Above: The Ember Isle is easily the most beautiful area in the game
The Ember Isle is big. Very big. How big? Well, if you take Rift's current largest zone, the Shimmersand, and double it in size, you get something that's about as large as the island that is set to debut in the MMO's 1.6 patch, From the Embers. It's also actually full of stuff – unlike Shimmersand, which is mostly empty desert. And the stuff it's full of... oh, the stuff it's full of...
If you care about plot, Ember Isle is important to Rift's lore in many ways. It's home to the Defiant's elf race, the Kelari, as well as numerous other powerful creatures, and has been cut off from the rest of the world since the Rifts started opening up. Now, players are able to travel here and complete over a hundred new quests, explore a new dungeon, and start trying out Onslaughts, which appear to take some of the mechanics that already makes Rift one of our favorite MMOs and mixes it in with a dash of tower defense.
Above: Trion is slowly moving away from traditional fantasy into its own style
Onslaughts take advantage of the game's invasions by letting players activate Sourcewells, which will immediately lead to an attack from invading forces. Suddenly, the map will be covered with arrows as enemies charge the location of the well, hoping to destroy it. In order to stop the attackers, players will need to work together to upgrade both damage-dealing and healing towers, which are scattered around the area. It's not a full-blown tower defense game – Trion's Hal Halin said that they already developed one game, they don't want to make another – but it uses some of the same mechanics to allow for a new spin on defending against invasions.
One of the reasons Onslaughts works so well is because of Ember Isle itself. Those who didn't follow Rift's development may not know that the dynamic content wasn't actually there from the start – at least not in its current form. The opening of Rifts was a somewhat late addition before release, well after the game's world and terrain was finished. Trion needed to build mechanics around the world they already had, instead of building the world around the mechanics, and while they did a fantastic job, they never really had a chance to take full advantage of their systems. Building Ember Isle from scratch lets them really make interesting terrain to go around these Sourcewells, making for more fun (and balanced) gameplay.
Above: A small group gets ready for an Onslaughts. They should bring more friends
Ember Isle is an entire island made specifically for the highest-level players, tacking on a few dozen extra hours to the end-game of Rift. Padding that time out even more is Caduceus Rise, a new five-man dungeon that brings some non-linear delving to the game. This massive dungeon is the largest non-raid instanced dungeon in the game to date, featuring 11 bosses to down and two expert modes to conquer.
We really like the direction Trion is taking Rift with 1.6. The amount of content they're adding, and have been adding since launch, is comparable to what many MMORPGs charge for with expansions. Meanwhile, Trion is adding stuff so fast that it's hard, as a player, to keep up, and the addition of a new area, new ways to play, and other interesting elements makes Rift one of the most exciting MMOs out right now. We also took a look past 1.6 at some other upcoming enhancements, including an iOS/Android app which lets players view their Guild Chat, set alerts for in-game events, and even win items via a scratch-off game, and a new element coming called "Instant Adventure," which is... exactly what it sounds like.
Above: Those guys are frightening, so we should shoot them for being different
From the Embers is due out mid-November, giving you plenty of time to get your character geared up for the largest, prettiest part of Telara. Oh, and there's Raptor mounts, so you might want to look into getting one of those, considering it's a raptor mount.