There’s a new MMO coming out that’s threatening to dethrone the most popular one on the market. Trion Worlds is releasing Rift March 1, 2011 and once it occurs the gaming world will never quite be the same again.

Trion Worlds gave me a sneak peek into their new game by generously giving me VIP beta access to experience it for myself. As a current World of Warcraft player (since 2006), I was curious to see how Rift was going to perform against such a strong competitor. I will admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
In fact, perhaps it’s safe to say I was a bit skeptical. After having invested money in Pirates of the Burning Sea, Lord of the Rings Online and Warhammer Online, I consistently found myself disappointed, running back to Azeroth all three times. I didn’t have much hope that Rift was going to be very different.

Oh, but it is. Rift is unlike any other MMO I’ve ever played, and that’s a very good thing. If I had to compare it to one, I would say that perhaps its ease-of-play is similar to World of Warcraft. For instance, right-clicking on quest givers allows you to engage them, and also right-clicking on objects allows you to use or manipulate them as necessary. Chatting in local channels was comparable to what I’m used to as well. I welcomed this because very basic game play was vaguely familiar to me. I didn’t have to learn an entirely new system of play.

But even if players of other MMOs notice a few similarities, make no mistake – Rift is a game all its own. I was floored by the graphics. I couldn’t believe how crystal clear and realistic everything looked. Unlike other popular MMOs, nothing looked cartoonish at all. It’s probably the most realistic looking online game I’ve ever played. The scenery had a strikingly genuine appearance, along with the characters (including players, mobs and NPCs) that fill the land of Telara.

Another interesting feature is the seemingly endless combinations of classes for your character. When I chose to make a female dwarf rogue, I really liked being able to choose three different souls (or aspects) of her class to add some specialization. Diversity is great in dungeon situations because if there happens to be two rogues (or any other class) in a group, they could each have entirely different job functions. It’s an excellent feature. My definition of rogue has always been “melee DPS,” but after creating my girl in Rift, I turned her into an arrow-shooting, bomb-flinging killing machine. Awesome.

Speaking of characters, the character creation screen is absolutely amazing. With Rift, long gone are the days of cookie-cutter toons. I was able to create her to look exactly as I wanted her to, even down to the highlights in her hair. I can honestly say she is unique.

And on another important note – finally, a MMO realizes the importance of giving each race equal treatment when it comes to appearance. I’ve always played a female dwarf and have constantly been disappointed with Blizzard’s lack of caring in regards to their appearance. Then I tried Lord of the Rings Online who didn’t even have a female dwarf option (they contend a dwarf is a dwarf, the male or female distinction is irrelevant). But Rift gave me the option to make my girl dwarf look anyway I wanted her to, and I don’t mind saying that she is gorgeous.

Having been hugely disappointed by the sluggish combat battles in past online games, I was reluctant to engage the enemy in Rift. But once I did I was pleasantly surprised. My character’s techniques in combat quickly corresponded to the buttons I pressed. There was an immediate response, which I loved. Combat is swift, smooth and responsive.

The ability to change the layout of my screen also helped enhance my game play experience. No longer did I have to wish that something could be positioned a little more to the left or right; I could change its location myself. It definitely gave me more control over my interface.

Rift is truly in a class all its own. I was stunned by the game, and I found the amount of attention given to detail very refreshing. I’m thrilled to have been able to get a chance to try it beforehand. Not only was the Rift beta really exciting to partake in, it also helped me make an important decision: I’m permanently moving from Azeroth to Telara once it’s released. Yep, the game’s THAT good.

Stay tuned for more because in the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing an interview with the game developers over at Trion Worlds. You won’t want to miss this exclusive interview!