RIFT Beta Impressions, Part 1
The interface problems in DC Universe Online feel very familiar to the issues I had with Unreal Tournament 3. It’s got an irritating console-style interface that makes no sense on the PC. This is interesting because both games use the same engine.
As I played, I began making notes. Those notes became this post. These are just quick observations made while playing. I might have overlooked some feature, or experienced some bug. Don’t read this as a review. Read this as a series of reactions over the course of about 30 hours.
The interface and font sizes are huge. There’s an option to adjust the interface scale, but the slider only goes up.
You can’t click on other players or objects in the world. This means if you want to ignore a player, or friend them, or examine their build, or see what level they are, you have to know the chat command for doing this and you have to type out their full name. (Which can include spaces.)
There is no way to hide the interface. There’s an option to leave the interface out of screenshots (I have FRAPS, thanks Sony) but you can’t just get it out of the way if you want to look around.
You can’t click on bad guys to pick which one you want to punch. Now, I consider this to be a good thing. Clicking on dudes in the midst of combat is not exciting and really gives that clunky old-school MMO game feel that newer titles are always trying to avoid. In this game they replaced dude-clicking with auto-targeting, but the auto-target logic is pathetic. I’ll be in the middle of a melee with four people, and when one of them goes down the auto-target will ignore the three people still kicking me and auto-select some mook who is way off in the distance. I’m spamming the attack button when this happens, and end up pulling him. Sometimes it will select people behind you, who aren’t even on-screen. And very often it will select crates. Perhaps this should be categorized as a bug and not a design flaw. I guess it depends on whether they plan on fixing it.
Opening legal disclaimers / intro movie can die in a fire. The two back-to-back movies that must be skipped whenever you try to open the character builder should, ideally, be thrown into the same fire. If that fire gets low, the overly chatty character builder menu voice should be added to keep it going.
The interface elements are placed inefficiently. (I prefer to pack windows around the edges of the screen, to keep the center as open as possible.) You can’t move or adjust or turn off anything. In particular, the chat is a waste of space with a gigantic font that can show about two lines of dialog. Some of the NPC messages in the game are too big to fit. And since you don’t have a mouse pointer, you can’t just reach down and scroll back. You have to open a whole different window to see a proper chat history.
If you get logged out (disconnect, or AFK for too long) it doesn’t kick you back to character selection. Or even to the login. Instead you have to exit and re-start the entire application.
The game awards you XP, but you can’t ever see how much you have or how much you need to the next level. It’s just a purple bar with no context.
The game ignores Alt-F4.
When you sort the list of players by level, it sorts the list alphabetically:
|You could argue that this is an interface bug, but Unreal Tournament 3 (which uses the same engine) had the same problem with its server browser. (It sorted ping alphabetically!) I think this is more apathy than oversight.|
When you log out, it asks for a confirmation dialog. If you select “yes”, then it makes you wait 10 seconds before logging out. This is always true – there’s nowhere in the game where you can log out instantly. Which means the first confirmation dialog serves no purpose whatsoever. The player has plenty of time to change their mind while waiting for the timer.
You can bring up the emote menu with one of the function keys, but you can’t use the menu with the mouse. You have to navigate it with the arrow keys.
|Why is there so much space between entries? Note how the descriptions for many items don’t fit on the button because of the oversized fonts.|
The menu options in the character builder are gigantic – clearly designed to be readable from the couch on a standard-definition television. On a PC, this looks ridiculous. You can’t ever see more than five entries at a time, which means you’ll spend a great deal of time scrolling. This is exacerbated by the massive wasted space between entries. It’s almost punishing you for wanting to use your mouse.
The menu structure for the character builder is abominable. If you want to change your pants and re-color them, you go down through three levels of menus: GEAR » LEGS » (desired item) Then you hit escape three times to get back to the top. Then you go down four levels to adjust the colors: COLORS » GEAR » CUSTOMIZE GEAR COLORS » LEGS. And yes, two different entries are labeled “GEAR”, one is a peer of “COLORS” and one is a child, and under the latter is “CUSTOMIZE GEAR COLORS”. Ugh. Enumerating all of the stupidity and interface no-nos in the character builder would be a major undertaking.
You always have to hold the use button. I assume that button does double-duty on the PS3, but here it makes no sense. It’s not like tapping use has some other purpose.
Credits screen is blank. I understand if the interface team would prefer to remain anonymous, but I think everyone else deserves some credit.
The description of your fast-travel power says to use “L3 or NUMLOCK”. This is even true if you’ve re-bound the functionality to some other key. Also, this button is basically the closest thing the game has to auto-run. Except, it doesn’t work like normal auto-run. If pressed when standing still, it does nothing. You have to already be moving forward. So in order to auto-run you’re supposed to hold down W on the far left side of the keyboard and then – once you’re up to full speed – tap NUM LOCK on the far right side. While using your right hand to steer with the mouse. I guess that’s where the co-op gameplay comes in, you need someone beside you to be your third hand?
Click for in-game help, and it gives you a popup with the URL for the website. The URL isn’t even clickable or copy-able. I guess you’re supposed to memorize it, alt-tab, and type it into a browser.
Running in windowed mode doesn’t work right. Parts of the desktop don’t render properly. Which made compiling this list a lot less fun. (The game seems to behave as though it was full screen even when windowed, so other windows don’t get redrawn properly.
Color picker controls don’t allow you to just click on the desired part of the slider, you have to drag the control.
You can walk (instead of run) if you use a gamepad, but there is no way to walk using the PC controls.
Quests get added to your journal automatically at certain levels. Hey, PvP is now open, here’s a quest for a PVP match. Here’s a quest to adventure in another part of the gameworld! Here’s some instancing / group quest thing! These entries clutter up your quest list and there’s no way to drop them.
The chat filter is brain dead. It will turn “You have to hit its head” into “You have to hi####s head”, because it thinks you said “tits”. It will turn “petition” into “pe###ion”. And it will turn “Oh hush its not that bad” into “Oh hu#####s not that bad” because it thinks you said “shit”. You can’t disable the filter. The “tits” ones comes up often, and makes a mess of the chat window.
And now I have to admit I was wrong on Friday: I predicted that I’d get a lot of fan push-back from Friday’s article. A very small number of people disagreed, and all of them were reasonable about it. This makes me sad in a perverse sort of way. It means the fans of this game are less zealous than those in Champions Online. There is so much that Sony Online Entertainment did well in this game, and it saddens me to see all of that hard work marred by a few bad decisions. I would be very sad to see this game flame out and go under.
Hopefully the PS3 players are having a good time. The game doesn’t have the same kind of competition there, so maybe it can enjoy success as a console MMO.
RIFT Beta Impressions, Part 1
A look at the main Borderlands games. What works, what doesn't, and where the series can go from here.
Zenimax vs. Facebook
This series explores the troubled history of VR and the strange lawsuit between Zenimax publishing and Facebook.
Top 64 Videogames
Lists of 'best games ever' are dumb and annoying. But like a self-loathing hipster I made one anyway.
Could Have Been Great
Here are four games that could have been much better with just a little more work.
Another PC Golden Age?
Is it real? Is PC gaming returning to its former glory? Sort of. It's complicated.