In this week's Enter at Your Own Rift, I'm going to grab that third rail and look at a few ways in which SWTOR and RIFT differ, to see what effect SWTOR's launch might have on the game. Keep in mind that I am a fan of RIFT (hence the regular column), and I also really enjoyed my time in SWTOR's beta, have it pre-ordered, and plan to play the game when it launches. So I'm not saying one is better than the other; rather, I'm looking at differences that might appeal to one playstyle over another.
Sword and board vs. blasters and sabers
The most obvious thing that sets RIFT apart from SWTOR is the genre. And I've heard players look at this completely differently. Some won't play SWTOR mainly because it's not fantasy, while others are ordering it because they're burned out on elves and ogres and are looking for something different. I think for RIFT, the core population that is actively playing and engaged with the content will probably stick around. The question is how many of the more casual playerbase will try out SWTOR, and will those folks eventually bounce back? If I had to bet, I'd wager that RIFT will see a dip in the first few months of SWTOR but will regain numbers in the long run, as some players decide to revisit the fantasy genre.
I really enjoy the "worlds" of RIFT and SWTOR, but for different reasons. Both are stunning and really help convey the storylines that you play through. But I'm more of a Bartle explorer-type at times, and I've found more opportunity to do that in RIFT. It's not that I can't explore in SWTOR; it's that when I'm out and about in the world, I find that my travel is driven by the story, and I have little incentive to go off the beaten path. RIFT's shinies, zone puzzles, and discovery experience reward those who like to poke around in nooks and crannies, and I haven't found much of that yet in SWTOR (although I haven't played the higher-level content in beta).
Souls vs. classes, and the finality of it all
One of the stark differences between RIFT and SWTOR is the difference in the class system. RIFT sells itself as a game where you have the freedom to swap soul builds at will, while SWTOR has made it clear that your choice of class is important and that even your advanced class choice is not meant to be swapped over and over. Each game has taken its respective stance and made it fit in the setting, story, and game mechanics -- there's a reason for fixed classes vs. soul-swapping, and in each game, it makes sense. For RIFT fans who are used to being able to adjust their roles based on the content and group make-up, that will be an adjustment if they choose to play SWTOR. On the other hand, there are lots of players who prefer that their class choice carries some weight and that they have value to a group because they fill a particular role.
I know that SWTOR's companions technically aren't "pets," but when I was out soloing, I felt as if I was playing a traditional pet class, and I've never really been a fan of that. I didn't mind my droid while I was playing a Jedi Knight, but when I was leveling my Consular, I found that my Trandoshan companion, Qyzen Fess, was constantly getting in my way when I was trying to access vendors or interact with objects. If I had a nickle for every time I accidentally clicked him and heard him talk about being itchy, I could retire (relatively) young. I was tempted to just dismiss him completely, but I was worried that I would lose out on chances to build affection, which would set me back in the long run.
For RIFT fans who don't play pet classes, SWTOR will require an adjustment to work in your companions' abilities in combat along with your own. You'll have to get used to letting your companion complement your particular class role. I enjoyed the storyline behind my companion and equipping him with better gear and weapons. I just wish he'd get out of my way a bit more.
Solo vs. MMO
SWTOR is very solo-friendly, but I actually had to adjust to seeing "LFG" requests in open channels again. I know that not every RIFT player is a fan of the open grouping system and LFG tool, but I really enjoy the break from needing to send tells in order to get an invite, and I was a bit surprised when I ran into my first flashpoint, the Esseles, and had to do the footwork to get in a group. As much as I wanted to see what it would be like to "fly VIP," I settled on going solo because I didn't want the hassle. I did notice that there seemed to be an LFG window, but it was just a listing of who was LFG; it didn't group players automatically.
There are plenty of players who will debate the merits of a LFG system, and I'm not necessarily advocating its presence or absence. But I do think it's a factor when you look at RIFT vs SWTOR because there's a certain chunk of the population that does enjoy the freedom of coming and going from groups without the obligatory requests for invites. It's probably not a coincidence that two of RIFTS biggest additions recently were Chronicles (adding even more solo-friendly, story-driven content) and Instant Adventures (which will bring more opportunities for open grouping and low-stress adventure).
Peering down the third turn
There is one factor that should really help RIFT over the long run compared to other MMOs, and that's the depth and speed of its content updates. If it continues to hold the philosophy of "games as a service" and releases new content and features at a steady pace, it should have an advantage over MMOs that stick to the model of long waits between expansions. When you consider that each RIFT update tends to come with lots of fanfare and promotions, that's like having a mini-expansion each month. Compare that with the nine-to-twelve month wait of the traditional expansion cycle, which usually results in players either dragging across the finish line to launch day or not even waiting around and instead leaving for other games. With the field becoming increasingly crowded, RIFT's approach is probably going to benefit it in the long run. The real question is whether Trion Worlds can continue this rapid pace for much longer.
Overall, I think there is enough difference between RIFT and SWTOR that we'll still be talking about both games for years to come. There's no doubt that players will probably prefer one over the other, but that will probably be based on differences in gameplay rather than differences in quality.
Whether she's keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan saves Telara on a biweekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, the column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Karen for questions, comments, and adulation.