Hey everyone, this is John Hall, also known as Blatherbeard as well as a few other names in the gaming community! I have been given the chance to play Rift: Planes of Telara. This is a fantasy MMO that takes place on Mathosia. The main premise is that you were either brought back from death by the Gods as a Guardian to fight the dragons that are trying to rip your world apart, or you are part of the Defiants who are using their machines to combat the same deadly, world tearing, menace! Yet someonehow, both sides still want to kill each other as well. How do i think this game stacks up? Well read on and find out!
First Things First
If you’re going to try and invent a world with new and exciting characters, then why are we going with the same races over and over again? High elves, Dwarves and Mathosians( not humans,even though…well they are humans, just from Mathosia. Get it?). That’s on the Guardian side. On the Defiant side we have Eth, Kelari, and Bahmi. Ok, so we still have humans and elves…well, dark elves in this case. At least the Bahmi are a bit of an offshoot, albeit, just a large human with a blue tinge to the skin. They are almost giant-esque…without the ugliness. Each race has two to three racial abilities, tied to an element type. (Water, etc.) Now as this beta is only a week long, I’m not sure it will make a difference with the element type but i would imagine that it will play a part in combat, somehow. Otherwise, it’s just flair for your character. (Which isn’t all bad. If games had more flair, they’d be more interesting nowadays).
A Word About Graphics
I will give this game a thumbs up in the graphics department…but only if you have the PC to run them on Ultra or High. Anything else is pretty enough, but you miss A LOT. I turned my settings down in the starter area just to see some of the differences, and they are HUGE. Now it’s not ugly by any means with the settings on low (and you do get a higher FPS obviously), but there is a lot of flair and style to be missed on settings other than High. An example of this is on medium or low, you’re in the middle of a war, but the buildings dont really look much different than standard, run-down buildings. On HIGH or Ultra however, those buildings take on a whole new life. Walls are more torn apart, houses are on fire, you’re being bombarded by huge fireballs constantly, and so on? So for you PC savvy people out there, I’ll post my specs. They are not the greatest, but I can play this game on near high settings, so I am able to get a good look at graphics, but not the best they can be.
ATi HD4850 1Gig Video Card, Intel Pentium Dual-Core Processor E6600 3.06GHz 1066MHz 2MB Cache, 550W PSU, 2 Gig of Ram on Windows Vista.
My PC is also set up so that it dedicates .5 gig of ram to video, so needless to saym this is not a machine that runs new games on Ultra, but it’s not a slouch either. I also run Gamebooster, which shuts down programs you don’t need, but if you’re reading this you probably know what it is already.
I’ve been involved in many beta and alpha tests over the years – some good, some not so good, and some god awful. Most of the ones I have been a part of don’t have a large selection of options regarding what your character looks like, and unfortunately this game is no exception. The head and facial choices are far better than some MMOs, but the body, surprisingly has far less. As a matter of fact, there is only one. You can adjust the height of your character – that’s it. Now on the face, you have a several options but since you will most likely be too busy questing to even look at your character for the most part, this isn’t a big deal in the long run. (I have to say that I’ll be looking at your character though., I’m weird like that. I also read quest text.) But I digress.
The facial features are actually quite broad. You have over ten choices on eyebrows, nose, eye positioning, mouth, hair, facial hair and markings (a range of tattoos you can have on your face.) You can also morph your face with a little tool they give you in the upper left hand box, over your character, which I thought was pretty nifty. You also have a plethora of choices for hair color, secondary highlights in your hair, and eye color, not that you can see the eyes very easily. Overall, I like the character customization, but they could have added a few more things like earrings, or the ability to morph your body a bit more. But thats just flair, and really, who wants that in an MMO…..
Races and Factions
Ok, I know I went over this in the beginning, but that was just a basic rant on races in this game. Here is an overview of them and the factions they belong to.
First up – the Guardians.
Mathosians – a race that resembles humans! They get three racial abilities: a combat, a heal and a resistance.
High Elves – are well…elves. They also get three racial abilities: a combat, a heal, and a resistance.
Dwarves- I think you know them. They get three racial abilities: a combat, a heal…..and a what? You guessed it! A resistance.
Now I know that all sounds the same, but on further scruitiny, they are very different. The Mathosians combat ability directly raises damage, where the High Elves combat ability enhances their mana regeneration and the Dwarves get a bonus to their endurance. They are all resistant to different things (death, life and water respectively) and their healing powers are very different from each other. Mathosians heal in combat half of the hits they take for 30 secs, Elves just get three percent more health than other races when healed, and Dwarves get 30 percent of their health back over time). So, yeah, they sound the same but there really are vast differences in the racial abilities.
Now the Defiants:
Eth – Mathosian counterpart, with three racial abilities.
Kelari – dark elf for my purposes, with three racial abilities
Bahmi – semi giant looking humaniod, with once again, three racial abilities.
All three of the races on the defiants have differing resistances. They differ from each other and from the Guardian side, which is nice. I like to see that not everything has to be the same on both faction sides, unlike SOME MMO’s of today, but thats totally different rant. The other abilities can also be classified as combat and healing, but the Defiants rather than having actual healing, are either more resistant to damage, or can deal more damage and heals done on them increase.
So in this department, I also give them a thumbs up. I like that both sides have similar traits but that the abilites themselves are actually VERY different in their application. This will suit one person’s playstyle over another person and let people find a style that works best for them. None of the races seem overpowered, neither side gets a real advantage over the other, but they are different none the less and I think thats a GOOD thing. When everything becomes cookie cutter, thats when things get stale.
This is where I believe this game is going to, and does, shine. This game uses Class Trees with “Branches” and “Roots.” We will use Cleric as an example since this is the class I first went with. When you are done futzing around with your character and the interface, it will be time to pick what you want to do in the game. When you first choose, you have the basic four classes. Warrior, Cleric, Mage and Rogue. From those classes, stem much deeper classes called “souls.” This is where class customization will come in. In the Cleric path for example, when I was eligible for my first soul, I was able to choose from Cabalist, Druid, Inquisitor, Justicar, Purifier, Sentinel, Shaman and Warden. Each soul has different abilities. Some are similar to others damage-wise (Well ok, exactly the same), but it looks as though it’s only the first spell. You will be eligible for three souls total (I think they will be more spaced out in the actual game, but for beta purposes, they give us all three fairly soon). For my classes, I went with Sentinel, Warden and Purifier. Now, Sentinel and Purifier are a perfect example of the damage abilties I talked about. Soul Lance and Holy Light do the exact same damage amount, so I saw no reason in levelling them both up.
Now within those Talent trees are the branches and roots I talked about. As you level up, you get points to spend in your trees. You level up your soul with each point spent in any branch, which unlocks your “roots.” Roots are more powerful spells and/or heals that you can employ. So as you spend points throughout your Trees, you need to keep track of where you want to head, which spells or abilities are most important to you in reaching. The highest levels are 51 points. It looks as though at this time, the game will be a level cap of 60 (It’s 30 for beta, but these betas are very short, so its not even close to being an option). So you will probably either pick a ton of spells that you like, or work your way up a specific path to the mother of all spells in one of your chosen trees.
The range and depth of these classes, in my opinion, is pretty damn impressive compared to almost any other MMO out there, or most single player RPGs for that matter (at least the ones that I have played). So you have three Trees, with a total of between fifteen to twenty branch spells (depending on your soul) and around fifteen or so root spells, of which you spend around 60 points over the course of the game (when it’s released, before any adjustments that may be made) in any talents within your trees.
I’d say that someone finally gets the fact that not everyone wants to play a game the same way.
Interface and Game UI
The interface here is standard keyboard and mouse where you move your character with, well any keys you want really. The great thing about most good games and MMO’s nowadays is the ability to re-map nearly every key, to nearly ANY key on your keyboard. The only place this sometimes falls flat is on your number pad, but not here. I have played around with it and re-mapped keys around so that I jump with num 0, I can open my bags with end (above the arrow keys) and I can do away with WASD and use my beloved arrow keys to move…unless you want a true strafe that is. This is the ONLY thing about interfaces that kill me (aside from the sometimes not being able to map to the number pad). Some MMO’s believe that strafe is supposed to turn your character and then move sideways. Maybe it’s just a personal gripe, but have none of these guys ever played a FPS? Strafe means, move sideways, period – not turn to the side, then move. At least in this game, the camera doesn’t follow the “strafe” (Yes, I have played a few MMORPGs where that has happened, and it’s not only annoying, but nearly impossible to target things in a hurry if they happen to be behind you and you like your camera close to your character!), so thats a plus I guess. Besides this issue, it’s a pretty impressive UI.
The setup is a pretty standard MMO fare. You have a minimap, actionbars, quest tracker, health bars, etc. I’m sure you know the general look and feel of these things. Compared to some MMO’s out there, where you have to use mods to customize your UI, this one is spectaular. You can pretty much throw anything, anywhere on your screen, with no mod. You can also have up to ELEVEN, yes eleven, action bars if you so desire. I don’t desire this as they make it so you can’t see the game, but hey, some people need more than just four. You CAN have just four as well. It can hold up to seven on the bottom and four on the sides, but as I have said, EVERYTHING is customizeable, so you could feasibly put them anywhere on your screen, and make them all top, bottom or side bars. Unfortunately, there are no diagonal bars for you weirdos out there. You can also scale the UI up or down to fit everything on screen if you have good eyes, which I do thankfully!
You can also move forward by holding both mouse buttons together. This causes you to run forward and you can direct your character with the arrow keys as long as you are holding the mouse buttons down. Hold just the left mouse button down to adjust the camera angles, just the middle mouse to scroll the camera in and out, and just the right button rotate your character with the camera.
The gameplay here is pretty standard for an MMO. You have action bars on which you can place your abilities to trigger them by keystroke or mouse. Left click highlights an enemy, and a right click attacks said enemy with melee weapon if close enough. Otherwise you trigger an ability or spell with one of the aforementioned ways. I am playing the cleric, so his melee ability is lacking but more than that it seems rather slow. I feel like I have to keep clicking the enemy to attack, even though I’ve watched myself melee attack with no more than one click. I’m not sure if its just the class I picked, the two handed weapon is that slow, or if I’m just too damned impatient. Spell combat however seems like it is better paced. Clicking the buttons is responsive and works well, so its probably just me or the class I picked.
Lag is outrageous at this time, but of course we’re still in Beta, with free beta keys that very few people have purchased. (if you preorder Rift, you are automatically in the Beta with a VIP beta key).
One thing that really bugs me about trying to log into the game is that the server list bounces the names of the servers around. I have NEVER seen this in a log in screen, and it makes it nigh IMPOSSIBLE to choose a specific server, especially if its at the bottom of this list, because when you scroll down, it just pops back to the one at the top of the list. But again, we’re in beta with only a few people who actually bought the game.
Now, the first six or so levels are done in a newbie zone that makes you learn your early spells, gather armor and weapons, and introduce you to your trees. Not only does it do this well, I think it succeeds in drawing you into the storyline. The quests are well written, and the fetch and kill quests are like any other MMO in that you have to fetch, kill or destroy something. However it doesnt feel like a chore as it does in some games. The plot draws you along making you actually WANT to find out what is going on. But hey, I read quests. There are too many gamers out there who just wanna be the first to get to the endgame, the first with the biggest baddest stuff, etc, and in my opinion, they miss all the intracacies of the game along with all the beautiful locations that these developers give us. (BTW, these devs also have a pretty darn good sense of humor as we saw them critique one of their own spelling errors and poorly worded server messages.)
They also have a game mechanic called Collections. Collections are randomly placed or spawned things that when collected, you click on them and they go into your collections bag (not a real bag; kind of a virtual notebook) and when you complete a collection, you get some kind of bonus item or something.
Another game mechanic is, obvious by the name, the rifts. Rifts can randomly open up, or some are static. Some are soloable, some are not. The good thing though is that, apart from dungeons (I assume as I have not had the oportunity to dungeoneer yet), everything can be joined by a solo person. There are “open grouping” oportunities where when you run into a big battle, rift or some other attack going on that you could never tackle alone. Anyone in the area can join the fight and are put into a group with everyone else. They have a counter in the upper right hand corner, that ticks from one up to however many stages there are in the particular battle. From what I have seen, the average is three stages) After the battle, you click on the icon that pops up and you get your very own loot, which will vary on how much you actually participated in the battle. This will encourage even those who would just join for free loot to actually DO something in the fight. Obviously, the harder you work, the higher the level of the event, the better stuff you recieve. You also receive “planarite” which you can exchange somewhere for items or quest rewards at questgivers. I happened upon a rift that was in stage four and ended at stage five. I was a healer, so I healed until we had the bad guys managable, then fought. For this, I recieved two planarite and some cash. Not bad for not participating til the end of the rift.
There are other encounters as well that work like rifts, where some super baddies come through a portal and travel in the world, killing things (Yes, even NPC monsters and towns that get in their way) which players can also try to take down, and will want to since they can take over parts of the territory if left unchecked.
So now that I’ve played the game a few times here are some thoughts on what I’ve encountered.
The characters don’t have a super unique feel from many other MMO’s of its kind. Yes, some look different, but overall, you have the “good” side and the “bad” side. You have your basic races that are sort-of different but mainly humans, elves, dwarves and a type of giant. The facial feature changes are great, but the body is lacking.
Classes are where this game shines since you have three “souls” that you can choose, and have at LEAST seven (more in some cases) to choose from, along with the four standard broad classes to start in. This makes your choices mostly limitless and, if I’m not mistaken, you can change your souls later in the game, for a price.
Graphics are excellent, IF you have the PC to handle them, otherwise, they are just average looking. Even on low they are still very good looking for the power level and can be played on a mid-end computer. If you are still in the low end of the spectrum, well, you really shouldn’t be playing ANY of the newer games anyway.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward. Aside from the Rifts, where you get to help others (or try to tackle yourself) the minions of the dragons trying to destroy the world. This is typical MMO fare where you go here, do this, kill that. I believe that the quests are well written and draw you into the game better than some other MMOs out there. When these things are written well, I think people tend to read them more, rather than just grabbing the quest and running around collecting their spoils. As much as most gamers bitch about all the games being similar, I really feel that when story overtakes gameplay, we like it. Lets face it, nobody wants the wheel reinvented, they want familiarity (to a certain extent), fun, and a few new things thrown in to keep it interesting (like the rift idea, and the better classes and talent choices). A lot of gamers complain about nothing being different, but when different gameplay mechanics are implemented, usually that game fails. Why? because we don’t really want the core gameplay changed, no matter what we as gamers say.
The game as a whole was laggy the first night, but it definitely has been improving over this week. The developers constantly keep an eye on the game, as evidenced by the times they send global messages across the servers, not only telling us when they were going down, but WHY, what they were fixing, how long it was expected to take, AND JOKING WITH US. How cool is that? As far as beta tests go, this is for sure one of the better ones I have been in. And I have tested many, just to name a few: World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Aion, Rift 3, 4 & 5 (Three earlier betas of this game), Star Wars:The Old Republic, Star Trek Online, Everquest Frontiers, Age of Conan, Vanguard and more. Of all of those, this one (and SWTOR, but that was eight people in a room at Bioware) has been one of the better experiences for sure. The others were much more lag infested and had many more bugs than I have encountered so far. In fairness, I didnt participate in the first two beta tests, so those could possibly been hellish. I have no way to know.