I like the game. It's not the next coming of Vanguard: World of Everquest or anything, but it's fun. I'll say that again, my main reaction to the game was: this is fun.
The soul system is super cool. And I love what they're doing to allow access to all souls and more points, earlier (allegedly). This is a good idea, because the soul system IS the game, so no point in keeping it from the players. It offers a lot of micromanaging for people like me that love to tinker, and is still simple enough for people who don't want the hassle, as you won't have to min/max/tinker/test a million soul combination to still have fun and more importantly be viable.
The world looks cool. I like the art direction when it comes to the world and most mobs. Even cities were kinda cool, Sanctum being amazing. Mounts were awesome (the ones I've seen in videos and the two-tailed horned-tiger thing the Guardians could get, superfun).
The character creation and selection is hella meh. All the races sorta look the same and even huge, silly ears don't make the elf sort of races really feel or look different. I mean, there was more character and diversity between races in Everquest, ugh. It has differing racials, which is a nice touch (despite nerds on the forums declaring doom to the mmo genre if all racials weren't available to all races, which makes no effing sense, because they didn't want to be 'forced' into making any certain race due to racials, which is ridiculous anyways and people like that end up sucking no matter the 'perfect' race/class combo, but I digress). For the most part, the entire character selection was bland and boring and not at all impressive.
It doesn't help that all races start in the same tutorial-style story-based opening instance (or shard, or whatever it is, removed from the world). Replayablity is only there because after the first time (well during the first time, really) the game becomes so easy that you can fly through the beginning. I understand they want an 'epic' feeling to the start, and to control the newbie exp, etc, but right now the opening few levels before being sent to the 'real' world are beyond mediocre. Think of it as the opening to a terrible action movie, where there are explosions everywhere and things are happening and you don't really care what's going on, because you have no clue WHY you should care. Wow, assploshuns, nice try, but it's condescending to think most semi-intelligent people will simply see big badda-booms and be hooked on the game.
Speaking of action movies, the voice acting both in cut-scenes (there are some, for the most part cool) and during story events/quest is terrible. Utterly embarrassing. I got a lot of flak on the official forums early on for mentioned I thought much of the lore and website was poor writing. People told me I was just being elitist (I'm elitest, sorry) and that it would obviously improve. It didn't. The writing in general in the game is terribad, and the voice acting on top of poorly written lines was even worse. It's high-time these major blockbuster games start actually hiring WRITERS to do their writing, not just random devs who happen to think spitting out words means you're a writer. One of the story events (a cool system where mobs all around go non-kos and story-npcs act out scenes) was so bad it reminded me of the start of Castlevania Symphony of the Night, how it's all retro and oldschool and has TERRIBLE voice acting that is campy and over the top (but in an entertaining way). The difference is Castlevania is pretty old, and always had a neat sort of campiness to it, but Rift is trying to be super serious, but the voice acting is terribly campy and ridiculous to the point of being comedic at what should be the most dramatic points. Sorry, could go on about the writing, but in general it was serviceable, I suppose, but with some points where nobody could ignore how terrible it was.
The questing was boooring. Very linear, with hold your hand quest helper. The biggest letdown was the fact there ARE other things to do, but you get so paranoid you'll miss out on the gear vending machine quests or the important story-related quests that are actually relevant, or worse miss out on the quest that gives you more souls. So, everyone pretty much felt beholden to the quests, even though there were uninspired, linear and not worth reading most of the time. The answer, imo, is to open the system up a bit so you don't need pre-requisite quests to get later ones, and make it so quest indicators show a red exclamation point (or something) when the quest is actually important. That way, people can ignore the quest chains, but not miss out on the 'necessary' quests, because most of the mundane fetch quests were, umm mundane fetch quests (Oh hai, you're an ascended soul and the savior of the world... would you mind running a few errands for me? /gag).
The thing is, there was a LOT to do other than quests. The biggest thing was rift and invasion hunting was tons of fun and even challenging at times. It was about as dynamic as these games will get (though many people complaining it's not dynamic enough, as if a dev should be behind the controls of every mob before it's actually dynamic). It was GREAT to have random groups of elite mobs roaming around. It made the world feel alive and risky, which is a good thing. Of course, people will complain they got killed while trying to complete a quest, but it's that good kind of 'I'll come back for revenge' sort of feeling I haven't felt since EQ and Griffons slaughtering noobs in East Commonlands.
The best part about rifts, which lead to invasions if not closed down, is they can and will take over quest hubs. Oh, boo hoo, but I can't quest now. Sure you can, just find some friends and defeat the invaders. Great fun and was the biggest challenge of the game and will supply the question of having something to do besides regular pve that pvp has never been able to provide (despite games thinking with pvp, they don't need other content, as people will be satisfied with just killing each other). I think people will be satisfied for a long time just rift hunting, though, as the rewards were good and unique (a second currency system, basically, to buy gear and items, and special equipment slot just for rift augment things). It's the open-world, dynamic feeling content that games have been trying to find for years, imo, and it actually works pretty well to feel dynamic.
The dungeon I did was pretty cool, but painfully linear. You can go there at level 17, and at level 20 three of us killed all but the last encounter without too much trouble (mostly just figuring out how to play varying souls). It wasn't the challenge I was hoping for, but still interesting enough I have hope for future dungeons and raids.
The thing that ****** us all off though was that in a game designed around reducing ALL tedium (and doing a pretty good job of it), when you die in a dungeon you have to run back through the entire thing. Not a big deal, but it's empty, painfully linear, and utterly pointless... so it's the kind of down time that isn't good, as people aren't playing the game, but feeling like a forced time out. After every time our group wiped (A few times with only three people, trying to learn encounters) there was a moment of 'well, it's getting late' that kills a game because it gives a chance for people to log out. It was silly. Either make CR matter by having mob respawns, or some kind of effing puzzle even you have to 'defeat' before you get back to fighting, but just having 10 minutes of mindlessly running back through the dungeon is bad design. And no, I don't believe punishing players with tedium is a good idea. Good death mechanics get players back to playing the game to make up for their loss, not effectively sitting in a time out.
The dungeon looked great, though, along with most of the world. And the fights were just varied and challenging enough to give me hope for later dungeons and raid content (keep in mind it was only a level 20 dungeon, the first most players will encounter).
The combat mechanics felt smooth and good. A bit spammy at times, but that's just the nature of these games nowadays where your first hotbar is filled by level 10, and by level 20 I already had a full on 3 hotbar setup like in most games these days. Every soul combo I played gave enough options that combat was interesting and each fight could be approached in a few different ways. Add to that the ability to change soul setups on the fly (out of combat) and it's a lot of flexibility. This is good especially for dungeons, and I hope that means the challenge will be raised to make people actually have to consider their roles in a group, and not just mow down easy content with the same soul combo they always use.
The best thing to remember is that Trion is actually responding to feedback--sometimes within the first day of beta events--and doesn't seem afraid to make changes. I hope they keep doing this (and try to fix the quest situation which is the biggest letdown so far). Consider the fact that based on feedback they're completely changing not only how souls are offered to the players (before you chose from 3, now from all 8 apparently and get 2 early on to start playing with hybrid combos), but also considering adding more points to the soul system, so there's more room for players to get involved in it early. This is a pretty big undertaking that many companies wouldn't bother with even if the feedback from testers was there, because it's going to take time and resources to balance the game around these changes. Trion is doing it though, because they actually seem to care about what's best for the game, which shouldn't be a surprise, but in todays mmorpg climate it actually is (hah?).
The game, like every released the last few years, has things that can be nitpicked if one chooses. It also opens itself up to the typical 'WoW clone' remarks (though people were also saying it was a WAR clone, a Vanguard clone and even an EQ clone, /boggle). Basically, haters gonna hate, and no matter how perfect there will always be something one can use to dismiss a game as has become tradition the last few generations. It's not a perfect game, but if people can get over themselves and their biases for long enough to actually experience the game for what it is, not what it isn't or what any other game is/isn't, it's actually just **** fun to play. There are plenty of opportunities for min/maxers to go crazy, and for ocd perfectionists to tinker, but the thing is that across the board it seems like a game where you can simply log in and have fun. In that way, due to the sad state of the mmorpg landscape, Rift actually feels quite revolutionary.