Let’s call UO/EQ/AC the first generation of MMOs (sorry MUDs), where both the devs and the players were total noobs, and the ‘hey this is new’ factor was off the charts. If you dialed in during the late 90s, you got to experience something unique, and for many that uniqueness overshadowed poor or shallow gameplay, massive technical issues, and a somewhat ‘constant beta’ feel.
The 2nd generation covers WoW in 2004 and other MMO games during that time. These were games which were created based off the feedback from UO/EQ/AC, seeking to fix the issues and progress the genre. Some succeeded more than others, and not all of the ‘fixes’ were actually better than the original ‘problems’. A large push was made to remove that ‘constant beta’ feel, along with expanding the genre beyond just those hardcore enough to survive the first-gen MMOs.
We are now in the 3rd generation of MMOs, the ‘post-WoW’ era. We have seen countless titles try to emulate WoW, others try the ‘something different’ route, and still some who wish to return to that first gen feel. As with the second generation, some titles accomplish their goals better than others, and some are indeed evolutions rather then rehashes or steps back.
So far (lvl 20), Rift feels very much like a 3.0 MMO. An evolution of WoW in much the same way that WoW was an evolution of EQ1. Yes, you have seen most of this before, but not in this exact mix, and it’s the sum of all the parts that is ultimately what determines whether you are having fun or not, and whether overall things ‘work’. Rift works.
Souls are similar to talent trees, but the differences between the two systems make souls better. It’s not a giant leap for the genre, but it IS an improvement. More flexible, more interesting, more integrated to everything else. Same deal with the initial zone. The layout is just better than the starter areas of WoW, it feels more worldly while still feeling themepark enough to facilitate that kind of gameplay. I’ve heard the zones beyond are of similar quality. Rift events are similar to WARs PQs, yes, but once again simply better overall. More noticeable, better at getting people to participate, more ‘worldly’ in nature, more tightly written into the lore, etc.
Alone each piece is a nice but subtle improvement to the genre. Together they create something that is both very enjoyable and noticeable better as a whole. Rift’s first week feels very much like WoW did in 2004 (including the queues!), where what you are doing really does not leap out and shock you like early UO or the first week of something like Darkfall did, but you keep logging in and watching the hours go by, entertained the entire time, always looking ahead. Rift has that very familiar, comfortable ‘slow drip’ feel of a quality themepark MMO.