Rifts: Promise of Power N-Gage Impressions

Nokia finally disclosed some of the dirt on their exclusive Rifts game at their Vancouver press event, and we liked what we heard.

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Nokia considered its announcement of a Rifts-licensed N-Gage game to be its ace in the hole at this year's E3. Indeed, the company's montage of footage for its upcoming games portfolio at the show both opened and closed with cryptic references to Rifts--which, upon its release in the summer of 2005, will be the first video game ever based on Palladium Books' celebrated pen-and-paper role-playing continuum. At their fall press event in Vancouver, Nokia finally revealed some details about this hotly anticipated game, which has since been rechristened Rifts: Promise of Power. There was no video of the game available at this early juncture--let alone a playable version of the game--but the information we gleaned from the presentation (and from subsequent conversation with Rifts producer Shane Neville) revealed a potentially enormous tactical RPG that has been placed under the stewardship of obsessive Rifts fanboys at publisher Nokia and developer Backbone Entertainment. Whether the experiment will ultimately be a success remains to be seen, but we have been convinced that the Rifts team is willing to move heaven and earth to put an authentic Rifts experience on the N-Gage, and that it has included enough of the original game's dice-rolling quintessence to have a good shot at getting it right.

Rifts: Promise of Power's battle system is reminiscent of the systems used in games like Final Fantasy Tactics and La Pucelle: Tactics.
Rifts: Promise of Power's battle system is reminiscent of the systems used in games like Final Fantasy Tactics and La Pucelle: Tactics.

Rifts: Promise of Power is set firmly in Rifts creator Kevin Siembieda's dystopian future Earth, which was first explored in book form in 1990. The backstory is about as horrifying as you can get: In our near future, a tremendous flood of psychic energy is released when a nuclear holocaust causes hundreds of millions of casualties. This singular cataclysm rips myriad holes in the space-time continuum, unleashing ley lines of magical and psionic energy and giving a multitude of intelligent entities--from demons and pixies to dragons and aliens--a chance to step through the rifts and crash what was formerly humanity's private party. Promise of Power takes place three centuries after the opening of the rifts. This is a time when the surviving pockets of humans have begun to vie with their new competitors--as well as with each other--for control over the vast new frontier, using magic, psionics, and pre- and post-rifts technology to back up their claims.

In terms of gameplay, Rifts: Promise of Power will balance sizable real-time exploration and character-building components with turn-based, isometric combat. At the outset of the adventure, you will choose from 11 of the most popular character classes from the original game. The technology-based classes include Rifts' emblematic glitterboy, who pilots a suit of pre-rift power armor and wields a supersonic railgun called the "boom gun," which is one of the most powerful weapons in the game; the chemically augmented juicer, whose superhuman reflexes and combat prowess comes at the cost of a dramatically shortened life span; head hunters, who are gritty bounty hunters who make partial use of cybernetic augmentation; cyborgs, which are essentially powerful, sentient robots; and crazies, who employ brain prostheses that make them very dangerous warriors but also cause them to suffer from phobias and occasionally go berserk on the battlefield. On the flip side of the coin, there are the magic- and psionics-based classes, whose powerful innate abilities make them more than a match for any technically enhanced foe. The mind melter, for instance, is a master of powerful mind-control techniques, as well as telekinesis; the ley line walker receives substantial bonuses to his or her magical abilities when proximate to energy lines and nexuses; bursters use deadly pyrokinetic attacks to fry their foes; battle magi are versed in both magic and good old-fashioned firepower; and mystics can draw on both magical and psionic capabilities to wage war. A final character class of note is the cyber knight, who can summon a powerful energy sword from thin air. These futuristic flowers of chivalry are lauded throughout the world of Rifts for their good deeds, and are automatically of good alignment. Their reputation will precede them throughout the game, exerting a significant effect on the course of play.

Germany? Canada? Scotland? Who knows where you'll end up.
Germany? Canada? Scotland? Who knows where you'll end up.

According to Neville, Rifts: Promise of Power's single-player game will feature around 80 hours of play. This time will be spent visiting the game's numerous locations, building up your party of characters, and advancing through the central plot--which will be interwoven with many subplots, side quests, and other interesting distractions. The game's locations will be a broad survey of the post-rifts world. There's the burgeoning human-supremacist, tech-driven empires of the New German Republic and the Coalition States, which are expansionist entities bent on the violent reclamation of their respective continents; Lazlo, a beacon of hope for magic users, psionics, and other freethinkers constructed on the ruins of Toronto; Old Bones, a trading town in Quebec; and even the exotic locales of Scotland and China, which have been overrun by magic and demons.

There will be 50 different types of enemies and NPCs to encounter throughout your travels. Some of this interaction will take place in the many small settlements that litter the postapocalyptic landscape, where supplies and equipment may be available for trade. Rifts: Promise of Power's inventory system is organized along two axes: Along the top of the screen, you'll be able to scroll through relevant areas to equip, and when you reach the desired area, you'll be able to open a drop-down menu that will show you what kind of stuff you have to put on. Outside of the menus, the game's visual presentation will feature a fully zoomable and rotatable camera that will automatically get close to the action during combat and automatically zoom out for the purposes of city navigation. Character portraits will appear under the gameplay area, where characters will converse via conversation bubbles.

Outfitting your characters correctly will be a very important component of the game.
Outfitting your characters correctly will be a very important component of the game.

The combat itself will be managed via an attack-point system that should be familiar to any veteran of X-COM or Final Fantasy Tactics. Your character's attack points can be used to maneuver and assault until they are exhausted, and his or her ration of points will be determined by character class and experience level. For example, a first-level juicer receives between four and five attacks per turn in the pen-and-paper RPG; so too will his first-level counterpart in Rifts: Promise of Power. As you win more battles and become a successful warrior, you'll gain experience and level up, at which point you'll be able to choose new skills (and spells and abilities, if your character is of the requisite class). The game's skill tree will focus on the "core" skills of the original game, so more esoteric abilities like cooking, sewing, and singing probably won't make an appearance. The same goes for spells and psionics.

Powerful magical and psionic attacks will more than level the playing field with those gun-toting, power-armored goons.
Powerful magical and psionic attacks will more than level the playing field with those gun-toting, power-armored goons.

Although very little about Rifts: Promise of Power's online and multiplayer features were revealed, Neville disclosed that the game will support head-to-head combat over N-Gage Arena, as well as a Bluetooth cooperative mode.

We'll be sure to bring you more info on this tantalizing game as it becomes available. For the time being, you can check out our Q&A with producer Shane Neville for a few more fanboy-esque details.

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