I recently purchased RIFT three weeks ago and finally hit level 60. Some thoughts on Leveling and Class UX.
1 - Retune Quest XP to make quests offer more progression. Current rewards are tuned as if 50 was the end game.
2 - Consider allowing the 7x Daily refresh for PVP for levels under 50.
3 - Make Brevane/Dusken quests require level 48 or 47-- something where a full party of that level could complete the quests.
4 - Consider raising the random dungeon XP rewards and a 3x daily refresh for levels below 50.
5 - Consider changing events on the main continents to reward players that mentor down to do the events.
6 - Consider adding new quests that follow the Crucia Storyline in each zone and offer more reward than other quests.
7 - Revisiting the leveling process in a future expansion or with content updates (touch up 1 zone per 2 months) might be a viable way to improve the experience.
The leveling experience from 1-40 was actually a positive experience. Quests, Dungeons, PVP, Instant Adventures, etc-- all of these things felt appropriately paced and allowed my character to progress at a reasonable rate. The zones were a little empty past the starting areas, but it was not particularly concerning because the pacing was very fast.
However, shortly after level 40 the pacing of leveling slowed significantly. This would normally not be a problem, but, because of the lack of population at these levels, it became a very solitary and grindy experience. Grinding is not problematic when there are others to do it with (innuendo intentional), however, doing it alone was very tiresome. Add that PvP bonuses began to contribute less and less to the total XP pool and that the content itself feels irrelevant (all zone events were ignored) and you get a very poor user experience.
At level 48 I was starting to wonder if anyone else played Rift. I was nearly ready to stop playing because I had assumed that the game was empty and that there would not be anyone around, that all zone events were ignored, and that all dungeon queues would take three hours.
At this point, I decided to see if quests were available in the expansion area. They were. Shortly after taking the starting quests I ran into other players who were doing the same quests, we formed a party, and finally it felt like an MMO. I leveled to 50 within a few hours and made it to TB, a very busy city. Suddenly the chats were active and there were actual conversations with players. I was glad I decided to stay, because the game is much better with people.
Now that the minimum level has been set to 50, I really worry about the User Experience of 40 to 50 leveling, particularly the last leg of it, where you are grinding content that no one cares about.
This is made worse by the abysmal Quest XP at those levels:
Quest Turn In: 6k
Dungeon Turn-In: 10k
PVP Experience: 30-60k
The quest content from pre-SL feels hollow and meaningless and prevents players from enjoying the much better content in SL. The ghost town feel of pre-SL is also very off-putting once you get past the free-trial levels.
Other MMOs (EQ/WoW/etc) have mitigated this a little by adding a new race. This encourages players to re-roll and gives new players more experienced players to level with (as well as the networking opportunities for those looking for endgame content). There are other methods of mitigation-- redoing the quests/maps for the areas and/or boosting the leveling speed as a stop-gap measure.
I would like to see improvements made in this area. Not because it is "hard" or "difficult" to level in the present system, but because it is a bad experience. Leveling 1-50 does not feel like an achievement or accomplishment and slowing it down serves little purpose, if everyone is going to be in the SL zones anyways.
Basically, anything that makes the old world less ghost-town, or, that gets players out of the ghost-town faster would be good.
Removing training costs does not affect the user experience significantly. I paid for all of my skills prior to 60, but it was never a concern.
A downside of the current Souls system (where they are all just granted) is that it discourages learning the trees and how they fit into character builds. Since every tree has a ton of unlock-able abilities, there is a bit of "overwhelm" in getting them all at once. Maybe consider quests that specifically require certain abilities from trees to help players learn these, since many characters can get to 50 without ever needing to use an interrupt.