Too often, MMOs paint themselves into a corner.

Here’s this vast and open world, beautiful to behold and a joy to explore – for the first few days. Eventually, the repetitive grind of leveling sets in, only to be replaced by the more repetitive grind of dungeons, lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s no wonder that games go to so many pains to speed up the leveling process, from rest or bonus XP to “double XP weekends” to boosts in cash shops. It’s like they know it’s a pointless, drab time sink but aren’t really willing to do anything about it on a larger scale.

When it first came out, Rift wasn’t much different. For all the hooplah surrounding rifts and “dynamic content,” it was still a pretty rigid theme park following the standard progression of “go to quest giver, do stuff, go back to quest giver – and occasionally some rift-y stuff happens.”

If you’re just interested in turbo-ing to max level so you could gear yourself up in dungeons or raids, that was fine, but I’m someone who likes to think that the first 50 or so hours you play a game shouldn’t be boring.

And Storm Legion is not boring.

It starts innocuously enough. I went to Iron Pine Peak, where a portal transported me to Pelladane, ruled ostensibly by Queen Miela, whom players might have first encountered on the wreck of the Endeavor near Shoreward Island in Telara.

However, Pelladane was once ruled by the Air Dragon Crucia, and she’s sent her troops back to reclaim it. Epic catfight ensues.

You’ll get a story mission to start you on your way, and maybe pick up another quest or two from NPCs in the area, but as soon as you leave your first safe haven is when things get interesting.

There’s stuff happening all around, and not just your garden-variety rift invasions, which are almost mundane by comparison. Exclamation points hover not over NPCs, but over mobs and clickable items, auto-bestowing quests when you kill or activate them. When complete, you get a pop-up that lets you claim your rewards.

On the first night of the beta, I hopped in with Quintlyn, Gary, and Stephen to run around and experience the new zone, and we got lost very quickly – but in a good way. There was so much going on that we separated early and only occasionally found ourselves back together.

That doesn’t mean groups are pointless in this new Rift. When you have to kill 20 of something, it still helps to have friends along to do some of the heavy lifting.

But going it solo, as I did for most of the rest of the beta, is still as easy as ever. You’ll get buttons to let you join raid groups or instant adventures, as always, and you’ll almost have to work hard to not find something going on in your area.

At one point, I was headed off from my quest semi-hub, out to kill something, when I clicked a glowy in front of me – new quest! Then I killed a mob in my way – new quest! Then, I clicked on the “Join Adventure” button at the top of my screen – new quest, and I was teleported to its location as I joined a raid group.

And this was all just in the first area of Pelladane. Starting at 50, I only made it to level 51 in the beta, and there was a lot more land to discover.

This is like candy to a compulsive quester like myself, and it finally breaks us free of what I thought was Rift‘s biggest flaw: that for a game that touted itself as full of dynamic content and open-world exploration, it was still bound too closely to the conventions of old, as if almost afraid to truly open up and try something truly new and different.

Storm Legion changes that. Granted, it’s a step that some other games have already taken, so it was only natural that the game that put dynamic events on the map learn from others and adapt to meet the changing environment.

Admittedly, the quests are still pretty much along the lines of “Kill X things” or “Click on Y things,” spiced up by the occasional roving mobs of rift denizens. The objectives do tend to blend together, but my advice would be to not worry too much about it and just have fun with the wholesale genocide of Crucia’s minions.

If you were disappointed by Rift‘s linearity before, Storm Legion will change all that. It’s a non-stop action ride from the opening gun that will keep you entertained even if you never set foot in a dungeon or raid.

Jason Winter has held several positions in the tabletop and video-gaming industry since 1996, including writer, editor, marketing coordinator, and game designer. He's the former editor of Beckett Massive Online Gamer and almost considers himself competent in PvP. In addition to his work with Gamebreaker.tv, he also blogs about video games at http://jasonwinter.wordpress.com.