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Rift: Planes of Telara – an MMO where graphics impact the gameplay

Very few companies seem to be trying to drastically reinvent the MMO genre in any way. This is mostly because World of Warcraft seems to have damn near perfected it, collecting so many devotees along the way that now you can’t deviate too far from its template for fear of turning people off. It’s like writing a post-Green Day pop-punk song with a chorus that just isn’t catchy. Why bother?

That said, WoW has been around for a long time, and it shows. Rift: Planes of Telara’s combat doesn't do much to subvert WoW’s dominant paradigm, but the game sure does grab your eyeballs’ attention. We can't be sure how powerful the PC we played on was, but Rift’s amazing HD graphics were truly gorgeous in some spots. Can something with sexy-hot looks trump something familiar and fine-tuned, but not new? We’re not sure, but the trophy wives of the world would probably say there’s at least a chance, yeah.

This graphical splendor also ties into and magnifies Rift’s most unique gameplay element. The titular “rifts” are tears in the fabric of space that occur when two realms are crossing. They happen spontaneously in the game world and not only are they imposing forces on their own, but they also create a beautiful effect which distorts the graphics and warps the world around it. If you walk inside of a rift, the world changes. What you see on the outside has a different color palette and style, and the sky can turn to night in an instant.

Above: There's always a reason to fight. In Rift, it’s all about warring factions who have opposite views on magic/technology gone out of control

These rifts create something of a bubble of the other realm inside our world. In our demo, we came across several “Death Rifts,” which are obviously quite dangerous. When a Death Rift opens, demons from the other realm pour into our world, and it takes a concerted effort by players to stem the tide of baddies. “Life Rifts”, ironically, seemed nearly as hazardous – they spawn huge numbers of plants that must be contained.

Rift is doing things differently, that much is certain, but will it be different enough to make people switch from WoW? It’s too soon to tell – we’ll need much more than an hour-long demo before we’re ready to make that call. Still, if it can divide WoW from even a small fraction of its audience, that would be quite a catastrophic fissure indeed.

Jul 13, 2010