Rift is a WoW clone, there’s no debating that. Instead of reiterating how similar it is, and why, as has been done in dozens of places already, in this rant I’ll try to concentrate on what’s different, and how each game could benefit from the other’s ideas.
As I’m merely a casual gamer, and spend a lot of my time thinking and analyzing game design, instead of just playing the damn thing and not ‘phylosophysizating’, expect a lot of design/UI/usability aspects covered, with precise game mechanics mostly unmentioned.
In chronological order.
Graphics. Not much to be said here, WoW’s graphics are mostly 2004, Rift’s are 2011, you do the math. You can, however, select a “low-end renderer”, and Rift immediately becomes very, very low-quality, for those who didn’t want to spend a fortune on their graphics cards.
Character creation. As far as character personalization goes, WoW is again left far behind in the dust. Rift is no Oblivion in facial features department, but there’s much more to choose than 5 faces and 5 hairstyles in 5 colors: you get to specify the shape of your character’s face (balanced between square, triangular and round), eyes (colour, size, slant), eyebrows, mouth size, ear size, facial markings, hair (style, colour and highlights), skin colour, and – finally – height (within race-dependent boundaries, of course).
UI design principles. I find it important to note, that subsequent selection screens take basic UI design rules more seriously than WoW does – most importantly, the visibility principle (“show all that is relevant, hide all that isn’t needed at the moment, thus avoiding clutter”, in a nutshell). In WoW, when creating a new character, you get a “character creation screen” with all the options at once: races, classes, visual features, with the character model flexing in the center and race/class descriptions visible all the time. In Rift, selections are split into screens: on the first screen you get to choose your faction (big, detailed icons, tastefully highlighted and animated), then your race and gender (your character poses in the center, textual descriptions are shown), then your class (similarly), and only then do the myriad of visual characteristics get selected, with a semi-automatic close-up of the character’s face available. I find this “wizard”-style creation process much more appealing, as at no point does the player get bombarded with choices they’re not yet ready to make. Also, upon creation, the character is immediately logged in
Classes. Rift tries to take on a new twist here, while still feeling familiar to WoW players, with there being just 4 base classes, but which later evolve into more versatile roles, expanding on WoW’s spec concept. Take a Mage, for example. They can be direct DPS as Stormcallers or Pyromancers, but can also heal as Chloromancers, or provide debuffs or DOTs as Warlocks. So far this seems to provide more options than the WoW setup, in which said mages can only do direct DPS, and general consensus says raiding takes an arcane or fire spec, while leveling is done in frost spec, and that’s it.
Let’s start playing, shall we.
UI animations. Rift’s interface is generously, but tastefully, animated: title bars have a soft flowing background, zone titles blur in and out, quest completion is suitably flashy, buttons have several types of pulsating, twirling glows, and all that without becoming a Christmas tree. WoW only ever animates the opacity and position of certain screen elements, and actually has no support for much more (without resorting to some trickery, of course).
Click-to-move. Rift fails here, with the left mouse click possibly mapped to click-to-move, but with the right click for interaction. WoW’s right-click-to-move-AND-interact is unarguably superior.
Character animation. Ouch. Trion doesn’t have Blizzard’s budget, obviously – character animations are wooden and have nothing on WoW’s smooth, mocapped swaggers and poses.
TAB targeting. Rift fails again – WoW targets the closest enemy straight ahead, with further and sideline enemies next in the Tab list; Rift targets at random.
Smart targeting. Okay, Rift tries to win some ground here – if you hate WoW’s “I need a target” message, Rift offers to automatically pick a target when you try to use a target-dependent ability. However, this often is a random target, just as with Tab.
Ability queue. Rift allows for honest, non-obscure queuing of spells – the queued spell is even indicated by a blue glow on the action bar. WoW has “lag tolerance”, too, but it only goes up to 400 ms, while in Rift you can set it to queue the next spell anytime during the previous spell’s casting.
AoE looting. A badly newbie-unfriendly name (“area looting”, perhaps?), but a tremendously useful feature: when you get a loot window, it will not only contain the loot from the closest corpse, but from all corpses in a certain (and short, truth be told) radius. “Take all” and you’re done. Oh, and everything is looted at once, not one item by one, as in WoW. I’d very much like to see this implemented in WoW, since it’s not something add-ons can provide.
Map features. Rift lets you right-click to set custom waypoints – WoW has to rely on add-ons for that, but these do their job well. Rift has fluid, mousewheel-driven zooming from small area to zone to continent – WoW has strictly preset zoom levels, but again add-ons are available. WoW’s maps do look better, actually, resembling hand-drawn parchments, while Rift’s maps are much more modern.
Public groups. One of the simplest, yet coolest, “why has no-one thought of that before” features in Rift is public grouping. You can “invite” people to a private party, of course, but you can also very easily “join” others, without an invitation or confirmation, to form a “public group” (if they have it enabled, that is). No more begging others to invite you or spamming them with invitations, when a rare quest mob spawns and someone’s just about to kill it and you’ll have to wait for it to respawn: just “join” them, with one click, and you’re sharing the glory. This could actually be add-on-able in WoW, but expecting all players to have the same add-on would be unreasonable.
Party perks. Not only do players get awarded bonus experience for being in a group, but random quest item drops are lootable by all participants. In WoW only 100% drops from named creatures are shared, while other drops are single-looter only.
Collections. Where WoW recently started treating mounts and vanity pets as collectibles, and has Archaeology artifacts stored in a separate collection – Rift has a whole slew of collection types. My favourite one is a collection of critter tears. Yes, killed critters sometimes drop tears, having descriptions labeling you as a heartless monster killing helpless little bunnies. How could you!
Selling gray items. Rift merchants have a “sell junk” button, for quick selling of all gray items. WoW has add-ons for that.
Bag searching. Under the Rift bags, there’s a button allowing you to search for item names in your inventory. Some of WoW inventory add-ons have that, too.
Keymapping. In Rift, you only have to scroll through a few screens of named features to assign keys to – all action bars are mapped by simply pressing a desired key while hovering over an action button. While the keybinding menu is open, of course. I believe I’ve seen an add-on do a similar thing for WoW, though.
Coin lock. Whenever Rift recognizes you’re logging in from a new location, your account becomes “coin locked” and have to enter a code (sent automatically by email) to unlock it. In that mode, you can play as usual, you just won’t be able to sell or give away or discard any inventory item. I find it more useful than Blizzard’s complete account lockout, especially if you’re sharing an account with a friend and don’t always have access to the email it was registered for.
More to come.