|RIFT Free-to-Play launch page|
First off, in case you haven't followed it: RIFT, a popular second-tier MMO with a peak of an order of 1-2m users has gone free-to-play. I think that this is largely a result of their having lost user-base after the first rush of new users during their first expansion, Storm Legion... I'll cover why that was in another post. Free-to-play isn't the end of RIFT, though, if last night is any measure!
RIFT plays a lot like early WoW, before it got all of its sharp corners filed off. This is both good and bad. The game is far more dynamic than WoW, and presents the player with many more choices in terms of character development and play style. However, it also leaves casual players at the bottom of a deeper chasm of learning curve than the modern "just make it simple" MMO. As such, RIFT is much more of an MMO fan's MMO, and if you haven't played MMOs before, you might check out one of the simpler ones first (like Guild Wars or Star Wars... WoW is an option, but it's high-end grind is a bit too daunting in terms of time commitment for most new players right now).
Anyway, so RIFT is free-to-play; what does that mean? It means that you can log in (sort of... paying customers or "patrons" get priority if the server population is too high during peak hours), create a character, and do just about anything in the game, just like a paying customer. Paying customers get some bonuses like extra goodies, resurrection is a bit more convenient, etc.
My first impression of the game was the same I had before: the fire-hose of game content hasn't stopped, and if you leave RIFT for a significant period (as I have), you'll probably never have time to go back and explore everything that was added. I did a few new quests and tried to remember where my buttons were. Zone events are still a wonderful way to jump back in, so I took part in one (note to game designers: MMOs without zone events are now obsolete... do not ignore this) Rewards have been boosted, as have the convenience features like character customization ("role") slots and wardrobe slots.
Overall, the game is the same as it was, just free. The auto-grouping feature let me jump right into the action and start healing other players (healers are useful even if all you can remember is how to mash your AoE heal buttons). I was quickly in a full raid, playing out the storyline leading up to the forthcoming opening of the new "Dendrome" area that's about the physical size of the Ember Isle mini-expansion from last year, but with about twice the content for players to take part in! Existing zones have been modified to add questing related to the event and players can gain rewards that presumably will be tied to the event timeline.
My friends immediately popped up on my list, and I chatted with one of them for a bit. They're all excited about the changes, which is a good sign (many games that have gone free-to-play have done so in a way that alienated their existing players).
Overall, I'd say that RIFT hasn't improved much, but I say that to praise with faint damn: the game was always exceptional and continues to be, especially with respect to the pace of new and engaging content!