One thing that’s been bothering me about Rift since its release is the lack of “proper” towns and cities. The “main city” of the Guardian faction, Sanctum, is a building with some space all around it. The Defiant faction doesn’t have anything bigger either. It is understandable given the lore and all.
But then there is Tempest Bay, a huge city and stronghold. While you can get around, see lots of interesting corners, and there is even a harbor, none of that makes me feel like it’s a place where people actually live. A very big problem here is that you can’t enter any buildings, there is no place like an inn for travellers with bedrooms (as far as I know and have seen) and there are no children or civilians other than vendors.
The same goes for other villages or towns. Some you can enter, but I don’t recall any towns or villages where you can enter “private” buildings and see how the people live there. Thankfully, the game has a great housing system where you can see exactly that! And the buildings are pretty nice to look at from the outside, too. It’s just when wandering through the world that it sometimes feels a bit without life that way.
And then there is World of Warcraft with cities like Stormwind, Thunder Bluff, Orgrimmar, Ironforge etc. I used to love to just wander around these places and wonder where my character would live if they could get a house there.
Let’s not forget Guild Wars 2. While this game does have loading screens between all the different zones which makes it feel less like a “world” I’m in (both World of Warcraft and Rift have loading screens between different continents in the game world, but not between zones within one continent), the cities are gorgeous! Huge, with lots of space and lots of corners that are technically not needed, but they add to the feeling of a living breathing world. It’s the same with World of Warcraft. You can wander around and find little scenes with inhabitants of the city living their daily lives.
In general, the cities – or “main hubs”, rather – feel less cozy in Rift than they do in World of Warcraft and in Guild Wars 2. It may sound silly, but that’s just as important for me as the free roaming between zones. So, taken these things together, World of Warcraft still feels the most like a virtual world that I’m in with Rift and Guild Wars 2 both lacking in one of these aspects. But at least, Guild Wars 2’s cities are huge and gorgeous!