After spending ample time with the developers of End of Nations at the recent Trion Worlds event in San Francisco, I made my way over to one of the kiosks featuring Trion's own self-developed MMORPG Rift: Planes of Telara. Scott Hartsman had just presented us with the game's premier trailer and told us a bit about the rift sytem and the look and feel of the game, but it was Simon Finch (Design Director) and Morgan Lockhart (Lore Lead) that took control of one of the game's Clerics to show me around the world of Telara. What I came away with that evening is that Rift may be a very traditional MMORPG at its core, but the innovations the game is attempting to present should be more than enough to differentiate this fantasy title from the rest of the pack when it hits store shelves in 2011.
First and foremost Simon and Morgan treated us to a brief explanation about the game's two factions. If you didn't read our previous article on the game with a new name, it goes something like this: The Guardians are the people of Telara who want to uphold the Vigil (a collection of five gods of Telara) and believe that the gods have not abandoned the world but instead are busy planning for the final battle of good versus evil. In their absence the Guardians seek to uphold all that is sacred and right and true in Telara. Meanwhile the Defiant are sort of the rebels and agnostics of the world. They don't care whether the Vigil even actually exists. They see the world being torn asunder by the Rifts and instead of praying for a miracle are bent on actually making one happen through force and the use of the powers available to them. It takes cracking a few eggs to make an omelet and all that. Neither side is "Good" or "Bad", and while the Defiant certainly look darker in tone, both have noble intentions.
For the purposes of our demo Morgan loaded up a level 20 Mathosian (think Human) Cleric to play around with. Only she told us she had taken the character down the path of Inquisitor. As stated on the game's newly launched official website an Inquisitor mixes life and death magics to heal allies and drain enemies. It's a pretty standard D&D iconic class, as were most of the other choices we saw on the character select screen. It made me wonder if the game's multi-classing system was still in place, to which Simon would only say, "We're going to talk about Rifts today."
"Yeah, but is there something like that still in place?" I asked.
"We're talking Rifts today." he said again.
"So we're talking Rifts, then?"
I took that, along with Scott Hartsman's brief mention of ascended souls, to mean they've got something up their sleeves. Even the website for the game makes mention of the thousands of class possibilities present in the game without going into detail, so it looks like we're just going to have to wait and see what Trion has planned for that part of the game. In the meantime, I got to see plenty of the Inquisitor kicking some monster tail as we roamed one of the game's earlier zones.
Back on the character creation screen however, Morgan and Simon showed us how the team is aiming for a truly diverse yet simple way of making sure each character can look different. There is a triangle filled with hundreds of different "morph targets" which the player need only drag the mouse around to alter the face of their character in so many different ways. Each race looks different and unique in the game, but the team made the careful choice of ensuring that no matter where you put the reticule in the triangle your character will look handsome or pretty or badass or all three if you'd prefer. Some folks might find it sad that they can't make a character that looks like Rocky Dennis but I prefer my avatar to be tolerable to the eyes if I'm going to invest hundreds of hours into it.
Once we had seen the character creation Morgan loaded us into the proper world and I immediately became slack-jawed at the artwork. The screenshots simply don't do the game's beauty justice. You can really see that the company has hired a top-notch art team to create a distinct and gorgeous looking world for the game. People mill about an NPC camp with believable weight to their movements, each person looks different, and I can't stop staring at a short clergyman of sorts with a very squared and tall hat. He reminds me of a fatter version of the priest from The Princess Bride and I catch myself chuckling each time Morgan steers her Inquisitor past the little guy.