Sealing the Rift

RiftWell, it’s been almost a year since I moved back to Florida. Life is still hard but thank you all for your patience with me through these times. I will be posting more often now, and I have plenty more topics to explore. Feel free to come along for the journey.

In the last year we’ve seen more MMO releases and I’m not going to insult your intelligence by claiming to have become expert at all of them, but I would like to talk about Rift, which emerged online in March this year and is now celebrating their first half-birthday after 6 months of operation.

If I have a complaint about Rift, it’s that my WoW characters are suffering because of it, because Rift is a full-featured MMO that many WoW gamers find easy to transition to. Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying abandon WoW, as many are these days. I have played WoW  for years now, and wouldn’t ditch it just because a new game has appeared. But I am also playing Rift, I can’t help commenting on the similarities and differences.

Like WoW, Rift has both PVE and PVP opportunities set in a fantasy world with elements of magic and technology. In Rift, as opposed to WoW, these polarities are explicit. In WoW both Horde and Alliance avatars can specialise in the Engineering skill, whereas in Rift the violent rivalry is between two super-human flavors of Ascended fighters: the Guardians, chosen by gods to defend the world of Telara in their Vigil, and the Defiant, who use technology to create their own brand of  Ascended without the help of the Gods.

Therre are almost too many similarities between Rift and the World of Warcraft to mention. Before anyone thinks I am complaining, let me say that I am damned glad that the world of MMORPG gaming design has gotten to the point that I don’t have to COMPLETELY relearn a brand new interface every time I try a new game. Standardization is often not a bad thing, especially in control interfaces.

In both games you will see the floating ! and ? symbols that tell you someone has a quest or someone is waiting for you to turn in a completed quest. In both games you wear armor, equip swords and bows and rifles, cast spells, mine resources, craft items, and customize your abilities.

Okay, plenty of people have written about WoW over the years. Let’s talk about what makes Rift different. As you’ll see, the Rift developers have learned and combined good features and ideas from earlier games.

1. Graphics.  When the World of Warcraftdebuted in 2004 the Internet in general and servers and home computers were nowhere near aas fast as they are now. Compromises were made to ensure the playability of the game in the new online medium. I have heard WoW’s look described as a “storybook” style because it cannot be mistaken for realistic computer-generated art: textures and colors are done in a way that some find cartoonish but other see as more minimalistic, conveying an idea or impresison with the barest of touches, as in a haiku poem or a Zen painting of a bamboo tree.

That was then; this is now. Rift uses a later generation of rendering engine, taking advantage of faster processors and graphics cards to render a more detailed, more realistic, grittier environment that owuld not usually be mistaken for something from a storybook. Swords can leave trails in the air behind them as you swing, and other “particle” effects make for more realistic fires, smoke and so on. WoW has particles effects, but not as intense.

2. Rifts. In addition to the usual menagerie of critters roaming the woods and fields, there is a new feature that WoW doesn’t have.  Inter-dimensional “rifts” open all over the place, letting monsters from other universes. To seal the Rift, you have to defeat the monsters that came out of it. They comes thruough  in waves, so defeating all the baddies in phase 1 merely gets you another wave of monsters. If you win through several batches of alien troublemakers, the rift is finally sealed and you are awarded some “rift loot” to use in crafting recipes etc. This gives a team plenty to work on together; in fact, groups can be public or private and attacking a rift can make you end up in a public group, which lets you meet new players and, who knows, even get invited into a guild.

3. Mounts. Many MMOs restrict travel powers to give players an incentive to level up faster. In World of Warcraft, for example, you cannot even learn how to ride until level level 20, just as in City of Heroes you cannot learn travel powers such as Flight until level 14. (Unless you are a veteran like me; I have been in COH so long that my new avatars can pick up a travel power at level 6 — it’s a veteran reward for long-term membership.)

Mounts are awfully handy, since large MMO  worlds can take awhile to move around in. Rift developers acknowledged this with a instant upgrade that for a few more dollars sets you up with a mount much earlier. (The mount is a two-headed turtle complete with saddle that turns out to be as fast as a horse.) The down side? They mail the mount to your toon, so that you have to get out of the starting area to get to a region with a mailbox  to claim your mount.  If you make a second character he or she gets a mount too — the mount binds to your account so that any toons you make start with a mount when they reach a mailbox. Okay, this means you have to wait until like level 5 or 6 — but that’s a lot sooner and better than waiting twenty levels!

4. Customization.  City of Heroes raised the bar of character customization when they created an interface that lets you combine features and color combinations to select from virtually millions of possible looks. In COH you can even make your toon chubby and bald if you want to ( I don’t). By contrast, WoW character creation section has far far fewer looks to choose from; each of the WoW races has a small set of faces, hair styles amd hair colors to select from, making a lot of WoW characters look the same. If you want to role play being someone’s twin brother, WoW makes it easy — just choose the same face and hair. And look for the same armor or clothes.

Rift is a whole ‘nother deal. You can change the shape of your face, add tattoos or piercings or other touches of body arts.  You can easily makes faces that look noble or beautiful….or gritty and scarred. And skin colors are chosen from a color palette an artist could not fault, rather than from a list of approved hues. What this means is that when you move around in Rift, you see a lot more diversity — the characters are more unique and less looking like a field trip from the Valley of the Clones. Personally, I think this is a good idea, since most gamers will grow up to live and work in a world where people do not look alike (unless you already did and you are a geezer like me who winces every time a checkout clerk in a convenience store calls me “sir”).

Like I said, Rift did not pioneer this level of character customization; City of Heroes did. But the Rift developers have learned from what worked at COH. So did the folks at Aion. If Warcraft intends to stay in business, I hope they get a little more customizable.  Unless, as some have suggested, they are willing to let WoW go to seed because they want people to join Diablo III when it finally comes out.

It’s getting late here and I need my sleep (okay, I need to get into some gaming and THEN sleep, if you must know.)  See you in cyberspace. –MRK

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6 Responses to “Sealing the Rift”

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    Hmm. Well browsers DO hiccup sometimes, especially the compact ones on smart phones. Try refreshing the page or going somewhere else and then coming back here. If you keep having trouble. let me know what browser and computer you are using and I will look into it on this end. –MRK

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  4. admin says:

    Arrgh. Sorry, misprint. My bad. Still new, I make mistakes.
    I am on Facebook as Matthew Kennedy
    I am on Twitter as gamesavant.
    –MRK

  5. admin says:

    Er, Hello? I am the site owner. Me. Matthew R. Kennedy. It’s mine. No one helps me write it; I do all the HTML coding for fun, apart from what Wordpress churns out. Hmmm. Exactly how loud to I have to shout before someone believes me, that this isn’t some autoblog or site-by-committee? Sigh. Sorry to rant, but I really am a real person. You can see me on Facebook as gamesavant. –MRK

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