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6:44pm on Wednesday, 30th March, 2011:

Suze Vega


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to play the new MMO Rift, and people keep asking me what I think of it. I guess I could wait until I get to level 50 before I comment, but I don't think I'll be there for long so I'll comment now (my cleric, Hardric, is currently level 42 or so — I'd check, but there's a 448.7M patch download going on at the moment).

Well, it certainly has the WoW factor.

It started off looking and feeling like EverQuest 2, but then rapidly turned into World of Warcraft; specifically, it felt a lot like WoW's Cataclysm expansion in the way that the quests are all neatly lined up with very little opportunity for divergence and few side quests. The rifts add a little spice to it, except when they're on top of the place you want to hand your quests in at and you have to beat your way through three of waves of bad guys before you can pick up the next link in the chain. The character classes are more configurable than WoW's, which I approve of in principle except it looks as if they can direct you the wrong way at lower levels so you end up taking skills you didn't really want in order to acquire ones you need for survivability. I don't suppose the closeness of mobiles to one another is going to prove popular in the long term, either: you can start fighting one and then another shows up, then another, then another, until what should be a single fight turns into a grinding battle against five serial opponents, four of whom walked past individually while you were fighting one or two of the others.

Crafting is OK, but needs a little more balancing so that the resources you need are found in the zones you're playing. It may just be the server I'm on, but at the moment there isn't much for sale in the auction house so if your potion-making needs plants from 10 levels below the zone you're in, you can't get them without going back and looking for them. Characters go up levels faster than they can acquire the reagents they need to keep their crafting skills in line. That said, my runecrafting (enchanting) is doing well, primarily from buying up people's useless crafted armour and weapons and smashing them up into reagents I can use to make into runes. Then I junk the runes, because at any point only two are guaranteed to increase your rune-making skill and the chances are neither one is of any use to you or anyone else and will languish unsold on the auction house for as long as you care to leave it up for sale.

As I said when I blogged about signing up, though, I wasn't playing it for the levelling content, I was aiming to see what the high-level content was going to be like. This is because the executive producer of the game is Scott Hartsman, whom I've known for many years, and whose ideas about end-game content I really like (we discussed Karazhan before it came out and concluded it was going to be the guild-breaker it eventually turned out to be). Of course, this would only work if Scott was doing some design work; as an executive producer he might not be. I'd have asked, but that would have taken away the fun of finding out.

The signs were good in the training levels, but the more I played the more I sensed that Scott's involvement was more on the production side. Then, when I got to Duskwood Gloamwood, it was confirmed: the portal manager there was called Suze Vega, as in Suzanne Vega, the singer. Whoever named that character ... well, I'm not going to insult them, but it was with this that I knew Scott wasn't overseeing design. That means the endgame is basically going to be WoW-like, probably with rifts folded in. Bah!

Where Scott is showing his influence is in Rift's responsiveness to its players, which is excellent. You really get the impression that Trion cares. Other MMO developers care, too, of course (CCP for example), but with Rift it's the sheer speed of response that impresses. It's in good hands.

Good hands isn't why I was playing, though, so I'm going to work my character up to level 50 just to be able to say I've done so, then delete him and quit. For people who like the WoW levelling game, Rift is a fresh diversion and I wish it well. For designers, though, well it has its moments but it feels more like a WoW expansion than a stand-alone world.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).