We took a first look at developer Trion Worlds' gorgeous, ambitious and fantastical new massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Rift: Planes of Telara, experiencing its exciting dynamic content features in action.

Following a devastating calamity, Telara has been split into two opposing factions. On one side stand the Guardians, revived by the gods and tasked with redeeming the world and returning things to the way they were. On the other side are the Defiants, who've resurrected their people with forbidden technology, and strive to remake the world anew. There are three selectable races in either faction, with Rift: Planes of Telara offering male and female options for each.

In-game rifts are multi-staged events that alter the game's world in real-time. We were shown a life rift that, once opened, rejuvenated nearby plants, growing them to sizes double their own and energizing local fauna. As soon as a rift opens up, everything changes in Rift: Planes of Telara.

Rifts tend to create deadlier monsters, but they also spawn cool little interactive objects that can aid gameplay in Rift: Planes of Telara. This point was demonstrated to us when a life rift opened up, growing a plant that, upon clicking it, restored our life and mana. During a death rift, our character enlisted the spirit of a fallen warrior to aid him in battle for a minute or so.

In Rift: Planes of Telara, there are six elemental planes that can seep through a rift: life, death, fire, water, earth and air. Rifts feature multiple stages of play, each with a 'challenge-and-reward' focus. Each stage comes with a decent reward - such as shiny new armour and weapons - and the first stage can always be completed by a solo player, with later stages benefitting from a full-fledged party.

Rifts get bigger at higher levels in Rift: Planes of Telara, affecting larger areas of land and a wider assortment of creatures. If left alone, rifts can overtake an entire zone. These aren't static events that re-loop when the players don't bother with them - they do their own thing if you leave them be.

In Rift: Planes of Telara, player classes are re-thought as 'Callings', each relating to a traditional RPG archetype, such as Warrior, Mage, Cleric and Rogue. Callings become even more interesting when souls - interchangeable talent trees - come into play. Eventually, a player will be able to equip up to three souls, mixing and matching those souls' abilities as they like. Certain souls will be easier or harder for players to obtain dependent on their faction, and there are roughly over 30 souls for players to collect.

To help ensure that players won't create broken characters, the Rift: Planes of Telara team came up with the concept of skill roots. These cleverly named base skills sit below each soul's skill tree, and as a player invests skills into each of their souls, those points are totaled and counted towards root skills. The roots skills are essentials, and always inherently helpful to your Calling.

Character creation features a decent amount of choice. Eyes, hair, facial structure, and more can be altered for each race and sex. However, the Rift: Planes of Telara team kept customisation within certain bounds to avoid players making "platypus-headed" characters.

Combat isn't anything new to the MMO scene. It feels fine, but Trion Worlds isn't trying to break the mould here - its more interested in dynamic content via the rift system in Rift: Planes of Telara.

Rift: Planes of Telara has been in development for about three years. The game is in closed Alpha and is currently slated for an early 2011 release date.

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Rift: Planes of Telara seems perfectly happy sticking with what works in established MMO combat, as developer Trion Worlds is looking to make strides elsewhere - namely in the game's unique class system and dynamic rift content. We enjoyed our time with Rift's inventive mechanics, interesting world and deep lore, and can easily see Rift: Planes of Telara carving its own corner out of the massively multiplayer market, assuming it finds its audience.