I’ve played Rift since Head Start to level 33, and in my opinion Rift is the best MMORPG launch I’ve experienced in the past 5 years, a span which includes the following titles:
- Warhammer Online
- Allods Online
Rift’s game developer, Trion, has been remarkably savvy in how they have handled the game thus far, in particular by:
- Not over-hyping their game then under-delivering. My impression is that Rift has mostly spread by word-of-mouth; my gaming friend Nathan and real life friend Gaardarun both raved about Rift from Beta
- Delivering a stable, polished game at launch, with a clear path for implementing frequent updates/fixes with minimal downtime. The game servers have been taken down for maintenance at times, but the longest I’ve seen so far is 30 minutes, and Trion has managed expectations on downtimes pretty well. I.e. there hasn’t been that 12-hour unplanned downtime that we all dislike
- Borrowing innovations from other games. Rift has taken some of the best mechanics and design features from games such as Warhammer, including the PVP mechanics for “tanks” such as Guard, Taunt, Hold the Line, etc and Detaunt. And other game features such as Achievements, Guild Achievements, Guild Ranks, etc that originated in Warhammer (and which Blizzard also copied)
- Designing the most flexible spec system ever, which is both fun-to-play and IMO shields Trion from the class/spec griping from the playerbase
That last point has huge implications. Consider the following example with WoW. You roll a Paladin to heal at endgame as Holy, but you are unhappy with nerfs or issues for your spec. What are your options?
- Continue to play the spec and hope for future buffs, or
- Re-spec to Protection or Retribution and re-gear, or
- Roll a different Healing class, re-level to endgame, and then re-gear
Those are all crappy options to me, given that I value my time and what I enjoy most is endgame not grinding to get back to endgame. I know some people have been conditioned to accept the current market standards and would say “suck it up and re-level, it’s what I did” but I think that is a lousy customer experience.
With Rift, you can simply change which 3 of the 9 talent trees you are playing as a Healer (Cleric). Rift’s flexible spec system protects players from making a steep time investment in a class that they are later unsatisfied with for whatever reason.
The other implication of the spec system is that there are fewer opportunities for (real or perceived) imbalance between specs for the same class. Everyone knows a spec change has a low switching cost. No need to re-roll, re-level, and re-gear from scratch.
Is Rift the next “WoW Killer”? I don’t know and frankly don’t care. It’s the wrong question to ask – the right question is whether a game supports a virtuous cycle:
Trion made the right decision as to when the game was ready to launch, thereby avoiding the irreparable damage that was done by launching too early, as we saw with Warhammer Online and Age of Conan.
Will Trion continue to re-invest in the game over time? It’s too early to tell, but my impression is that they have a sharp management team, a perception further reinforced by an interview with Trion’s Marketing head back in December that I read today, while trying to find paying subscriber numbers. I haven’t been able to find those numbers yet – if you see any good articles please link them.
From a bigger picture perspective, Trion gives me hope for the “traditional MMORPG” market. Just over a year ago, I expressed concern that game developers were moving away from traditional MMORPGs and instead investing in social gaming. Trion shows how to do traditional MMORPGs right.
Please keep in mind that this is my honest, objective opinion. Like many of you, I’ve been burned by bloggers who hype up new games which only end up disappointing.