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There's no denying that Trion's Rift is an ambitious title. Billing itself as one of the first MMOs ever made with HD-quality graphics and fully dynamic content, Rift - and developer/publisher Trion Worlds - fired a shot directly at MMO kingpin World of Warcraft with a launch trailer that carried the tagline, "We're not in Azeroth anymore." The meaning was clear: WoW is old hat, Rift is the new hotness, and this is the future of MMOs.
As it turns out, that may have been jumping the gun just a little tiny bit. Rift is a well-designed game that shows a great deal of promise, and it may in fact offer a glimpse at the future of the MMO genre - but it is just that, a glimpse.
Even the "We're not in Azeroth anymore" tagline feels somewhat unwarranted, because in a sea of games that are all trying to ape WoW's success, Rift occasionally seems like the WoW-iest. While this is largely due to adherence to conventions of the genre that WoW popularized there are a few similarities that are simply blatant, like the Rogue archetype's use of "combo points."
But this isn't a bad thing. Taking good ideas from other developers for use in your own game is only smart, after all, and Rift manages many of its own twists on tried-and-true concepts. The game's handling of the standard MMO class system is a good example: When creating a character, the player selects one of four standard MMO archetypes - Mage, Warrior, Cleric, and Rogue - and they all play about like you'd expect.
However, your character being a recently-ascended hero, you can tap into the souls of dead heroes from bygone eras, granting further skills. These "souls" are essentially Rift's versions of a sub-class, and each archetype has eight to choose from. A Warrior might specialize as a dual-wielding Paragon, become a Void Knight to feed on and deflect the magical energies of his foes, or choose the path of the Paladin for greater defense and limited healing. You can have three souls active at any one time - and while some combinations work better together than others, you can mix and match to your heart's content.
The soul subclass system is one of Rift's best ideas. Though you only start with one, you'll gradually acquire all eight souls, and it's very easy to swap between loadouts, meaning that your up-close Assassin can become a Bard or a Ranger with little hassle, should you want to play around with a different playstyle. Unfortunately, it can also be overwhelming. Rift throws a character's first few souls at you in rapid succession, meaning that low-level characters frequently wind up with more abilities than they know what to do with.
Another thing that Rift gets (mostly) right is its much-vaunted dynamic content. This is where the titular rifts come into play: The world of Telara is located at the intersection of six elemental planes (water, fire, earth, air, life and death), which makes it such a valuable prize for the game's villains. Tears in the fabric of reality will randomly pop up through the game's world, which will burst into full-blown elemental rifts that warp the surrounding environment.