Last Friday, on the way to break in my new copy of Cosmic Encounter, I was able to rendezvous with Trion Worlds to have a quick look at their upcoming massively multiplayer game, Rift, previously Rift: Planes of Telara. No inventive payment plans or mould-busting design to discuss here- RIFT is a straight-up MMORPG that was described to me as the "fully fledged MMO that gamers have been waiting for." Have you been waiting, readers? Because Rift does have a fair bit going for it.
The idea at the heart of Rift is that of the rifts themselves, tears in dimensional fabric of the world which randomly pop up around the game world. The land of Telara is actually located at a crossroads between six different planes (Life, Death, Fire, Earth, Wind and Water, each having some fun art and info on the official site), and when these rifts open one of these planes begin leaking through. Which is to say, aggressive mobs of monsters begin appearing. If left alone a rift will eventually become a foothold, and begin spawning 'invasions' which will take over whole NPC towns. Look, here's a fire rift:
Trion call this a 'dynamic content system', and it's designed to shake up the proceedings up a bit. An open rift means there's plenty of loot to be had if players team up and close it by defeating a series of mobs, and some of the best loot in the game can be acquired if players defeat these stages fast enough, thereby unlocking a bonus stage fighting some special bonus monster. The flip side of this is that you might be on your way to collect a quest reward, only to find the settlement overrun with blubbering water elementals, or cackling manifestations of death or the like.
The question of how to deal with Telara's rift problem is, historically, what created the two factions you choose from at character creation. One side, The Guardians, were hand-picked by the Gods for their religious fervous, and are now intent on saving the world by proving the worth of their races. They think the best way to save the world is to stay faithful and fight the rifts back with zeal and a shiny sword.
Meanwhile, in the words of Trion, "while the Guardians run around Telara building temples, sticking their noses in everyone's business, and desperately praying for a miracle, the Defiant plan on actually delivering one, even if it means being branded as heretics and operating outside the laws of the land." The Defiant are technophiles, basically, and intend on fighting the forces beyond the rifts with eldritch superweapons, making them something of an allegiance no-brainer. Who wouldn't want to sign up with that?
One of the areas of Rift I was shown was the Defiant starting area, which is located at the end of the world. The rifts have claimed Telara, and all is lost. Your character is a great hero ressurrected by Defiant scientists, and your first job is to proceed to the experimental machine that will send you back in time to save the world. See? Awesome.
As to your choice of classes, well. On the one hand, you've got a simple choice ahead of you. Warrior, Mage, Cleric or Rogue. There's just one little twist. Once you've chosen your class, you end up picking three more.
Basically, your character ends up having three 'soul' slots, and in each you can put a soul, a sort of subclass, relating to your class, each with their own skills, strengths and weaknesses. Your Rogue therefore might end up an Assassin-Bard-Riftstalker, and your Mage a Stormcaller-Dominator-Warlock, and each time you level up you'll drop a point in one of these three souls' talent trees, with additional soul-specific abilities pinging into existence as you put more and more points into any one tree.
It looks like it'll give players a solid block of options to chew over, not least because your character can swap easily between multiple soul loadouts (maybe you'd build one one for soloing, one for dungeons, another for bosses). So, yes, your Cleric will always be a Cleric, but the flexibility you've got within Clerichood is really impressive.
Outside of all this, Telara just looks like a perfectly solid, if unexciting piece of work. There are pretty monsters, dungeons and levels. There's PvP and loot. It's very much working within the framework of what's come before, and in the looming shadow of Guild Wars 2 that's not an easy thing to do. But we must stay watchful. When Rift launches in 2011, RPS will be diving in for a closer look.