I'm going to start this review off by letting you know that if you've never really enjoyed MMORPGs then Rift is not going to change your mind about them. Rift is an evolutionary game rather than a revolutionary one, and while it has a lot of features that MMORPG veterans will appreciate and has streamlined a number of things that they have been complaining about for years, it's still a traditional MMORPG complete with level grinding, fetch this, kill that quests, and the like. That being said, if you were looking for the paradigm shift in MMORPGs that would make you willing to try one again, this isn't it and you'll have to wait awhile longer. On the other hand, if you're an MMORPG gamer looking for your next game, then read on because Rift has enough to offer to make it well worth your time to have a look.
Rift takes place in the world of Telara, a rather by-the-numbers fantasy world if it weren't in the throes of a major planar disruption. Rifts are opening to the planes of Air, Death, Earth, Fire, Life, and Water, and when they open all manner of creatures from those planes come spewing forth to cause havoc in Telara. The people of Telera, at least those who allow playable characters amongst their midst, have divided themselves over how the threat should be dealt with. The Guardians are the traditionalists, sticking to the ways of old and putting their faith in the old gods that once protected Telara. The Defiants are more do-it-yourself steampunk technologists types, putting faith in their machinery to end the crisis. Neither group is necessarily evil, although they will kill each other on sight because, well, there has to be PvP in there somewhere.
So you pick your faction, create a character, and then pick a class, well, not quite a class. Rift eschews the traditional RPG classes by introducing a soul system. You begin by selecting a "calling" from a list that will sound familiar, cleric, mage, rogue, and warrior. Each of these callings has nine "souls" available, three of which can be active at a time. Each soul has its own talent tree, and the game will not let you max out one of these trees at the expense of another, so in effect every player in the game is his or her own hybrid class. Furthermore, you can purchase up to three additional "roles", which in essence are different soul/talent tree builds and you can switch between these at will. This allows you to customize your character for the situation, and helps parties balance themselves out on their own rather than wasting time trolling the chat channels for a healer or tank. All of this crazy customization has its advantages, but it also means that there are some, initial at least, class imbalances that will probably be patched a few times as the game matures.
Once you enter the game, at first it's hard to distinguish it from the umpteen fantasy MMORPGs that have come and gone in the past five or so years. You run around looking for NPCs with exclamation marks over their heads, you get a quest to kill 10 critters or gather 6 things, and then you return for your reward. If you've ever played an MMORPG you'll instantly be at home with the interface – chat window in the lower left of the screen, attack and spell icons in a bar at the bottom, hit M to bring up the map, L to see your current quest list, etc. All the various niceties added to MMORPGs over the past few years are also here, such as quest markers on the maps, quest trackers, and the like. You'll be perfectly at home grinding away to make something out of your little newbie of a character, with nothing out of the ordinary until you encounter your first rift.
Rifts open at random times in different places, and if you don't witness one opening above you, you can always track down the currently open ones on your map. Rifts spew forth monsters related to whatever plane they've opened from, and closing one is a multistage process that usually ends in a confrontation with a boss - as a side note, if you've played Warhammer Online before the rift battles will feel more than a little like that game's public quests. Closing rifts is a group-based affair, but grouping up is a very easy thing to do in Rift. Whoever shows up for the battle can simply click the "Join Public Group" button and they're now in a group. If you play during primetime, there are usually plenty of players jumping from rift to rift, so having enough bodies on hand to do the work is not an issue. Seal a rift and loot is rewarded in proportion to your contribution to the battle. Fail, or leave a rift on its own without challenge, and wandering bands of monsters will start roaming the landscape. The rifts add a dynamic feel to the zones, and make it feel like the land actually is under invasion. On the other hand, if a rift opens up over the area where your current quest needs to be completed, you may have to go find something else to do for a while if there aren't other players around to close the rift, and the roaming monsters spawned by a rift won't think twice before killing a quest giver. Rift battles are fun and their rewards are good, but they don't differ enough from one to another to prevent them from eventually feeling like a bit of a grind themselves.
If you're more of a PvP gamer, Rift has that too. Warfronts are PvP instances and the three available to players below the level cap of 50 feature capture the flag, capture the point, and keep away game types. At 50 you have access to an entire city, complete with NPCs and quests in addition to those pesky enemy faction players.
If you're wondering whether or not Rift includes some aspect of MMORPGs, be it crafting, titles, achievements, auction houses, or what have you, the answer is more than likely 'yes'. As a title at the forefront of the genre's slow evolution, Rift includes just about everything that's come before it, and put it in a slick and easy to use package. I was hoping for something a little more revolutionary out of Rift, but aside from that I can't say that I was disappointed in the game. I'll reiterate what I stated at the opening of this review – it's an MMORPG for MMORPG gamers, and if you're not it won't change your mind.
Final Rating: 80%. If you're looking for something radically different in the MMORPG realm you won't find it in Rift, but you will find a quality game.