Review by Thirten85

"Rift: A shambling, motley mass of other games, fun, and originality."

TRION WORLDS is banking very hard on siphoning subscriptions and players from the massive beast that is World of Warcraft. From the "We're Not In Azeroth Anymore" ads that hearken back to the 16-bit console wars with their direct attacks and appeals to people's desires to be "cool", to the surface presentation and slick polish that permeates the early game, it's obvious that taking a bite out of WoW's numbers was an engineered business maneuver.

Thankfully for those of us who dutifully rush headlong into every MMORPG launch hoping to rekindle the dying embers of awe we once felt entering into the imaginative realms of games that promised substance, adventure, and socially driven progress, Trion had a few aces up its sleeves beyond the marketing and flash.

After a few hours in the newbie garden and early quest hubs, the WoW facade begins to slip and show clever engineering beyond what it outwardly appears to be, to the point where you may say to yourself, "Hey, wait a second, I'm not playing a WoW clone!", pleasantly surprised and excited at the possibilities the game has to offer.

The biggest draw factor that RIFT has is the amazingly customizable and deep "soul" system. When creating a character, you select a "calling", one of four, that will give you access to a set of heroic souls that are endlessly twisted together to create dazzling heroes with truly deep skillsets and customization.

To me, this class system should be followed by a resounding and audible forehead slap from every MMORPG developer company in the industry. Even though the callings themselves, by name, have a very long legacy of what they "ought" to be, they're anything but. Warriors can be master kiters and slingers of spells, clerics can be explosively offensive, rogues can sing your party to glory as support specialist powerhouse bards, with healing power to boot, and mages can befuddle, cripple, stun, and bedazzle entire parties of enemies without doing a single point of "DPS". That's not to say that the callings can't live up to their names either; they can. It's just that you're not locked into any one role by what you choose to start with, in fact, you're not locked into any 3 or 4 roles. For instance, if we were to say that the roles of an MMORPG are: tank, healer, melee dps, range dps, if the question is, "Can my calling be those?" the answer is "Yes, and many things BEYOND those roles".

For the longest time, group composition has been distilled down to 1 TANK, 1 HEALER, 3 DEEPS. If you weren't doing one of those roles to the highest degree, there was probably a deficiency in your group, but with Trion's clever class designs, and customization, it's possible to resurrect long dead aspects of party RPG composition, like support specialists, and crowd control specialists, that haven't been seen since the days of Everquest 1's protoplasmic MMORPG trailblazing.

In truth, I could fawn over the class system all day, it has to be experienced to be believed. My main character is a rogue, with the "Marksman", "Ranger", and "Saboteur" souls. I'm an amazingly brutal and efficient ranged DPS class with several tricks up my sleeve for escaping the big dumb hammer swinging warriors that wish to cave in my roguishly handsome skull because I put several arrows into their neck. I didn't get useful skills at level 50, I got them at level *1*, more skills than I could hotkey, and I use skills from each soul proportionately with how many points I've invested in them. So roughly 60% marksman skills, 30% ranger skills, and 10% saboteur skills, which come with an amazingly useful sticky bomb AOE to slow down wouldbe attackers.

That's just 3 souls from one calling, so the possibilities are endless and thus far are defying the idea of a "golden path" that boils every skill, talent, and ability down to what the 'best' combination thereof are, usually mathematically derived to the 4th decimal point.

Outside of the class system is the world of Telara, which is a world in peril. The ancient evil known as Regulos has arrived to consume the planet's life forms in whole. In the Defiant's starting storyline, you, as an engineered ascended being imbued with the souls of dead heroes, are sent back in time, ala The Terminator, to help your faction turn the war for survival for the better.

All over the land, rifts open and pour twisted horrors into the world. They attempt to destroy and control various hubs, towns, and cities. Rift events are plentiful, fast, and fun. With RIFT's easy "Public Group" system, you can jump into, out of, and merge parties as players come pouring out of the woodwork to defend against the rift monsters. The more you contribute, the better your rewards. The rewards vary from currency that can be used to purchase "Planar Gear" from vendors, to rift essences, that augment and improve your character.

These rift events are fun, and provide a nice distraction while handling the typical "Fetch me 5 boar intestines" quests, they also provide alternate paths to good gear, aside from questing, drops, crafts, and dungeons.

The crafting system is a bit TOO typical for my tastes. It's nice to be able to take three different professions, but most production professions can require two different gathers to perform at a self-sufficient level. There are trades that require one (outfitting) or no gathering (runecrafting), so there is a bit of imbalance in this area that hopefully a balanced economy can rectify.

I've also had heaping helpings of fun with RIFTs player vs player arenas. The first one you get access too, The Black Garden, is a tightly designed "kill the man with the ball" affair, that is just astoundingly fun. There are plenty of nooks and perches to please my sniper-esque soul, and my support abilities dovetail nicely with the "lets run away and keep holding the fang to score points" gameplay style of the zone. There is a player vs player currency for gear available with different factions, however, aside from being a bit heavier on endurance (health generating stat), the gear isn't massively different than regular gear. This is a step in the right direction, as WoW's fragmented PVE and PVP experience proves to be a frustrating mess when it comes to class and gear balances. Hopefully RIFT keeps everything happily married into one game.

RIFT also comes packed with optional content. You can explore the lore of Telara by collecting randomly spawned objects that complete book collections, artifact collections, et al, that can be turned into an artifact quartermaster for tokens that will purchase gear, companions, and other non-combat oriented flare that's sure to please completionists and gamers that are as concerned with the cuteness of their pets as they are their armor strength.

All of this comes packaged with a visually stunning game with a refreshingly realistic art direction that stands defiant amongst the more brightly colored and cartoonish-if-stylized creature hordes of other games in the genre. The undead in Telara are frightening and putrid, without a hint of style in their ghastly appearances. The fauna of the game are realistic, if you have any hint of arachnophobia, stay away from the spider quests. Trolls are ugly and malformed, their bodies warped in various ways to befit their statuses in the tribes. The game world architecture takes its cues from history more than imagination. Castles with crumbling curtain walls and true to life interiors are available to explore (if you can fend off the undead occupants). There's a subtle beauty to this direction that can't be understated. Dazzling constructs and fantasy themed vehicles aren't going to pop out of every corner to attempt to hammer home the fantastical nature of the world; Telara is a world of primarily human populaces with very human-esque motifs to their buildings and towns.

In the end, Trion has a very strong product with enough big innovations and improvements to the genre to be a serious contender for a long time. The development team is amazingly responsive to player criticism and complaints, and is willing to make changes, take chances, and play with the product to sharpen it to an even more fine an edge. With an amazingly strong launch, and "out of the box" product, as well as featureful patches coming down the pipe, this is a game worth your investment. Despite retreading some familiar ground, outside of the first few hours of the game is an experience with many paths yet to be made and trails to be blazed. I'm really excited about where this game is going to go.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/03/11

Game Release: Rift (Collector's Edition) (US, 03/01/11)

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