There seems to be a debate amongst the old-school blogosphere about whether Rifts or EQ:Next will be the new EQ1. Personally, I'm not convinced that either title is likely because both projects are high profile, but I've generally refrained from commenting for lack of more thorough information.
Over the weekend, I listened to episode 14 of the Rift Podcast, which featured an interview about the game's quest system, featuring the studio's Senior Design Director. According to the guy in charge, the majority of quests will be solo or small group quests, with quest hubs that conveniently distribute overlapping quests to kill 10 rat-equivalents and loot 10 potato-equivalents from the same field. The game will also offer daily quests, rep grinds, and the option for max level players to replay the dungeons they soloed past while leveling. Overall, it sounds a lot more like an attempt at the next WoW than the next EQ1.
Don't get me wrong, Trion has some talented people on board, and I would love for them to succeed. Telling players what they want to hear requires that the developers first determine what it is that the players want, which is at least one step in the right direction. Unfortunately, I feel like the hype mirrors Warhammer more closely than any other game in my albeit limited experience. Yes, the game engine is working and polished enough to hold an encouraging demo for the press. Beyond that, pretty pictures are everywhere, hype is high, and the game itself is whatever the reader would like it to be for lack of evidence to the contrary.
Learning from the past?
Beyond the possibility of raising unrealistic expectations, the things that I'm hearing about this game do not reassure me that Trion has learned from the issues that others have faced. For example, the "soul" system for building your own class sounds really neat, but nothing I've seen has addressed how they will actually balance a game in which the majority of character setups are useless, a few are overpowered, and a few are worthless except for the one encounter that becomes trivial because the designer didn't plan for a pet that can kite and is immune to stuns or whatever.
More to the point, this idea of having players solo their way to the level cap and then switch over to some other form of play (generally group PVE, or PVP/RVR in Warhammer's case) really isn't panning out that well across the entire industry. Yes, solo players will buy boxes and pay fees to level - assuming that you can beat solo-focused games like WoW, LOTRO, and others at their own genre. However, time and time again we've seen that the majority of these players either can or will not shift to the more structured group format. Meanwhile, if the real strength of this game is supposed to be its group PVE instances, it does not make sense to encourage players to do something else instead of dungeons/rifts for 49 levels (any more than it made sense for Warhammer to encourage players to solo and run instanced scenarios instead of doing open RVR).
The especially sad part is that I'm not even convinced that this will be an especially good solo game. In between promising little tidbits - squirreling away some quests in obscure places for explorers or whatnot - it sounds like the game's two factions will have separate starting zones and then can expect to largely share the same content (either via neutral questgivers or through slightly varied versions of the same quest for the two factions). This is not original territory, and the studio will have to execute it extremely well if they really mean to compete in the crowded fantasy solo-friendly MMO niche.