recently, Ten Ton Hammer was among the first group of gamers to
spend some hands-on time with style="font-style: italic;">Rift: Planes of Telara.
For this part of the preview, we'll explore never-before-seen classes,
character creation, and the new starting areas of Shadowlands, Free
Marches, and Silverwood. Along the way, we'll delve deeper into
concepts like character progression and rifts and discover never before
discussed topics like the death penalty, early boss encounters,
professions and crafting. All that, plus some close-up impressions of
one of Rift's
never-before-revealed classes in part 1 of our first ever style="font-style: italic;">Rift: Planes of Telara
hands-on preview!

Classes and Character Creation

After settling into our seats at Trion's posh Redwood City studios, the
first step was to make our characters. While we were busy toggling and
sliding, Trion Creative Director Scott Hartsman took the opportunity to
dispel some misconceptions about the game's player factions,
specifically the Guardians. In our href=""
target="_blank">first style="font-style: italic;">Rift
interview with Scott,
he noted that it isn't as simple as the Guardians are good and the
Defiants are evil. Instead, the Guardians serve the gods and the
Defiants serve their technology. And both sides view each other as
dangerous, if not outright evil.

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Scott took this point further, noting that in the lore, the Guardians
are far from a bunch of white hats. Only the smartest and best at
killing made their way back from the Shadowlands to take on Ascension
at the hands of the gods, regardless of their moral choices in life.
The gods simply need
an army of the strongest fighters imaginable, and
the souls that fell short... well, that's where the game's
dual-classing system comes in.  You can tack on these souls to
become even more varied and powerful, but more on that below.

In Rift,
souls (or classes) are split down the Guardian / Defiant divide. We
were introduced to several previously undisclosed
souls, primarily on
the Guardian side. A few of these classes included the Sentinel (a
healer in the classic sense), the Pyromancer (fire-based DPS and direct
damage), the Assassin (a poison DoT rogue), the Beastmaster (loads of
pets and DPS), and one of my new favorites, the Saboteur (a class that
specializes in sneaking up to five bombs onto a target, then detonating
them - preferably when the mob is appropriately loaded down with

Your character will look pretty good, especially for a recently dead
guy. Character creation is as rich and detailed as you'd expect in a
modern RPG, complete with the en vogue triangular sliders for face and
body shape, loads of hair styles, et al. The only sour note (and this
too seems to be a trend) is the lack of a fantasy name generator. Being
that this is how I and a number of my friends found our gamer tags in
the first place, I'd hate for style="font-style: italic;">Rift
to make the omission, but we'll chalk it up to the game being in late

And that brings me to my next point. style="font-style: italic;">Rift
is officially in late alpha, but through level 12 (the highest I could
get in our five hours with the game) it's more polished than games I've
played in late beta. The options included novelties such as adjusting
"footstep volume" (strange how much this can grate on you after a
while), convincing goblin voiceovers, multiple combat and death
animations for enemy groups, and swimming doesn't give you vasoline
eyes and the inevitable smeary underwater zone headache. The style="font-style: italic;">Rift
devs even took a page out of the FPS playbook:  if you start
to run short on hitpoints, the screen starts to grey out and your hear
your heart beating faster.


The Shadowlands is what Scott called "the island on Telara's River Styx
- you're dead but not quite dead." It's your introduction to what your
side - Guardian or Defiant - believes, who you are, what your mission
is, and what your race has endured. Better yet, Shadowlands isn't a
single player tutorial , but a true multiplayer experience hosting up
to 30 people from your faction, complete with substantial opportunities
to group within your first fifteen minutes of gameplay.

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Satyr Dominator

Shadowlands is darkly gorgeous, heavy in contrasty blacks and purple
hues and pierced by otherworldly light. Dead souls fell ominously from
the sky like a meteor shower, only to be absorbed by the Shadowlands'
soil. Meanwhile, ghastly creatures kept guard over the paths to the
purifying shrine (Guardians) or technological wonder (Defiants) that
would take my reincarnated character back to Telara.  These
creatures were a little terrifying too, especially if you zoomed into
first person view. And yes, you can go first-person, and it's one of style="font-style: italic;">Rift's
many little wonders - fun in snatches but inadvisable when fighting
with potential adds beside and behind you. But it's not all darkness
and despair; the landscape is full of trees, glens, streambeds, and
comfortably twisted takes on a nice enough earthly landscape.

At spawn-in I was told that I have two soul tree points, so I
immediately I got a taste of one of style="font-style: italic;">Rift's
defining systems. Disparaged by some as simply style="font-style: italic;">Rift's
take on talent trees, having experienced the soul tree firsthand I can
say that it's not just a system of enhancements for your abilities.
Instead, your choices in the Soul Tree determine what spells you'll
have, both directly and indirectly. As a direct damage-dealing
pyromancer, for example, I started out by enhancing my fireball and
flame dart abilities with soul tree points. So far this sounds pretty
familiar, right? But spending those points on unrelated abilities
unlocked a new flame armor self-buff in a separate part of the soul
tree. A few short levels later I obtained my fourth point which, once
spent, granted me a spell which drains charge (charge builds as spells
and abilities are used, much like rage with a style="font-style: italic;">WoW
warrior) to increase the damage output of my fire spells. 
It's worth noting that in addition to Soul Tree enhancements, players
can spend money at a trainer in town to rank up their spells and
abilities too.

Respecing, multiple specs, and the ability to switch out
specs  on the fly are a fundamental part of style="font-style: italic;">Rift's
character development. "People love playing with combinations. The idea
is to facilitate it and turn it into fun rather than having people pay
obscene amounts of money to respec." -Scott explained that player can
buy up to four loadouts to switch between any time they're not in
combat. If you notice your healer is having a tough time keeping your
tank battle-ready, maybe you can switch to a build that includes minor
healing. Or maybe a boss mob has lots of knockback - why not switch to
a build with more ranged capability? 270+ combinations result from
taking on up to three souls (two plus your starting soul). Won't that
variance lead to a balancing nightmare? "We fully expect that people
will discover new and exciting things that never occurred to us, and
that's ok... that's part of the fun.  We're not trying to
overbalance everything and make everyone feel exactly the same."

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Scarred Mire Ranger

Shadowlands also featured the first glimpse of dynamic content in the
form of a extra-planar tear; a tear that can quickly grow into a rift.
Planar tears are the start of an invasion from the planes of fire,
water, life, and death. Minions from these planes seek soulstone, as do
the Guardians (who use it to gain power from the gods) and Defiants
(who use it to power their technology). Players can use Planar Lure
items to enter the rift and fight the baddies before they're ready, but
if tears are left unaddressed, tears become rifts, and rifts become
huge and terrifying. The plane of fire rift in the Guardian Shadowlands
quickly grew to a hissing maelstrom that dominated the skybox in a
matter of minutes. Rifts - early ones at least, are soloable, multiple
stage battles provide encounter-changing consumables and loot (via a
nifty UI frame, I might add, that saves you from having to loot a chest
at the Rift site). Rifts, however, have been compared to style="font-style: italic;">Warhammer Online's
public quests, and not without good reason. But rifts can turn into
something much more than simple, localized PQs, but for that you'll
have to stay tuned for part 2 of Ten Ton Hammer's hands-on with style="font-style: italic;">Rift.

and Free Marches

Following a harrowing multi-stage boss encounter at level 5ish, your
character will be transported to Telara. For Guardians, this means the
lush sylvan dreamscape of Silverwood in the north, for Defiants it
means the slightly more foreboding Freemarch area in the south. Advance
parties of extra-planar minions stalk both areas, warping and
empowering the local flora and fauna to the whims of their masters.
Tears and Rifts break out in greater frequency here, and quests begin
to revolve around putting an end to the growing distubances.

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Meridian Warlock Purifier

While we weren't able to craft anything usable at this early stage,
some of the gathering professions were represented by trainers upon
zone in. Butchering, mining, and gathering were among the trainable
professions in the Free Marches and Silverwood starting area. Mining
nodes randomly spawned atop rock outcroppings and Free Marches, being a
bit more stark, is better suited for miners. Silverwood, on the other
hand, seemed to contain more gathering nodes, and both areas were rife
with animal-like enemies for butchering. Players can train a max of
three professions and can retrain anytime, so it's worthwhile to train
these professions even if you don't plan on crafting much for the extra
soul tree training cash.

I spent the bulk of my hands-on time in Silverwood, playing in an
around the level 9+ Argent Glade area deeper in Silverwood, and my
Pyromancer continued to develop new skills, including a seven second
root (perfect for kiting) and a long-lasting casting circle that amped
up my damage spells even more. I evolved a tactic of creating a casting
circle then moving forward a short distance and hitting the enemy with
a long-cast fireball to pull, then using flame darts as the mob
approached. Then I used the fire net ability to hold the mob in place
moved back into the casting circle, and hit it with another volley of
fireballs and flame darts. It worked pretty well, and I was pleasantly
surprised that these kind of tactics were available even before level

I looted my first collection around this time too. Scott explained that
will follow the style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest II
model of collections, meaning that collections aren't just
completionist tasks. Well, they are, but collections can be turned in
or "stashed" (as Scott put it) for rewards.

It was in Silverwood that I had my first brush with death in style="font-style: italic;">Rift.
It's been some time since anyone's tinkered with the MMO death
mechanic. Rift's
take? Once an hour, instead of respawning at a bind point, you can
undertake a "Soul Walk." That sounds very nice and peaceful, but really
it's eleven seconds of sheer terror as you rise from your corpse and
run away from whatever killed you (and other things that want to kill
you). Escape, and you're rewarded with no loss of progress or death
penalty. In style="font-style: italic;">Rift,
you're penalized for the crime of dying by surrendering a chunk of your
hitpoint and power bars, and one way to gain back your precious pools
is to eat special foods. The penalty is punishing but not too
punishing, and the Soul Walk reintroduces some corpse run-esque
excitement to a tired old mechanic.

and Fears

The Soul Walk, represents the proper mix of old and new required to
successfully innovate on core gameplay. Truthfully, style="font-style: italic;">Rift
is full of these sorts of minor innovations which add up to major
improvement. Rifts resemble PQs but are (as I'll show you in part 2 of
this hands-on report) PQs with a purpose. The Soul Tree is much like a
talent tree, but offers more (including good reasons to spend points
that players typically hoard). Aspects of classes and combat are very
familiar, but style="font-style: italic;">Rift
gives you more options sooner. Best of all, a comfortable level of solo
and co-op challenge is back for low level players of a top-tier fantasy

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Skeletal Barbarian

That's not to say that I don't have concerns, primarily with how style="font-style: italic;">Rift
is interpreted. Trion has garnered top devs from across the industry.
More than a few of these devs, such as Producer Adam Gershowitz,
came from the style="font-style: italic;">Warhammer Online
design team, and classes like the Pyromancer and Bladedancer bear a
striking resemblance to style="font-style: italic;">WAR
classes like the Bright Wizard and Blade Master (respectively). Many
believe that imbalance (or at least the perception of imbalance) played
a big role in style="font-style: italic;">WAR's
cold reception, and Scott Hartsman has made it known that some
imbalance (especially in light of the 270 soul combinations) will be an
ongoing part of the game.

While we didn't see an PvP action this time around, we did sneak a peak
at UI frame labeled Warfronts. No details were available on this
feature, but it seems likely that style="font-style: italic;">Rift
is also adopting another favorite feature from style="font-style: italic;">Warhammer Online:
scenarios. If that's the case, players who put a strong emphasis on
fair play (or believe themselves to be the sole arbiter of fair play)
will get to compare classes fairly early in the game, rather than when
the Guardians in the north finally clash with the Defiants in the south
at higher levels.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The most promising thing about style="font-style: italic;">Rift
is how far along the game is even in closed alpha, meaning there will
be plenty of time to get all the kinks worked out. And we haven't yet
covered some of the more exciting things about PvE, such as what Rifts
evolve into and what awaits players in dungeons and instances. This and
more in part 2 of our style="font-style: italic;">Rift: Planes of Telara
First Hands-On Preview!

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.