How did I get to 1200 words about Rift?

I’m about 20% of a level shy of 50 on my Dwarf Cleric so I figured it would be a good idea to get my thoughts down on Rift before growing angry and jaded with it.

Major reasons I’m still playing after a month:
Technical Competence. I ran into very few bugs and only a few interface oddities in a month. This is not something to take for granted and the main reason I see myself playing Rift over LotRO or even SWTOR when it comes out as my side MMO. (WoW is still the rec league “raid for 6-9 hours a week and that’s it” game for me. It’s just that good at that.) Even WoW during WotLK had massive technical issues on 64-bit machines.

To get something off my chest: I’m not blown away by the number of hotfixes Trion put out just because that’s a weakness in their architecture that requires client patches to fix things that WoW probably can just do on-the-fly for the most part. (I don’t know if what Rift calls a hotfix actually is one, but it doesn’t seem like that from my perspective.) I does lead to an impression that they’re “doing things” in the public which is one of many in a long pattern of cleverly Orwellian moves by the team at Trion. Another example is that didn’t have server mergers, they gave everyone unlimited server transfers! And told people to get off certain small servers because they were being switched over to “Trial Servers”. Same effect on the subscriber population, but different PR, which is annoying. But if the real press can’t be any good, why do I expect an enthusiast press to look deep? (Oh right, latent faith in humanity. BAD CAL!)

Feature Parity (for the most part) and more. I can queue for dungeons or warfronts from anywhere, hide my helmet (and shoulders!), use two-factor security, and even read Twitter in Rift. It would have pretty much everything one could ask in a modern MMO if the interface wasn’t so all over the place. Still, my WoW interface has all of one out-of-the-box UI element left (the chat box), so hopefully the mod ecosystem grows into something useful. One nice feature is reactive abilities having their own display when they’re active, although because the interface is a little unresponsive, it does lead to a few problems at times.

Music and Atmosphere. I like how the music changes based on how many mobs I’m fighting and such (which leads to a lot of cool stuff as I’m built to AOE groups of 3-4 down). The music in general is solid without being really overpowering like it can sometimes be in LotRO, which is both good and bad in that game. I also like how the lighting changes when you’re in range of a Rift.

PvE Variety (or Rifts, the good side). If one’s willing to roll with the punches, Rift can offer up a lot of variety. Just last night I started off questing in Shimmersand and an Air zone event started up. I was easily able to get into a group that rode around the zone closing rifts and the like and finally we punched a big boss. It was a lot of fun. After cleaning up a few straggler invader groups I returned to questing and queued for a random dungeon. (Go go machine matchmaking!) Got in, group went well so we did another and by the time I got out there was another zone event going, this time an Earth/Fire one. I didn’t get to contribute a whole lot to this one because I was stuck behind the main clearing pack for the most part, but I still had a good time. So, back to questing. After going along for a while I ran into a group of Defiants opening up Major Rift Tears and I tagged along for two of them, finished up a quest nearby, and then headed to Sanctum to turn in event stuff and crafting dailies. I got to do a ton of different things in a night and the game made it super easy for me to get into and out of groups without having to message people about how much Focus I have.

Major complaints:
PvE Variety (or Rifts, the bad side). The downside of all that cool stuff going on is that if I really just want to do some quests, there’s a chance of running into annoying shit like a zone event or a Major Rift right on top of where I need to be. After many years playing on PvP servers, I’m sanguine about taking what the game gives me, to a point. Rift has definitely been on the wrong side of that threshold more than once.

Melee and macros are awful. I generally prefer ranged character for damage dealing, especially at end-game, but I have no problem leveling as melee. I despise Cleric melee. (I doubt Druid is much different from Shaman and Justicar, but I haven’t played it.) It’s just a mashing a ton of abilities when they’re off CD. There are also so many reactive abilities that managing it all is almost best done by a huge spam macro that has none of the sanity of the current WoW set-up (i.e. one on-GCD spell per hardware event). Just make a big list of things and run with it. Terrible.

Souls. At least part of me really likes how character building works in Rift. Making builds is one of my favorite things to do in games. But the downside of that is that a group can have a “tank” that really can’t tank and that sets are rather limited in what they can do. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how Rift allows up to five stored sets of souls and how that compares well versus WoW. Really though, one needs a number of sets just to do something as simple as questing and the occasional PUG Minor Rift. And that’s ignoring that one is almost surely dead meat in PvP if not carrying the PvP soul after the initial levels. In contrast, my Hunter’s raiding spec can pretty much handle anything I can throw it into well enough. In Rift, that’s simply not the case, at least as a Cleric. And the team at Trion is almost laughably unconcerned with design elegance; there are kludges and deaths by tooltips everywhere. I can’t speak to serious balancing issues, but WoW sets the bar for “well balanced” incredibly high at this point.

Surprising non-complaint:
It’s not bland. It also has zero whimsy to it, either throughout it like WoW or in specific locations like LotRO with The Shire and Lothlorien but I don’t think “bland” is fair. It’s a very straight take on high fantasy with some technology-indistinguishable-from-magic. The armor isn’t expressly functional, there’s still chainmail bikini bottoms, but for the most part armor proper looks sensible. The story isn’t fascinating, but the game does a good job of highlighting important stuff through “Story” marked quests and loading screen updates on the current plot ala Dragon Age II. I think the lack of whimsy is to its detriment if I were to play the game seriously, but as a casual experience, it’s a nice change of pace.