If games like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World are any indication, MMO players are sick of the same old combat. They want action that’s engaging, where quick dodging and active abilities take precedence over mundane tank-‘n’-spanks or heal-bot whack-a-mole. They want the kind of combat that could be mistaken for a third-person action game. That’s the sort of intense gameplay that the free-to-play MMO RaiderZ endeavors to deliver, with highly active battles, malleable skill specializations, and some truly awe-inspiring monsters to slay.

Our exclusive early look at the game gave us the chance to see content that wasn’t available during the recently-concluded closed beta. If you weren’t a part of it, here’s the skinny: RaiderZ offers a class system that promotes experimentation and multiplicity, in a world filled to the brim with hostile creatures large and small. You’ll initially choose from one of four basic combat styles--Defender, Berzerker, Cleric, or Sorcerer--but from level 10 onwards (about six hours in), the talent trees become your oyster. With the ability to train talents in any tree you see fit, you must choose between a hybrid build that provides more diversity and versatility, or straight-up dedication to one combat tree in order to act as the go-to specialist. It’s the kind of variety that lets you truly shape the character you want to play.

Another of RaiderZ’s most iconic features lies in the destructibility of the enemies: They often fall apart. Whether you’ve sliced off a chunk of armor, ripped away a body part, or stripped a weapon from the opponent’s hands, combating monsters often leads to some gnarly battle damage (just like those classic Jurassic Park toys). Better yet, you can then pick up the freshly-separated appendage and use it as a bludgeoning tool, beating its former owner to a pulp with their own limb.

It’s not always so hilariously sinister--you’ll also pick up weapons, like a heavy monster-made pistol, which you can then blast face with thanks to a new set of gun-specific abilities on your skill bar. In fact, the weapon you choose to wield is often a better determinant of your fighting style than your initial class selection. You’ll be able to equip two weapon sets at all times; a quick tap of the Tab key will swap between them, so you can keep your expertise varied. Just make sure you’ve equipped the right weapons--some spells will only be available if you’re wielding a sword, staff, hammer, or shield that corresponds with your class’ strengths.

RaiderZ even manages to keep the downtime and casual hangouts exciting. It’s not the first game to feature communal buff-granting buffets, or social recreational via musical instruments--but RaiderZ marks the first time in recent memory that we’ve seen a ham hock used with deadly force, or an MMO character bust out a guitar-smashing El Kabong impression. You see, even the laidback activities in RaiderZ could spring into a skirmish at any time, and you don’t want to be left scrambling or unprepared for the sudden danger. As such, most any item--be it a consumable from a stat-boosting Feast, or a six-string acoustic guitar--can be used as a weapon in a pinch. It’s awesomely absurd to see a knight obliterating a monster’s noggin with his guitar, or using a plate of chopped carrots to break some skulls.

And there are plenty of skulls that need breaking--the world is covered with uniquely designed beasties just cruising for a bruising. Don’t just think you can stroll through the countryside unchallenged, though: There’s a good chance you’ll eventually run into one of RaiderZ’s signature behemoths roaming throughout a zone. We encountered one such titan while exploring the forests surrounding the Grand Wall of Silence, a barricade built to keep baddies at bay (think The Wall from Game of Thrones). Amongst colossal catapults and dozens of small-fry enemies, a beast known as the Chimera loomed large like five-story fiery lion. This winged, serpent-lion hybrid dwarfed our player, and proceed to bat us around like an armor-clad cat toy. It looked like we’d need backup to take this mammoth monster down.

Besides the memorable boss fights (around 12 to 14 total, not counting the many mid-tier monsters that litter the landscape), there’s also plenty of amusing for-fun content to sink one’s teeth into. There’s the usual suite of mounts to collect--everything from an intimidating three-tailed wolf to a giant chicken--as well as items that turn you into the various creatures seen in the environment. Morphing into a monster will temporarily grant you their movesets, but for those players who feel more pacifistic, you can also shapeshift into an honest-to-God housecat, or a bunny rabbit who can sing and dance. You haven’t lived until you’ve played as a dancing bunny rabbit, we can assure you.

With a premise that evokes Monster Hunter and the affordable cost of free, RaiderZ looks like its shaping up to be quite the MMO contender. We’re oh-so-down with systems that let you experiment with your class role, and being able to use the enemy’s weapons (or limbs) against them adds an interesting wrinkle to the action combat. You can sign up for the open beta at the game’s official website, in preparation for the full RaiderZ launch later this year.


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