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Rift: Planes of Telara
Platform: PC
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Developer: Trion Worlds
Genre: MMORPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 2011



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The Death Rift is quite ominous...
 
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...though the Life Rift can be just as deadly.
 
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Atmospheric fog, versus limitation-hiding fog = win.
 
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My flux capacitor is almost complete!
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Mike Salbato
Hands-On Preview
06/22/10
Mike Salbato

In the world of MMORPGs, I feel like it's hard to ignore a little game by Blizzard. Developer Trion Worlds seems to feel that way too, as there's a huge World of Warcraft influence on their upcoming title, Rift: Planes of Telara. But that's not such a bad thing.

The story of Rift takes place in Telara, a world that is exists between, and is magically sealed off from, the other planes of existence. When the magical ward begins to break down, rifts begin to open across Telara, allowing some rather unwelcome guests in. These rifts and subsequent planar invasions become one of the centerpieces of the title. There are two main factions that are seeking to protect Telara from both these invaders and Regulos, a joyous individual who goes by such personable titles as The God of Death and Eater of Worlds. While both the Guardians and Defiants have shared goals, each also yearns for control of the world. The Guardians seek to create a world honoring the Vigil, Telara's founding gods. In contrast, the Defiants embrace their magical abilities and technology, considering themselves superior because of it. As one might imagine, as a player, you'll choose one of these two factions to ally yourself with.

The way in which Rift handles character classes is one of the game's more noteworthy aspects. There were several starting classes (around 10) in the version we played, and Trion says there could be well over 30 at launch. Unlike some games, however, you aren't locked into one specific role for the duration of your journey. As you progress, you'll be able to commune with the souls of the dead, who will allow each player to alter their path and ability set. Implemented correctly, this system could go a long way towards keeping gameplay fresh and giving players a great incentive to continue playing, rather than the simple promise of just gear and more gear.

Another familiar method of character customization is the skill tree. Again, we've seen this before, but Rift has the distinction of offering both "branches" and "roots" for their tree. The top part of the tree offers the usual branching skill tree (hence the name) that opens up more as you put points into it, and grants you updated stats and abilities. The lower part, the roots, features a linear progression of skills that unlock as you add points to the branches. The root skills are key to your character class, and offer more important upgrades than say, a 1% boost to evasion. In any MMORPG, there are going to be skills you are simply required to unlock for your class, so instead of lumping these in with the incremental stat increases, they have their own method of being unlocked. This allows you to spend points more freely, without being stuck using them on a few key things first.

One of the initial things you'll notice about Rift is that it's simply gorgeous, but it's not just because of high polygon counts. The developers have a keen eye for detail, and small touches like grass blowing in the breeze and the subtle glow of the tree lantern in the opening area seem minor, but all contribute to making a lifelike, fully-realized world. Trion Worlds calls Rift the first truly high-def MMORPG. Whether or not they're right might be up to the individual to decide, but the graphics do pack in an immense amount of detail. From the impressive draw distance to smooth character and world animations, Trion already has a polished presentation, and it's still a while from release.

In terms of gameplay, basic MMO questing and combat rules apply here, including the auto-attack and ability bar along the bottom of the screen. One thing Trion discussed regarding quests is that they want to try to keep the player progressing, meaning that you should get quests that require you to move forward to complete them, instead of always doing the "get quest > complete quest > run back to quest giver" circle that sometimes makes you feel that you aren't making much progress.

The aforementioned rifts aren't simply a story element – they're also a gameplay element. There are always several tears in a given zone, an indicator that a rift can be opened in that spot. We saw several rifts opened by other players in our demo version: some Death Rifts (appropriately black, ominous and tentacle-y), and some Life Rifts (which resemble a mutated botanical garden of sorts). While Life Rifts are more pleasing to look at, all rifts present the player with a cluster of enemy mobs to fight back – in fact, we found stronger enemies at the less visually menacing Life Rifts.

By now you probably have a good idea of what Rift is about, even if I didn't get into the dynamic world events (which will be there at release, but which we weren't able to witness during the show), PVP, crafting, and so on. While there definitely is a large influence from Blizzard's pride and joy, there also appear to be enough unique features even at this early stage to warrant a look. And besides, if you're going to attempt to tap into a fanbase, you could do much worse than to go after one that's 12 million strong.

Rift: Planes of Telara is currently scheduled for release in 2011.



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