Versus Mode: RIFT vs. Neverwinter (Introducing Telara)
The ambience of an MMO is a big part of the genre's appeal. The world and the mechanics need to be woven together in an interesting way, otherwise why should we care? Something needs to drive us to develop a character, to invest the time and to want to discover what is around the corner.
At the same time, whilst we might be eager for the next creature to fight, we don't want to also be doing battle with unresponsive control systems or baffling menus.
The first few minutes in the gameworld proper has a lot riding on it. If it doesn't do enough right, players will log off and find something more fun to do.
But if it manages to hit the correct notes and show us the way forward, then that is how legends begin...
In RIFT, the starting experience varies according to your chosen faction, with the initial Guardian story arc telling a fairly by-the-numbers tale of the ongoing resistance against the Rift-borne forces of arch-villain Regulos, whilst the Defiant narrative is a refreshingly different time-travelling steampunk affair which I really enjoyed (I almost expected the Doc Brown-like NPC assisting my temporal departure to mutter something about his magical device needing 1.21 gigawatts of sourcestone power).
The gameplay itself is fairly routine with few surprises, as you'd expect from a tutorial. The meat of the experience mostly comprises variations of kill ten rats/interact with this bit of sparkly scenery as you run from questgiver to questgiver through the safest apocalyptic battlefields you'll ever witness.
However, it all works as a reasonably immersive device to provide some instruction and backstory and there are some nice touches and well-designed elements which work well to draw you in. It does drag a little and is perhaps a little longer than it needs to be. Neither is it particularly challenging, with even the dramatic set-piece finale apparently happy to resolve itself with or without player input, but a happy passenger is better than a dead driver I suppose.
The End of the Beginning
The Defiant story and finale is by far the more impressive of the two narratives, with the brink of apocalypse vibe leaving me genuinely pumped and feeling like I had the weight of the future upon my shoulders. The Guardian setup was all Angels and cheesy religious heroes and, given that I'd already played through the Defiant arc, felt a bit pointless (I'm being deliberately vague here to avoid spoilers).
Both stories culminate in an impressive Cthulhu-esque rift with writhing trans-dimensional tentacles and materialising beasties. Again the Defiant story shines by cranking the pace as you escape certain doom, unlike the Guardian set piece which allows the player to witness the supposed super-Villain of everything, Regulos (whose name sounds like something you'd take to aid digestion), being defeated and put on his backside, which leaves you wondering what all the fuss is about if that's the best he can do.
The subsequent cutscene does attempt to recover from this by showing you some menacing dragons, but it just feels like Regulos' way of saying he's going to get his Dad to beat you up.
To be more kind, RIFT plays it safe with the tutorial, taking the time to teach the player what MMO veterans already know by heart whilst offering a classic fantasy story and something a little more left of field. A competent showing with dashes of brilliance and a degree of mediocrity.
Can Neverwinter do better?
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