I took my first plunge into a Rift beta this weekend and I have to say I had a pretty good time. I had a couple of times I was disconnected back to the character select page and once I wound up in a strange place when I died and was trying to resurrect myself, but other than that the game is pretty polished. I leveled two characters up to level 10, a bard/nightblade/riftstalker and a warden/purifier/sentinel. I also leveled a reaver/riftblade/champion up to level 7 and a ranger-based rogue up to level 8 before deleting the character. So anything I tell you is just based on low-level experiences and not the level 35 game play that was available during the weekend beta. So hear are a few notes I took.
Graphics drivers: First, if you don't keep your graphics drivers up-to-date, you will get a message stating you are using out-of-date drivers. Both NVIDIA and AMD have come out with new drivers with Rift-specific code, so if you plan on purchasing the game, go ahead and update your drivers now.
Character creation: I was pretty happy with the way my characters looked. The character creator is more cartoony than in Eve Online or EverQuest 2, but less cartoony than World of Warcraft. If I had to put it on a scale of games I've played, I would say the options are like EQ2 but the end result is better than anything I've seen except the new Eve character creator.
The UI: The UI has a lot of the look and feel of WoW's UI. However, if you go into the settings > interface section you can add action bars to your screen and you actually get more bars than in the WoW default UI. And if you wish to do some radical rearranging of the UI, you can do that in the edit layout button in the options.
The beginning areas: I played both Guardian and Defiant characters and the starting areas are basically standard MMO fare, if not a little tedious when played through for the second or third time. I can see a problem with replayability. However, between the opening cinematics and the story you're led through, some of the lore of Telara should sink in. Basically, think the reverse of Age of Conan, which was great for the first 20 levels. The game gets more interesting (and feels more like Warhammer Online) once you leave the starter areas.
The soul system: The soul system will challenge a lot of players. The soul system is much more complicated than WoW's three trees for each class, which many WoW players found too complex. With the soul system, you get the three branches, but you get to select from 8 total. That's right, you have to make the decisions, and the first quest makes you pick your first one. The soul system makes Rift one of those games that you better do some homework on before you start playing. It isn't as bad as Eve, but take some time; you will save yourself some frustration.
Rifts: Rifts are what set the game apart. I've taken part in them as a support-class (bard) and as a healer. Healing is pretty easy, as all members of the raid taking part in fighting the invasion are visable in the display. All I had to do is just watch the bars and heal those whose health was getting low. However, I don't know how the fighters and direct damage do it, because of all the bodies in the way. Tabbing through the enemies to get a target is a must.
Scotty: I keep finding a lot of things belonging to someone named Scotty. A pencil, dice, homework, etc. Now, some think that Scotty refers to Scott Hartsman, the Executive Producer of Rift, but that was denied on The Rift Podcast #29. So I know who Scotty is. He is the docking manager for all of the stations in Eve Online. Obvious, wasn't it?
Those are just some quick impressions I got from playing Rift for two days. And with the game still in beta, things are still subject to change. I read a lot of complaining about changes made between Beta #5 and this weekend's beta event. Hopefully I've kept my comments general enough that they will remain true on launch day on March 1st.