Rift by Trion Worlds has only just had its half year anniversary and devs are now launching their biggest DLC pack – Update 1.6: The Ember Isle. This one is a doozy. A whole new island – not a tiny island, it’s a huge land area. “It’s about twice the mass of Shimmersand,” said Hal Hanlin, Design Producer of Rift “and it plays really big.” The more I heard about it, the more I realize it’s like a mini-expansion. Best of all, it’s free. On a gorgeous fall day in San Francisco, a number of us press-types got a preview of the game in alpha.
Ember Isle is the home place of the Kalari Elves and players will find enclaves of them on the island as well as Dwarves who got stuck there after the wards went up and seas became impenetrable. Travel stones discovered in update 1.5 are shown to be original magic and that will be how players will travel to the new island. It is a world overrun by spirits, both benign and aggressive, as well as a wilder, more unpredictable and unstable place for planar rifts to form.
Ember Isle is also the first new zone built since beta, and the devs and artists have been given free rein, drawing from their experience with the rest of Telara. The result is really gorgeous new lands, environments and mobs. New beasts, humanoids and demons inhabit the lands here, as well as small dragons and wyverns, not the least of which is a fantastic sea monster. This one is a rare spawn and a particular favorite of Hal's as he pointed out its lair at the bottom of a massive waterfall. When we went to see if it was home, it wasn’t but a lot of other nasty underwater critters were lurking about under the surface.
On Ember Isle, players will find old fortifications; broken turrets and towers that were used to protect camps and forts from planar invasions. These can be rebuilt, repaired and upgraded by using planar charges, and crystal deposits which are all found nearby. However, when players build up these defenses, they will attract attention from the planes and if enough of them are repaired and upgraded, an onslaught is triggered and planar spirits will pour on down, and holy cow, did they pour on down.
The turrets attracted the attention of the creatures and we found out quickly that our best bet was to protect our healing turrets as well as try to lure those nasty planar denizens into the target range of the defensive turrets as they did more damage than we ever could. It was total chaos with two million little guys to kill plus their leaders and far more frenetic than opening and closing a simple Rift. One nice thing, the turrets factor into your kill count as well.
“Players will have to think strategically here,” said Hal, “and decide what to defend.”
Moving on, the volcano on Ember Isle is actually a prison for the red dragon Maleforge – and yes, Trion is working on a raid on the volcano, to be released at a future date. Ember Isle is a post level 50 zone and level 50+ players with Tier 1 gear would do best here. The mobs are nastier and hit harder. As a warrior with Tier 1 gear, Hal said “If I get a two-pull, I’m done.”
As a more unstable space, rifts and invasions are more frequent and world events are larger. “A dragon might fly over the entire zone,” said Hal, “and Ember Isle really does need a dense player population to trigger the world events.”
Well, since the seas have opened up after Akylios fell in Hammerknell, the travel stones will come in handy to get players straight into the thick of action. All manner of rifts will exist on Ember Isle, but earth and fire are the primary planes associated with it. A new five man dungeon will also be open for players to discover on Ember Isle: Caduceus’ Rise. This new dungeon is non-linear, which will allow players to decide how they progress through it and what they want to hit repeatedly if they prefer. There are also two elite options for players looking for the harder challenges, and yes, eventually, you work your way to Caduceus.
Like a mini-expansion, Ember Isle will have the usual slew of new quests, both faction and notoriety, achievements, artifacts and crafting. Most rewards will be player currency so players can buy what they want instead of having to go through loot-rolls. We got pre-made level 50 characters with Tier 1 gear and were let loose in the world. I picked an elf mage with a necro build and was able to solo my way through a number of quests, exploring the island, dying any number of times. It is a gorgeous new world and using a GM teleport chest to move around (not available in the live version) I saw fantastic creatures and dropped right in the middle of invasions several times – oops! And I dropped dead a couple of times too from the top of some cliff or other.
“We see Rift as a service,” said Hal, “and we strive towards serving our customers, providing the type of gameplay that they enjoy. Update 1.6 will see a load of different options and then immediately after that we have another game type we are calling Instant Adventures.”
Instant Adventures is not update 1.7, Hal was careful to mention. It was just too much to push out at one time, and they wanted to do more polish and give it its own day in the sun.
“Its instant adrenaline, beer and pretzels, log-in, press buttons, kill monsters.” Hal described. UI driven, it puts players in a group and takes them adventuring through the land with goals. This is one of the responses to people who form up groups in a public event, then liking how they work together, want more things to do together as a group.
There is pacing programmed into Instant Adventures though, so that it isn’t non-stop adrenaline. There will be pauses, peaks and releases, giving players time to regroup, or even leave and do something else. Instant Adventures will be available in Shimmersand and Stillmoor.
“Somehow,” said Hal with a grin, “the terrain of Ironpines just didn’t work out for non-stop adventuring.”
As these adventures do run in the real world, players can stumble across others involved in their own adventures. On PvP servers, Guardian and Defiant could choose to pass each other by without so much as a virtual grunt or indulge in a little side-PvP action.
Trion has always emphasized that they will listen to and gauge their players reactions to the new content they offer and bring them more of the same if it is received well.
“Chronicles was very well accepted,” said Hal, “and we’ll definitely do more of the same. At the same time, Ancient Wardstones just did not gel with the players.” It was really a UI issue, he confided, but they learned from it, re-tooled it and Instant Adventures will be UI driven. If players enjoy it, they will create more.
So that’s Update 1.6 – one heck of a huge update for Rift players to look forward to, and a peek at Instant Adventures as well. There are a whole lot of reasons to be excited about the future of Rift.