Though few of us would argue the visual appeal of an underwater environment, most of us would rather avoid the tedium of having to navigate one. Underwater movement is usually slow, combat limited, and the whole up/down thing (not to mention the necessity to breathe) tends to add more frustration than fun. I admit I went into Nightmare Tide carrying all that pre-conceptual baggage, and was pleasantly surprised.
Trion literally threw me into the deep end by warping me to an area called Goboro Reef. There I encountered a few temp-art quest-givers (I was told they were placeholder upon encountering a guy wearing a bizarre nightshirt/ceremonial mask combo) who sent me out to kill sharks and locate pulsing coral. Sizable gray sharks drifted around a multi-leveled area, along with crabs and other nasty aquatic predators. (A random sheep also went swimming by, the result, Trion said, of a bug.)
The reef was lovely—festooned with various types of bio-luminescent plants—and getting around it wasn't bad, all things considered. Combat of course had some clunkiness in terms of orienting yourself to the target, but wasn't overly bothersome.
Nice as it was though, Goboro Reef was much like other underwater areas I've seen—until I reached the Atragarian Well. This glowing underwater settlement somehow brought to mind (in a good way, and despite an obvious lack of resemblance) the Gungan city (again, no literal comparisons here—no bubbly shapes—just a general mood) from Star Wars and I was seduced by its color and light. The only thing that marred my experience of it was dying there. Well, not so much dying as respawning. As so often happens in other kinds of multi-level dungeons, finding your corpse can be really annoying when the corpse icon lacks any indication of depth.
Anyway, leaving the Atragarian Well, I swam toward an underwater passage expecting to find an underwater grotto or crystal cave and came out on dry land. Turning around, I saw I'd come through a door made of water: water that waved and lapped as water's known to do only up-and-down, not side-to-side. The area I'd entered was enclosed by more of these water doors, and Trion said the effect was the result (lore alert!) of the seas being gradually drained. Naturally, (or unnaturally, as the case may be) this drainage was occurring not in the way we're used to seeing liquid drain, but in large, discrete chunks.
Within this bizarre environment, strange naga-like creatures stood guard and forlorn mermaids reclined on rocks. Neither was particularly happy, but neither seemed to be suffering from the lack of moisture. This, along with the white sands, bright pink coral, and vertical water doors imbued the place with an Alice in Wonderland-ish weirdness. Actually, the analogy's appropriate, since beneath the area's whimsical surface lurked some serious threats.
Encroaching on the Plane of Water's marine inhabitants were a race of nasty fire creatures who I was told were out to destroy the idyllic coral reef. Evidence of this was an area called Rust Harbor, a sight of devastation that proved the Nightmare Tide expansion is as much about blight as it is beauty. Around an outcropping of land I found a beach littered with wrecked ships. I only had a couple of minutes to look at it, but I can say that the area's topography was defined by half-buried, rotting metal hulks, and that these were infested with more hostile fire creatures.
Before our time was up, I snatched a quick look at the world map and glimpsed a zone to the east of homeless mermaid central called “Draumheim,” a zone that Trion said will be the “dream zone,” whatever that means. The name implies it will be even more extraordinary than Goboro Reef, the Atragarian Well and Rust Harbor—if that's so, it should be well worth the wait.
In addition to allowing me to see bits of this remarkable new zone, Trion also mentioned other expansion add-ons: new storylines, raids, dungeons, weapons and artifacts, although they didn't have any of those on display at the event. Other things I was unable to see for myself were the new Masteries for levels 61-65, and Nightmare Rifts, a new type of rift wherein players test their skills and stamina against endless waves of challenges. Trion said these will go beyond having to simply kill wave after wave of enemies, and will instead require players to perform various tasks and achieve different objectives.
More interesting to me than Masteries and Nightmare Rifts was the announcement of Minions, a new type of collectible that you can send on missions. All Trion was willing to show for these was a very temporary printout of some Minion UI which they didn't distribute (hence we can't reproduce it here). They did say though, that Minions will be able to gather resources, currency or items for you even when you're offline.
Thus far, Trion Worlds is being pretty cagey about showing much of Nightmare Tide—the logo and concept art pictured here are all they were ready to give us at this point. It makes sense, since the expansion is still in Alpha and at the event Trion repeatedly remarked that things were still “in flux.” Having seen bits of the expansion myself however, I can say what's there promises to be unlike anything Rift has yet done, and that I'm terribly impatient to see it finished. Trion gave no release date for the expansion at the event, but with any luck, they'll be bringing us Nightmare Tide later this year.