I participated in all three betas, playing a Defiant Warrior (Beastmaster/Reaver) and a Guardian Mage (Elementalist, Chloromancer) up into the mid-teens. Out of the many, many betas I've participated in, RIFT's probably feels most like a complete, polished, post-launch game.
Sure, it's not going to get high marks for originality -- even elements of its highly touted soul system and rift invasions can be seen in other MMOs. RIFT's strengths lie in cloning these other elements right and then adding another layer or so to make them just new enough so that they're not stale at first bite. I am less-than-thrilled with the quest system, which is mindless chore-completion repeated endlessly, and I soon lost interest in reading the quest text or figuring out the story of the world. That's a shame, because it looks like a great world in truth, and the dynamic rift events show incredible promise to push public questing to a much more exciting level.
The polished UI, the fun character-building system, the familiar feel and the terrific animations are little things that add up to a worthwhile package, so I'm certainly inclined to keep on playing at this point. I just want to see more massive rift invasions and tackle a few dungeons before I come to any long-lasting opinion on the game.
It's also strange that the more beta events I've experienced, the more RIFT is growing on me -- a phenomenon I've heard echoed by some of my fellow bloggers. It's absolutely essential to get involved in the mass invasions and dynamic content before levying a judgment against this game, because it's started to open my eyes to how enjoyable it is when you're trotting off to a quest giver for a turn-in and you see a giant 500,000-health boss stomping all over the town as dozens of players band together to take him down. I'm also entranced with some of the smallest details, like the sound and art direction, which is absolutely terrific (check out how the game sounds when you're underwater!).
I rolled a Pyromancer in the Defiant beta and spent about an hour running around the initial zone (and fiddling with the UI). That probably doesn't seem like a lot of time to form an accurate impression, but it was more than enough for me to realize I've played this game about a hundred times over the last few years.
That's not to say Trion doesn't have a serviceable title on its hands. It's very pretty and runs well compared to most betas, but I'm already slogging through a couple of on-rails quest grinders and don't really have the patience for another one. Wake me up when (or actually, if) someone dares to spend this kind of money on a sandbox.
I played during the first and third beta weekend, rolling a Champion/Beastmaster/Reaver, a Stormcaller/Pyromancer, a Sentinel, and a Ranger/Saboteur. I played on both the Defiant and the Guardian side, rolling multiple characters of each race just to thoroughly explore the character creation process. I got each of my characters up to around level 10-12, which I thought was enough to develop a first impression.
When I first stepped out of the character creator and into the tutorial zone, I was quite frankly shocked. I couldn't believe that Trion was trying to pass off Warhammer Online as its own game -- over two years later. I joked around with some colleagues, calling the game RIFThammer. The art was very similar. The frenzied world-at-war-and-we-must-save-everyone feeling was dead-on. The linear progression of quests rushing through zones that I would rather soak in and enjoy was dead-on too. It was all entirely too similar to Warhammer Online for my liking. Not that I didn't enjoy Warhammer Online back when it launched (I loved it), but the point is, I already played that game.
And then I got to my second soul (equivalent to subclasses in the game). This was during the first beta weekend, so the second and third souls didn't come as quickly as they did in beta three. My talent tree opened up. I was able to more finely tune my character, her skills, and her focus. I encountered rifts around that time, and my opinion changed almost completely.
I could now understand why general chat was full of people raving about the game -- something that puzzled me through the first few levels. Chasing down dynamic objectives is fun. Aiding a town against an invasion from the sky reminded me a lot of Tabula Rasa, and I felt as though I was making a difference. I enjoyed the epic events that brought dozens of players together to take down a giant boss. I was having fun, and I wanted to play more.
That said, I still don't think the game is perfect. I'm not a big fan of the stale combat and the fact that I was being rushed along from zone to zone, which reminded me quite a bit of Aion. But when you take the similarities to other games and how well RIFT works those pieces together in its own way, I think it will turn out to be a successful game.
I played in the first two weekends. The first time, I played RIFT's version of a Rogue, and the second time, I rolled a Mage. Normally, I gravitate towards close-range melee for speed, but found myself taking obscenely long breaks to regen energy and health. When fighting, I kept losing tap to nearby casters, who seemed fairly oblivious to damage and regen, comparatively. Certain things I experienced on the Rogue drove me nuts (only 30 seconds' worth of stealth, mobs' seeming ability to see through stealth anyway, the odd ability to shoot fireballs with my daggers, poor-to-meh gear-availability) and utterly killed the fun for me that first weekend. I enjoyed the caster a great deal more, and I'll be the first to tell you it's a drop-dead gorgeous game.
That said, there isn't anything ground-breaking in RIFT in my experience. Everything is an element we've seen before. When I first saw RIFT (back when it was Heroes of Telara), Trion talked about how everyone would feel like a hero while taking part in a massively multiplayer experience. Sadly, that didn't occur, and not even the odd unexpected rift invasion could save me from being disappointed at the treadmill-like linear grind.
I played in the first and third betas, getting to level 15 on my Defiant Kelari Rogue. When I first played the game I was happy to make jokes about it, my favorite being: "It was nice of Trion to transfer my hunter from WoW, for free!" I've seen too many linear, multi-class click-fests to stomach another. In fact, finishing the tutorial zone was an exercise in patience. I literally wished I could skip the process because it felt so boxed-in and devoid of heart. According to the RIFT trailer, this was a "next-gen" experience that would "drive the genre forward." If you believe this, I have a titanium rocking chair to sell you.
However, the key here is to pay attention to individual experience, not the experience weighed against my 11 years of gaming. Is RIFT a remake? Of course, but it's not exactly Willy Wonka. (It's not True Grit, either.) It is solid, polished and beautiful. The third beta brought better performance and introduced me to leveling with rifts instead of quests -- a lightbulb moment. Yes, Trion has tweaked some familiar systems, but I like that. I love Vanguard, Warhammer Online and Tabula Rasa, so it was fun to play through all of those "version 2." In the end, nothing matters except how much fun you have, and I had a lot of fun near the end of the third beta. One thing that is obvious is how much hard work went into the game. Trion should be proud.