Trion’s flagship MMORPG is a couple of days past its official launch date. How do the touted class mechanics and dynamic content generation hold up so far? I’ve got more than a few thoughts to share.

For those not already familiar with the game, Rift is a relatively hardcore triple-A fantasy MMORPG. It's huge, expansive, and complex. You'll take a hero from level one to 50, outfitting her with progressively fancier equipment along the way and distributing the points that define her abilities across several skill trees. How you play is up to you -- fully fleshed out PvP, public dynamic content, and instanced dungeons are all there to be explored. The game isn't exactly newbie-unfriendly, but I suspect that Rift will be a lot to take in for anyone without a solid grounding in MMO conventions.

Rift is a modern marvel from an engineering perspective. The game has been more solid than some offline games, to say nothing of the many issues that can plague an MMO launch. The servers have been as stable as you’d expect of a game that had been out for three years, even in the head start (see my diary and videos from my first day with the game here). The one crash I have experienced to date was a clean exit to desktop that didn’t require a restart, and (crucially, for the moment) the server didn’t log me out, so I didn’t have to deal with the queue to get back in.

Those queues -- where you can log in, but your server is full and won’t allow any more players into the game itself -- were brutal for several servers (mine included) through the headstart last week. Since the proper launch on Tuesday and the bevy of new servers that Trion brought online for it, even high-population shards like mine are down to about a half-hour queue during primetime. That’s not ideal, but it’s reasonable for a hyped MMO to have a few servers with short queues during peak times.

Once you’re in, though, the game is brilliant, especially if you’re a player like me, who adored World of Warcraft in its day but have found it to be increasingly stale even with a fresh new expansion. Rift is targeted directly at us, and it makes no bones about it. Everything from default keybindings to the user interface will be familiar and comfortable to any EverQuest-genre vet. But where Rift shares the language that the majority of the MMORPG-playing public speaks, the sentences it constructs and the stories it tells with those familiar nouns and verbs are delightfully fresh.

Innumerable improvements in the margins (a mailbox two steps from the auctioneer? Class trainers in the main marketplace? Thank you!) consistently amaze the jaded MMO veteran in me, but Rift was always going to succeed or fail on two pillars: class mechanics and dynamic content. It’s too early to crown the game and parade it through the streets -- I’m only halfway to the level cap, for gosh sakes -- but so far Trion is knocking both of those ambitious pitches out of the park.

Rift allows players to equip any three of the nine souls -- which function as WoW-like talent trees -- available to their “calling” (warrior, cleric, mage, or rogue). In addition to the traditional roles these fantasy archetypes are associated with, you can create healing mages, tanking clerics, support rogues, and more. More importantly, the massive hybridization that this creates throws the doors wide open for player creativity.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that everyone in my (relatively large) guild has their own build that they think is the best one in the game. It’s getting to the point that talking about soul combinations and talent setups in guild chat is like showing off pictures of your kids around the water cooler. “Oh yeah? Well, mine has two instant-cast knockbacks and a DoT [damage over time] that drains its damage back as health.” The build I’ve personally settled on combines Inquisitor, Druid, and Warden into a nuke-throwing, health-draining, pet-summoning PvP death machine that plays something like an unholy cross between WoW’s Warlock, Druid, and Hunter classes. I love it like I’ve never loved an RPG character before,* but if you ask any Rift player past level 20 or so, you’ll get a similarly glowing testimonial about their build of choice. I know teleporting tanks, healing archers, stealthy bomb-throwers, and everything in between. The system is absolute genius.

I have some concern that it’ll fall into the same theory-crafted build-of-the-month pattern once most people are level-capped and settling in for serious endgame business, but the sheer variety in Rift may even defy whatever analogue to the Elitist Jerks community pops up. For now, class mechanics in Rift are amazing.

* With the possible exception of a halfling fighter/thief I made in Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter who had a 10% chance to take half damage from spells...and a 90% chance to take no damage. The half-hearted fusion of AD&D and Third Edition rules in that game was hilariously broken (and all the more awesome for it).

[Next up: Rift’s rifts]