Now I famously (lol, right) once compared the FPS gaming scene to a gay porno, in that everyone is looking for the next big thing. If that’s the case then the MMO community at the moment is like a Hiker who just climbed Mount Everest – you know its massive, you know it’s there, you know you’ve done it, but it’s probably time for something new.
Mount Everest, of course, being World of Warcraft. I would write something about the millions of fans and dozens of broken game records, not to mention the billions of dollars of revenue but you have heard it all before. World of Warcraft is huge. World of Warcraft is addictive. World of Warcraft killed my father and raped my mother… etc.
So back to the metaphor, people are looking for other mountains to climb so to speak. And one of those that is looking more and more attractive by the day is Rift by Trion Worlds.
Rift is a fantasy MMO taking place in a world plagued by planar rifts. These elemental tears in the fabric of existence can appear almost anywhere, and involve a mini-game or gauntlet style series of criteria to complete (mostly killing certain creatures) to close them once more. This is particularly necessary when one opens on top of the person you were doing a quest for, making them despawn until you clear that rift. There are two teams, the Defiant and the Guardians, who vie for control of the greater world around you – but we’ve heard this story before.
Rift is very similar to WoW in almost every way. The interface is borderline identical and commands and chat colours actually are completely duplicated. I picked up the game and, being a long term WoW player, could play it instantly – I didn’t even bother checking the controls or reading the tips. It almost reminded me of Bioshock: Infinite, a game that's trying to go a different direction using a very familiar engine and design (the core difference being Trion and Blizzard aren’t the same company, so these projects are supposedly unrelated).
But if you get that little “WOW CLONE, ZOMG WOW CLONE” voice out of your head (and out of any of the games chat channels, good luck with that) you might just settle down to a game which improves on WoW in a number of ways. Firstly, it looks amazing. The first time I came upon a flame rift in the sky above me (which looks something like an upside down volcano in the sky) my jaw dropped. Secondly, it’s customisability is without compare. Instead of a traditional class system, with 3 talent trees per class, Rift offers each of their 4 base classes (Warrior, Rogue, Mage, Cleric) a total of 9 talent trees of which you can select the 3 that interest you the most. For example, I was playing a Rogue but managed to pick up a Hunter-style talent tree, Arrow skills and a pet, along with a dagger/fireball talent tree, so I had some melee and a few more ranged spells, and what was actually a Tank spec (A threat building and survival talent tree) which allowed me to teleport.
Teleporting archer who shoots fireballs and rocks around with a warthog called Snuffles? Bad ass.
What separates Rift from other so-called WoW killers (by the way, there is no such thing) is a handful of little details which I didn’t even know I wanted until I had them. Things like coordinates built in on the map for quests or objectives (not to mention people being able to link you coordinates, no more searches for that rare spawn), automated grouping by proximity for local events (for example, you stand near a Rift you get a prompt to join the group of anyone else who is near it) and portals between towns (no more long flights) which just make playing the game easier and less time consuming.
At the end of the day, Rift will probably never be able to beat WoW when it comes to numbers.
What it can do is offer an alternative to WoW which is familiar and yet, hopefully, different enough to keep you engaged.