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.”
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.
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
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
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 email@example.com. Next time, let’s see what develops!