After years during which World of Warcraft was not overthrown by either Guild Wars, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning or Lord of the Rings Online, the time has come for Trion Worlds to send their pretender in MMORPG arena, in the quest for glory and a large number of subscribers.
Originally named Heroes of Telara, Rift throws us into a fantasy world located at the intersection of several dimensions that on the one hand it provide a variety of natural resources, but on the other are a constant threat due to the creatures that exist "beyond" and are just waiting to invade. As if that wasn’t enough, this bounty ultimately attracted the attention of the gods known collectively as the Blood Storm, who fought the mortal races and the gods of Telara for the planet’s control.
In the end, the invading gods were imprisoned, with Regulos (the god of Death) being the only exiled beyond the magical barrier kown as The Ward, created by the most powerful wizards in Telara (The Vigil). For thousands of years, the barrier stopped any future invasions, but the mortal’s ambition and greed ultimately weakened amd shattered it in the end, an event that led to a schism between the races of Telara, resulting two factions: Guardians (the equivalent of the WoW’s Alliance) are those who still worship gods and rely on their help when fighting the enemiy. If you decide to join them, you can choose to be a High Elf, Dwarf or Mathosian (read Humans).
On the other side we have the Defiants, those who have decided to take matter into their own hands and explore the advantages of technology, because they believe that the gods have abandoned them and no longer deserve their respect and worship. Again, we have three options: Bahmi (Giants), Eth (Humans) and Kelari (Dark Elves).
Although regarding races there aren’t too many options, Rift compensates through the ways each class can be approached. Don’t go thinking that you can choose from 100 classes, because there are only four archetypes: rogue, warrior, mage and cleric. The interesting part is that each one has nine specializations (eight for PvE and one dedicated to PvP):
- rogue – nightblade, ranger, blade dancer, assassin, riftstalker, marksman, saboteur, bard;
- warrior – champion, reaver, paladin, warlord, paragon, riftblade, void knight, beastmaster;
- mage – elementalist, warlock, pyromancer, stormcaller, archon, necromancer, dominator, chloromancer;
- cleric – purifier, inquisitor, sentinel, justiciar, shaman, warden, druid, cabalist.
These come under the form of soul trees (similar to WoW’s talent tree) in which you can invest points as you level up. You can only have three such trees active at any time, but there is always the possibility to buy an extra role from the specific class trainer. The more points you invest in a tree, the more skills you can unlock, which you can then further develop at the trainer.
Another advantage (and probably the most important) of these subclasses is that when you are bored of the character you have, or simply want to try something else, you don't have to reroll and start from scratch after you have lost so much time to reach maximum level and get good equipment. In Rift, you can switch the souls around and you have a new character, especially since the items are tied to the archetype, not the subclass.
Because I played it the most, I will give the Rogue as an example. I know it sounds hard to believe, but in Rift he can be a DPS (as nightblade), support (as bard) or tank (as riftstalker). In addition to these specializations, the Rogue can fulfill the role of the ranger if you choose the specific subclass which gives you the ability to train a pet that will help you later in battle. And with the Marksman (lots of ranged skills) and Saboteur (the expert in traps and especially explosives) souls, the ranger can become “the ultimate ranged damage dealer”.
However, I chose a combination that helped me with the levelling up process (nightblade as main tree, blade dancer and assassin secondary), because I didn't had to fight all the AI controller mobs to complete the quests. In addition, groups are looking for these rogues due to their ability to neutralize multiple targets, a skill that is extremely useful in raids. But despite this flexibility, there are limitations imposed by the archetype, because a mage for example will never be a tank, while a Warrior will not be healer even if he wants to… maybe support in the best case. So the producers give you some leeway if you want to experiment, but not that much.
Another downside is because there are so many possibilites, properly balancing the game is a monumental task and there will always be a mix which will be considered overpowered, especially when it comes to Player vs. Player encounters. You only have to take a glance on the official forums to see the flames and unending discussions that precede / follow the release of every major patch.