Of MonsterZ and Men: Hands-on with RaiderZ

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Of MonsterZ and Men: Hands-on with RaiderZ
Screenshot -- RaiderZ
The other night as I was perusing the interwebs for new and interesting things on which to waste my time, I was struck with a craving. I suddenly found myself wanting to get my hands on a good ol'-fashioned hack-and-slash, preferably of the massively multiplayer variety. As I wracked my brain for a game that would satiate my hunger, I remembered RaiderZ. I had a bit of time at PAX Prime to fiddle around with the game between appointments, and I thought it could be just the thing I was looking for.

As luck would have it, Perfect World Entertainment was selling RaiderZ founders' packs for the low low price of 30 bucks, and since I have all the impulse control of a gnat I decided to go ahead and pick one up so I could jump into the game's head start. Since then, I've logged something to the tune of 15 to 20-ish hours bashing in the skulls of a variety of nasty creatures, and I've got a few things to say. If you've got nothing better to do, how about jumping past the cut and listening to me rant?

So let's start with a little background, shall we? RaiderZ, as you may have cleverly surmised, is an action-oriented MMO that boasts more than a few similarities to the fabulous Monster Hunter series. In essence, players run about the fantastical land of Rendel dispatching fearsome creatures so they can fashion powerful weapons and armor from leftover monster bits like some bizarre cross between Tony Stark and Buffalo Bill.

Players choose from one of four classes (Defender, Berzerker [sic], Cleric, and Sorcerer), each of which specializes in a different fighting style. My class of choice was the Defender, which –- surprise! –- focuses on high defense using a one-handed sword or mace and a shield. The other available weapons are two-handed swords, two-handed maces, and staves. Word has it that additional classes and weapon types are on the way (such as the dagger-wielding Assassin rumored to be hitting the Korean version of the game soon), but for now the class/weapon choices are somewhat limited.

RaiderZ character creation screen
Thankfully, the limited choices are somewhat rectified by the game's character progression system. RaiderZ uses the tried-and-true(?) talent tree method of character progression, with each level gained providing a skill point that can be invested in one of the available talents, which provide new active and passive abilities. In addition to the standard talents that can be acquired by spending skill points in a character's talent tree, each tree also contains a number of passive abilities that are obtained after spending a set number of points in a given tree. For instance, after spending 15 points in the Defender tree, my character unlocked the ability to wear plate armor instead of the standard chainmail.

The most interesting aspect of RaiderZ's talent system, however, is unlocked after spending 10 points in your class's tree. It's at this point that you gain the ability to start dropping points into the talent trees of other classes, essentially allowing players to cross-class. Wanna play a paladin? No problem, just drop some points in Defender, a few in Cleric, and voila. But of course, there are a couple of catches to this system. For one, you can only use a given class's abilities when wielding a weapon type usable by that class. That is to say, even if my Defender had points in the Berserker tree, I wouldn't be able to use Berserker abilities with my sword and shield. Instead, I'd have to switch to a two-handed sword or mace.

Thankfully, however, most classes share a weapon type or two with another class, allowing effective cross-classing without the need to change weapons every ten seconds (though this is also possible thanks to a nifty feature that allows players to simply hit the tab key to switch between two predefined weapon sets). This also sets up some natural class combinations, such as Cleric plus Mage (both can use staves) and Defender plus Sorcerer (they share the sword-and-shield style), but ultimately any classes can be combined if you don't mind switching weapons from time to time. Of course, you only have a limited number of points to spend, and it is literally impossible to fill out an entire tree with the total of 40 points you'll have at max level, so it's necessary to pick and choose carefully what you want.

On the upside, this means that there truly are a number of different ways to customize your characters, but as with any talent tree system, it's susceptible to the horrid plague known as cookie-cutter builds. Ultimately though, I loved the feeling of freedom when choosing how to progress.

RaiderZ talent tree screenshot
But I'm sure you're wondering how combat plays out. After all, what's the point of mindlessly slaughtering everything that moves if it's not entertaining to do so? It's easy to compare the combat of RaiderZ with that of another recent high-profile action MMO, TERA, though I don't think RaiderZ has refined the system to the same degree. Regardless, I found combat to be quite engaging and a good deal of fun. It's not without its quirks, though.

As a Defender, I found myself boggling a bit at the game's block mechanic. Rather than draining stamina while the block is active as I've come to expect, it in fact uses up stamina every time you initiate a block. This can be incredibly frustrating in situations where repeated blocking is necessary. Personally, I'd prefer a system that drains stamina while your block is up or after each successful block like Dark Souls. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the system RaiderZ uses; it's just a bit odd to me.

In addition, command inputs can seem a bit delayed at times, largely because some animations seem to be out-of-sync with the associated action. For instance, I can't count the number of times I brought my shield up with –- I thought -– plenty of time to intercept an incoming attack only to take full damage despite my character's animation showing my shield in the full blocking position when the attack connected.

On the whole, though, combat is fairly solid even if it's not as polished as I'd like. Fights require a healthy balance of reaction speed, resource management, and strategic positioning, and in one-on-one battles it never feels like you're just running in swinging wildly. Each strike, block, and dodge must be timed with great precision to emerge victorious without taking too much damage.

Screenshot -- RaiderZ
And believe me, it's in your best interest to ensure you come out unscathed, because health regeneration can be painfully slow. Even the best health-recovery food I could buy only healed me for about 20% of my total health, though it occurs to me as I write this that there's a possibility that food crafted from monster drops may be more effective than vendor-purchased rations. But since I just recently had to reformat my computer and RaiderZ is still downloading, I can't log in to check that for sure.

Unfortunately, I can't praise group combat quite as much as one-on-one fights. While boss battles with a full group still require some degree of skill and coordination to win, fighting normal mobs tends to turn into a game of round-'em-up-and-start-swingin'-until-they-die, which is less than ideal in my opinion. As such, any group fight against anything that isn't a boss mob quickly becomes one big ol' Charlie Foxtrot that makes said fights, quite frankly, incredibly boring and tedious.

As I mentioned earlier, new weapons and armor are gained by gathering monster parts which can then be taken to a crafter NPC to be turned into new accoutrements. This, honestly, is one of my favorite parts of the game. For some reason I'm a complete sucker for the Monster Hunter style of gear upgrades, and RaiderZ recreates it fairly faithfully. There's a new set of armor/weapons to unlock with each level gained, and the armor sets alternate in quality levels. That is, if your level 10 armor is white (common) quality, the level 11 set will be green (uncommon) and the level 12 set will be blue (rare), then level 13 will go back to white. For the first 14 levels or so, the blue armor sets are relatively easy to acquire due to the majority of the materials required dropping from easily reached world bosses. Around level 15, though, the grind becomes noticeably more tedious because instead of the required materials dropping from world bosses, they start dropping from dungeon end-bosses.

RaiderZ crafting window screenshot
To use an in-game example, many of the materials for the level 18 rare-quality armor and weapons drop from the final boss of the Contaminated Garden dungeon. Each run takes approximately 45 minutes give or take, depending on your group, and each kill of the boss will net you one or two of the required materials with which to craft your armor. The catch is that each single piece of armor requires one of those materials, so a full set of the armor and weapons will require something like three or four runs of the dungeon at the very least, and that's only if you're incredibly lucky and the boss drops two of the mats with every kill, which is highly unlikely. And that's not even accounting for the other required materials such as the dreaded omphacite, which is an uncommon drop from the dungeon's trash mobs and, unlike the final boss's drops, are rolled for by the entire party, therefore making its acquisition a matter of pure chance (and exponentially increasing the number of required runs.)

Also, if you're not a fan of themepark MMOs, RaiderZ is not for you. The questing system is the very same system of go to quest hub, complete quests, move to next hub that's prevalent in every themepark MMO ever, and the quests themselves are rather monotonous. Most of the quests are kill-x-mobs or gather-x-items and there's very little variety to be found. The game attempts to alleviate this monotony a bit by providing the occasional bit of environmental interaction that can make an otherwise grindy, boring quest rather entertaining. My best example is seen in an early introductory quest that tasks you with killing a number of pirates. Boring, right? And of course it is until you realize that you can pick up a freaking cannon and carry it around with you to bombard the hapless swashbucklers into oblivion. Of course, these types of things aren't present on every (or even most) quests, but they're a real treat to come across on occasion.

For those of you more interested in how the game looks than how it plays, I'm happy to say that RaiderZ's presentation is pretty solid. The graphics certainly aren't on par with triple-A titles such as TERA, but the game looks quite nice on higher settings, and the weapon and armor designs are interesting and varied. My only real complaint is the quality of the game's animations. While most of the character animations are smooth and interesting, some of the other animations are comically bad (I'm looking laughing hysterically at you, mount animations) though they don't seriously detract from the overall experience. The UI, thankfully, is fairly well designed and I never found myself scratching my head over where to find a particular function or feature.

Screenshot -- RaiderZ
My one major UI complaint goes out to the game's chat system, which is absolutely horrid. As far as I can tell, there's no easily accessible way to ignore people or leave channels, so if you're one of those people (like me) who prefers to turn off the public chat channels due to the high quantity of stupidity often present therein, you're out of luck. On top of that, there's an arbitrary limit on how much text can be sent at a given time, and that would be fine if the chatbox actually cut off your input once it reached that point. But it doesn't. So you can spend time typing out a long message only to have it truncated midway through, and there's no indication of where the cut-off point is unless you feel like counting characters as you type, and I know I sure don't.

The chat also lacks one of the most common (and in my opinion, most useful) features of many modern MMOs, which is the ability to click a character's name in chat in order to whisper, invite, or ignore that character. And finally, the chat filter is heinously bad, often filtering completely nonsensical character combinations, and there's no way to turn it off. It's terrible.

Overall, though, I've been really enjoying my time with RaiderZ. I can't imagine making it my "main game" so to speak, but if you're looking for a game that you can jump into on occasion to kill some time (and copious amounts of monsters), you could do much worse. As long as you can look past some shoddy animations and dubious design choices and don't mind a bit of a grind, RaiderZ is definitely worth a shot.

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