Why I Play: RIFT

Is it possible for a top-tier MMO to come out of nowhere and bowl you over? Considering that I follow these games not only for a hobby but as a writer for Massively, I always assumed the answer to that was "no." Until it happened, that is. Until RIFT.

It's not as though RIFT was a big secret or anything, but up until the late hours of 2010, it was very low on my -- and many of my friends' -- radars. I often got it confused with TERA, for Pete's sake! It wasn't until I got my hands on it at PAX that year and then saw how huge the beta got that I realized there was more to this supposedly generic fantasy title than I'd assumed. It truly felt like it came out of nowhere, and before I knew it, I was enjoying what became one of my favorite games of 2011.

So why did I play RIFT, and why do I still log in on occasion today? Trust me, it's not for the Elves.

Why I play RIFT: It's a polished, finished game

We'd all gotten so used to the half-baked MMOs that would limp across the release line that RIFT's appearance just stunned us. For a game as big as it was, it was remarkably polished and playable on day one. It's kind of a sad commentary on the MMO industry that we were glad to the point of happy-tears when this happened, but that's how it goes.

For me, I just enjoyed jumping right into the game without crashes to desktop, game-stopping bugs, or a bemoaning of a lack of critical features. Even those features that were absent at launch came shortly thereafter, and now that the game has a year of live development under its belt, it's more finished than most MMOs on the market.

Why I play RIFT: Trion is the hardest-working dev team in the business

RIFT is a subscription-only MMO in a sea of free-to-play contemporaries, and as such, it had to justify this "premium" model to draw in and retain players. Above everything else, I believe that Trion Worlds' answer to this was in the fast, frequent, and fantastic updates that it rolled out.

When the first update reared its head shortly after launch, many wrote it off as half-finished pre-launch content that finally made it. But then the next one came a little over a month later. And the next. And the next. And the next. For the MMO industry, these sizable content updates (not just mere bug fixes, no sirree) were being rolled out impossibly fast -- and it made the competition look like stodgy old men in comparison.

There's no magic secret to all this; Trion's team simply works hard for your business. The studio has multiple teams assigned to different upcoming patches so that they can leapfrog each other while the updates release in rapid succession. This attitude quickly earned Trion my respect and support.

Why I play RIFT: Dynamic events and world events make the world a living, changing place.

While some gamers (including me) bemoan that RIFT didn't go the full Guild Wars 2 route by eschewing quests for a complete focus on its dynamic events, the truth is that the game's world does feel far different because of the system than it would as a strictly PvE quest-based title. The rifts, invasions, and world events keep the landscape changing, and that goes a long way toward keeping the game feeling fresh every time you log in.

I've always thought that RIFT has a very "arcadey" feel to it, particularly when the game throws large-sized fonts at you when the dynamic events begin and end. The team's come a long way from the routine events of the past, and it's still a lot of fun to randomly team up with passing travelers to take down one of these blights upon the world.

Why I play RIFT: It looks so darned good

Looks aren't everything, but they are something, and RIFT's got it in spades. Its art and visual design is criminally under-appreciated in the MMO community, and that's a shame because it really is lush, detailed, and screeshot-tastic. Every time I swim underwater, I'm amazed at how awesome it looks, and every fight comes alive with the bright and exciting visual touches that the team installed.

Why I play RIFT: It comes up with creative ideas

When RIFT was under attack by armies of hackers and keyloggers, not only did Trion Worlds quickly add an authenticator option, but it instituted something called a "coin lock." This would lock down one's account from buying or selling anything in-game if the game thought your characters were being accessed from a different location. It was a small but genius idea that is one of many that the Trion team comes up with regularly.

My favorite is RIFT's mobile application, which allows you to check out your character and chat with your guild and has a fun little lottery-like game that gives you chances to win in-game loot every hour or so. It's silly but also incredibly addicting.

Why I play RIFT: Scotty rules

He just does.

Why I play RIFT: It puts character choice into my hands

I can't tell you how jarring it was to go from the free-form class creation of RIFT to the rigid, World of Warcraft-era design of Star Wars: The Old Republic. When I could build my character from a blend of three classes and then save up to six of those builds to instantly swap depending on my situation and desires, having a game tell me that I have to stick with the cookie-cutter outline is aggravating.

While there's a downside to having this much freedom when it comes to your class (I feel that I wasn't as attached to my characters because they weren't as defined), the whole class-building system is genius, not to mention a blast to explore. Every class has multiple roles that it can assume, which means that forming a group to tackle tough content is usually as easy as finding a handful of warm bodies to fill the roster.

RIFT will always have a place in my heart, and I wish it the best as it continues to plow forward through the latest and greatest competition. This is a title that deserves to be played by everyone at least once, and I certainly don't regret my time in its world.

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.
This article was originally published on Massively.