Class and Soul – Rift: Planes of Telara Gets a Little Bit of Both at E3 2010

Ever since Trion Worlds began revealing  gameplay details for Rift: Planes of Telara at GDC earlier this spring, the game has had a permanent place on

Ever since Trion Worlds began revealing  gameplay details for Rift: Planes of Telara at GDC earlier this spring, the game has had a permanent place on my radar. However, to a certain degree it’s also been difficult to capture the essence of exactly what it is about the game that brought it to a loud roar commanding my attention from its former “pretty graphics, but…” status. So when I learned that we’d be getting a chance to check the game out at E3 2010, I made sure to fight tooth and nail to get that puppy added to my list of appointments.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t much of a fight, but I’m sure that had things escalated any more there might have at least been a fierce rock-paper-scissors battle or possibly be even an Over the Top inspired arm wrestling match. Mind you neither of those methods actually work over conference calls, but that’s entirely beside the point. The only thing that matters is that I won one of the handful of appointments that I was prepared to kick some booty over.

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But what is it about Rift that screams “hello, you want to install me on your PC and enjoy me for years to come” without ever seeing the game in action? And more importantly, did getting the chance to do so live up to my lofty expectations? Read on and find out all of the spine-tingling details.

The Faction Fraction
One of the more interesting things I picked up on about Rift is that there are a number of up-front elements that instantly brought EverQuest II, or at least a much earlier version of that game, to mind. Most of this was just surface level however. The first of these things is that players will begin their Rift experience by choosing between one of two factions. While the decision isn’t quite so cut-n-dry as selecting between the blatantly good or evil side of things, the two factions are also  not all that dissimilar to the original Freeport or Qeynos decision players were faced with in launch version EQ2.  Only in Rift, things are a tad bit more complex in terms of what separates these two factions.

First off you have oodles of otherworldly armies creeping across the land, which has driven the people of Telara into a state of civil war. On the one side, you have the Guardians who somewhat fulfill the role of the “white hats” as they’d prefer to restore the faith of a world that once was, while the Defiants sing the classic Bowie anthem “Rebel Rebel” with pride, as they’d prefer to be true to their namesake.

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So all things consider this is a fairly hefty decision for players to make right from the outset, though it’s also not anything off the wall crazy or new compared to the jumping-in point we’ve seen in other MMOGs over the years.

That said, for our demo and hands-on time at E3 we stuck to the Defiants, which is naturally the better of the two options either way. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing white hats, but I prefer my hats to at least be a little bit gray.

The Ghost of Classes Past
At first glance you may thing that Rift’s class system isn’t all too terribly complex, but lurking just beneath the surface is an interesting twist on classic archetypes and how they advance. While you are indeed selecting from one of four main archetypes – warrior, mage, rogue or cleric – even the concept behind each of these main class types is somewhat unique.

Rather than simply being a main school of combat that you’re opting to study and advance, classes in Rift are instead the souls of ancient champions that players will tap into in order to harness and progress their specific powers. Eventually, players will be able to have a total of three of these souls linked to their characters. You’ll begin with a choice between different playstyles within the base archetype – for example you may decide to play an Inquisitor which is a more melee oriented cleric, or if you prefer the more tried and true healing route you could opt to become a Purifier to start out instead.

This selection opens up a branching tree that’s somewhat similar to talent trees, with a good mix of both things that will augment current skills and the ability to unlock entirely new skills. Each of these trees can also progress in more than one direction, with the “core” slots being most directly linked to the essence of what that particular soul choice is all about.

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You’ll eventually unlock a second soul at level 15, and a third at level 30. While these will also need to be associated with your original archetype choice, the list for each class type is fairly extensive and will offer a boat load of flexibility in terms of how you shape your character over time. So say you start out as an Inquisitor, you’re free to toss in some Purifier later on if you’d like to add some healing back into the mix. Keep in mind that the system in Rift is certainly unique to that game, but as a point of reference think about taking the three talent trees for each class in WoW, only instead of those being locked in you can instead choose which three trees you want to progress from a much longer list.

From what we were told, players will indeed have the ability to respec which will most likely be done through a trainer rather than on the fly. So not only can you build up some unique combinations within each archetype, you will also be able to change things up should you decide your current combo isn’t all you expected it might be.

Tripping the Rift
The concept of adding in more dynamic content to MMOGs has gained a fair amount of footing with the most recent wave of AAA MMOG announcements, and as was previously mentioned the various rifts that can open up throughout Telara have a large enough impact on gameplay to justify the title placement. This time around we got to see both life and death rifts in action, and I have to say that the death rifts did add some incredibly cool environmental effects.

One thing in particular that stood out for me was the way that roaming mobs which would wander into the area of the rift can be altered in certain ways. For example it was said that their skills would be altered beyond just the surface level changes to physical characteristics of the mob.

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Overall Combat Impressions
The current combat and movement controls will feel perfectly natural for anyone who has been around the MMOG block once or twice.  During the hands-on portion of my time with the game I didn’t really get to experience enough combat within the radius of an area affected by one of the various life or death rifts to be able to gauge some of the differences specific to combat, but I did scamper around my current zone a fair amount to see what the premade Warrior character played against different mob types.

Overall, I enjoyed the combat though it is indeed going to be your more standard MMOG fare, but that isn’t necessarily something that I would consider to be a negative. In fact, I’ve grown increasingly more skeptical of titles that attempt to push combat too far into the direction of feeling like a gimmick, and besides, as a core gameplay element it’s kind of nice to be able to step into a new game experience and feel a certain sense of comfort with control schemes considering the fact that 99% of the rest of the game will feel entirely chaotic until you’ve figured out the lay of the land.

So would I say that after seeing it in action and spending some time scampering around in Rift that it still ranks highly in my personal list of “games to watch, and watch closely”? I would certainly say so, which is exactly what  I intend to do and encourage you to do the same.

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