It's finally happened: someone's made a World of Warcraft clone that's a credible competitor to Blizzard's megabusiness. A lot of companies have tried the MMO market and failed, most notably Warhammer Online, but Rift is a success. It's as good as WoW. And that's a disappointment.

Rift is a fantasy MMO game by Trion Worlds, a serious new company that's raised $100M in venture capital. It's been pretty successful since their launch two months ago. The buzz is good, a lot of people are enjoying it, and while it's a bit early to tell how big the game will be I think they've got enough momentum to recoup their investment.

I just finished a week free trial, levelling up a Cleric and a Rogue to level 13. It's fun. The graphics, networking, and user interface are all good. Not quite as solid as WoW but close enough. The game offers two big innovations. Rift Events are big impromptu battles against bad guys that pop up, basically Warhammer's public quests but with a dynamic element that means there's more likely to be people nearby to play with. And the flexible class system (souls) allows more choice in play style, although there's already a forming consensus of useful builds.

If I were picking a new MMO solely on the basis of gameplay I'd probably choose Rift over WoW. Unfortunately, Rift is so like WoW that there's nothing to distinguish it. Gameplay still boils down to pressing a button once a second to activate one of your forty abilities in the right order. Group play still is the basic tank/healer/DPS trinity. It's yet another bucket of gaming from the DikuMUD well and it's getting stale. I question whether the world really needs a WoW clone when WoW is still good enough.

$100M is a lot of investment and congratulations to Trion for producing an excellent product. But it's so expensive to make an MMO now, it's hard to see how a trully innovative and risky game can get funded. We need more odd innovative designs like Eve Online. I'll be curious to see how Glitch evolves.

  2011-05-17 17:12 Z