Rift, the MMORPG, is Warhammer in weaksauce

I know very well to stay away from this, but I decided to check it out, despite my vow to never again join mmorpg betas, because at the helm of this game is Scott Hartsman (former EQ2 technical guy and then producer, surely did better work as the latter) and he’s one of the VERY FEW guys I have esteem for.

So I checked this out.

In short: Trion, the studio behind this game has been shopping for Mythic’s devs for a while (Mythic’s producer is the most recent acquisition). Scott Hartsman probably brought some SOE devs with him as well. The game uses Gamebryo, the DREADFUL engine that everyone learned to hate and scorn. It’s the same engine used on Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout, DAoC and Warhammer, so you know what to expect.

The result is that Rift plays, looks and feels like an hybrid of EQ2 and Warhammer. The basic gameplay copies the first iteration of WoW (when quests had far less variety), plays the exact same way and has the exact same UI (but done in Guild Wars art).

There are two features that make Rift stand out:

– The “soul” mechanic, that makes the same class mix and cover different roles (tank, DPS, control, healer).
– The rifts.

The soul mechanic I approve (even if the specific implementation comes with some issues, like balance problems, redundant skills, and not quite streamlined skills purpose), in fact it’s quite curious how one of the two distinctive features of this game that wasn’t copied from some other MMO… is one of my own.

About five years ago (see forum date and original thread for evidence) I was proposing the exact same idea:

Here’s how I’m following HRose’s “fixed classes/flexible roles” concept …

My idea was basically letting characters and a single class cover all “roles” in a party like “healer” “tank” or “DPS” so that some players could always form a decent group at all times, without having to sit an hour because they couldn’t find an healer.

You could basically swap your party role to whatever was needed. And what is used in Rift is close to the same idea. (as long the swap is not permanent like WoW’s talents)

It can take time, but eventually even the professional designers arrive to the same conclusions I arrived a few years ago. If you sit and wait in the place where everyone is going, then it looks like everyone is coming to you ;)

The other feature is the “rifts”. This one seems an original concept, but it’s just a variation of Warhammer’s Public Quest. Quite shameless, imho. You arrive at the location of a Rift and you automatically obtain a Public Quest divided in sub-phases EXACTLY like Warhammer. First there’s a wave of minor mobs, then a “boss” of some kind. When all phases are complete you can pick up a reward depending on how much you contributed.

It’s exactly the same idea, with very minor adjustments. The only relevant one is that instead of being in a fixed location like Warhammer, these are scripted to occur at random in a number of points across the map, including quest hubs. You gain some dynamism, but you lose the handcrafted detail Warhammer’s model allowed. Imho, it’s not a step forward.

Warhammer offered four kinds of gameplay: standard PvE, Public Quests, Battlegrounds, world PvP. Of these, two were badly broken due to bad game design (Public Quests not being scalable, world PvP being just horribly done and nerfed so that everyone was playing just BGs), but AT LEAST they were there.

Rifts plays essentially the same, but PvP seems entirely tacked on (and balance problems won’t make it easier).

Warhammer was a big failure. Rifts offers even less and has far less ideas, but perhaps isn’t utterly doomed. I think it was developed in a short time span and cost less than Warhammer (all thanks to Gamebryo, whose “discounts” will be then payed every single day). Without EA expecting millions of subscribers and Scott Hartsman at the helm I think they have a realistic plan and in the end the boat could stay afloat even if this game is on paper (and in what I played) sensibly weaker than Warhammer.

And for more Gamebryo HORRORS look here.

Different projects names, same people behind them. In the end I can’t be surprised if all these games play exactly the same. From what I see, the larger the crisis in the industry and especially the mmorpg genre, the more fragmented it gets. Studios shattering in many smaller ones and developers finishing on the road and continuing to wander aimlessly like zombies between failed projects. It’s not a recipe for success, and it will take many more years to see a new mmorpg that actually deserves the attention.

I LOLed at the beta forum:

What about the Gamebryo engine? What impact does it have on performance?

The fact that Rift uses the Gamebryo engine does not have a significant impact on performance. Rift uses a heavily modified version of the engine, and only for certain game systems. As such any issues you may have experienced with other MMOs using this engine will not affect Rift.

Wishful thinking :)

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