Players must work together to close these rifts and banish the elemental incursions. Though formulaic, they're still an improvement on the Warhammer Online Public Quests that they resemble: Their random, dynamic nature means they can pop up anywhere, and there's nothing like a giant black circle of death hovering in the sky to pull you from your current quests. It's a blast to tackle rifts with a small group, but the giant circle of "Here There Be Rifts" in the sky almost invariably means that it will end in a massive zerg of players, taking any risk or sense of meaningful contribution out of the matter.
The occasional full-scale planar invasions suffer a similar problem. The elemental enemies attack NPCs in packs, and attacking them solo is suicide - but attacking them with a full raid party offers no challenge. There's definitely a sweet spot between "going solo; get crushed," and "zerg rush" but it's rare to come across, especially in lower-level, more populated zones.
That said, that's mainly a player problem - and the actual dynamic content itself is a neat idea that makes the world of Telara seem more alive. It's almost enough to make up for fairly dull traditional content: Aside from a few standout quests here and there, almost every quest in Rift is some variant on "Go here, kill these guys" or "go here, bring me this thing." It's functional but uninspired, and unlike the dynamic content is unlikely to hold players' interests in the face of Cataclysm, The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2.
One area where Rift definitely delivers is the graphics: It's a very visually-appealing game. Some of the animations are slightly awkward (collectors' edition two-headed turtle mount, I'm looking at you) but the art direction is thoroughly competent and the models look great, as does the rifts' effect on the surrounding terrain. There are some very memorable vistas, like a low-level dungeon where you progress through the four seasons as you ascend a mountain, and if you're the type to place value on graphics you won't be let down.
Everything else works as it should. The combat is entertaining with many subclasses juggling different power reserves, and if you don't like a certain role it's easy to swap to a new one. Crafting is unremarkable, though there's a neat little element where you can add augments to items you craft to augment their power - if I'm making a sword for my Warrior tank, maybe I'll add some extra strength or endurance to it, or I can put agility on the same sword to give to a Rogue buddy.
It plays so many conventions of the genre straight that Rift couldn't possibly be the game-changer that its developers were clearly hoping it would be. But for Trion Worlds' first shot? It's not half bad at all.
Bottom Line: Rift does a lot of things right; others, like the dull quests, err a bit on the other side of average. Its main boasts - the soul subclasses and the dynamic content - are fantastic ideas that occasionally go clunk every now and then, but the core there is solid and makes the game feel worthwhile. As with any MMO, there's very little that can't be fixed (or broken) with time and updates.
Recommendation: Worth a try for the MMO fan, as well as any WoW players who want a vacation from Azeroth.
Developer: Trion Worlds
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Release Date: March 1st, 2011
Available from: Amazon
John Funk thinks those snooty Guardians can shove it.