Due to a code generously provided by Anjin of Bullet Points fame, I was able get into Rift and take it for a spin this weekend. I played a bit on Saturday and it honestly didn't click at first. However, not wishing to waste my free time, I forced myself to play longer on Sunday. By the time I hit level ten I was having a heck of a lot of fun.
I got a female Defiant Kellari Elementalist/ Dominator/ Stormcaller up to level 14 by the time I called it quits last night. Most of her points went into elementalist, and the few extra into Dominator. I tried playing a male Kellari, but I found their heads to be either too odd looking or too John Travolta looking depending on where you put the sliders. The crowd control from Dominator really was a nice addition to the pets and DPS from Elementalist, I think I only managed to die once the entire time. Overall the flexibility of the character development system is very impressive, I could see playing mix and match on alts for a long time.
The graphics also really impressed me. I had to leave shadows turned off, but other than that I was able to max out everything (save object draw distance which was at about 60-70%) on my two year old rig and still get good frame-rates most of the time. A few big rift encounters did bog me down, but on the whole it ran quite well. The character/ mob models and terrain also really impressed. To me, the terrain is almost as well done and atmospheric as LoTRO while the character models and animation are on par with Age of Conan. On an engine that scales with older hardware so well, that's an impressive achievement.
Overall, I'd say Rift is likely the best looking MMO on the market right now, at least technically. Obviously the design aesthetic is hit or miss depending on taste. I didn't like the male Kellari heads, but quite liked all the other racial models I fiddled with. The the art direction is at least quite cohesive and somewhat unique.
The questing I have mixed feelings about. It was structured very well, with relatively little backtracking. I like that so many random side quests were from random dropped objects, or from exploring the environment. For example, at one point I saw something in the bottom of a lake. When I swam down to investigate, it started a quest. I also like the optional conversation options to get additional lore. The collectible system is also great, I really enjoyed going after random shinies. And of course rifts are a lot of fun. All in all, mechanically, activities in game are very well done.
Despite the fact that I was having fun, I didn't find myself really being drawn into the narrative. At the end of the day, I met very few NPCs that I actually cared about. Most of them, with one notable and rather funny exception, were just "dudes with quests" to me. The very early game also didn't quite click with me, I wouldn't say I was really enjoying myself until some time around level eight. From level ten on I was having a blast, and I haven't been able to put my finger on what was lacking to me at the lowest levels.
In the grand scheme of things, those are pretty minor quibbles. On the whole, I came away much impressed by Rift. Were it not for my current rampant addiction to the "solofied" book quests in LoTRO, I likely would have ordered it before I went to bed last night. As it stands, Rift will almost certainly be the next MMO I sub to whenever I let my WoW subscription lapse.