This is not going to be a game that many of you have heard of, and it's an MMO that's flying a little under the radar (similar to Black Prophecy) since it comes from a developer that doesn't really have a track record when it comes to games like this (Realtime Worlds anyone?) but the game itself has some very original ideas.
|"I'm charging my laser"|
Who's making it?
The developer is Trion Worlds, a studio based in Redwood City, California, but with additional offices in Texas and San Diego. Rift is not their only project, as they are also working on publishing End of Nations, an upcoming MMORTS being developed by Petroglyph, as well as developing an as yet untitled action MMO for the SyFy cable television channel, which will apparently launch simultaneously with a science-fiction show.
While the studio itself may not have launched anything itself yet, they apparently have hired experienced developers that have over 100 titles shipped, so they are not lacking in industry expertise.
|Insert Cthulhu reference here|
What's special about it?
At first glance it looks like your standard high fantasy-themed magic MMO, replete with extremely pretty visuals, a guild system, crafting, questing, etc. If you dig a little deeper though, there are some things that make the game stand out from the pack.
Firstly there is the class system, or as Trion refer to it, the "ascended", since you are meant to play the resurrected soul of a mighty warrior.
There are four basic classes (or "callings", as they are referred to) which will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a fantasy MMO or even any standard RPG. These classes further subdivide into sub-classes, presumably at a designated part of the game (Aion does this once you reach level 10, for example).
A class that likes to hit things with large weapons, the warrior branches out into a Champion (two-handed weapon specialists who excel in close-quarters melee combat), Reaver (defensive tanks who work best at disabling and weakening opponents through dark magics), Paladin (a defensive warrior who can protect nearby teammates through holy magics but are weak against enemy spellcasters) and a Warlord (a buffing class that concentrates on augmenting and enhancing allied abilities, but are relatively weak one-on-one).
Your standard healer class, they branch out into a Purifier (a healer that heals and cleanses with fire, they are relatively weak offensively), Inquisitor (casters who combine both offensive and defensive magic, but are less effective healers than a Purifier), Sentinel (defensive-minded casters who have less direct heals but concentrate on group aid) and a Justicar (a melee healer who is dependent on his fighting abilities to power his spells, this class sounds very reminiscent of a Warrior-Priest / Disciple of Khaine from Warhammer Online).
An offensive spellcasting archetype, they further branch out into an Elementalist (a caster that has the ability to bind the raw elements to their will, they can create minions out of the very earth (and other elements)), Warlock (dark casters who power their spells via the forbidden teachings of death, their damage can be slow to take effect), Pyromancer (as the name would suggest, Pyromancers are the masters of fire, harnessing its force to channel destructive power at their enemies) and Stormcaller (the master of air and water, Stormcallers can control the weather in order to fuel their offensive capability).
No class system would be complete without your sneak-in-the-shadows Rogue. Their sub-classes are a Nightblade (short-range melee combat specialists, Nightblades can also call upon death and fire magic to assault their enemies), Ranger (a ranged damage dealer who excels with the bow, they can also use animal pets to harass and deal damage to foes), Assassin (you knew it was coming and here they are, Assassins strike from the shadows with deadly force, but can be relatively weak if they lose the element of surprise) and Blade Dancer (experts with short-range edged weapons, Blade Dancers also have a small range of defensive abilities to use to counter their opponents).
So all told there are 16 classes (at present at least, the website seems to indicate that there are more forthcoming) to choose from. However, you can mix and match abilities from each class according to your needs, so for example you could maybe take some of the lifesteal abilities of a Reaver along with the healing of a Purifier and some fire spells of a Pyromancer. Obviously the super-duper high-end abilities of a particular class will require a heavy investment into the respective talent tree otherwise everyone could run around with near-godlike powers one-shotting anything that moves, but it still seems to allow for a high degree of flexibility in your character customisation that you do not often see these days.
For example, my class which I will name the Gaff class (and I will sue the bejesus out of anyone who tries to copy my handiwork), might be able to use stonking big two-handed weapons, could lifesteal, self-heal a little and be able to run into the shadows when the shit hit the fan. Sounds like a cool combination, right? It's hard to judge without having actually played it, but on paper it could well be something that helps Rift stand out from the crowd, since the MMO market is looking towards several major releases over the next 12 months and there is always the elephant in the room that you have to deal with which is about to release its latest expansion.
Such a class system could well be a double-edged sword. Trion will have to balance between making it a unique and varied system that gives players the ability to pick and choose skills useful to them, but not allow them to become so powerful that only a small handful of combinations are viable and become the de facto standard because they are so insanely strong.
Aside from your usual high fantasy fare, there will also be the titular rifts popping up in the game world which have to be dealt with. Without going over the back story in detail, in the past there was a war which fractured the world, and now the elemental planes can sometimes break through into the world of Telara. These planes are the Planes of Life, Death, Fire, Water, Earth and Air, and each manifest in a different way and have different enemies that must be defeated.
If, for example, a Plane of Fire spawns in an area and is not beaten back by players, in a few hours it may have grown larger and even threaten the safety of nearby towns and villages. Presumably there is some kind of limit to how influential a rift can grow, or it might potentially threaten the entire world if for whatever reason players chose not to go in there to hand the rift its ass. Either way, it's an interesting mechanic that really has not been done anywhere else, at least I can't think of any game off the top of my head that has tried to do dynamic content quite like this.
|"I am not left handed"|
There will be inevitable comparisons made with World of Warcraft simply because of how that game has near-singularly re-invented the fantasy-themed MMORPG genre, but Rift looks like it has some impressive new ideas of its own and is not content to simply be a run-of-the-mill WoW knockoff.
|How much could I save on my car insurance?|
As you can see from the tasteful screenshots I have interspersed throughout this post, Rift is a very pretty game. I know we're in the days where everyone expects hyper-realistic photograph-quality graphics, but even judging from that frame of reference some of these screens are right up there on the visual scale.
You can also check out some videos on the site which again serve to highlight really how exceptional this game looks.
Rift: Planes of Telara is definitely one to watch, I think.
Trion Worlds have stated that they expect a release date of sometime in 2011.
I apparently made a boo-boo when writing about the class system, in that you can only choose additional abilities from souls within your own calling. So you can't mix and match abilities from a Warrior's calling and a Mage's calling, but can mix and match between an Assassin and a Ranger, for example, because they are both part of the Rogue calling.