How about some balance?
Well, this isn't the easiest review to write. Rather than a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", this is sort of "thumbs horizontal" I guess? There are very strong positive aspects to this game and very negative ones as well.
Typically, anything that markets itself as "discount [game]", is pretty much going to be "horrible [game]". So, Titan Quest is discount Diablo II, Demigod is discount Dota, etc. In this case, Rift is not so much "discount WoW", but "alternative WoW". Now, I've played WoW for a very extensive amount of time from the vanilla to Cataclysm, so I'm pretty familiar with both by now. From what I've seen, there aren't actually any "downgrades". What WoW players complained about lacking for a very long time were pretty much stocked to begin with, if not pillars of the game itself. These included:
Regional events that keep areas changing and make it more interesting to live in, which includes their gimmick, rifts (portals from another realm that launch invasions on nearby towns).
1-2 player dungeons and easier match-making for full five player dungeons. In fact, because of how build classification works (tank, DPS, heals, support), you are assured that every party will be pretty balanced for what you encounter, since every party must have a tank, a healer, a support, and two DPS.
Guild quests and better guild management.
Mentor level - You can scale your power down to a lower level if, for example, you have a friend join the game and don't want to be grossly overpowered when you play with them.
Sidekick (which I don't agree with) - If you are the lowest level in your guild (which is the only explanation I can imagine) and everyone but you is doing some dungeon, you can temporarily raise your level to the party's rather than being left out of the event.
Instant Adventure - particularly useful if you are just going to be on for ten minutes and don't want to get into the game too deep.
Better UI elements like selling grey items and auction house price trends.
Change classification on the fly - Basically, the skill points that you first chose that got you to whatever level you are can be changed, easily. There's a huge amount of flexibility when it comes to how you play your character. A rogue can be played how you expect it to, relying on range or pets, or it can be turned into an assassin, it can be made into a make-shift tank, or it can be a healer. Even when it comes to a make, which is typically a glass cannon, there's flexibility about whether you want a nuker-pyro or an AoE damage like stormcaller or AoE heal like chloromancer, you can even have a melee mage. The way you play your character has huge amounts of flexibility with both how you play and how you look, I may never see another game with this range of possibilities. Even though this strategy really only works once you've reached level 60 and unlocked all of your skill points, this is where Rift draws a lot of its strength and it's an awesome dynamic.
Warfronts (medium scale PvP) used to be broken and not match players up very well based on class and gear, but now they seem to be doing better, a few more tweaks with healing and I think I won't have anything to make note of there. The games are pretty good.
Conquest (large scale PvP) is a cluster. And honestly, I don't think a lot people enjoy it because you kinda have to play with your leader holding a gun to your head saying "move when I say move, ♥♥♥♥♥". Well, no one enjoys that, but most people do it because the rewards are high enough to justify it. It's more about leader strategy and numbers than anything you do, personally.
The theming for the original game is great. It definitely loses it and goes off in strange directions when you get into the first and second expansion pack, and that's mildly disappointing, but hey, don't let it get to you.
As has been described elsewhere, the only thing you cannot do without spending money is using the bank and all of your potential bag slots - and as little as five dollars unlocks those. This is ridiculously cheaper than the $15/mo WoW charges for the privilege of the same service. That said, the devs still need to pay rent, so a real money store is available in-game. 90% of the items are cosmetic; the other 10% are basically broken into two categories: Spend a small amount of money to get a slight boost to gold, exp rates, etc. Spend an exorbitant amount of money to get significant boosts or an item outright. In, literally, all cases, you may not purchase any item in the store that you cannot get some other way in the game.
As far as a WoW-style point and click auto-attacking game goes, it's pretty decent. Why am I not recommending it?
The players suck. No really, they honestly do. I would take Dota people over these guys in a heartbeat. I have never in my life seen such a hostile group of folks in a game. It's kinda hard to get immersed in the environment and experience that I just described when there are fifty people at any given time complaining about how much they dislike the latest patch changes or the expansion systems or how their support ticket wasn't answered in the same day they submitted it...every single thing that the devs do is just a life-threatening crisis. As you might expect, some of the devs get snippy in response and then that becomes fuel for the internet trolls for the next month.
I was there for Faeblight (which was an incident in which 25 hours of gameplay was rolled back due to a server crash), which so many people are still talking about. I also happened to have played that day and lost about two levels and six or so hours of progress. I also believe that 1) if it was worth playing that day, it's not the end of the world if I have to play it again, 2) ♥♥♥♥ happens. I know this from my own servers. But holy ♥♥♥♥ the level of negativity in this game is just unfathomable. Unfortunately, this is not something the devs can correct. It's like Starbound where the devs are making a solid product, but the players won't have it - their mind is made up, no more facts need present themselves. If you want to attack the devs with something that happened a year and a half ago, that's fine too. It's not like we need to move on or anything.
Since this is an MMO - a social game, or at least a game where it is intrinsically necessary to interact with other players, this hostility really affects your mood and the time you're having and makes you question whether your time isn't better spent elsewhere. It's not something that you notice right away...or even something that bothers you right away. But it's something you notice after aout 300 hours, and something that bothers you after 400. I don't feel like I've wasted my time, but I think it's probably time to call it quits. I might check back next year and reevaluate the atmosphere, but at this point, the amount of frustration I get from the players is greater than the amount of enjoyment I get out of the game.
It's a damn shame, really.