The One True Game, because that would give some people the wrong impression of the game. I feel, however, that comparing the new with the known helps people who have not experienced the game to understand in a limited way what it is like. Most MMORPGs are based on the DIKU system developed for MUDs in the 1990s. Therefore, there will be similarities for better or worse. You, Dear Reader, may have strong opinions one way or the other about TOTG. I would hope that you'd give Rift a chance, when it comes out in March, to see if it is worth your game-playing time.
I encountered some technical bugs mostly having to do with the huge number of players on the same shard I was on. This is not the appropriate forum for those, as I believe they were part of the beta test and will be corrected by the release date. I played again Wednesday evening, and the game ran beautifully. From what I gather, this game has been the most polished during beta of any MMORPG that has come out in the past few years. It certainly seems very well done; Trion Worlds has put a ton of effort into making Rift a success.
The gameplay is very like TOTG, the basic user interface being virtually identical in function and placement of elements. This is a good thing. Most MMO UIs are laid out the similarly, easing the switch between games. I missed some of the addons I have in TOTG, but Rift's UI serves my needs. I didn't even have to remap my hotkeys like I did for STO; B=Bags, C=Character Window, etc. There are a couple minor differences in hotkeys, like how to remove the UI from the screen for a screenshot, but they are easily discovered and/or changed if you desire. Essentially, the moment-to-moment use of the interface is comfortably familiar.
By the same token, the Damage systems are much the same, though I suppose this can be said of all DIKU systems. You swing your weapon or cast a spell from the action bar, and eventually stuff dies. You run around talking to various Quest Givers that give you things to do; in the tutorial area, they help you learn about the game world and how to operate within it.
If you are looking for a more realistic art style, with a natural color palette, this is your game. I know many people dislike the cartoonish style of TOTG, with its often garish palette. This was an artistic choice by the Snowstorm folks; I don't think it makes a substantial difference between the games. Much like Neo, I know that it is really all just ones and zeros. One caveat to that: I have been put off in the past by the avatars in a game. I like the toons in TOTG, but the ones in the Game of Ages Past moved strangely, IMHO, and the faces of the toons in the Ring Saga were just not right. I do like the avatars in Rift. Again there are others who have complained on the forums, but I've been able to make my toons look the way I want them to. DGF made a comment yesterday about her toon moving funny, her shoulders swayed more than her hips.
Unlike someone I read in comments today, I think the story/lore of Rift is fantastic. Seriously, this clown said the story was lame and he hadn't bothered to read any of the quests as he picked them up. Hey, Tool, how do you know the story sucks if you don't read it? Seriously, this sort of attitude torques me to no end. Go play Madden, and leave the lore-based game to the people who care!! I carefully read the quests; plus, many of the NPCs have backstories they will share if you ask. The story seems fairly well developed. I am wondering about the PvP balance, though, given the stories of the two factions. Game it may be, but the Guardians come across as a playable version of the Crimson Cabal, zealously sure they are right and fanatically willing to slaughter those they perceive to be impure. The Defiants are a put-upon underdog faction. They seem far more popular at among the people I have communicated with. Compare this to the Cold War-ish conflict between the Coalition and the Motley Host in TOTG, a situation that seems like it could possibly be resolved if the two current leaders weren't butt-heads. The population is somewhat more balanced there, the pretty Coalition "good guys" are much more appealing to many, though. So how did they manage to make the "Good Guys" in Rift seem like the bad guys to so many, including me?
The Soul system is a great way of customizing game playstyles. When I first looked at it, I was thought to myself, "Yep, here are the Talent Trees." However, after a few minutes messing with it, I decided the Soul system is a much richer system. The Soul system allows for much more variety in gameplay than having 8 or more classes, with talent specializations. Within four archetypes--Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue--player get to choose a number of "souls' of past heroes(?-I wasn't clear on this) gaining their abilities to use against hostiles, or heal and protect friendlies. I followed the recommended combinations given in-game for my rogue, but switched it up for my cleric by picking my own combination, and thoroughly enjoyed playing both. Unlike the current iteration of TOTG's talent system, which requires you to devote so many points to your primary tree before you can dump some in another, Rift's Soul system limits the number of points you can distribute to a single soul-tree at any particular level, and you will always have points to spend on another soul.
This trailer does a great job of explaining the lore of the souls, at least from the Bahmi perspective, as being ancestors of the Player Character.
Much like dual talent specs, you can swap out souls for different situations, gaining solo specs and grouping specs. Some poster on the forums complained that the system allowed for too much flip-flopping in specialties. Others shot him down, saying this meant that a raid group could recruit players rather than basing group composition decisions on classes needed. I agree. With only four archetypes, but a wide variety of souls within each and the ability to swap out souls fairly easily, I think the devs will have more freedom to design challenging encounters rather than be restricted by classes and the unique abilities they might bring to the table. PvP balancing may be easier, as well, and not interfere with PvE balancing as much. I sincerely hope the min-maxing munchkins don't figure out One True Build that will become required by the raid leaders of Telara. It is a false hope, but I have it nonetheless.
The Rifts themselves are an interesting facet of the game. I kinda like the concept, but am concerned about the ramifications of random invasions destroying villages where I am trying to turn in or pick quests. This is really annoying when it happens in TOTG as a result of high-level PvPers with nothing better to do than grief the lowbies, for instance at the Intersection in the Savannah of TOTG. To have a designed mechanic that does this with hostile mobs. Hmm. I really don't know, guys. how do you balance the feeling of "No Place is Safe" with the need to have certain place actually be safe? Because you never know when the kids or the dogs are going to get into trouble. I shouldn't have to worry about a RL minor emergency causing my death in the game. The munchkins will probably say, "TOO BAD GRAMPA, STFU NUB GO PLAY BEJOOLD!!1!!!eleventyone!" After which I will ignore/block them, because Bejeweled has time limits, too.
Oh, and crafting. Stargrace may actually reach through the interchoobs and strangle me for this. I know EVERY MMORPG has to have them. But I can't see how they really fit into this one from a lore standpoint. If I am supposed to be this great Hero with divine/ancient power to draw upon in order to save the world from destruction, why would I be wasting time making trousers or picking flowers? As a common adventurer fending for myself in the wilderness, this makes perfect sense. For the Ascended of Telara, not so much. This is not a critique of crafting itself. I am sure given the polish of everything else in Rift, the crafting itself is well-developed. I just see it as a disconnect within the lore. Cryptic ran into the same problem with STO. Crafting is not really part of the Star Trek Universe, at least as seen on TV and the movies. The tech innovations we see in Trek are done offscreen and not by Captains Kirk and Picard.
What is my place in this world?
Somebody point me toward an MMO (not AoC or LOTRO) where the adventurers are simply adventurers, or develop that Firefly MMO we've been told is a possibility. (And don't tell me EVE; I already have a job.) The folks over at Snowstorm have become obsessed with making each player feel like the HERO of the World, able to kill Corpse Monarchs and Evil Twins (with the help of 10 or 25 friends). I don't remember this from Vanilla TOTG. We were just adventurers--that occasionally slew dragons. With Rift, right from the very beginning, each player is heralded as Obiwan Kenobi, the last and only hope (along with a few thousand other players) for preventing the coming ragnarok. Maybe it's my background as a soldier, but I don't need to feel like the hero of the world, I am content to be hero of a village or two, as I pass through on my way to another adventure.
There has been a lot of discussion in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere about "theme park" MMOs (most pointedly TOTG) vs. some other form of game that I have yet to see in the wild, but is supposedly better. Then there are "sandbox" games, of which Minecraft is the only one that I can positively identify as such by its description. Someone needs to spell this out for me, because I fail to see what is wrong with "theme parks," or what the alternative is exactly. We are talking about worlds where magic is real and Dwarves and Elves walk the land. Besides I like Theme Parks.
So what do I say to my fellow Rift enthusiasts concerned about the comparison of Rift to TOTG? I think it is a valid comparison, but they are worried that saying it is like something else will color other potential players' views of Rift by their opinions of the other game. That may be, but then I am not sure I want those people playing, if they cannot think past the comparison itself. So, if you hate TOTG, try Rift when it comes out. You may find that you enjoy the graphics, game mechanics, and story. If you love TOTG as I do, but maybe are a little bored or tired of it, try Rift. You'll be comfortable with the controls, and there is a new story and world to explore, and bad guys to fight. Or to put it another way, if you are a mature, positive, community-building player who loves a good story and are not worried too much about the math, come play Rift with me when it comes out in March. If you are a selfish, min-maxing, über1337 munchkin who does not give a fig about storyline or the players around you, run as far as you can in the other direction, because you're not wanted here.