Not all macros are the same
In RIFT, there's a lot of variety in what types of macros you can make and what you can do using them. Players can set up simple macros to emote, repeat a message, or search for a target (like the elusive autumncap fungus!). These are pretty benign macros, though, and I don't think too many players have a problem with using macros to do basic things like call out a message when a certain ability is used. The controversial macros are the ones that lump several abilities together so that you can hit one button and fire off abilities based on where it's listed and whether or not it's on cooldown. In short, macros reduce the importance of managing cooldowns and mastering casting order on the hotbar.
Players who object to macros argue that using them dumbs the game down and that the need for macros reveals a design flaw in the combat system in general. It's a valid point, and MMOs in general have that lingering problem of combat as "button mashing." But I don't think macros cheapen combat as much as shift the focus away from the hotbar and toward other areas of play.
Easier to digest souls
One reason I support macros is that they make it easier to try out many different soul combinations and get the hang of them faster. I like the ability to gather up a few basic damage abilities and put them on a macro because it allows me to dive into the more specialized abilities of particular souls and learn what they do. Part of the fun of the game is using a single character to play many different roles in a group or raid without needing to reroll and start over. But the downside of that is that each new soul combination is like playing a new class without the gradual introduction of abilities that you get when you level up, and it's not always easy to wade through a full book of abilities. Macros help you organize your bars better, which makes that transition from soul to soul a little smoother.
A lot of endgame content involves movement, and you really have to pay attention to visual cues in order to react appropriately. Macros are extremely helpful in this arena because players are free to watch the action rather than the hotbar. Maybe because of my old age [Ed.: Bah!], I find it harder and harder to multitask rows of abilities alongside game mechanics during a fight, but that's mainly because I've lost interest in micromanaging abilities. I'll take a good battle with interesting tricks and puzzles to solve over a parsed-out casting order any day.
Having said that, I think there are definitely some soul pairings that are more complex than others. My husband's clicking buttons about three times as fast on his pyrolock than I am on my senticar, even with macros. And I'm not a fan of leaders who insist on players playing a certain soul with macros because I generally don't subscribe to the philosophy that there's only one right way to do endgame content in MMOs. If it's more enjoyable to someone to be able to play without macros, and she can contribute to a group or raid without them, so be it.
Is it cheating?
One argument against the use of macros is that it borders on cheating because it shortcuts the skill involved in playing a particular role. But in MMOs today, there are a lot of "shortcuts" that are popular with players but aren't viewed as cheating. Parsers and addons, for example, are tools that help players understand class and game mechanics better. In fact, some of the addons and macros that players make are fairly complicated, and they almost become a form of user-generated content when you consider the scope of what players figure out and create using these tools. These layers of third-party, largely community-driven content are such a staple of many MMOs that players look for them when they go to other games.
History of macros
I like macros, but then again, I grew up on them, and as an EverQuest Ranger, I know macros made the class much less tedious and much more fun. I learned to map my little forage ability to a direction button and thanked Tunare the day SOE let us macro /autofire. It wasn't that the game was easier or dumbed down for me; it was that I finally didn't need to mash my ranged attack button over and over -- I could enjoy the twists and turns of the battles instead.
I can sympathize with those who are against macros because it's hard to stick to your view and play without them, knowing that there are plenty around you who are using them and having a potentially easier time playing than you. I don't mind the types of macros in RIFT, but then again, my view of a bad macro is one that chain-spams a command to the point that it lags out the server, as was the case in EQ for a time.
Ultimately, it comes down to an issue of combat mechanics, not just in RIFT but in MMOs in general. Until the mechanics themselves change, macros help to take some of the tedium out of the button mashing experience and allow us to focus on the fun of the fight.
Whether they're keeping the vigil or defying the gods, Karen Bryan and Justin Olivetti save Telara on a weekly basis. Covering all aspects of life in RIFT, from solo play to guild raids, their column is dedicated to backhanding multidimensional tears so hard that they go crying to their mommas. Email Karen and Justin for questions, comments, and adulation.