A Great Game, Just Don't Expect a Revolution
(This was originally a forum post I made, but it was suggested that I post it in reviews, so while I don't necessarily consider this up to "review" standards, here it is.)
Rift is very good. Just don't expect it to be anything revolutionary. People who don't like World of Warcraft's general gameplay mechanics won't like it. I guess that should just be said right off the bat. It's a lot like WoW. Some people kid themselves about this, but I will not. Whether that's good or bad is up to the individual. That said, I quit WoW a very long time ago out of boredom (after I had played a lot of it, although it was nothing compared to how long many others have played it) and I'm really enjoying Rift. For what it's worth, solo content is not as ridiculously easy as what WoW has become, but on the other hand, people are saying that Rift's current endgame is a lot easier (and naturally there is less content right now). People who stuck with WoW for all these years might wonder what the sense in leaving all of their WoW buddies for this game is. It is also very linear at present, but there are only four classes (more on that in a moment) and there are two factions that each have different quests from each other, so it's not really as big a deal as some people make it out to be if the issue is playing alts. Personally, I don't really mind linearity in a MMO's quest progression and I even welcome it, but that's just me.
The game has some of the best graphics I've seen in a fantasy MMORPG, provided that your computer and, of course, especially your graphics card are relatively new. They did throw a "low quality rendering" mode in there for people who - I'm just going to come out and say - probably do not regularly play new games on the PC, but in that mode the game looks kind of bad. I don't think graphics are nearly the most important thing in a game, but they are generally the most immediately noticeable thing, so I figured I might as well get the obvious part out of the way. Some people gripe about some of the animations, but I think they're just looking for things to gripe about or something, or maybe it's just that I'm using the genre's standards as a baseline rather than games as a whole.
One of my favorite things about the game is the skill system. There are 4 callings (classes that you choose from, which are permanent), but that is misleading, as each one of them has a myriad of options within that broad archetype. Each one can equip 3 souls (skill sets) out of 8. The way this works is that you are given one point every level and an additional point every 3 levels (meaning that you necessarily have points to spend on at least a second soul since you are limited by level to how many you have in one), and you spend these on talents, and the more points you spend on talents for that particular soul, the more skills from that soul you end up with. The upper tier skills in a soul have a tendency to be cool-things-with-longer-than-usual-cooldowns rather than core abilities. This means you can make a character that is extremely focused on getting the most benefit out of one skill set, or you can have more of a "toolbox" approach. For example, you can have a character with a mage calling dedicated almost entirely to the pyromancer soul (straight forward damage, of course, but with some other goodies thrown in), or to the dominator soul (crowd control, messing with enemy spells, etc.), or you can split your points between chloromancer (healing, although most of the healing souls belong to the cleric calling) and necromancer (kind of a jack-of-all-trades soul, includes one of three types of pets, of course) and archon (party buffs / enemy debuffs). Some soul combinations are probably a bad idea no matter how you slice it, though. Sticking with the mage calling, the most obvious is that elementalist does not combine well with necromancer since each one has a pet that they are balanced around, but you can only have one pet at a time. Finally, even if you put zero points into your third soul, you still get a couple of abilities from it, but only some of these are useful without focusing on the soul in question. (Dominator with its transmogrify (polymorph in WoW-speak) probably has the best zero point ability out of the mage souls.)
You are not committed to your build. You can visit your trainer at any time and reset everything for a relatively small fee that is based only on your character's level. You also can buy three additional specs (called roles), and you can swap between them any time you are not in combat. Yes, that means you can completely change how your character plays even in the middle of an instance, so long as you are not currently in combat. (This will also remove any buffs you cast on anyone, and other such things.)
Okay, that's the short version of the class system just using the mage as an example. How about the core gameplay? Well, like I said, if you never liked WoW, odds are you won't like Rift. It's pretty standard stuff. You go to some guys with exclamation marks over their heads. They give you quests to kill or collect things, usually not too far away. You turn these in and they either give you some more quests for the area near them or they send you to the next area. That said, there are overarching story arcs, and many characters show up repeatedly at different quest hubs all the way throughout the game. There are also some generally more interesting "story" quests (labeled as such in your quest log), but at the end of the day, it's a MMORPG and killing mobs is the name of the game, regardless of what is tacked onto it. You either like it, used to like it but can't take any more of it, or you never liked it. The game can be challenging, but never very punishing when you fail. It's not the hardest game by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not a total pushover either.
Of course, it would be silly not to mention the namesake of the game: rifts. Rifts are gates to one of six planes: earth, air, water, fire, life, or death. They have much to do with the game's story, although sometimes it seems a bit shoehorned in. (On the other hand, some of the best story content I've seen has been tied to these other planes.) Mechanically, they are things that seemingly randomly show up in the game world. Enemies come from them. Defeating all of the rift enemies where the rift is seals it. There are different kinds. Minor rifts are a pushover. They can be soloed. Major rifts require a group (or someone overleveled for the area). Occasionally there are invasions where rifts pop up all across a zone and this starts a zone-wide event that, if finished by players without failing, causes a boss to spawn. I am told that these events scale with the number of players in the zone, and that certainly seems to be the case. Rifts and invasions generally reward currency that can be used to buy some pretty spiffy gear, and some other minor items besides. When other players are around during these things, a big "Join Public Group" button will appear on the top of the screen (provided they did not set their group to invite only), allowing easy formation of raid groups on the fly.
The endgame is dungeons and PvP. There are also "expert rifts" which apparently cost money or something. I'm not there yet. I'm told the endgame dungeons are easy. They already patched them to be more difficult. Apparently they are still easy. I have seen quite a few wipes on (non-endgame) dungeon bosses, personally, but we've always gotten through it eventually. More content is of course promised to be in the works.
Well, there are lots of little things I left out, but that's the abridged version of the game.
Looking for a revolution? Look elsewhere. Looking a game with several expansions worth of content already? Look elsewhere. Looking for a game that is going to keep you satisfied for the next ten years of your life? Maybe you have some issues to work out or something. Looking for a game that refines what is already out there, and adds some of its own unique touches? Look no further.