Ten Ton Hammer was among the first group of gamers to get some hands-on time with Trion Worlds' upcoming MMORPG, Rift: Planes of Telara. In the first part of our hands-on preview, we got the chance to learn more about souls (the game's classes), character progression, and to take a look the starter area, Shadowlands. In part 2 of our hands-on preview, we explore the functionality of the rifts system and the dangers and rewards that they offer players.

For part two of our first hands-on preview of Rift: Planes of Telara, we'll be exploring some of the features that really make all the talk of dynamic content gel into something that isn't just another bullet point on the features list or, worse, a drain on precious development time.

Allowing players to shape the course of the game (or be shaped by it) over the course of a long period of time - not just the few hours it takes to run an instance or dungeon - has been one of the holy grails of MMO design. And it’s been done before, albeit on a limited level in certain niche, community-centric MMORPGs like A Tale in the Desert or EVE Online. But for these games, a hefty portion of the community is effectively part of the design team and famously self-motivated. In the MMO mass market, where the player base is notoriously fickle and not nearly as self-motivated or self-organizing, the tech bar required to make dynamic content work is much, much higher.

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style="font-style: italic;">Rift's new take on PQs allows for dynamic gameplay with great rewards and dire consequences.

Warhammer Online made a good attempt at surmounting that bar with the idea of public quests: a multi-stage, open-world quest open to all comers. Public quests should have found their perfection in the epic capital city battles, but owing to a number of reasons, not least of which persistent bugs and server imbalance, it didn't happen.

Trion's much more granular take on PQs - rifts - flips public quests on their head: instead of requiring player interaction to advance the PQ to the lightning round, rifts advance themselves to something both terrifying and a lot of fun. In other words, it's up to players to stop the progression (not, as with PQs, to initiate the progression). If it sounds like a server wide plate-spinning act, rest assured that it's not nearly as frantic as it may sound. Why? Enemies of different planes will attack each other, and NPCs will occasionally sortie against the rifts to keep things in relative balance. Plus, given the bonuses associated with mopping up rifts and invasions, you'll probably welcome them as a nice break from the usual quest, hub, quest, rinse, repeat.

Rifts pop up all over the map, and start as tears. Tears (not the kind you cry) aren't active yet; at this point in beta, players use an inventory item called a Planar Lure to open the tear and fight enemies on the planar level before they've had time to form a proper invasion force. Should these tears become rifts, enemies start to pour through and might, for example, make mobs you need to kill for other quests a little harder to get to.

If players don't tend to rifts, rifts become footholds. It goes without saying that footholds are tougher to assault, both in terms of the number and type of enemies struggling through from the planes. But what really sets footholds apart is the size and intensity of the rift. Insignificant fire tears became sizzling rifts which occupied dozens of feet of horizontal and vertical space. These became massive footholds which, in terms of the fire plane invasion, resembled a mushroom cloud that produced, instead of a blast wave, the frightful roar of a forest fire.

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If tears are ignored they can escalate to rifts and then to footholds, leading to a much greater threat.

But spectacular visuals and environmental effects weren't all that footholds produce. Given enough time, an invasion force will enter the map. Their objective is the towns and hubs where soulstone is kept, and they'll sweep through the map creating new footholds and destroying everything in their path to get it. Soulstone, I should mention, is the crude oil of Telara - Guardians use it to unlock the power of their divinities, Defiants use it to power their technology, and the invading planar realms want it to grow in power and gain dominance over the other realms.

All rifts show as icons of various sizes on the map, but invasion progress is shown with a large arrow on the map. Or you might just stumble across one in progress as I did in Silverwood. Without really knowing what was going on, I looked behind my shoulder and saw that the NPC who'd just given me a quest was beset with a handful of fire minions plus one particularly tough shaman who turned out to be the captain of the invading force. My pyromancer joined the fight (thankfully my fire abilities could damage enemies from the fire plane, sometimes practicality is better than realism), and after seeing two guards drop, I had a hunch that this wasn't just a train of enemies pulled to camp by an overmatched player.

Fortunately, the shaman was significantly damaged by the time I joined the fight, and I was able to fell him solo during a short but intense battle. When I did, a server message hailed the end of the invasion, and I was rewarded not just with a pile of XP (including a nice bonus for helping defend a settlement), but also a few very handy consumable items. This all happened at level 6, by the way, so players will get a good taste of planar warfare very early in the game.

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style="font-style: italic;">Different planes dwellers are opposed to each other, so pitting them against each other can be a viable strategy.

On the downside, since I couldn't save the quest giver and a few of the vendors, these NPCs were unavailable for a few minutes until the respawn. Even that wasn't much of a downside since I was happy to see that player action (or inaction) will affect the game world in a fairly dramatic fashion, even at low levels. One can imagine the scale of invasions later in the game, and the size and scope of player interaction needed to repel them. It will be up to the devs to deliver only what players in a given area can handle and what the penalties will be should players fail to defend the invasion objective, but the social and story benefits of the invasion cycle early in the game could be momentous.

Invasions bring out your inner Sun Tzu, as well. Planes dwellers of different types are opposed to each other (life, death, fire, and water are the planes revealed so far), so a valid strategy is to steer invasions across opposing rifts and possibly invasion forces (only one invasion was active at a time on the low level maps we played), sweeping up location-based bonuses along the way. Though we didn't see PvP in this early build, Executive Producer Scott Hartsman assured us that there will be competitive tie-ins to invasions. For example, as a defiant, maybe you clear the path for an invading planar army, using the invasion as a springboard for PvP hijinx of your own.

Invasions have all the hallmarks of that most golden of fun gaming moments, the high risk / high reward scenario that you simultaneously really can't wait for but yet part of you hopes doesn't happen. In the opening areas of the game, I satisfied myself that the dynamic content cycle adds to (rather than subtracts from) Rift's core gameplay. Whether closing rifts and stopping invasions might become full-time drudge work or a replacement for quality endgame content later in the game remains to be seen, but the Trion team seems to be keeping rifts in the proper perspective so far.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our RIFT Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.