I love Rift so much precisely because it's a near clone of WoW, simply with better features.
What WoW did to all other MMOs when it released (took all the best parts (UI, flow of action, game mechanics, AH, etc), made them better, and added small number of its own innovations), Rift does to WoW. Rift takes the standard MMO UI, chat pane, map, questing, etc, and improves on them.
Quest objectives are shown on the map with clear, concise descriptions (like how WoW recently included the Questtracker addon into its map, but better). Combat is fluid and fast paced, just like WoW and unlike FFXIV/other failed games. Spell animations are shiny and cool, maybe even shinier and cooler than WoW's. Rift has many, I might even say all, mechanics that WoW and many other MMOs have as well as a whole spate of new ones (which they practically have to have to accommodate their huge class system).
Rift has instanced Warfronts (Battlegrounds) that are easily accessible from anywhere, as well as a stat pane within each Warfront that is almost an exact copy of WoW's. In fact the whole Warfront system is practically an exact copy of Battlegrounds, right down to getting exp from them. The thing that makes Warfronts just a bit better than Battlegrounds is that you never have a clear advantage; combat is always hectic and in flux. Even up 450 resource points to 250, they can come back and get 500 points and win. There is no point when you can sigh to yourself and say, "we're good for a minute, just gotta stretch back and camp now". That is of course only one Warfront, but I have faith in any development team that can come up with something as dynamic as this.
And so Rift is basically copying WoW in many ways and making it better along the way. However there are things that are really ingenious and totally set it apart from anything else on the market; to name a few: the crazy soul system. 8 talent trees for each class, with 3 active at any time, and the addition of the root spell system, all that just adds up to the possibility for so much player creativity. We can mix and match things, spec into a pet tree for a bit to get a DoT spell and pet, maybe some debuffs, then switch around to a nuke-based soul and enhance some of our cast-time nukes, maybe pick a bit from the PvP tree and get a trinket and some utility and CC spells. There are so many combinations that you can essentially craft your very own class and play style. And to enhance that flexibility factor, Rift has a system with four dual-specs enabled. This means you can have, say, a tanking role, a DPS role, a support role, and a PvP role, all without sacrificing anything. Just a quick 2-second cast role switch.
There are also the actual Rifts. Oh god, so much to say here. Rifts are basically taking the idea of the public quest from WAR and improving it so much it's hardly recognizable. There are 2 main differences between public quests and rifts: public quests are timed while rifts are random, and public quests are static while rifts can appear anywhere, any time. Not only is the concept incredible, so is the implementation. First of all, when a rift appears the size and strength of it is determined by how many players at what levels are in the area at the time. The implications are obvious; there aren't any one-sided matchups, though some rifts are quite challenging. The rifts are broken up into stages and any stage might be a boss, a handful of powerful elite mobs, a huge crush of normal mobs, or anything in between. Defeating a rift gives everyone rewards based on how much they participated - if you did very little, your reward will be minimum, and if you were one of the highest contributors be it healing, tanking, or DPS, your reward will be higher. I believe this is graded on a bell curve not a static numerical system, though I may be wrong. You're rewarded with what may be thought of as rift tokens, which can be turned in for good gear at a vendor, as well as other things like gold, items, potions, etc. Rifts also give quite a bit of exp; having a rift suddenly appear in your questing hub and having to kill it is never going to slow you down. The way rifts automatically group players up is ingenious as well, as it sets up for a group of rift-slaughtering heroes. Any time you walk near a rift you're asked if you want to join the "Public Group" that's comprised of anyone else in the area fighting the rift, and then you and your raid buddies, whether it's just you and one other guy or you and ten other guys, fight together anything that comes out of the rift. After you kill the rift the group is not automatically disbanded, thereby providing a convenient, prepared group just ready for the next rift. Because rifts show up on your map, you can simply hit M, check it out, and if there's a rift nearby more likely than not your whole raid group will roll on over to it for some more good times.
Fighting a rift has never felt boring or grindy to me and this is because, in addition to all the aforementioned cool stuff the rifts have going for them, they pose an actual threat. If a rift spawns and no one goes to kill it, the mobs do not stand around near the rift waiting to be killed. They will actually choose a direction to go, usually to a town along a road, and advance towards it, and if they get there they will take it over.
The art direction of Rift puts it apart from WoW - it's more gritty and realistic as opposed to the cartoony WoW. This is not a plus or minus by itself, merely a subjective difference. However, the art quality itself is an improvement, though that's really to be expected for a game that came out 6 or 7 years ago and only had one major graphic update since then.
There are things that work against Rift as well, mainly really 2 things that kind of roll into one another: the lack of starting zones, and the linear questing. Rift's questing is on rails hard, which isn't a concern right now but I could see it being annoying when I reroll. On the other hand you're really only going to need to reroll 3 times because there are only 4 main classes, so that does dampen the affect. Still, this is the only thing I can say WoW does better than Rift right now, and is something I hope they look to improve in the future.
All of these things considered, I have one last thing to say: Rift is still in beta, it's not going to be released for a month, and it's already this **** good. I can not wait to see what it's like in half a year.
Edited, Jan 27th 2011 8:04pm by Sententia