It's a finished product. How many times have you said that about a just-released massively multiplayer online game? In a genre dominated by disastrous bugs and missing features at launch, Rift stands out for the amazing feat of being complete right out of the box. As you play Rift, rarely do you say "If it only let me do this," or "It really needs that." Sure, there is room to grow; there always is in an online role-playing game. But even now, there is little to stand between you and your questing, save those pesky rifts that open up within the colorful fantasy world of Telara and pour invading forces onto the ground. Rift sets a new standard for MMOG launch quality, if not for originality. In fact, developer Trion Worlds plucked familiar facets from other similar games and did so blatantly enough that you can't chalk up the similarities as existing simply because the games share the same genre. But by combining these facets into a unified experience and adding fresh mechanics to them, Rift proves that not all games must reinvent the wheel to be truly great.
6304880In Telara, you don't just go to battle--the battle comes to you.None
Those aforementioned rifts are the spice in this welcoming comfort food. As you roam about the world of Telara--completing quests and trotting to dungeons--great dimensional portals open in the firmament. The sky darkens, gushing water or purple goo erupts under your feet, and creatures spawn forth in a wink of bright light. If you defeat those meanies, one group after another spawns in until a hulking final boss appears. Such visitations from the otherworldly planes are Rift's bread and butter. Nearby players converge to fight these demons and reap rewards of currency and helpful items, and the game easily groups them together into ad hoc raid groups. Rifts open seemingly anywhere--possibly even right above you. The first time such an event occurs in your immediate vicinity, it is spectacular. Should an earth rift appear, the crackling and crunching of stone under your feet is awe inspiring. When a death rift erupts, the violent violet tentacles reaching down from the heavens look as if they might snatch you up and feed you to the rift's gaping maw.
Regions aren't limited to a single rift; often, many rifts will be open at a given time. They frequently give rise to invasions--roving groups of creatures that descend upon local villages and need to be defeated. You might be questing peacefully on your own or with friends, only to have a marauding band of demons trudge by you. Depending on your current focus, you might welcome the opportunity to bond with local players and pelt these invaders with spells and arrows, or you might resent the fact that your goals were interrupted by powerful monsters capable of destroying your lonesome self in a few short seconds. Nevertheless, you'll probably be inclined to stick with your compatriots and roam from one hot spot to the next, temporarily ridding the region of invaders and closing rifts. Nothing beats galloping on your fantastical gazelle or oversized tortoise toward the dreadful portal clouding the horizon.
Rifts and invasions are the best part of the game and a natural evolution of the public quests that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning delivered. The key difference is that you don't go to the quest--the quest descends upon the land, bringing local players together long enough to foster a sense of community that even most solitary questers can appreciate. When you come near players and groups in battle, you are automatically prompted to join them. When the job is complete, you can go your separate ways or stick together to take on quests meant for small parties, such as taking down the lumbering giants that meander about the local mountain ridges. In any case, the large-scale skirmishes against the most colossal bosses are dazzling to watch and fun to participate in, even when the game's normally solid frame rate drops as a result of all this spellcasting and swordfighting.
Underneath all of this "rifting" is a fairly standard online RPG in which you take quests from non-player characters, kill and collect things on their behalf, and return for a reward. All the while, you gain experience that boosts you ever onward to the level cap of 50. This aspect of the game is solid but unexciting, throwing plenty of talk about planes and evil gods at you but rarely giving you a sense of the bigger picture. It would have been easier to invest in all of this unfamiliar lore if the game spent some time developing it, but when you first begin, the game drops a whole lot in your lap at once. The opening tutorial has you hitting the ground running, which makes for an exciting introduction, but it comes at the expense of allowing you to wallow in this new virtual world. You're more likely to see quests as a reason to go do battle and explore Telara than as a way to learn more about the events that caused this world to be torn apart. There is comfort in questing, as most MMOG players understand, but a little oomph to the writing and a little time spent acclimating players could have elevated Rift even further.
It's in the questing, as well as other ways, in which Rift proves itself to be a derivative MMOG delivered with uncommon excellence. If you've played Warhammer Online, you'd be forgiven for seeing the immediate resemblance; after all, both games use the same graphics engine and sport similar art styles. If you've ventured in World of Warcraft's Azeroth, the art will also seem familiar, as will most elements of the interface. This is just as well; refugees from other fantasy games will feel right at home. Though in the initial hours, it's hard not to wonder if you've left one game for a carbon copy. If you dig a little deeper, however, you will find that despite the structural and visual similarities, Rift differentiates itself just enough to feel contemporary--and not just because of its rifts and invasions.