Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Adventures in Telara: Rift Impressions

I am a new Rift convert. I have decided that I will purchase and subscribe to the game when it comes out in March. DGF ended up playing for about 9 hours on her day off and loved it, so it'll probably be both of us on there in March.
I got to be part of the beta 5 event over the past couple days and wanted to get my impressions all in one spot. I discussed some of the following on Twitter on Wednesday. I was chided for comparing Rift to The One True Game, because that would give some people the wrong impression of the game. I feel, however, that comparing the new with the known helps people who have not experienced the game to understand in a limited way what it is like. Most MMORPGs are based on the DIKU system developed for MUDs in the 1990s. Therefore, there will be similarities for better or worse. You, Dear Reader, may have strong opinions one way or the other about TOTG. I would hope that you'd give Rift a chance, when it comes out in March, to see if it is worth your game-playing time.

Technical
I encountered some technical bugs mostly having to do with the huge number of players on the same shard I was on. This is not the appropriate forum for those, as I believe they were part of the beta test and will be corrected by the release date. I played again Wednesday evening, and the game ran beautifully. From what I gather, this game has been the most polished during beta of any MMORPG that has come out in the past few years. It certainly seems very well done; Trion Worlds has put a ton of effort into making Rift a success.

Gameplay 
The gameplay is very like TOTG, the basic user interface being virtually identical in function and placement of elements. This is a good thing. Most MMO UIs are laid out the similarly, easing the switch between games. I missed some of the addons I have in TOTG, but Rift's UI serves my needs. I didn't even have to remap my hotkeys like I did for STO; B=Bags, C=Character Window, etc. There are a couple minor differences in hotkeys, like how to remove the UI from the screen for a screenshot, but they are easily discovered and/or changed if you desire. Essentially, the moment-to-moment use of the interface is comfortably familiar.

By the same token, the Damage systems are much the same, though I suppose this can be said of all DIKU systems. You swing your weapon or cast a spell from the action bar, and eventually stuff dies. You run around talking to various Quest Givers that give you things to do; in the tutorial area, they help you learn about the game world and how to operate within it.

Art/Animation
If you are looking for a more realistic art style, with a natural color palette, this is your game. I know many people dislike the cartoonish style of TOTG, with its often garish palette. This was an artistic choice by the Snowstorm folks; I don't think it makes a substantial difference between the games. Much like Neo, I know that it is really all just ones and zeros. One caveat to that: I have been put off in the past by the avatars in a game. I like the toons in TOTG, but the ones in the Game of Ages Past moved strangely, IMHO, and the faces of the toons in the Ring Saga were just not right. I do like the avatars in Rift. Again there are others who have complained on the forums, but I've been able to make my toons look the way I want them to. DGF made a comment yesterday about her toon moving funny, her shoulders swayed more than her hips.

Storyline/Lore
Unlike someone I read in comments today, I think the story/lore of Rift is fantastic. Seriously, this clown said the story was lame and he hadn't bothered to read any of the quests as he picked them up. Hey, Tool, how do you know the story sucks if you don't read it? Seriously, this sort of attitude torques me to no end. Go play Madden, and leave the lore-based game to the people who care!! I carefully read the quests; plus, many of the NPCs have backstories they will share if you ask. The story seems fairly well developed. I am wondering about the PvP balance, though, given the stories of the two factions. Game it may be, but the Guardians come across as a playable version of the Crimson Cabal, zealously sure they are right and fanatically willing to slaughter those they perceive to be impure. The Defiants are a put-upon underdog faction. They seem far more popular at among the people I have communicated with. Compare this to the Cold War-ish conflict between the Coalition and the Motley Host in TOTG, a situation that seems like it could possibly be resolved if the two current leaders weren't butt-heads. The population is somewhat more balanced there, the pretty Coalition "good guys" are much more appealing to many, though. So how did they manage to make the "Good Guys" in Rift seem like the bad guys to so many, including me?

{EDIT} Having gotten through the tutorial of both factions, I see that the Guardians tutorial is 20 years in the past of the main game timeline. Meanwhile, the tutorial of the Defiants is set in the future. I have to assume that in the first few areas the two PC factions do not mix, but eventually they must, of course.

Souls
The Soul system is a great way of customizing game playstyles. When I first looked at it, I was thought to myself, "Yep, here are the Talent Trees." However, after a few minutes messing with it, I decided the Soul system is a much richer system. The Soul system allows for much more variety in gameplay than having 8 or more classes, with talent specializations. Within four archetypes--Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue--player get to choose a number of "souls' of past heroes(?-I wasn't clear on this) gaining their abilities to use against hostiles, or heal and protect friendlies. I followed the recommended combinations given in-game for my rogue, but switched it up for my cleric by picking my own combination, and thoroughly enjoyed playing both. Unlike the current iteration of TOTG's talent system, which requires you to devote so many points to your primary tree before you can dump some in another, Rift's Soul system limits the number of points you can distribute to a single soul-tree at any particular level, and you will always have points to spend on another soul.

This trailer does a great job of explaining the lore of the souls, at least from the Bahmi perspective, as being ancestors of the Player Character.

Much like dual talent specs, you can swap out souls for different situations, gaining solo specs and grouping specs. Some poster on the forums complained that the system allowed for too much flip-flopping in specialties. Others shot him down, saying this meant that a raid group could recruit players rather than basing group composition decisions on classes needed. I agree. With only four archetypes, but a wide variety of souls within each and the ability to swap out souls fairly easily, I think the devs will have more freedom to design challenging encounters rather than be restricted by classes and the unique abilities they might bring to the table. PvP balancing may be easier, as well, and not interfere with PvE balancing as much. I sincerely hope the min-maxing munchkins don't figure out One True Build that will become required by the raid leaders of Telara. It is a false hope, but I have it nonetheless.
Rifts
The Rifts themselves are an interesting facet of the game. I kinda like the concept, but am concerned about the ramifications of random invasions destroying villages where I am trying to turn in or pick quests. This is really annoying when it happens in TOTG as a result of high-level PvPers with nothing better to do than grief the lowbies, for instance at the Intersection in the Savannah of TOTG. To have a designed mechanic that does this with hostile mobs. Hmm. I really don't know, guys. how do you balance the feeling of "No Place is Safe" with the need to have certain place actually be safe? Because you never know when the kids or the dogs are going to get into trouble. I shouldn't have to worry about a RL minor emergency causing my death in the game. The munchkins will probably say, "TOO BAD GRAMPA, STFU NUB GO PLAY BEJOOLD!!1!!!eleventyone!" After which I will ignore/block them, because Bejeweled has time limits, too.

Crafting
Oh, and crafting. Stargrace may actually reach through the interchoobs and strangle me for this. I know EVERY MMORPG has to have them. But I can't see how they really fit into this one from a lore standpoint. If I am supposed to be this great Hero with divine/ancient power to draw upon in order to save the world from destruction, why would I be wasting time making trousers or picking flowers? As a common adventurer fending for myself in the wilderness, this makes perfect sense. For the Ascended of Telara, not so much. This is not a critique of crafting itself. I am sure given the polish of everything else in Rift, the crafting itself is well-developed. I just see it as a disconnect within the lore. Cryptic ran into the same problem with STO. Crafting is not really part of the Star Trek Universe, at least as seen on TV and the movies. The tech innovations we see in Trek are done offscreen and not by Captains Kirk and Picard.

What is my place in this world?
Somebody point me toward an MMO (not AoC or LOTRO) where the adventurers are simply adventurers, or develop that Firefly MMO we've been told is a possibility. (And don't tell me EVE; I already have a job.) The folks over at Snowstorm have become obsessed with making each player feel like the HERO of the World, able to kill Corpse Monarchs and Evil Twins (with the help of 10 or 25 friends). I don't remember this from Vanilla TOTG. We were just adventurers--that occasionally slew dragons. With Rift, right from the very beginning, each player is heralded as Obiwan Kenobi, the last and only hope (along with a few thousand other players) for preventing the coming ragnarok. Maybe it's my background as a soldier, but I don't need to feel like the hero of the world, I am content to be hero of a village or two, as I pass through on my way to another adventure.

There has been a lot of discussion in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere about "theme park" MMOs (most pointedly TOTG) vs. some other form of game that I have yet to see in the wild, but is supposedly better. Then there are "sandbox" games, of which Minecraft is the only one that I can positively identify as such by its description. Someone needs to spell this out for me, because I fail to see what is wrong with "theme parks," or what the alternative is exactly. We are talking about worlds where magic is real and Dwarves and Elves walk the land. Besides I like Theme Parks.
Conclusions
So what do I say to my fellow Rift enthusiasts concerned about the comparison of Rift to TOTG? I think it is a valid comparison, but they are worried that saying it is like something else will color other potential players' views of Rift by their opinions of the other game. That may be, but then I am not sure I want those people playing, if they cannot think past the comparison itself. So, if you hate TOTG, try Rift when it comes out. You may find that you enjoy the graphics, game mechanics, and story. If you love TOTG as I do, but maybe are a little bored or tired of it, try Rift. You'll be comfortable with the controls, and there is a new story and world to explore, and bad guys to fight. Or to put it another way, if you are a mature, positive, community-building player who loves a good story and are not worried too much about the math, come play Rift with me when it comes out in March. If you are a selfish, min-maxing, über1337 munchkin who does not give a fig about storyline or the players around you, run as far as you can in the other direction, because you're not wanted here.

12 comments:

  1. Sorry to fixate on one point but this drives me crazy, because I've seen it in a lot of other places, too:

    "With Rift, right from the very beginning, each player is heralded as Obiwan Kenobi, the last and only hope "

    I know the Guardian side better than the Defiant, but with the Guardians at least, you are most definitely identified as AN Ascended, not THE Ascended, and in fact many of the NPCs you talk to are also Ascended.

    In fact in one of the taverns there's an NPC named Mitch who whines about not being Ascended and so only having one life. :)

    I sorta see the Ascended like, in real world terms, a Special Forces soldier (or at least what I imagine a Special Forces soldier to be). More dangerous, more deadly, definitely elite, but not a single person.

    Now, as to "Good Guys" vs "Bad Guys"... I don't really see that either. I play Guardians because I've found their questing areas to be more interesting, and the races less fugly.

    Yes "The Guardians" are a religious order but remember the tagline "I wasn't brought back because of my faith." You're brought back because of your skills as a warrior, not because you're a religious zealot.

    On the other side, the Defiant are using machinery rather than divine powers to pull souls out of heaven or wherever souls go after people die. Without getting into a big theology discussion, that could be seen as kind of evil.

    At the end of the day, though, both sides are fighting towards the same goal: the defeat of Regulous.

    I think a lot of people who're labeling Guardians as "bad" haven't actually played one and read the lore, honestly.

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  2. I stand by my comments on this. The Defiant PCs encounter lots of people that are like, The Player is repeatedly treated with deference.

    In the Guardian intro movie the narrator ends with "You are our Salvation. You are a Guardian!" The non-Ascended NPCs in the Vigil Are all, "Behold an Ascended is here!" The Santuary Warden to whom you turn in that first quest says, "You have been chosen to be their hand, their champion of light."

    So ja, maybe one of many, and not chosen for your "faith" but definitely Chosen.

    On your other point of Good Guys/Bad Guys: I know the Guardians are supposed to be the good guys, my point is they come across (not the players, the faction) as self righteous fanatics. In the Guardian intro, they "put [their enemies] to the sword." In the Defiant intro, we find out they slaughtered entire cities. And we find that they were unsuccessful, since the "evil" Defiants are creating Ascended from the last refuge of Telara before the destruction of the world, in order to send them back in time. So two groups that should be fighting a common cause are locked in internecine conflict, allowing the Big Bad to take over the world.

    Like I've said before, this is not a unique problem. Wherever a game expects to have PvP, the Devs set up some factional conflict that seems unresolvable. And many games seem to make the PC out to be an exalted hero. I guess other people get off on that. I find it distracting and unrealistic given the nature of the multitudes of players in the game world doing the exact same quests.

    I still love the game. :)

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  3. It took me a few minutes to figure out what 'TOTG' was referring to. I'm an idiot. -_-;

    Rifts does sound like a bunch of fun, but I know that if I purchased it, I'd only play for a month or two. I'll just have to live vicariously through your interesting and well-written posts.

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  4. You're very specifically told that you are the one and only Chosen One. I have pictures of it on the guardian side here:

    http://www.arksark.org/blog/4504/the-rift-beta-bonanza-part-2/

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  5. That's one NPC saying that in one quest, feeding you the Kool-Aid right after you've been pulled back from death/oblivion/wherever it is you're coming from. You go out and fight a while then you go away for 20 years and when you come back things are different. At least that's how I interpreted things.

    In reading the lore and playing through the game my experience hasn't been that they're making me out to be the soul salvation of the world.

    /shrug

    On "good" vs "evil"

    [It's a welcome change to the straight good/evil alignment of other MMOs. Both factions believe they're right, but there's a sense of misguidedness in both. "The Defiant believe the Guardians are stupid. Guardians believe the Defiant are evil," chief creative officer Scott Hartsman explains.]

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2010-10-20-rift-planes-of-telara-hands-on

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  6. I'll try to remember to grab some screenshots of Shyla's dialog the next time I'm on during an invasion. She is certainly not calling on an individual to drive back the invaders...

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  7. @Arkenor

    I looked at your picture and upon reading it note that the reference is a generalization of the "Ascended" and ALL allies and not just you..at least the way I read it.

    For example:

    Title of quest "Ascended Allies" - It is never noted that it is only OTHER Ascended who will help you.

    Quote - "The Vigil brought back others who died"
    Other Ascended is how I would see this. But, due to it's generalities, there is nothing here that says ONLY Ascended. It notes "Allies" as the quest title, thus I am unsure if it means JUST those who Ascended.

    So, when the quest says

    "...but, you alone are the hand of the Vigil..."
    It seems to me to be inclusive. i.e: All those who are working toward a common goal; meaning the players.

    All players are the "Hand of the Vigil", not just you.

    And yes, I play on a RP server! (lol)

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  8. 1. I see nothing wrong with comparing a game to another when talking about it, as long as some elaboration of it follows. There are a lot of critics of TOTG in the gamer community, so it's not surprising that a simple statement like "It's like WoW" would get some worked up when all they have in mind are the negative aspects of the game. But TOTG has many good features that are often overshadowed by criticism of the bad, and I sometimes have to remind myself of that too. When I myself compare Rift to TOTG, I always look to the positive aspects. I think it's a good thing that their UIs are similar, for example.

    2. Early game does seem to be littered with bugs. At least it was so when I played. They've made a lot of changes since, and I'm sure with that came a whole host of new glitches to be worked out. Just report them as you encounter them, which is how I've approached them, and Trion seems to be really good at responding to feedback. I'm level 28 now, and I really hadn't been seeing a lot of things to report for the last 10 levels.

    3. Rifts are really fun right now at my level. Maybe it's because of the more numerous zone-wide rift events, but there are always people rallying to defeat rifts and invasions. Or maybe Trion did fix something, because while mobs overunning a quest hub was a frequent problem for me from levels 10-19, I haven't been having any of these issue since.

    4. I'm probably the odd one out in this circle, because I don't think I mind being the hero at all. That said, I don't think there's the absolute need to feel like THE hero, but I do like the idea of greatness. In other words, playing an MMO for me is like reading a book about my character. I don't have to feel like the savior, but I do like to feel like the main protagonist, if that makes any sense.

    Great impression piece!

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  9. I guess it's open to interpretation. I see it like Elementalistly does, obviously.

    When you choose a faction it says:

    "The Guardians are the chosen of the gods. Brought back from death to save the world from the corruption of the dragons, each Guardian has a great destiny to become a celestial hero."

    The intro movie says that the gods "ascended the worthy" which could be singular or plural, I guess.

    When you take your first quest the voice over says "The Ascended ARE the hope to Telara" (emphasis mine, but clearly this isn't referring to a single person).

    *** back to Good vs Evil ***

    The the Guardians overthrew a tyrant king who was fraternizing with the dragons and put his armies to the sword -- that's their story. Does that make them fanatics? When the 3rd Reich was destroyed (sorry to go there but it's one of the few regimes from history that no one is going to come out in support of) did that make the allies fanatics?

    Sure, the Defiants say the Guardians slaughtered cities. And the Guardians say the Defiants caused the rifts through their experiments. It's all propaganda.

    I still say there isn't a Good and an Evil side. Just two different sides, both of which have made mistakes and done some good.

    Anyway, letting this go now... :)

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  10. All, great comments. I hope others pop into read have their say.

    I think after going through a little further (got Rowanblaze the Cleric up almost to 11) I see Pete's point about the good versus evil. Neither side is completely in the right. Great job bringin' up the Nazis, too. I think this is the first time on my blog Godwin's Law has come to fruition. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

    On the topic of Heroes, I never said they didn't acknowledge the existence of multiple Ascended. But several NPCs on the Guardians side recognized Rowanblaze as personally having defeated the Shade of Regulos at the end of the Malthosian Civil War. I just think it strains feasibility when I see others doing the sames things I am, but the NPCs acting like I am alone. That's all I'm saying.

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  11. Nope, gonna have to go with Ark on this. His screencap of the quest Ascended Allies shows that other (Ascended) were brought back from death and could help, but "you alone" refers to the individual PC.

    The only other interpretation I would buy, and it is strained, is that the allies referred to are the Ascended NPCs that litter the landscape. But the PCs alone can fulfilled their destiny. Again, I think that strains the simplicity of the statement in the screencap.

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  12. Nice write-up.

    I completely agree about the "You are the Hero" thing. It drives me nuts. I categorically do not want to play the hero. I want to play Joe Schmoe who has to go out adventuring because the alternative is spending the rest of his life in his village growing turnips. Unfortunately if I waited for an MMO to come along that used that premise I'd be in the old folks home before I ever got to play again, so I just try and ignore all the hype about what a great savior my character is and assume they just mistook him for someone else.

    In Beta 2 I sent some blistering negative feedback about Rift's version of "Good" vs "Evil" characterisation. I have come round to it a bit since, though. I now don't see either of them as "Good", more like Communist vs Fascist. Clearly neither of them has the least interest in anyone other than the elite party member.

    On the issue of quest hubs being overtaken by Rifts/Invaders, that is the point. Someone put it brilliantly a while back: the quest hubs are only there to give the Rifts something to attack. Seriously, once you get above about level six or seven, the last thing you'll be interested in is doing quests. You don't need them for gear, you don't need them to level, they are just background. Questing is something you do briefly between dealing with Planar invasions or the Other Side.

    It is entirely true, however, that no place is safe. Outside of the two capital cities I have found nowhere that doesn't get run over by Invaders at some point or another. I've logged out in a supposedly safe place several times only to log back in later and find it now belongs to the Plane of Life. It really doesn't matter. If i can run out of range, all well and good. If not, I just die, revive and get one with it. The penalty for dieing is still trivial at the highest level I've reached, 27th.

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