Choose My Adventure: Starting fresh in RIFT

John Jacob Jinkleheimer RIFT
When RIFT first came out, I had very low hopes for it. The game already was launching into a crowded field, and it was doing so while basically just taunting Blizzard to invite comparisons to World of Warcraft. Seriously, the game had that remarkably ill-advised “We’re not in Azeroth any more” ad campaign, that looked like a bad idea then and looks even worse now. I didn’t play it before launch, but at a glance I had thought, “this looks like a good free-to-play title but it can’t go up against WoW convincingly.”

To put this in street fight terms, this is the 98-pound weakling kicking the head of a motorcycle gang in the shins, then asking him what he’s going to do about it.

Fortunately for everyone, that story did not end the way you might expect. Sure, RIFT did not in fact take the entire world by storm, but it has been running successfully for several years now, pumping out expansions and big updates and generally managing to keep its head above water. And it no longer looks, at a glance, like WoW with a lick of paint despite that being its initial design.

Bear in mind that I do not say any of this as an insult. When RIFT first launched, it was obviously trying hard to emulate WoW, to the point of having its central mechanic of soul-swapping make more sense through the lens of WoW. Instead of having a bunch of classes with different talent trees, the game had four classes… and each one had tons of talent trees, which also gained you new abilities! It was like custom-building your own blend of talents! Neat, right?

The answer, of course, is yes. But it was also pretty clearly “playing with ideas that another game introduced” rather than “separate system that happens to connect to other ideas.”

We're not dead yet.

Time, in that regard, has actually helped RIFT a lot. The system it is emulating is no longer a party of WoW, and the addition of more souls able to do more things means that your class is really more of a subset of the many options you have, similar to other games with class-swapping mechanics. When the game originally looked like another title with a lick of paint, it has gotten the time and space to grow into its own thing, which makes me very happy indeed.

In other ways, time has actually hurt the game. There are things I’ve always liked about it, and one of the biggest elements was one introduced right with the launch of the game in how it handled its factions. So often “neither faction is evil” really means “one faction is demonstrably bad, but we’ll pretend that the other side being rude in response is the same as one faction doing lots of horrible things.”

Not so in RIFT; both Defiants and Guardians have legitimate reasons to distrust and loathe one another, and neither faction has a monopoly on good or awful behavior. Which means that it has always rather bothered me that after a bit more time, the developers tacitly dropped faction barriers because players preferred not having them there.

Do I like the fact that players were no longer bound by faction lines? Of course. Did it make me sad that a game which actually offered distinct and fun factions with a good reason for their split sort of abandoned that split? Also yes.

Then again, that sort of sums up my experience with RIFT in a nutshell. It’s a game I have dabbled in on many occasions, brushing up against out of curiosity and genuine interest, but each time I’ve wound up bouncing off of it. It’s never struck me as a bad game, but frequently as one that serves a need I don’t really have at any given time.

Some of this, I’m sure, is the fact that at lower levels the game struck me as a little bit jumbled. Not hopelessly so and not as a result of incompetence in development; it’s just that as you’ve started leveling, you don’t yet have the points to get any fun tricks and have to make some choices between “spending more in this tree will let you get cool stuff there faster” and “spending more across a couple of trees will give you more to do now.” Order of operations, in other words.

Combine that with little niggling things and it’s always been a game I’ve been able to admire without ever feeling as if it’s for me. I’ve bounced off at some point each time, and that makes me a bit sad. There’s a lot to like here!

And while the game might have started out as an obvious riff on outside ideas and biting off far more than it could fit in its mouth, much less chew… well, part of me likes that, too. There’s a certain absolute audacity to it, punching up so high that you can’t even see your target. The fact that the story ends with RIFT being consistently well-liked helps a lot, too.

Just call me angel of the morning, angel.

In short, while I have no warm and fuzzy feelings for the game, I have plenty surrounding the game, and I can respect what it is and where it has gone over time. Especially as time has seen its focus broaden, growing upward and more diverse while its obvious inspiration has gone more insular.

So let’s see how this outing goes! Like always, I am at the mercy of voting. And the obvious place to start with voting is by choosing a faction. My natural inclination is the tech-focused Defiant faction, of course, but perhaps I’d benefit more from the staunchly devout Guardians? I guess you’ll make that choice for me, won’t you?

CMA: Which RIFT faction should I play?

  • Defiant (67%, 149 Votes)
  • Guardian (33%, 74 Votes)

Total Voters: 223

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Similarly, there’s the choice of class. Unlike a lot of other games, “class” is more of a thematic umbrella than anything else; while you’ll be doing it through different means, a Mage and a Primalist are both capable of being melee DPS, tanks, or ranged DPS depending on your selection of souls. This means that there’s no reason for me not to include all of the classes (fine, callings) on the poll, since there’s no way I can get one without options that tickle me.

CMA: Which RIFT calling should I play?

  • Warrior (9%, 20 Votes)
  • Cleric (19%, 42 Votes)
  • Rogue (26%, 59 Votes)
  • Mage (17%, 39 Votes)
  • Primalist (29%, 66 Votes)

Total Voters: 226

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As usual, the polls will close on Friday at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Until then – or after then as well, really – you can leave feedback in the comments below or via mail to Next time, let’s see what develops!

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. Don’t you worry about choosing races, he can handle that one on his own.

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Lieutenant BaconWaffles

I have the warm fuzzies for this game. WoW was out of my price range & I couldn’t get enough of the world design. There’s only 4 MMOs I’ve ever played for longer than a week & this was one of them. Been playing off & on for years.


Rift, at launch, was excellent and it still has one of the better class systems in the genre. The problem I have with the game as it stands today is the company behind it and the way they’ve monetized it. Trion went from being the best in the business to a little wanna be EA and I don’t think they should be rewarded for it.

Castagere Shaikura

I love the game world and the souls you can chose from within all the classes. My biggest problem is once you get close to lvl 60 lvling seems to really slow down alot. The xp you get for doing quest is so low it seems to me. If i could just lvl up faster i would like the game more.

Kickstarter Donor

Would still be tinkering around if the Steam install worked, but for some reason Glyph was totally borked and I could never get it to load properly without a full reinstall…which I can’t say I care enough to do given monthly data caps.

That being said, Rift is probably the only game where I’d actually encourage a rogue spec. I mained cleric in vanilla and mage in SL/NT, but I always really dug the rogue souls like sab/bard and thought the tank soul was pretty rad. Healing soul that got added was pretty cool too.

I think this is by far the lowest point for Rift, especially on live servers that seem to largely be abandoned, but curious to see a “new” player’s take on it right now.

Still crushed at how the game and Trion have ended up. I don’t regret the years I spent subbing/dropping ton of money in the cash shop and talking up Rift/Trion, but looking back on them it’s sure disappointing to see the state of the game and Trion now compared to the state back during chocolate (or even SL) and the promise it continued to hold.

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I love the game, but the story just…maybe it’s because Regulos is the most UNINSPIRED baddie ever. The immersion is still kind meh.
But the talent choices are great and I love the mix and match. And the community is also what keeps me going. And I could just do rifts all night, I have a ton of quests I just let go so lower level because I have too much fun in the dynamic world.


I haven’t played the live servers in a while so not quite sure what they’re like, but I played Prime for a bit and had a lot of fun. It did have some class balance issues and the PvP needs a lot of work – it was great during Vanilla RIFT so not sure what happened.

Should be interesting to see what the live servers are like at this point. I’ve never played Primalist so could be interesting to see what that’s like, although I voted Mage. It’s my second favorite archetype after Cleric, but on Prime Cleric balance was awful so I can’t make you play that without knowing it’s good on live lol!

But RIFT has always been a solid game and aside from the two somewhat minor issues above, I think the one thing keeping this game from being more popular is it’s payment model. But I think they said they were addressing that recently didn’t they?

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“Psstt….it’s not bacon…pass it on….Chien Résistance!”

Bryan Turner

I chose Defiant and Primalist because I’m an atheist, and Primalists are brokenly over powered from what I heard.

Bryan Turner

I think a better comparison would be the fight between the Bleeder and Ali in the Mid 70s. Coming off Ali’s stunning defeat of Forman, Don King was looking for another gimmick so he found the closest contender to the heavy weight championship that was white, a drunk from Jersey that had been a club fighter all his life, to fight Ali in a Mid West venue in match up that was promoted in as racist a way as you can imagine. Non of the experts expected the Bleeder to go more than a round, how ever he stunned the world by lasting almost 12 rounds while knocking Ali down at one point while almost knocking him out. Stallone would later take this story and turn it into Rocky.

That is kind of Rifts story, gave WoW a run for it’s money for the first two years, even got expansion of the year from your publication for Storm Legion. Then spent the last few years treading water while producing expansions and not dying.

Bryan Turner

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You go inside the cage…Clubber Lang in the cage…Ivan Drago in the cage…
Sorry he reminded me of Robert Shaw.
How is this movie? I love these period pieces. Though it looks kinda Boogie Nights/The Deuce and not so biopic.

But don’t take me on biopics, I loved “The Founder”. Hey, Micheal Keaton can even play a McDonald’s franchise creator and still do it good. Plus Nick Offerman as one of the original McDonald brothers? SOLD!