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Rift's Compelling Case For Your MMO Allegiance

by Adam Biessener on May 07, 2011 at 10:39 AM

Why I’m happily grinding away in Telara while an army of Azerothian alts lays dormant:

I’m done with “massively singleplayer.”
The obnoxious overuse of phasing in Cataclysm’s 80-85 zones, along with a content development philosophy that seems to hold that no non-instanced content should require grouping, pushes World of Warcraft players into their own virtual spaces rather than encouraging them to work together. Seeing another character in the world is annoying more often than not, since the grand total of the impact you have on each other is almost always simply one of you having to wait for a quest objective to respawn. Want to pop over and help a buddy find a named monster? You very likely can’t see each other if you’re in a Cataclysm zone, since you have to be in questing lockstep to not get out of phase with one another. You can forget about duo leveling with a friend unless you maintain rigid discipline about only playing together.

Rift, on the other hand, does everything in its power to push players together into ad hoc groups. Everyone’s group is “public” by default, which means that anyone can join you with one click of a button on your portrait. Whatever I’m doing in Rift’s public zones – whether it’s questing or world PvP or fighting planar invasions – I’m as likely to end up in a group with any other Defiant players in the area as to fly solo. The system sounds vulnerable to griefing on paper, but I haven’t kicked a player out of a group in all my hundreds of hours with the game. I’ve got a friends list a mile long above and beyond my guild just from the natural interactions with other players in the world.
If I want to level up a character on my own, I’ll play a singleplayer game and chat with my friends over Steam. I play MMOs to save huge worlds from Internet dragons with players from all over the globe.

Rifts and Invasions are infinitely more compelling than instanced dungeons.
Let’s be real for a minute. WoW’s endgame consists of three things: instances (dungeons, battlegrounds, arenas), daily quests, and leveling alts. That’s fine until you get a taste of dynamic content. When was the last time you banded together with a bunch of players to stop a wave of enemies coming in to kill your questgivers and torch your towns? Hillsbrad in 2006 maybe, or in the wave of capital city sieges shortly after achievements were introduced in 2008. Rift delivers those experiences daily, and I don’t think I can ever go back.

Other MMOs have dynamic or player-driven content to various degrees, like Eve Online’s corporation wars or several other titles’ variations of openworld PvP design. Rift lets players have that experience when they want alongside all the conveniences of modern, postWoW MMORPG design. You won’t be stuck under a griefer’s thumb like you are all too likely to in many hardcore-focused PvP games, and Rift’s level of polish rivals Blizzard’s legendary attention to detail.

The incentives in Rift are sufficient to drive players toward participation for now, but keeping healthy populations around its dynamic events as the player base matures is one of the main challenges Rift faces. I’m loving it now, but if the levelcap invasion scene is dead by the time ArenaNet gets around to shipping Guild Wars 2, I may be writing another article like this sooner than later.

Rift lets me build a better hero.
If I want to tank Cataclysm dungeons or raids with my Death Knight, I have maybe three or four talent points I can move around without hurting my performance. I can pick entire new talent trees to complement my main soul with Rift’s innovative specialization system. So far, at least, I’ve been able to make interesting decisions about how I want to do my job (tanking, debuffing, ranged damage, melee damage, raid healing, tank healing, not getting crushed in PvP, etc.) without preventing me from being effective or viable.

For example, I can pair a healing soul with my damageoriented spellcasting soul to create a selfshielding, lifedraining multitarget grinding specialist. Alternatively, I can choose a soul that gives a nocooldown instant attack spell to reduce my reliance on timed casts for increased PvP mobility. A third build – still with the same primary soul – could supplement the spellcasting focus with a splash of tanking talents that provide trickle healing to the entire raid as I nuke the enemy. Because I’m still spending the majority of my points in the spellcasting tree, I’m able to handle basic damagedealing duties without a problem in any of these builds. And this is all based only on the Cleric’s Inquisitor soul. I haven’t touched on more balanced builds that spread significant investment over multiple trees, or the other three archetypes and dozens of different souls that offer radically different capabilities.

You can counter with the argument that competent players can crush WoW’s leveling dungeons without spending talent points anywhere, much less with optimized builds. So what? Rift gives players real choices about how they want their character to develop and play. I used to be jealous of the ability of a WoW druid to change her role from spell damage to healing to tanking or melee damage with a simple respec. After playing Rift, the WoW druid looks like an unfinished, crippled class.

Moving from Cataclysm to Rift isn’t like going back in time.
Every time I’ve dived into a different game after a stint with World of Warcraft, the experience has been gutted by a constant litany of the little annoyances that WoW’s years of polish have ground away. From trivial things like a counterintuitive mechanism for splitting stacks of items in your inventory to weird presentation issues like animations not syncing properly with abilities, I could never shake the feeling that I was playing an inferior, B-quality game. This kind of problem never matters much over the course of at most a few dozen hours with a singleplayer game, and is only mildly irritating in the hundreds of hours that I tend to pour into a strategy title I take a shine to. In an MMO, where you’re spending weeks of real time ingame, these rough edges add up – especially for a game constantly being compared to a Blizzard title.

Rift doesn’t have this problem. For the first time, another developer has matched (if not beaten quite yet) Blizzard in that company’s area of strength. The fact that Rift’s launch made World of Warcraft’s look like Anarchy Online from a technical perspective by comparison doesn’t hurt, either.

For now, Rift has my attention.
I don’t mean this article to be an attack on Blizzard or World of Warcraft, as negative as I’ve been about Cataclysm at points. My time with Cataclysm was wonderful, but it’s over. I’m hopeful that Rift will deliver above and beyond the excellent leveling experience. If not, though, there are several projects on the horizon – including Blizzard’s own mysterious Titan – waiting to seduce me away should Trion falter.