Making a fantasy MMOG is a bit of an uphill battle these days. No matter what you do, if you’re making a Western-style MMOG it’ll be invariably compared to reigning champion World of Warcraft. If it’s an Eastern-style MMOG, it’ll be compared to Lineage II and/or Aion.
Still, said Design Director Simon Ffinch at Trion’s preview event for Rift: Planes of Telara – formerly known as the infinitely more generic Heroes of Telara – familiarity isn’t a bad thing. If a player logs into the game for a first time to find two potential factions (one noble and one more vicious) and the four archetypal class types of wizard/fighter/rogue/healer, it means that they’re going to understand the game right off the bat.
You draw them in with familiarity, said Ffinch, and then you make it interesting.
There is quite a lot that feels familiar out of the gate in Rift. The world of Telara feels very typically “fantastic,” and new players will find that it controls and plays just like the MMOGs they might be used to – exclamation marks indicating questgivers and all. The catch, of course, is that Telara is a nexus of sorts: No less than six different planes of existence converge on Telara, and the intersection of these planes with the “real world” drives the story.
Of course, the idea of other planes entering a hub world is nothing new in an MMOG, but what is interesting – what Simon Ffinch and the rest are using as their hook – is exactly how the planes and Telara interact. Rifts to the various planes will “dynamically” spawn around the world, and when triggered will unleash changes on the environment around them.
Of the six existing planes at the moment, we were told of only two, the planes of Death and Life (and how much do you want to bet that the other four are Fire/Water/Air/Earth, hmm?), and of those two we only saw the Plane of Life in action. When the rift was triggered to the Plane of Life, it spawned a massive floral monster that rapidly turned the entire surrounding area into something lush and teeming with life: plants sprouted from the ground, and everything became quite a bit more overgrown than it had before.
When a rift is activated, we saw, it started an event similar to the Public Quests in Warhammer Online – anyone could contribute to sealing the rifts back up again, and if you contribute you will get loot when all is said and done. The problem with WAR‘s Public Quests was that they were fixed and unchanging – the dynamic nature of Rift‘s rift emergence should keep things fresh, said Ffinch.
The moment a rift spawns and word gets out, it could become an instant hotspot for PvE and PvP alike – and yes, there will be PvP between the more lawful Guardians and more chaotic Defiants, naturally. The two factions could cooperate to seal the rift and get loot for all… but then again, why help your enemy gear up? Why not sabotage their attempt?
In addition to the more dynamic rift-centric gameplay, Planes of Telara will also feature your standard MMORPG content – instanced dungeons for smaller groups of 5 and for 10-man and 20-man raids alike. We saw one particular dungeon that took adventurers through the four seasons as they descended further into its depths, from spring to summer to autumn to winter – it reminded me of Click Clock Wood in Banjo-Kazooie, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
One area that might just help Rift: Planes of Telara stick out from the crowd at first, though, is the strength of its graphics. While it might not be the first “truly HD MMORPG” as Trion is claiming, Rift is a visually stunning game – even a year (or more) away from release, they already have over 10,000 character and NPC animations with more created every day, said Ffinch. The lighting effects are phenomenal in particular, and it arguably looks better (if not quite as stylized) as NCSoft’s eye-candy-tastic Aion.
Not only does the world look cool, but your character should look cool too: We saw a bit of the character creator, and it’s clear that Trion has taken great pains to ensure that your character will look like an actual person instead of a freak of nature no matter how you position the little slidy-bars. “It’s very hard to make something ugly in the game,” said Ffinch.
One of the most interesting innovations in Rift might be something that players won’t ever see. Rather than having “location-based” servers – where a given server represents a given city or dungeon, and gets overloaded if too many people are in that area – the game divides its servers into systems. You have an AI server, a chat server, a collision-detection server, and so on – which means that it’s easy to add blades to struggling clusters without taking an area offline.
Thus far, Rift: Planes of Telara looks like something that’s very familiar but with a few refreshing twists – and that seems to be the point. The game is currently slated to come out sometime in 2011.
Check out more of Rift: Planes of Telara at the official site.