I was happily questing my way through the Shadowlands, finding everything quite comfortably familiar, when I saw it in the distance - a little glowing spark in the otherwise dark world around me. It distorted the very air around it (with some remarkably cool visual effects), shining like a little beacon. It was a tear in reality, a potential opening to one of the six elemental planes that converge on Telara - Life, Death, Fire, Water, Earth and Air. If left unchecked, it would grow into a fully-fledged Rift (hey, title drop!) that would open the way for an elemental invasion.
Naturally, we don't want that to happen. Players have the ability to forcibly open a Rift (as one of the developers put it, "You're insulting the plane's mother,") in order to preemptively draw the creatures from the other plane into this reality - to put a stop to the invasion by beating them up and taking their lunch. The opening of a Rift is really, really cool: It flares up and the entire world around it begins to mutate. While the Plane of Life (as seen in the Preview) results in the area becoming wildly overgrown, this was a Rift to the Plane of Death, and instead everything began to wither and die.
The actual closing of the Rifts is fairly simple - kill the monsters that pop out, kill the bigger monsters, and then kill the boss monster. Boom, Rift closed. What's cool about it is that it functions very much like the Public Quests in Warhammer or Champions Online - anyone can jump in and help contribute, and they'll get a reward at the end proportional to their contributions.
As I adventured further, eventually escaping from the Shadowlands to the mercifully less-dreary fertile coastal farmland of Telara (whoops, guess some of the corrupted hero souls used that portal to come along for the ride) it was the Rifts that started to draw me in. The tears and Rifts add a surprisingly compelling and dynamic new element to what is otherwise a fairly standard MMORPG - planar tears appear on the map as they randomly pop up, meaning that it's possible to forego questing entirely and instead just level up by hunting Rifts (and getting some rather useful items in the process).
Of course, closing a Rift is only one thing you can do with it - and sometimes, it gets more interesting if they stay open for too long. What happens then? Well, I can't talk about it now, but check back later, because it's actually pretty cool.
As it stands, Rift: Planes of Telara is looking like a very standard and familiar MMORPG with one hell of a fresh twist. Maybe that's just what some people are looking for, you know?
For more on Rift, check out our initial preview.