Could RIFT be the elusive Holy Grail of free-to-play?
Hello to all our new readers, and welcome back to those who have been following ZAM's bi-weekly column, The Free Agent. Our mission, as always, is to answer the question "Can gaming REALLY be free?"
In our last episode of the Free Agent we got down right medieval with Firefly studios MMORTS, Stronghold Kingdoms. Check out the full Episode 7 article if you missed out on all the castle building, kingdom crushing action.
This week we're back to what ZAM does best, MMORPGs. From the moment Trion announced that RIFT was going free-to-play, I knew it had to be added it to the list of games slated for the Free Agent. It was only a question of when, not if, we would venture into RIFT's game world, known as Telara. Turns out that time is now so, without further ado, I bring you Episode 8 of the Free Agent, RIFT.
RIFT was yet another title that I watched with keen interest throughout its development cycle, intrigued above of all by what appeared to be an extremely robust class system. But, like so many other games, I discovered that once it was released I simply wasn't able to find the time to get around to playing it, at least not enough time to justify the subscription fee. Sadly, by the time they offered a trial version RIFT had already fallen off my radar all together, that is until it went free-to-play.
Say what you will about the free-to-play model, one thing it excels at is getting window-shopping gamers to actually come in and check out a game. Whether or not you can keep them there is a whole different story. But regardless, it allowed the Free Agent to get his foot in the door.
So, armed with an empty wallet, and with only two weeks to experience as much free content as possible, the Free Agent began his latest mission in Telara.
Insert Disclaimer Here
To be perfectly honest, two weeks is not nearly enough time to experience all of the content, or even just the free content, of a fully fledged MMORPG like RIFT. Although for starters its worth pointing out that in RIFT it's pretty hard to distinguish the free from the not-so-free content.
This article won't include any comments or impressions on PvP, raiding or even dungeons, because simply put I didn't get around to them. My time in Telara was spent questing, crafting, Rift hunting (more on that later), dimension hopping (also more on that later) and just generally exploring and enjoying the leveling process.
I especially enjoyed running about Telara with no pants on, after having acquiring some new leg armor called the 'Unyielding Breeches', which evidently yield a little too much. Now if only there was a title I could affix to my name so I could be called Caergan, the Pants-less Wonder.
I know it's hard after seeing my well muscled legs, but let's get back on track here.
If you take a good look through the RIFT store you will quickly realize that it touches every aspect of the game. While I may not be able to give you a full review of every aspect of RIFT, by discussing the free-to-play side of RIFT, we will touch on most of them in one way or another.
So, what's this game all about then?
In simple terms RIFT is your typical MMORPG. Select a race and a class, from one of two factions. Play your way though the "leveling" game and then, once you hit max level, experience the "end-game" (or elder game as most are calling it these days). Throw in all the usual MMORPG trimmings like quests, crafting/gathering skills, dungeons, PvP instances, dailies, faction rewards and best-in-slot gear grinds. Sound familiar yet? If you've ever played of World of Warcraft or any other big name MMORPG it probably does.
In all honesty, to the unassuming passerby, RIFT might simply seem like a re-skinned version of World of Warcraft. In fact one night last week, as I was questing my way through Silverwood (aka noob zone part2), my wife walked by my computer and asked "Is that WoW you're playing?"
My wife isn't a gamer (though God bless her for being the wonderfully understanding wife of one) but she watched me play WoW for many years, so I can understand her confusion. But she, and anyone like her who makes that claim, would be dead wrong.
I feel I need to clarify that being confused for WoW is not a bad thing. Though it is in the twilight of its life cycle, WoW is arguably one of the most successful video games ever created, so clearly they got some things right. Should a classical musician be looked down upon for being compared to Mozart, or a scientist for being compared to Einstein? I think not.
It also makes my job easy, by stating that the previously mentioned elements run more or less like their WoW counterparts, it’s likely that 75% of our readers know exactly what I'm talking about. Therefore, I don't have to spend any time explaining or giving my impressions on all these staples of the MMORPG genre. So let's move on to what makes RIFT different.
The same but different
Speaking purely of the things I experienced firsthand, I'd say there are four things that made RIFT stand out to me: The Ascended Class System, Instant Adventure, Rifts and Dimensions. We'll discuss each one briefly, but also consider that if I had more time to continue playing RIFT I can guarantee I'd add at least 2 or 3 more things to that list.
Ascended Class System - There are only 4 basic classes in RIFT and they are oh so typical; Warrior, Cleric, Mage, Rogue. But as an ascended champion your character can harness up to 3 of the 9 ascended souls within each class, mixing and matching in different proportions to make preset sub classes such as the Arbiter or Glacial Priest (both part of the Cleric class), or creating your own unique class, tailored to your play style.
I suppose one could do the math on exactly how many different ways you can play as a tank, healer, dps or support class in RIFT, but whoever that person is clearly has more time on his hands than I. It's an extremely robust and unique system, a huge selling feature in my mind, and far too complicated to explain in only a couple of paragraphs.
Simply put, the Ascended Class System just needs to be experienced. Be warned it can be a bit confusing at first, but start off with a preset class and you'll get the hang of it in no time. And, of course, if you need a little help along the way check out ZAM's own Soul Tree Calculator over at RIFThead.com
Instant Adventure - Another aspect that sets RIFT apart in my mind is the Instant Adventure feature. No matter what you’re up to you can always queue up for Instant Adventure. Feeling lonely soloing all those quests, craving the camaraderie of companions, or just want to kill some really big monsters that you otherwise would not be able to take on by yourself? Instant Adventure is for you.
With the click of a button you will be transported to your group, where both objectives and enemies scale with the size and level of your group, so no matter when or where you opt for instant adventure it's still a challenge.
Rifts - Rifts and Rift events are a huge part of what makes Telara feel like a dynamic, living, breathing world. As a lore nerd and table top gamer, I buy in hugely to the concept of immersive gameplay. Anything you can do to draw players into a game and make them forget that it's just a huge collection of code and pixels, ranks high on my list.
Rifts are basically tears in the very fabric of reality. While you are going about grinding through quests and trying to level your character, there is a living world around you that may just throw a wrench in the machine.
If one of these Rifts happens to open in the area where you are mindlessly culling the local wolf population (in increments of 10 of course), you could suddenly find yourself fighting for your very life as elemental invaders spill through the Rift, stealing all your wolf kills, and then moving on to you.
You could just run and hide like a frightened child, but there are some pretty tempting rewards if you stick around to seal the Rift. Maybe if you're lucky a fellow player will be out hunting Rifts and come to your aid. Before long you might just find yourself hunting Rifts yourself; and before you know it you've just spent the last four hours playing RIFT and you didn't even turn in a single quest.
Just when you're ready to log-off, kick back your chair and say "man, that was fun", those pesky otherworldly creatures rally under a powerful planar champion and stage a zone wide invasion in the name of their dragon gods. Not your problem you figure, right? Well good luck turning in those quests before you log off, because if someone doesn't try to stop them your quest hub might just get over run.
Dimensions - It seems like player and/or guild housing is becoming more of a staple in modern MMORPGs and, while it would be too simple to sum up Dimensions as Trion's own take on player and guild housing, I'd say that misses the mark, big time.
It would be better to think of it as Trion saying, here's a little piece of Telara, what do you think it could be like. Dimensions are essentially isolated pieces of Telara, alternate realities where the developers provide a canvas, a back drop and some basic tools, and say "have at 'er". That's right, player generated content. While Trion doesn't quite trust players to re-imagine content for the real game world, it's refreshing to see it give players a means to express their creativity.
Time permitted, I can tell you I would get lost in Dimensions for hours; forget leveling, raiding, or PvP. Sadly I didn't have that opportunity in my short time in Telara. But I did manage to enjoy a few Dimensions created by other players and open to the public to enjoy. One of my favorites was called SLIDE!.PACMAN!.POOL!. created by Healsyeah on the Seastone Shard, which featured some awesome retro gaming design elements and a friggin' huge slide. Healsyeah, whoever you are, I salute you.
Up to this point I've just been talking about the game itself, no real mention of any free-to-play aspects. I could go one for quite a bit longer before segueing into the free-to-play portion of this article, but I won't. I just want you to realize though, that all of the content I have described thus far is available, absolutely free. How's that for a segue? Wait does it count as a good segue if you actually point out that it’s a segue? Egad, I ruined it...