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Hands-On Preview

Carolyn Koh Posted:
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On a bright sunny Thursday in Redwood City, Trion had gathered five members of the Rift: Planes of Telara community who were not in the Alpha Test stage and a handful of media for a day with hands-on the game. Although still in an Alpha stage, the game has a polished look and feel, equal to some games that were launched in previous years. Remember some of the really painful launches? Yes, I think we all do.

With a quick reminder that the game was in Alpha and a request that we report any bugs we encountered and file feedback, we were let loose at the machines on accounts where several level 30 characters of each faction and various builds, and a slot for creating our own characters. Having played the previous build, I ran through the character creator and the starting experience again. Remember. Alpha Test stage. Things may and will change. Having stressed that, read on.

Starting Experience

Each faction had three races to choose from: the Guardians had a human, elf and dwarf and the Defiants had a human, elf and half-giant (more or less), and class selection at character creation is a broad choice of: Mage, Warrior, Cleric or Rogue. Once I got into the game, I was faced with my first choice of specific class and given three choices as a Mage: Pyromancer, Elementalist and Warlock, (Purifier, Inquisitor and Sentinel for Cleric) and given a short demonstration of the class powers by an in-game NPC. Like any other starting tutorial, I found quests, quest NPCs, and directions that led me out of the re-birth area into the world beyond.

I made it through the second Ascension with the Guardian Cleric – taking Purifier with the first Ascension (first choice of three classes) and Justicar at the second Ascension at level six where I had the remaining seven classes to select from. Then I received a quest which required me to go through a pass to take down a boss. Whoa! I screeched to a halt after running through a field of mobs when I glimpsed the wall of level five and six mobs I had to go through, including a named. I checked my mini-map as well as my larger map to make sure that I was headed in the right direction. Sure enough, I was. A couple of PR guys had noticed I sat back in my chair as I pondered my options and checked the quest. Suggestions were tossed back and forth, and Devs came on over…

“Did you get something you were supposed to use?” “Miss a step?” “Come on, Carolyn, you can do it! Wimpy looking mobs, don’t you think?”

Actually, no. They were nasty looking mobs, but what the heck. I shielded up and charged… and triggered a Guardian’s “guardian angel” that smote the nasties – all of them – and infused me with the blessings of the Gods to take down Mr. Big, Mean and Nasty that I was tasked to do. Okay! When I finally took him down and leapt through the portal, everyone behind me cheered as I had gotten through the newbie tutorial.

Well, that totally had to be the most un-newbie tutorial area I’ve run through. I thought the tutorial consisted of the hot-tips I was getting as I moved, picked up quests, etc. etc. Hey wait! I’m not done with the area yet! But there was no going back. The world had been waiting too long for my Ascension and return. Onward toward battling the Rifts and Invasions from the planes!

I was able to run both the Defiant as well as the Guardian starting experience although I did not make it through the Defiant tutorial area, the experience was similarly epic. The sense of danger was all around, with explosions rocking the area, the various experiences, not only combat, but activating machines (Defiants anyway), blowing mobs up with ballista, freeing Cyril’s horse and riding it across the battlefield, collecting, harvesting, leather working – yes, you learn your first harvesting skills in the field. I found myself trapped in the “Get quest from NPC A, return to NPC A” syndrome a few times, running halfway back to my starting point before I realized that I had received the rewards and the quest was complete, or else I was to go to a different NPC farther afield. I like that.

Dungeon Experience

We also got to play in a dungeon as level 30 characters, with Devs filling in to have enough of a mix of classes to make groups of five. This particular dungeon was instanced for our group and mobs did not respawn. We looked through our builds and skill bars, pressed buttons and hoped for the best. We did rather well, all told. In a departure from the usual boss with say melee and spells, each mini-boss had enough different powers and abilities that we were entertained trying to figure them out. One had spectral healers that spawned and those had to be taken out first. Another summoned crystals with AE explosions. High-level loot opened a window with buttons for Need, Greed or Pass.


I unfortunately missed playing the PvP as my group was determined to have just one more go at the final boss in the dungeon despite an AFK member (we did not succeed). I created a character on the PvP server, met Fluffy, Destroyer of Worlds, buffed up to 50 but missed trying out the PvP arenas before the server went down and we were to move on to the next planned activity. Currently there are three maps: King of the Hill, team based Attack/Defense and a team based “Kill the Courier” or maybe it’s “Protect the Courier” depending on whose team has the ball. According to the players that did get to try it, it was a lot of fun.

Questions, Answers and Evening Demo

It was a packed day which continued with a Q&A session in a conference room with an HDTV and an NVIDIA 3D Vision box, so for fun, the game was run through the box and the glasses passed around so everyone of us could see the game in 3D – and that really rocked – but on with the Q&A where community questions were answered. Most answers were based on their philosophy of making the game fun, not tedious.

  • Day and night cycles are being tweaked and the cycle will be an odd number. Currently set at 7 hours – so you aren’t always logging in during day or night, pure dark night will also be very short and there are no day/night specific quests.
  • Balance between two factions is not required. PvP maps and games are not about stronger or more numerous forces.
  • Rare events are the random events whose outcomes depend on player actions. For example a regular or black market may spawn depending on how the wandering trader is treated.
  • Mentoring will be in the game after launch (not much need for it right at launch). The main designers of the EQ2 mentoring system and the CoH systems are now at Trion.
  • Travel around the world will consist of portals, fast mounts and guild summoning.
  • There are no “safe” areas out in the field. Invasions can happen across the land, and you may log back into an invasion.
  • There are underwater areas, and in Gloamwood, an underwater cave for adventuring in.
  • Dragon cults are themed for personality, for example, the Golden Maw are rich, evil and villainous, the Wanton are crazy, chaotic and use fire.
  • Avatars will only have first names because of the great number of titles they have in game. The final decision on whether they will have a last name has yet to be made
  • The Dwarf female has to be found – it’s part of the lore, and unavailable as a class choice currently.
  • There’s no dynamic weather but zones will have their own climate, so to speak, and this will be a gradual change and not an abrupt change when you cross the virtual zone line.
  • The only zoning you will encounter are specific instances and some dungeons.

We were treated to the first public visuals of a Plane of Air and Water invasion / rift, and a Dev’s build of an Assassin, Ranger, Bard which was said to provide crazy soloing and PvP utility.

Quotable Quotes

In reference to dynamic world changing events and when players will experience them: “Once you learn what the world is supposed to be like, then you can mess up the world.”

Speaking of characters and customization: “Cyril was named before my time. I’d have chosen a more butch name.” “We women want eye-candy too. Make sure the male avatar looks good. Teeny loincloths please!”

Scott Hartsman during discussion of our hands-on experience: “We won’t have quests that will make you run back and forth and back again the same area or kill the same mobs repeatedly, to get different things from them.” Not that there won't be any quests at all that make you go back to the same area, but that they won't be onerous. Scott further said "If you think players get loud about it when it happens, you should see what happens to our internal playtest list when devs find them."


What we saw of the game is impressive in an Alpha stage. We weren’t told where we could go or couldn’t go, or that we had to play this tiny vertical slice or dungeon. We were on the live Alpha server and sat down to do what we wanted to do. I spent little time on character creation which I have a hazy impression of having lots of options and sliders as I wanted to get into the game right away after hitting the random button a few times.

This is my second look at a different newbie experience and of course it’s a new and improved version. I like the pace of combat, development and advancement in the early stages of the game. The first build had newbies attacking rifts at level 3, but as Scott Hartsman said, you’ve got to know what the world is before you know that it’s changing. The second Ascension could come a little later, in my opinion, after you got out of the tutorial zone or a couple levels later even. The most impressive thing about the day was that the Devs came by all day to interact with us, speak to us to get our feedback, note what we were doing and not doing. One asked me what I was doing when running around the newbie town and noted that a particular mob’s spawn wasn’t adequate. Oh, and did I mention the sound field? Some fabulous sound work there.


Carolyn Koh

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn Koh has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.