Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart — everything you need to know before you play

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart keyart
(Image credit: Sony)

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is almost here, and it has the potential to be one of the best PS5 games so far. It also has the potential to be one of the most confusing, at least if you haven't followed the series up until this point. That's because Rift Apart is the 16th entry in this long-running franchise, and it draws heavily on the narratives from previous games, particularly the Future trilogy on PS3.

First and foremost: If you're a new fan and want to dive into Rift Apart without any preamble, you should be able to do so. Developer Insomniac Games has claimed that Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a perfect jumping-on point for new players. It also seems reasonable to assume that the story will have some exposition about the story so far, both to clue newbies in, and to remind veterans of what happened in Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus — which came out eight years ago.

On the other hand, if you want the full Ratchet & Clank story, but don't have time to play through 15 full games between now and June 11, Tom's Guide has you covered. Here's everything you need to know to get the most out of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart's story.

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart

(Image credit: Insomniac Games)

Ratchet & Clank: The story so far

First off, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart isn't out yet, and Insomniac has shared only the broad strokes of the story with the gaming public. As such, we'll have to employ a little guesswork to determine which plot points from previous games will be relevant.

Still, we do know a few things definitively from the game's trailers: Dr. Nefarious will return as a major villain, and the story involves Ratchet and Clank traveling to other dimensions. We also know that the last game in this ongoing story, Into the Nexus, set up at least one major plot thread that hasn't been resolved yet.

As such, we'll provide summaries for games that we expect to tie into Rift Apart's story. We'll also note which games you can safely skip — although they're still a ton of fun to play, if you get a chance.

The first major plot point you'll need to know comes from Ratchet & Clank (2002). This PS2 game introduced us to Ratchet: an adventurous Lombax, and Clank, his diminutive robotic sidekick. This game explains how the two met, became friends and saved the galaxy for the first time. If you know that much, you know the basics.

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (2003) doesn't seem directly relevant to Rift Apart, but Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (2004) does. This game is where we first met Dr. Nefarious: a delightfully over-the-top supervillain, obsessed with converting all organic life into robots. As the Rift Apart trailers demonstrate, Dr. Nefarious is more comical than scary, but has been a serious threat to the two heroes more than once over the years.

Ratchet: Deadlocked (2005), Ratchet & Clank: Going Mobile (2005) and Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters (2007) don't seem to have much to do with Rift Apart. But Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (2007) seems relevant. In this flagship game for the PS3, Ratchet and Clank confront Emperor Percival Tachyon: the tyrant responsible for forcing Ratchet's species, the Lombaxes, into another dimension. To accomplish this, the Lombaxes used a device known as the "Dimensionator," which can tear holes in the fabric between different realities. That seems important for Rift Apart: a game whose central mechanic involves hopping between dimensions.

ratchet and clank rift apart

(Image credit: Sony)

Secret Agent Clank (2008) doesn't continue this story thread, but Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty (2008) does, following Ratchet as he seeks to reunite with Clank and repair the Dimensionator.

Likewise, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (2009) is an absolutely vital part of the Dimensionator story arc. In what's arguably the best Ratchet & Clank game so far, Ratchet meets Alister Azimuth: a rogue Lombax who feels responsible for not stopping Tachyon when he had the chance. Dr. Nefarious also makes his grand return, attempting to take control of the Great Clock, which regulates the flow of time in the universe. It's a fantastic story overall, but the big takeaway is that by the end, Ratchet is the only Lombax left in the galaxy, and wonders whether he should seek out the rest of his race in another dimension.

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One (2011) is a cooperative multiplayer game with a standalone story, but it does at least show that Dr. Nefarious (playable for the first time here) can be persuaded to do the right thing every once in a while. Likewise, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (2012) has basically nothing to do with the overarching story.

Last, but not least, there's Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus (2013), which acts as a coda for the Future trilogy. Ratchet and Clank encounter Vendra Prog: a young space witch who, like Ratchet, wishes to reunite with the rest of her race in another dimension. While Ratchet and Clank defeat Vendra and her army of extra-dimensional beasts, they wreck the Dimensionator in the process, and there's no easy way to repair it.

(The smartphone tie-in game from the same year, Ratchet & Clank: Before the Nexus, has no story to speak of.)

There's also Ratchet & Clank (2016), but this was a reboot, as well as a movie tie-in for the film of the same name. The game was very good; the movie wasn't. Neither one of them has anything to do with the main series narrative.

That's pretty much where the series stands right now. Ratchet and Clank are best buds, who have saved the galaxy about a dozen times and counting. Emperor Tachyon exiled Ratchet's race, the Lombaxes, to another dimension many years ago. A device called the Dimensionator could help Ratchet get there, but it's currently out of commission. Recurring antagonist Dr. Nefarious is at large, and about due to terrorize the galaxy again.

ratchet and clank rift apart

(Image credit: Sony)

What we know about Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart's story 

From the trailers we've seen so far, we know that Rift Apart begins as Dr. Nefarious attacks the bustling city of Megalopolis. He uses a repaired Dimensionator to send Ratchet and Clank hurtling through multiple realities, where the two get separated. Ratchet must fend for himself in this dangerous new dimension, while Clank teams up with a female Lombax named Rivet.

Of course, the adventurers didn't wind up in any old alternate dimension. In this one, a despotic ruler called Emperor Nefarious rules with an iron fist — and Dr. Nefarious plans to take advantage of that. 

For the rest of the story, we'll have to wait until June 11. Unless you have your own Dimensionator, of course; then you can simply travel to an alternate reality, where the game is already out.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.