Rift Beta 4 Impressions

This last weekend I played a ton of RIFT in their Beta #4 weekend. I saw the light, but I also so darkness within. Impressions after the break. Warning: very long.

Awhile ago Zubon asked where the “2.0” was in the so-called RIFT’s Public Quest 2.0 system. Players won’t see it until they are approaching level 10. On the Defiant side, the first two repetitive rifts that can be seen from the Ark of the Ascended are training rifts in comparison to the rift-filled world below. Honestly, I would call it a fumble that it takes a really good hour to see one of the basest cores of the game. Still once I saw it for real, I was hooked. Events, which are the fullest embodiment of this core, made it amazing.

I had this skill called Planar Lure that I was itching to use. It can only be used around a tear between the planes, where the main plane Telara is interfacing with an enemy-controlled plane but no one has crossed, yet. Using the Planar Lure forces the tear to open in to a full on rift complete with invaders. I had this skill for a few hours, and like I said, I was just itching to use it regardless of any consequences.

I found one by the undead-filled Scarred Mire. It was a tear to the plane of water. Great, I thought to myself, water hates undead. I opened the rift with Planar Lure to start a small event called Abyssal Menace. The event starts out small with soloable mobs for the likely, lone player that had to push the red button, but it builds up quickly. Immediately three other nearby players dropped their silly questing or traveling to join in the fray. By the time we were done I counted at least five other players that had come to the water rift to play in the event. It was a simple, round-based, kill-ten-invaders type event similar to the PQ 1.0 system, but there were consequences.

Even though we  unpartied six beat the Abyssal Menace, the event managed to also spawn two war parties (1 boss with 4-5 adds) to attack the quest hub at the Scarred Mire. After our rift was sealed we all ran to the quest hub to find another small group of players futilely trying to fend off the attack. They were not faring so well as the quest hub’s planar ward had fallen to their attack. One of the bosses was in the process of planting a planar foothold. This would effectively nullify the quest hub until the foothold could be destroyed and our planar ward renewed.

Of course the good guys won, and at the end there were about 20 players standing victorious at the quest hub. My one action had affected not only the world, but at least 20 other players. These 20 players where not defending against other rifts that had opened in the area. When I logged on half an hour later I saw a named water boss (Ara’quixgl something)  fighting an epic death boss (Fist of Regulos) at the same quest hub. Would this have even happened if I had not opened that first rift? This is dynamic content.

There are of course wrinkles that need massaging. The first is focus. When there is a one rift invasion sending war parties at a quest hub the focus is easy. Players defend the quest hub, and then advance on the rift to close it. Once closed, it is easy to say “we have won.” When the big event, Battle for Freemarch occurs, where the map fills with death rifts sending war parties all over, there is still focus because there is a win and loss condition for the whole zone (we did lose at one point, but I am not sure what the punishment was). It’s when a bunch of same-elemental rifts occur without any “win” condition that focus is lost.

It begins to feel mushy. Is there an end in sight? It begins to feel like snowball-zerg whack-a-mole as our ever-amassing group of players continues to stomp out rifts that pop up around the map. Each small victory when we killed a war party, ended a foothold, or sealed a rift lost the “we have won” feeling because we had so many more to kill. But, since it was not a named event with a win condition announced to all, I think focus was lost. It felt like there should have been a better way to strike back.

There is also the issue of player survivability and scaling. Right now clerics seem to rule the day because of their fantastic survivability in healing themselves and others while also managing to output a respectable damage amount. The other classes have “support” souls, but their survivability still remains low. I really feel that as the dynamic content scales upwards, the whole mob agro system begins to rely too heavily on a holy trinity function where the mass of players needs tanks and healers. Players can not rely on themselves as much, and I feel this makes the game a little less fun. I expect that an open grouping system would help this issue greatly, but I hope that Trion also considers re-working each class to have one soul that really shines for self-survivability. I was trying a pyromancer/chloromancer build, but I did not have enough points for the chloromancer’s good heal, Bloom. It might have been enough if I had put more points in to the chloromancer (a support soul).

Finally, maybe I am just spoiled by Lord of the Rings Online, but I was getting really sick of the time it took to get to one quest hub after another. (There’s a big reason my wife calls MMOs “running games.”) Especially to get back to the quest hub that trades rift rewards. Perhaps that problem will be gone when I hit level 20 and get a mount, but having this issue in the whole first zone was not very fun.

Regardless, I had a blast with the game as a whole. There are so many other fun things like finding artifacts for my collections under a wagon, or killing a deer and getting the Deer Tears item (“you, monster”). I am looking forward to some PvP and trying other soul combinations. Hopefully next beta I will be able to experience a dungeon too.

–Ravious
man was in the forest

31 thoughts on “Rift Beta 4 Impressions”

  1. Spot on! I love the loot from critters: I have one from a bunny that says “How can you sleep at night?” XD

    I feel the opposite about the quest hubs, though; I think they’re awfully close together, and because of this you don’t spend a lot of time in one hub area before they push you down the road to the next. It lends a sense of urgency, IMO; I always feel like I’m being passed along as an important resource (or a really buff errand runner).

    I’m also glad I’m not the only one who has concerns about the survivability of non-Cleric base. Actually, I thought I was just DOING it wrong, but I guess no matter how I do it, it’s not going to be up to par :D

  2. Really focused on how the group mechanic worked with my small family team (3 members). Hard to say with so few levels under our belt. My personal hope was that we would NOT have to Trinity this time if we focused heavy heals and major DPS…

    But, I really love how the game is progressing and just don’t want to experience any more yet…

    Hoping that the classes don’t get super nerfed at launch like all other MMO’s that have failed after launch…

  3. Players won’t see it until they are approaching level 10. On the Defiant side, the first two repetitive rifts that can be seen from the Ark of the Ascended are training rifts in comparison to the rift-filled world below. Honestly, I would call it a fumble that it takes a really good hour to see one of the basest cores of the game.

    Well above an hour, presumably days (not /played days). I think I was still in the tutorial zone after a half hour, and I did not stop to read many of the dozen-plus lore bits around. I would be shocked to hear of players hitting level 10 in one hour even at a flat-out, “skip all quest text and just kill” sprint. If I cannot reach the first interesting content in two or three play sessions, given how I binge, that is a huge fumble.

    1. Good point. Time flows differently when playing MMOs it seems. The second time I hit it in about an hour, I think…. but still yeah, a fumble is a fumble.

      1. I’ve been hammering on this in Feedback and the Beta forums. Those tutorial zones are a major error. They are nothing like the game itself and will put many people off.

        It’s pretty easy to get through them in about 30 minutes, leaving at around level 5 or 6, but that’s 30 minutes too long. Play should begin in the actual world, not a tutorial zone that barely resembles it (and that goes for all MMOs).

  4. I would love to comment on how I enjoyed the gameplay and the content, but to be honest, I couldn’t get past the graphics. Now, I’d like to assume that my system is on the above average side. I play a ton of different games on it, recent games, and I play them all on the highest or high settings. I installed Rift, but in order to get a framerate above 10fps, I had to play on the lowest of settings, with the lowest rendering possible. So, basically, when rifts occured and greater than 10 people showed up, forget it. An elite mob approached me, I could generally do nothing more than lay down and die. My survivability against quest mobs was good, but against anything else, it was a mess.

    As I’ve said, my system is nice. Win 7 x64, Quad core AMD, 8 GB memory, GeForce 9800GTX card, etc. and I couldn’t get past the performance issues, running around in an environment on par with the original EQ, but worse!

    I spent 6 hours plus trying to wrestle with the performance of the game, and because of these issues, the rifts felt more annoying to me and just got in the way of questing and trying to level up. So the entire focus of the game, for me, just became annoying. So it goes.

    1. My system is not to that level and I did not have any issues like you describe. I’m guessing that something quirky is going on with your specific system and setup.

      1. My system is fairly nice too in comparison with Mikey (but Intel based) and I had absolutely no problems at all.

        I did get a pop-up suggesting I change to low-rendering in the middle of some massive fights last night, but that was with several rifts around me with about 50-70 players running around — total chaos. It made me scratch my head because, as far as I could tell, I wasn’t taking any performance hit at all.

        On the plus side, this was after several hours of playing — I was worried as the chaos began that memory leaks and other common issues would present themselves, but not even a hiccup as far as I could tell.

        1. My PC is mediocre in gaming terms and I have no problems running in High Quality. I get 30FPS or better everywhere except in major invasions and even then it’s playable without changing any sessions.

      2. Indeed. I have a fairly old system at this point (dual core, 4 Gig ram, 8800GT), and I was running it on higher or ultra at 30-40 FPS. Even large groups didn’t cause any frame drop that I noticed.

    2. That seems odd to me, as I got the exact opposite impression from my time with MMOs and their related graphical issues.

      My rig isn’t bad by any means, but its certainly not the best of the best. I’m running an i7-920 OCed to 3.8Ghz and I’ve got a Radeon 4890, running Win7x64 with 6Gb RAM.

      I turned the graphics on Ultra running at 1920×1200 and Rift didn’t even bat an eyelash. Even in world events with between 50 and 100 people all fighting in the same screen space the machine didn’t slow down.

      That said, with the exact same rig, playing Age of Conan and Everquest 2, I found that the machine dropped framerate into the teens occasionally when there was a significantly heavy raid going on. That was between 20 and 24 people all playing together, so I’d usually switch my graphics settings down a notch and be very solid, and it was only in certain zones, but I didn’t get any of those issues with Rift. I was quite pleased with how smooth it was.

      That said, Rift did complain that my driver needed to be updated before loading up for this event, so its possible that the new driver worked out some serious kinks.

    3. The game just still has performance issues on various system configs. Some people with bad systems can get great performance, others with good rigs don’t. They’re working on it, I think.

    4. I play on an older dual core XP machine with 2gb and a HD4870. My FPS was fine, mid 20’s during the big raid event.

  5. Yeah, takes about an hour to get through the Guardian tutorial stuff, which culminates with a static rift.

    Then it all depends, really. Sometimes there are level 8 or so rifts down in the newbie areas of the real world, but they don’t seem as prevalent as later on.

    Consider the alternative though. Consider the new MMO gamers trying to figure out how to play and being over-run by an invasion force and not having a clue as to what is going on. Some things you just can’t expose truly new players to right off the bat.

    One thing that helps with the generic rift problem is joining a guild and getting guild quests to close 15 rifts and kill 500 rift creatures (guess at the numbers there). But yeah, once you’ve been in an Invasion sealing the random rifts doesn’t feel quite as epic.

  6. Good thoughts as always, everyone. I agree that the beta was very enjoyable overall. However, I do have a lot of concerns – and I think the “dynamic-ness” of rifts is the least of Trion’s worries. I’m much more concerned about the apparent conflict between two of the cores of RIFT’s design: Questing and rift invasions. It feels schizophrenic, with two modes of gameplay warring for control.

    On one side you have the on-rails solo questing game, aimed squarely at solo players. On the other you have the rift/invasion system, which effaces and interferes with the solo questing game when present. This latter system appeals to social players who like working with others or forming grinding/hunting groups, and are comfortable moving within and using the social tools in MMOs.

    Unfortunately with RIFT’s design, it seems to me that when one side is happy, the other side must necessarily be unhappy and frustrated. That is to say, when an invasion takes over a town, the questing grinds to a halt – it could be a bonus to the questing player, if the invasion spawned new, unique quests – but instead it’s purely a roadblock to their preferred play style.

    Similarly, when all the Rifts are closed, there is nothing else for the big group to do but wait around for another to form, or split up and quest. There is no way to actively take the fight to the enemy (that I could find), other than through the static questing system. I never had I sense that I was winning – as Ravious puts it so well; that I was pushing back or counter attacking, or really doing anything but playing whack-a-mole.

    So what we have is game design which, in practice, removes choices and options rather than adding freedom. Rift-closing is inherently reactive, offering no real choices to the player. And they are purely destructive towards the questing game, similarly offering no choice to someone intent on playing solo but to move on to another area, or wait for a group to rescue them.

    That said, rifts do work amazingly for the person in the happy middle, content to quest until he finds his way blocked by a rift, at which point he changes modes and finds a group to play with. Once again, however, this does nothing to create player choice or agency. Also, you might be able to guess that I am not a happy middle kind of person…

    In addition to these issues, it seems like the design of a lot of abilities doesn’t really suit an open, fluid solo to group to solo environment. I played as a main Choloromancer, and while my self healing was decent (not enough to survive an elite mob, but OK. I’ll point out that Bloom, the skill Ravious mentions, has a 5 second CD and only heals about 35-40% of a player’s HP), I couldn’t do much for random people outside my group. Too many of my key abilities seemed to be limited to party or raid members, despite the wording of the skills implying otherwise. I guess “ally” is RIFT’s way of saying “party member”.

    One followup to something Ravious pointed out: I think the single best (and simplest) improvement they could implement right away would be to give players temporary mounts or some other cheap, out-of-combat speed boosts at level 10. It might break the quest flow a bit, but at the moment it feels like a huge amount of time is spent simply running around the world, trying to track down invasion forces or rifts. During the big zone-wide event, I actually logged out in frustration, after looking at the map and seeing a good 5-10 minute run to the closest invasion force – and that doesn’t even account for the run back to turn in the quest material.

    Overall my experience with RIFT has been very positive. The game is amazingly polished and offers some truly unique, dynamic content, and the feeling of a changing, changeable world. I still don’t plan to purchase, however – I’m still nervous about how the rift gameplay will work once the population thins out in the second and third week after launch. Although perhaps more to the point, I’m just not in the game’s target market – I don’t like raiding, I don’t like questing, and I tend to like games with very archetypal, simple class systems – so while I find the character building system in RIFT fascinating and potentially very deep, it just doesn’t grab me.

    That said, RIFT is a really stellar effort, and I strongly recommend anyone who’s interested in a new MMO that offers some truly unique and creative ideas to check it out.

  7. “I hope that Trion also considers re-working each class to have one soul that really shines for self-survivability.”

    Isn’t this the pet classes? I saw a level twenty-something Elementalist solo an elite built for a 3-person quest in Gloamwood by having his earth elemental tank it and chain healing it. Ranger on Rogue side is also fairly survivable with the Razorbeast pet.

    1. As a melee cleric, I can attest to finding it much easier to keep a tanking earth elemental alive with the heals I had, over certain two-hander using warriors who were cheerfully taking aggro but melting much more quickly. Possibly one of those lowbie scaling effects or they were not built up properly for survivability yet. Or the mage was also providing heals on their pet.

  8. Great article I agree with all said accept I have found necromancers to be higher on the survivor-ability chart then a cleric – with a dash of warlock – and dash of dominator. Once I got soul purge it was all over. I would put up my life leech – I had another ability that when my pet took damage I got healed then when I got soul purge and could heal myself and my pet during a battle I was actually using my pet to tank those bosses at the rifts with no problem. Another time I got jumped by 8 mobs 2 levels higher then me and had no problem. That is a class I most certainly will play well over a cleric.

    I also did feel at time with the rifts that no end was in sight like you said “are we winning”.. to go along with the storyline here I am brought back to help save the world and it never felt like I was getting a leg up with all the rift battles. Something to make it feel like we are winning would feel great not sure how that would factor in for it always remaining a dynamic changing environment.

    1. That’s why it’s a beta.

      I anticipate they’ll be fine-tuning the rift experience for a while yet (I first played it this weekend), but I’ve never seen such a polished game in beta, including WoW (which was really sort of awful for its first three months – we forget) and Guild Wars.

      I expect Rifts to be improved at release, and something wonderful shortly after.

  9. “maybe I am just spoiled by Lord of the Rings Online, but I was getting really sick of the time it took to get to one quest hub after another.”

    Given how bad LOTRO has been on travel in general, and now on free players in particular, I find this statement vaguely frightening. :P

    1. I haven’t played LotR in years, so I was reluctant to speak up in case it’s radically different, but that was my reaction too!

      It had literally the worst travel time requirements of any game I’d ever played, and proved an insurmountable obstacle to both myself & my brother.
      I believe the mind-numbing tedium has only been topped subsequently by the Aquilonian capital of AoC – the black hole of gaming time. *shudder*

  10. Re: travel times, there were several consumables that turned you into a creature and included a speed buff as long as you refrained from using anything on your skill bar. I know of a bat consumable and a couple of imp ones. I’m not sure how you get your hands on them, though; they seemed to be random drops or rift rewards, IIRC?

    1. I got one of the bat items. It might have been from a rift, but who knows – I got so much crap constantly flooding my bags from clearing rifts I lost track of it all.

      The issue is, I only saw one bat item in all my time playing, and lost it when I leveled up turning a quest in – apparently the weird “level up!” animation counts as skill use. So it only actually worked going one-way.

      Also it’s only a 10% speed boost, which isn’t really much… at least you don’t get knocked out of it by damage though. :)

  11. I think they have some major issues with class balance (esp rogues) and the huge advantages of ranged instant attacks. It’ll work out in the wash because people will have access to all the souls in their class eventually but new players who start off with something like a nightshade or assassin are going to find things very disappointing.

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