Moving away from Rift, I would like to write a little bit about that combat minigame in general. It is the most important minigame in every popular MMORPG and I am sometimes amazed how little attention is gets in the blogosphere.
In yesterday's post I described my experience with Rift and my warrior. Rift supplies you with many, many abilities of which most are absolutely clear when to use, irrespective of the situation. Many are just on a cooldown and are to be used as soon as they are available again. Knowing exactly what ability to use when is not bad per se. But knowing it irrespective of the situation is .. at least debatable. The situation can be improved (and abused) with extensive use of macros, but this doesn't seem to be the best solution from a game design PoV.
In my opinion, a good combat minigame has at least these characteristics
1) The player focuses on what is happening simulation-wise, not on his user interface.
2) Every action the player performs has a clear, albeit not necessarily instant, impact/feedback. Abilities are iconic, memorable.
3) The player feels like he has a lot of abilities and freedom to choose.
4) The player thinks that he is performing well, although he could perform much better. Combat is easy and not frustrating to learn, but hard to master.
Do you agree? Can you come up with another abstract characteristic? Are there games that you think do this exceptionally well?