While I've never been of the opinion that only one MMO can "win" or that we should always disparage games other than the ones we play, I won't deny that comparisons get made. Listen, World of Warcraft is a fun, slick game, one I spent many years playing. But just because it's one of the most popular MMOs in the world and stuffed full of 10 years of content doesn't mean it holds all of the cards (nor is it the MMO that currently grabs most of my gaming time).
In fact, RIFT has several distinct advantages that it's used and continues to use against Big Blizz, and it's those advantages that I want to praise today.
RIFT held out as a subscription-only game for a long, long time, but when it saw how the industry was going and that there was more money and players to be found in a business model switch, it enthusiastically tackled free-to-play in a giant bear hug. Now, I've seen a lot of F2P (and hybrid) implementations over the years, but there are two games that I always hold up as paragons of how to do it right: this one and Star Trek Online. Both give away all of its playable content -- zones, quests, expansions, levels -- for free while monetizing non-critical parts of the game. I've never been frustrated or even slightly bothered as a F2P player in RIFT because there's no reason to be, and I've gladly paid to unlock the extra souls and minion slots to enhance my experience and support the studio.
Even as an industry leader, World of Warcraft has to contend with an ever-growing number of titles such as RIFT that consider subscriptions a barrier to entry (or re-entry). WoW also double- and even triple-dips its players with a cash shop and account services. Want to transfer a character to another server in WoW? That'll be $25, please. Want to do the same in RIFT? It's free because why shouldn't it be?
2. Faster content updates
In its heyday, RIFT was pumping out a good-sized update every month or so, which was one of the reasons I was so hooked on it from the start. Even though downsizing at Trion has caused development to slow down, it's still putting out regular events and delivering content updates at a reasonable pace -- far more quickly than its competitor.
WoW players are currently reveling in the new expansion -- as well they should be considering that it broke an unprecedented 14-month-long content drought for the title. During that drought (September 2013 to November 2014), RIFT pumped out Patch 2.4: Beyond Infinity (September 2013), Patch 2.5: Song of Dreams (November 2013), Patch 2.6: Dream Weaver (February 2014), Patch 2.7: Binding of Blood (May 2014), Patch 2.8: Madness Wakes (August 2014), and of course the new Nightmare Tide expansion (October 2014).
As one of my friends put it about Blizzard's failure to provide for its players, "If any other game were asking for a monthly subscription and went over a year without an update, it would be dead by now."
You know what? Garrisons look cool. They even thematically fit in with WoW's RTS heritage, and the players' seemingly overwhelming embrace of them is proof that Blizzard has been wrong in ignoring housing for so long. However, what garrisons have in functionality, they lack in individual customization and creative expression, which is what I consider the hallmark of true player housing.
Dimensions -- RIFT's player housing system -- came with Storm Legion back in 2012 and did an excellent job allowing players to carve out a fun niche in the game world. I like the twist on housing here, that we're getting a copy of an iconic part of the game world to customize in a pocket dimension. It allows for so much more than cottages and castles (check out my haunted house-themed crypt, for example). There are scads of dimensions to own, ways to tweak them, and so many items to put in them that my bank is overflowing with those I haven't placed yet.
Now, I would love to see RIFT take a page from garrisons and WildStar's housing system to add more in-dimension services and functionality, but what is there is already quite astounding. (Plus, it's also free and available at level 6.)
4. Getting people together in the world
There are a lot of similar features in WoW and RIFT as the games expand over time. For example, both now have guild finders and LFG tools. But RIFT has gone the extra step of placing more of an emphasis on getting players together in the non-instanced game world for group activities.
Here I'm talking about the abundance of public events, world events, the titular rifts, and instant adventures. When I want to take a break from my anti-social soloing, I can always get with a group of people to romp through quests and fight against rift invasions. The flexible mentoring/sidekicking system allows me to scale my level up to hang with others in high-level zones or artificially lower it so that I'm still getting XP in newbie lands while going on IAs. Holiday and world events cleverly funnel people into doing the same mutually beneficial activities to earn the rewards they desire, and I love taking a break to do these.
5. Class experimentation
With the eight new classes that have been released since Storm Legion, each calling has 10 souls you can mix-and-match in sets of three to create builds. Factor in the choice of how many soul points to invest in each tree, where to invest them, and what to choose from the new mastery system, and you end up with literally hundreds if not thousands of possible combinations for builds.
RIFT is all about encouraging players to experiment with builds by making it as easy and convenient as possible to do so. Having access to multiple roles means that I can create and swap between setups as often as I like. It's another place in the game to express your own creativity while tailoring your character to your own playstyle. I'm often trying strange builds just to see where the synergies lie and whether I can get away with, for example, being a bomb-chucking Rogue who also has a warthog tanking (the answer is "yes").
WoW does have multiple build support and some level of choice in customizing a character, but what RIFT offers is so far above what that and most other games provide that it almost feels unfair. Top it off with the option to assume any role (DPS, tanking, healing, support) with any calling, and it's hard to be disatisfied with how your character plays in RIFT. After all, if it does, you can always try something new.
For those who have come from World of Warcraft and are currently enjoying RIFT, what advantages do you see in this MMO that you were not getting before?
Whether he's keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Justin Olivetti saves Telara on a biweekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT from solo play to guild raids, this column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Justin for questions, comments, and adulation.