Your very first decision in game will be to choose a faction: the Guardians or the Defiant. Both are tasked with saving a world under attack, although they each have their own approach and butt heads against the other in the process. The Guardians are blessed by the gods and are chosen to be their holy knights, while the Defiant take the anti-hero route and rely on their own technology to wage this war. The Defiant had created vast cities in the desert using their magical tech, but they were infiltrated by dragons and saw their great achievements wiped away, reducing them to desert wanderers. There are races unique to each faction, as well as races shared by both. We learned that the Defiant have access to both the Eth (human) and Bahmi (human/elemental) races.
We then moved on to classes, which lie within four basic "callings," as Rift likes to toss around. Choosing an initial calling -- Warrior, Cleric, Rogue and Mage -- locks you into that role, although you can go on to pick a specialized class within that calling, such as Blade Dancer or Reaver. Rift offers a spin on class selections by allowing players to mix-and-match elements of several classes by capturing souls and making your own unique blend. Like coffee, just with souls. You get your second soul at level 15 and your third at 30, but it's up to you to find and acquire these souls in your journey. The only restriction is that all of your souls have to fall under your calling, so you can't utilize a Warrior soul if you've chosen a Rogue calling.
Our dev chose to play a Warlock/Elementalist, with the Warlock aspect wielding death magic (think life taps and drains) while the Elementalist side provided direct attacks and pets. We picked a Champion instead, and enjoyed watching a master of blades at work.
While finishing up creating our character, one thing became readily apparent: The artists have done a phenomenal job with Rift, as the character creation showcases many attractive choices.
We popped in the world as a newly-resurrected Defiant hero, overlooking a massive operation in the Shadowlands to recover lost technology and reclaim more heroes. The idea of souls is pretty crucial to your character, as not only have you been reborn from a spirit yanked from the soulstream, but you have come back with the ability to utilize other skilled souls from long ago.
As we cruised through the newbie experience, our character encountered several rifts (hey, just like the title of the game!). Rifts are tears in the fabric of reality that allow forces from other planes to pop through -- and this, of course, is not a good thing. The first tear we saw was a life rift, which roared into existence and affected the immediate environment. Rifts can not only change how the area looks and sounds, but transform wandering creatures into new monstrosities.
The cool thing is that rifts do more than just make the world appear dynamic -- you can jump into one and battle your way to the end like a bonus stage, in search of special rewards. Rifts come in various sizes, such as major and minor, which impact how long these bonus stages last. Multiple people can enter a rift, like a public quest, and share the loot based on contribution. There are rifts for each of the elements with a corresponding villain: life, death, air, fire, earth and water. Like lightning, you can't expect a rift to open up in the same spot twice, or predict which type of rift will open when you do find one.
The world isn't all foreign to the experienced MMO gamer, as we moved on to the initial Defiant base and discovered staple MMO services: crafting, auction house, banks and quests. You have to be on your toes in these bases, however, as they're not immune to dynamic events flaring up. For example, a tech might botch using a device, and end up making a small rift right inside the base itself unleashing water elementals everywhere.
Following the newbie zone, the world expands exponentially. For fans of PvP, you'll start to encounter areas and zones where open PvP is the name of the game -- but these should be avoidable by those who desire it. Most of the world is seamless when you run around, although there are special instances that offer 5-man content and raid-level content.
Explorer types are rewarded with experience for discovering new areas, as well as a collection system. Unfortunately, the devs couldn't share much about collections and crafting at this time. They also have no plans to add any roleplay-specific systems.
Trion Worlds is pouring a lot of effort into creating a world full of interesting lore, a fairly unique class creation system and the "keep you on your toes" excitement of rifts. Hopefully we'll get to look at the Guardian faction in the future and see what else we can pry out of this title to pass on to you!