candy, the effects help give a sense of authenticity and realism to the characters. There is virtually nothing for me to find fault with on the visual elements of this game.

 

rift          rift

 

The attention to detail is carried over in the character design and factional art elements. Trion’s artists deliberately chose to have the two character factions embody light and dark, a red team/blue team aesthetic that goes down even to the PvP quest icon indicators. Guardian characters have a clean cut, almost holy, look to them. Meanwhile, Defiant characters are darker, rougher, almost grim in their general feel. Even among notionally similar beings like humans and elves, the factional differences are striking.

I really wish I had a physical copy of the soundtrack to Rift. The musical score is one that follows that same sort of ethos as the visuals. The score doesn’t overwhelm us with great orchestral arrangements, using spare refrains and subtle melodies for the most part to draw the player deeper into the setting and the world with more urgent percussive tunes used for the rift events and for general combat. Sound effects are a treat for the ears. Again, they’re not out to blast your eardrums into oblivion. They’re played completely in service to the game world, accentuating, not trying to steal the spotlight. The voice acting done throughout the game is quite good, and the cast should be commended for bring the heroes and villains of Telara to life. When you want to personally fire off a withering quip in response to the maniacal villain’s latest exhortations, you know that the voice actor has done a great job.

How well does Rift distinguish itself from the rest of the MMO crowd in terms of gameplay? It certainly has a lot of the tropes found in most MMOs, for good or ill. FedEx quests, escort quests, body count quests, assassination quests, in terms of quest design there’s not a whole lot of new ground being broken. Questing is still important, however, as the story elements which Trion has clearly invested a great deal of time and effort into are brought forth. I particularly enjoy the decision to make a distinction between the smaller story arcs found in each region and the “epic” quest line for each faction that runs from the starting areas all the way to the endgame content. It gives almost a literary feel to what would be otherwise dull errands in each zone.

 

rift          rift

 

Probably the greatest strength and the neatest innovations within Rift are found in the character progressions. Both factions have the same four general paths of Warrior, Cleric, Rogue, and Mage. Each path has the same eight specializations regardless of faction, with a ninth one exclusively for PvP play. Yet the strength of the system comes from the diversity of character builds available. Play styles now actually matter. Hard choices now have to be made. Do you spread your points over three souls, creating a sort of Swiss Army knife of a character who can handle most general questing duties pretty well? Or do you create a single soul build, filling up every possible power and ability, the ultimate specialist? Luckily for players, Trion clearly realizes that people are not only going to want to experiment but have various builds handy so they can shift from a general PvE build to a specialized PvP build or dungeon/raid build. Players will have the opportunity for four different “role” builds on each character, so the theorycrafters will have plenty of room to play around. The one hitch that I’ve been able to detect with the system as it exists now is that while the skills and power sets are easily changed, players will need to carry their alternative build gear with them rather than being able to switch out gear sets with the same ease found in WoW.

Trion doesn’t seem to have skimped on trying to tell a sweeping epic of a story. Rather than the somewhat disjointed and stumbling storylines found in WoW, players make their way through a world that is balanced upon the knife’s edge. The tutorial areas get the story started nicely and also neatly describe the mutual antipathy between the two factions even as a much larger threat looms over them. Neither side is inherently good or evil, though each is quick to claim the former for themselves and ascribe the latter to their opponent. The Guardian faction claims divine blessings for their powers and their mission, which definitely gives a sense of holy zeal to their NPCs and their quests. Their tutorial zone puts players at “the beginning of the end,” the first emergence of the overarching threat of planar invasion by Regulos that will doom the world of Telara, ultimately sending players forward in time to re-engage the threat. Meanwhile, the Defiant faction has their tutorial during the last dying moments of Telara’s existence, their fusion of magic and technology fighting a losing battle against the endless hordes of Regulos and his minions, eventually sending players back in time at the end to change the past and prevent the end of the world. The two perspectives are definitely worth rolling up toons on both factions just to watch how their storylines unfold. Trion recently finished their first “world event” and while it was enjoyable at the start, it was the finish that irritated a lot of players, particularly with long login queues and only a very short window of time to try and experience the final stages of the event. It was a rookie mistake, but Trion seems to be listening to their player base and have made at least some amends. I’m certainly looking forward to the next event they put out.

For anybody who has thoroughly burned themselves out on WoW or the MMO of their choice, Rift offers a new opportunity to explore a fantasy world that has a far different feel than Azeroth. There is a greater feeling of choice in character progression, a more intricate and detailed background, and a deeper sense of immersion in the world. It may not be a WoW-killer, but it certainly gives the Blizzard juggernaut serious competition.

 

- Axel Cushing

(May, 4, 2011)

 

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