(TLDR version at the bottom!)
To give a brief background of myself, I have been a gamer for about as long as I've been able to read, starting with AOL games' Magestorm, and subsequently moved on to other Mythic-realms games (Splatterball, Spellbinder). My passion for gaming started early and has been a pretty big influence on my life.
I've occupied most of my time with MMORPGs, playing (and testing) many games.
The list of games I've been a part of is quite extensive, but the first 5 I have played the most (order is roughly how much time spent in each in descending order:
Dark Age of Camelot
World of Warcraft (+beta tested)
Shadowbane (+beta tested)
Everquest 2 (+beta tested)
Age of Conan
D&D Online: Stormreach(beta tested)
The Matrix Online(beta tested)
Pirates of the Burning Sea(beta tested)
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
Auto Assault (beta tested)
Horizons: Empire of Estaria (worst game ever made)
I believe my breadth of experience gives me a position to judge different game mechanics and features relative to other games.
IMPRESSIONS ON RIFT:
I have thus far only been able to participate in BETA 3, but am looking forward to having the opportunity to test it more in the future. As I was gone for most of the beta, the amount of time I had was limited. Nevertheless, I reached a level 16 necro/warlock and a level 10 ranger/marksman, both on the Defiant side.
My immediate reaction as soon as I created my character is that the avatars available in-game are absolutely beautiful. I can't stress this enough. The characters actually look good. My only complaint was that the options for personalization were a little limited (relative to other games like EQ2). Such things as a weight slider was not present, and my biggest complaint was the skin tones were less than normal looking. I also didn't even see an option for having a black character, and I don’t think that was because of my race (I was the "human" Defiant race). Aside from these minor complaints, the character creation was great.
Shortly after entering the game, you choose your first "soul" (class). Having researched these ahead of time, I knew what I wanted. My brother, however, who is still relatively new to the game, struggled for nearly an hour trying to figure out what options were available to him, what each "soul' was about, and what their playstyle would be. They don't do a good job of introducing their soul system to the casual gamer who hasn't done much research.
On to the gameplay..
To start, I couldn't help but notice how polished the game was. The controls and movement felt very fluid, and the menus and UI were not very difficult to get a grip for. Nothing new in the UI/menu department compared to other games. What did bother me was the options for hotbars, which I won't expect to be too much of a problem with various UI addons. What I noticed the most was the runspeed of your character. I can't pin it exactly, but it felt like your character was running very slow.
Stability was pretty impressive. I didn’t ever experience lag, and the servers never crashed. Considering that the TRION team said these betas were partly for stress-testing, I'd say their servers handled very well.
I didn't notice any OVERT bugs. Although I only played for 1 day, I hadn't experienced any bugs that made me say "jeez, this really sucks." That is saying a lot considering this game doesn’t even have a release date yet! The only thing that might be considered a "bug" was that if you went to the other side's territory to PVP or do a dungeon, there was no way of getting back to your own side. In order to do so, you have to "bind" yourself manually in your main city. This is never presented to the player, and is only found out the hard way. Calling for a GM shouldn't be necessary. I didn't notice any equation bugs, and the abilities worked as described every time.
The quests are great. The vast majority were simple "kill x many of y creature at z location". The nice thing was that many of those quests had you hand in your quest at a convenient location. Sometimes you handed your quests in at the next town that you should naturally progress to, which I found to be superior to the traditional, redundant way of making you walk all the way back to your previous town, hand the quest in, only to get another delivery quest to direct you to the next town. It cuts out the middleman, and is much appreciated. The "new" feature I found in this game with regards to quests is that if you have a quest that requires you to use an item, you don't even have to open up your backpack to click on the item! On your quest journal HUD, there's a button next to the relevant quest for the item, and pressing that button will begin using your item. Convenient.
Rift events were fun! There was a zone-wide rift-event that went on occasionally, but I don’t know how it was triggered. Furthermore, although I didn’t participate, I still received items. Doesn’t make sense, but it was kind of cool. The other, normal rift events were a lot of fun, and encouraged people to group up. I was solo questing, saw a rift open up on my map, so I went over to it. Met up with some people, so we grouped up. After we closed the rift, we decided to quest together and kill common sh*t. This encouraged community-building and almost forces people to get to know one another. The one downside to the rift events were that the rewards you get are essnetially just tokens that you must exchange for pieces of armor or weapons. I did a pretty good amount of rifts on my level 16 character, and I was still not able to afford a level 13 item that you purchase using those tokens. It almost defeated the purpose of rifts in the first place, but I expect them to balance this to make the rewards more realistic. Another thing that kind of blew about it was that I don’t think it rewards clerics for their efforts. I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that you only received contribution for mobs that belong to you and for how much damage you did to it. How is a dps'ers contribution worth more than the guy tanking the mob, or the person healing? To reiterate, I'm not 100% confident about these mechanics, but these trends I noticed. Oh, they gave great XP too!
Necro/lock - I had the most experience with a necro/lock, with most of my points directed towards necromancer. First off, they could very well be the strongest solo class. What I noticed first and foremost is that your pet's default stance makes him charge in to attack as soon as you cast a spell at a target. NO MORE MANUALLY TELLING HIM TO ATTACK! He goes when your spell goes! The second thing I noticed is that necromancers (with a little bit of warlock) curb-stomp PVE enemies. Even at level 16, I would cast 3-4 spells at a target (3 of the 4 were instant) and then immediately move on to my next enemy. 3 were dots, 1 was an instant cast DD. Nothing else was needed. Between my pet and the dots, the enemies died very quickly. As soon as I casted my 3 or 4 spells, I would begin on the next enemy, casting the same rotation. By the time I finished casting THOSE spells, my pet would have finished with the previous enemy and would have moved on to the next one. I could literally pull like this almost indefinitely. Necros can sap the pets health for mana. When out of combat, a pet will go from 1% health to 100% in about 5 seconds. This means that when I'm out of combat, I can keep sapping until my mana is back at 100% (maybe 5-6 seconds worth) and my pets health stays at 100%. To put it shortly, I have unlimited mana. The health-stealing abilities we get are nothing short of spectacular, and can keep you up while you've got 2 mobs smacking on you with ease. I had limited exposure to PVP, but necro's are PVE gods.
Ranger/marks - another ranged pet combo. With what limited exposure I had, I noticed right off the bat how ridiculously LONG their range was. And, your basic quick shot (insta-cast, can do it on the run) temporarily increases your movement speed each time you cast it, and, like WOW's "finishing moves", there's an option for a 15 second 30% increase to run speed. This ridiculously long range coupled with the increase to movement speed in battle will mean that you will be nearly impossible to catch, and will be able to kite players potentially too well. To make matters worse, in addition to the increased run speed, there's an ability (instacast) that knocks the enemy back 15 meters. Either the ranger or marksman also gets an ability later on that knocks themselves back 20 meters. Between those two alone, you can separate yourself 35 meters from your attacker in about 2 seconds. Furthermore, my third soul I picked up was a "riftstalker" which comes with an ability to blink forward 15 meters. Combine all this together, and you have someone that can get themselves 50 meters away from a target in a matter of seconds (with pretty fast cooldowns on each ability, mind you), and will be able to run faster than the opponents while keeping themselves out of range of the enemy. Look for this to be a powerful strategy. While their soloing wasn’t as fast as a necro's, I was still burning through mobs faster than other people around me.
I picked up the equivalent of a tailor and skinner on my necro, and was able to make some actually useful items for my character. I could make caster armor and rogue leather, in addition to backpacks (and I'm sure I will be able to make more items later on). It didn’t seem too difficult, but also wasn't exactly novel. It uses the tried-and-true setup almost identical to world of warcraft's system. It worked well, and wasn’t a pain in the *** to use.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed my 1 day I had with the game, and am looking forward to having the opportunity to spend more time with it. I'll be sure to share more thoughts on this if I get into subsequent betas. The game world was beautifully rendered, fun, and stole my attention. It seems to be in a much better position for a successful launch than past MMOs, and have a newfound trust and admiration for the developers at TRION.
The game is incredibly polished for where it is in development. I hardly noticed any bugs, the abilities worked how they were supposed to, never once crashed for any reason, and the servers were always up and running smoothly. Can't recall ever having any lag. Still too early to make any judgments on balance, but it seemed apparent that some class combinations will inevitably be exploited unfairly. I foresee a ton of time spent with balancing the classes for PVP. THE GAME IS INTERESTING, WITH NOVEL FEATURES.
Edited, Jan 2nd 2011 9:30pm by theimpal3r