As an afterthought, I neglected to mention one game feature in Rift, that in my opinion, is brilliant and brilliantly executed: Zone invasions.
I remember the first time I ran across a Zone invasion in Silverwood; first came the ominous message that an invasion is imminent, and not knowing what the heck was going on, I blindly followed a bunch of people running past to one of the spots that needed to be defended. After frantically beating back invading hordes, I followed them to the Silver College to fight the Big Bad — holy crap that was an epic fight! I still remember that first invasion fight very fondly.
A few things about these zone invasions really stand out for me:
(1) When an invasion hits, it doesn’t matter where you are in that zone — you’ll be involved one way or another. Invasion forces travel across the map to their targets, and you will run across them as they move. It truly gives the sense that this is a major event; even if you choose to avoid the enemy and not participate, you still have to make the effort to hide or run away.
(2) A lot of players would drop whatever quests they were currently in to repel the invasion; part of the reason is that if the invasion is successful, some key NPCs (trainers/vendors/quest-givers) can die, some settlements may be overrun and become inaccessible, and well, what do you do then?
(3) I love how the NPCs take up arms to fight as well — and they can lose and die. Prior to my experiences with MMO, the “base town” is a safe haven; this is where you do your maintenance, trades, equipment purchases/upgrades, crafting and so on before you head out to the wilds again. Not so with invasions — the enemy comes to your town and can destroy it!
(4) The big bosses are suitably epic and tough. There were 50-60 players in our first boss fight; my squishy mage was standing on top of a wall tossing fireballs at that huge thing but barely denting it – that’s what it’s like to fight Godzilla! It was a very satisfying end to the event.
How I wish there is something similar to a Zone Invasion on STO. That would be EPIC.