E3 2011: Hands on with RIFT's 1.3 update

With patch 1.2 fading in the rearview mirror, RIFT players have turned their attention to the incoming patch 1.3 due on June 22nd. Titled Waves of Madness, the update will kick off a new world event and add an additional tier of endgame content in the form of an additional raid.

We got the opportunity to dive into 1.3 early at E3, all while a petite seven-foot-tall dev perched on our shoulder and gave us running commentary. Patch 1.3's crown jewel is a 20-person raid in the ancient fortress of Hammerknell, which was built by folks who thought it'd be a smashing idea to cram evil spirits into runes and then use that as the foundation. Sounds to us a lot like building a summer camp on top of a desecrated native burial ground, but we're sure these architects had good intentions.

Surprise, surprise, the spirits started to ooze out into Hammerknell and tore up the place. To make matters worse, Hammerknell is the prison of a water dragon -- and the water plane started to come to its rescue. So the Dwarves decided to treat it like an illegal toxic dump by sealing up the fortress, whistling innocently, and conveniently forgetting it until another raid area was needed.

But it's not as simple as just unlocking the front door and marching in to claim some loot! Hit the jump as we walk you through the process of down-and-dirty archaeology!

"Purple and wet"

When 1.3 lands, Hammerknell won't be open for business, but players will be able to start working on gaining access. This will happen through the game's next world event, which looks to be more elaborate and structured than the previous River of Souls one was. Waves of Madness will take place over a period of weeks as players from all levels participate to solve this impending crisis.

Interestingly enough, this event won't be a two-sided struggle but a three-way triangle of madness. As RIFT players know, the six planes aren't too fond of each other and often are seen at each other's throats. This time around, the plane of water and the plane of death -- blue vs. purple -- will be struggling for supremacy as players are caught in the middle. So expect to see a lot of water and death invasions colliding everywhere, and keep an eye on the skies, as the color will change depending on which plane is dominant!

It's hammer time!

The water plane also has a vendetta against the Dwarves (gee, we wonder why?), and you'll be asked to come to the aid of our stout friends as they fall under siege. Around the fourth stage of the world event, Hammerknell will become accessible to 20-person raids crazy enough to plumb its depths. That is, only after the doors have been blown apart with a giant cannon.

Hammerknell is incredibly large in scope, starting with the first room. The raid will pit players against 10 of the most difficult bosses the game has seen to date. The dev promised that these wouldn't be simple tank-and-spank encounters; instead, each boss will have unique mechanics requiring teamwork, timing, and strategy.

One of the bosses, Jornaru, will start destroying part of the environment as you hack away at his (gulp) 11 million hitpoints. Guess he ate his spinach! As you progress through the stages against him, the entire raid will have to keep maneuvering in a room that's literally crumbling. If you don't move quickly enough or you fall off of a platform, you're out of the rest of the fight.

The raid will be broken down into separate wings, all of which have to be beaten before the portal to the aforementioned water dragon opens up. One of the wings has been completely taken over by the forces of death, giving players a glimpse of what the world would look like if Regulos had his way.

All that and brains, too

That isn't to say that Hammerknell is all ugly tentacles and purple clouds -- quite to the contrary, in fact. One of the rooms we were shown is simply one of the most beautiful locales in the game, which Trion Worlds' artists spent considerable time creating for looks and for the story. The artists even concentrated on detailing the ceilings above you, even if most players will just run by without glancing up.

Trion's not dumb; the team knows that not everyone carefully reads quest text or bones up on lore. This is why Hammerknell is peppered with plenty of visual storytelling cues that wordlessly tell you what's happened and lets your mind fill in the blanks. You'll see indications of where the builders had to quickly stop their work as the place started to go south, such as half-sculpted statues littering the rooms.

Your adventures through Hammerknell will also tell the tale of what's happened to these Dwarves (hint: many are now phantoms) and what extended imprisonment might do to the psyche.

One word: Guild banks!

OK, technically that's two words, but not when you're saying it all excited-like. Guildbanks! Yes, this highly requested feature will finally come to the game in 1.3, as will the free character transfers that Trion's been ballyhooing for a couple of weeks now. As for the transfers, the dev said that it was his understanding that characters will be able to transfer to any server with a "once per week" limitation.

Another groovy feature is a whole new type of collection artifacts that can only be seen by those who've purchased the ability to see the 10-person raid slivers. These "red sparklies" are the latest in Trion's attempt to provide another layer of the game that's beyond the world we typically see.

It was terrific getting an advance peek at 1.3, and we came away assured that players will have plenty of content to devour once it hits later this month.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!
This article was originally published on Massively.