Personally, I kind of wish we could be at launch-plus-one month right now, just so that the frenzy of insane opinions will have died down and we can just, y'know, play the game without feeling as though we were in the middle of a verbal rugby match. Like any MMO, RIFT's going to have its positives and negatives, but I feel that this launch is going to be something we haven't seen in a long time: a solid, stable MMO that offers up a complete package. That pleases the Justin.
Since I can't whip out my magic remote control and fast-forward to April, I propose we do the next best thing. Let's open up our imaginary quest logs and run down a checklist of seven "To Dos" and a few "To Don'ts" to help us prepare for RIFT's release. Planning can be fun! Shut up, it can be!
1. Get into the open beta
RIFT's very last beta event -- and very first open beta event -- is going on right now! So if the waiting is excruciating or if you haven't had an opportunity to check out the game yet, diving into the beta is a sure-fire way to pass a few days. Betas are also useful to get a feel for what you want to play at launch, so take some time to experiment with factions, archetypes and souls while you're there. After all, you can't take anything other than memories with you, so there's little point to power-leveling a condemned toon.
This beta will run through next Sunday the 21st and is surprisingly easy to join. Just head over to RIFT's website and create an account, and you're in like Flynn. There's even a chance to win an NVIDIA graphics card if you go dungeon-stomping this week, so it's like the dev team is rewarding you for playing. Can't complain about that!
If you're interested in playing RIFT, then it definitely benefits you to get in on some of these great pre-order packages while the getting is gotten. Even the standard pre-order still offers far more benefits than if you wait to buy a box off the shelf, and I'm always an advocate of stocking up on extra goodies in advance of a game's release. It's like buying Christmas presents for yourself!
There are a few different standard pre-order deals for the digital collector's edition package and the retail collector's edition. Each offers a different amount of bonuses -- for example, the retail CE adds more physical goodies while the digital CE is great if you just want the in-game toys -- but all of them give you an in-game pet, access to the head start on February 24th, and the opportunity to partake in Founder's subscription plans. If you're trying to be budget-conscious, $10 a month for a subscription is a great deal provided that you can buy it in six-month blocks.
3. Find a guild
Guild-shopping is a time-honored tradition of the pre-launch set, provided that you don't already have a multi-game guild or a group of friends you're taking with you on Mr. Toad's Wild RIFT Ride. While guilds aren't everyone's cup of tea -- and I can respect that -- I think they help you feel as though you belong to the in-game community a lot faster than does soloing. Plus, there are terrific perks, abilities and quests that are only accessible if you belong to a guild.
Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to finding a guild that's an excellent match for you, unless your standards are "anything that accepts a warm body." Your first stop should be the guild forums on RIFT's website, then go from there. Ask around -- word-of-mouth recommendations can be surprisingly effective in helping you find the guild for you. Worst-case scenario, head into launch week with an eye on the general chat channels and see which guilds are recruiting. Trust me, there's going to be at least one or two.
4. Bone up on the basics
Although fansites and dedicated beta testers have already analyzed 95% of the game to death, I don't think it's necessary at this point to be poring over dungeon boss strategy videos and min-maxing guides. There's plenty of time to squeeze the life from this game later and no real rush -- just a perceived one -- to get there. Instead, it's a good idea to get into the lore of the world at this point, to understand the basics, and to know enough so that your first day in-game will be as smooth as possible.
Obviously, this column is here to help as well as Massively's extensive RIFT coverage. It's a reading rainbow (butterflies in the sky...) of informational goodness!
5. Decide your priorities
When I was a kid, I used to spend weeks before vacations just planning what I was going to bring and do when it finally happened. I got a weird sense of pleasure out of preparing my moves in advance, and I don't think I'm alone in this.
There are a lot of key decisions for your character that you could leave for launch day but that might be a lot of fun to figure out now (and in so doing, save yourself some indecision later). What's your character's name going to be? Are you going to try to reserve all your favorite names right away? What type of server are you going to call home? Do the Defiants or Guardians fit your personality better? Is your first character going to be a Rogue, Warrior, Mage or Cleric? Are you going to try to level quickly or take your time and enjoy the journey? Is crafting in the cards?
All of these small decisions pile up to form your play experience, and there's no reason you can't figure them out now.
6. Experiment with soul builds via calculators
Another enjoyable way to take the edge off your RIFT craving while aiding your overall knowledge of the game is to fiddle around with one of the soul calculators out there. Because RIFT's soul system is so complex and diverse, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of potential combinations and builds to consider.
Here are a couple of the calculators out there right now:
7. Computer maintenance
While you don't always have to go out and buy a new graphics card and tons more RAM for every MMO that comes out, it's not a bad idea to engage in a little bit of common sense maintenance so that you don't have to worry about conflicts down the road. Updating your virus scanner, firewall and graphics card drivers are all crucial (and you really should be doing that regularly anyway). Why not throw in a good defrag while you're at it? Undercarriage wax?
While there certainly is a cornucopia of activities to pass the time during these next couple of weeks, there are a few pitfalls I've seen in many other MMOs during this unique period.
The first is that you should probably keep from dwelling in the official forums -- or just avoid them altogether. Nothing against RIFT's community managers and moderators, but no official forum this close to launch is a healthy place to marinate. I've often said that if you want to hate a game you currently love, then visit the forums, because that is where poisonous attitudes and malcontent trolls congregate. Sure, there are a few uplifting threads and useful tidbits of info, but people get crazy stupid in the month before launch, and you don't want that influencing your enjoyment of the upcoming game.
Secondly, don't be that guy or gal who takes off work on the day of head start or launch. Sure, it sounds really cool and elevates you to elite MMO gamer status, but even the best launch days still struggle with huge crowds, server hiccups and variable start times. Your self-made holiday can turn sour in a flash if you don't get that full-day experience you were anticipating, and that's no way to begin your in-game career.
Now, the day after? I'm all over that.
Finally, keep your expectations in check. Anticipation is good; putting RIFT on a pedestal isn't. There's nothing more disheartening than going overboard with excitement and proclamations of "This is the be-all, end-all of MMOs!" and then getting crushed when you find out that, yeah, it's got the same warts and blemishes that many other games have. Give RIFT the opportunity to succeed or fail on its own merits, not on your unreasonable expectations.
That all said, the next time I return, we'll be hip-deep in the head start and just days away from release, and I am psyched!
Whether they're keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan and Justin Olivetti save Telara on a weekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, their column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Karen and Justin for questions, comments, and adulation.