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Trion's Hal Hanlin and Mike Daugherty give details on RIFT's update 1.6

Karen Bryan

RIFT has gained a reputation for its fast and furious pace of updates, and doesn't appear to be ready to shed that image any time soon. Players are currently participating in the Ashes of History world event, and learning some clues about a mysterious new island, which is due soon with Update 1.6. In addition to the launch of a new overland zone, Ember Isle, there will be new group content, new zone invasion mechanics, and a new feature called "Instant Adventures." Design Director Hal Hanlin and Content Lead Mike Daugherty took some time to talk to Massively about Update 1.6. Read on for highlights from the interview.

Hanlin and Daugherty began by discussing the lore of Ashes of History, and how it will tie in with update 1.6. Hanlin explained that players are currently reconstructing travel stones located throughout Telara. Strange creatures are teleporting through and hinting that their destination was supposed to be Ember Isle. In addition, the Golden Maw are delivering stockpiles of treasure over to the island. Daugherty added that once players reach Ember Isle, there are many different planar armies on the island, trying to hatch their own plans and exploit the island for its resources. The world event will conclude with players having the ability to use the travel stones to journey over to Ember Isle.

Rift Ember WAtch
Ember Isle and changes to invasions

I asked about a new addition called sourcewells, and Daugherty explained that it's an attempt to have players focus more on the invasion gameplay. In current zones, the team realized that invasions could be fun, but when they begin to take over quest hubs, it got a little old. On Ember Isle, players have the ability to upgrade hubs with a new planar ability called Nexus Infusion, and essentially summon the invasion to them. Hanlin added that the team learned from their experience with ancient wardstones, which didn't work the way they had hoped. With sourcewells, the zone events take advantage of the sourcewell locations, so players can create their own hotspots, gather together, and upgrade things like defensive turrets and lifesprings that heal players, to protect and defend an outpost. Another thing that players mentioned is that during zone events, they felt they couldn't go on offense because they were too busy protecting the wardstones. Sourcewells should give a lot more flexibility in what players can do during an invasion, and also give them a little more control over when they happen.

Hanlin said that players of all levels will be able to travel to Ember Isle, which acts as the culmination of the World Event. But he added that lower-level players should stick to the safety of the outpost. Ember Isle is for level 50 players, and Daugherty added that it's even a bit rough for those who are fresh 50s. Mobs are level 52, and the team wanted to provide a challenge to veteran level 50s who have been gearing up. Hanlin did say that fresh 50s could indeed do the content, but they would need to be much more careful with their pulls and where they wander.

New group content

Next, Hanlin and Daugherty discussed some of the new group content that's on the way. Hanlin revealed that there is a new instance that's due with 1.6, called Caduceus Rise, and it will be available in both normal and expert versions. It's a non-linear zone, and he described it as "stunningly beautiful." Daugherty said that the storyline ties in with World Event lore, paying off the Laethys story and the attempts of the Golden Maw to ally with the Wanton in order to communicate with her and even bring her to the island. Hanlin added that for people who want larger challenges, the sourcewell areas will trigger challenging onslaughts that will require multiple groups to counter. He said that basically the zone comes and raids you for a while. Daugherty added that there are group dailies that take you to group-only elite areas of the zone. One is Dormant Core, and one is east of the islands, and another is inside the volcano, where groups can go in and do a quick daily quest. In addition, some zones have had rare spawns in the past, and this time, since the zone is a littler harder, the team decided to make the mobs a little more interesting. They are group-oriented rare spawns, and it's set up so that even latecomers will get credit for the kill. Hanlin mentioned one in particular, at the bottom of the waterfall in Ember Watch, that's a multi-party mob, aimed at 10-15 player raids. I then asked about Maelforge, and whether players will be able to go to the interior of the volcano to take him on. Daugherty explained that it's in the works and players will be able to do that in a future patch.

Rift Ember Watch
Instant Adventures

Switching gears, Hanlin and Daugherty next talked about instant adventures. Hanlin said that it won't appear until a short time after 1.6 goes live, to give players a chance to take in the new content first. The idea behind it is to bring back the feel of the early days of beta and launch, when large masses of players were rolling through the zones together tackling rift invasions. With instant adventures, players are brought together, ported to an area, and given a special task that everyone will complete together. The adventure contains multiple updates, and scales depending on the size of your party. There are lots of challenges along the way, and initially these will take place in Stillmoor and Shimmersand. You can come and go as you please, and he describes it as a "drop in, beer and pretzels, roll around and have a great time, advance your character, and jump off the roller coaster any time you feel like it" experience. Since these are in open zones, multiple parties can work on these adventures simultaneously. Hanlin added that right now, the adventures do not have direct PvP consequences (unless you're on a PvP server), but he left the door open for future plans. He added that they've gotten some great feedback during testing, and they've already seen the leader-type players emerging to organize parties and provide advice. Players have even organized themselves as they move, with tanks in front providing a wedge of defense as they move through the zones.

I asked about Chronicles and Master dungeons, and whether they're happy with the feedback. Hanlin said the team is keeping an eye on things and watching the difficulty of Master dungeons carefully, but are pleased with things so far. He added that players have embraced the Chronicles, and they anticipate doing more of those in future updates.

Souls, expansions, free-to-play, and housing

Regarding changes to souls, 1.6 will focus on tanking, and Hanlin said there will be adjustments across the board to fine-tune things. I then asked about any plans for an expansion, and Hanlin said, "We treat RIFT like a service. We're focusing on subscriber responses, and we're trying to redefine how MMO companies are doing business. That being said, we have over a million activations, and we do have a long term plan, but I can't talk about that yet." I followed up with the obligatory free-to-play question, and Hanlin said "No. If players want to try it before they buy it, there are trials and plenty of promotions that allow them to do that." He added that they "view RIFT as a premium service, and are focused on continuing to deliver the best dynamic content in the world, and unless someone tells me something differently, and by that I mean Scott, we'll continue to do what we're doing."

I then asked about the rumor of player housing possibly coming to RIFT, and Hanlin said he didn't have anything on the immediate horizon right now, and that the team is focused on core, combat-themed gameplay.

Overall, Hanlin and Daugherty are looking forward to seeing 1.6 go live. Hanlin said that the new content will allow players to see familiar zones in a fresh new way through Instant Adventures, and also see completely new areas with Ember Isle and Caduceus Rise, and he encourages people to check them both out.

Thanks to Hal Hanlin and Mike Daugherty for talking with Massively!

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