The landscape of online role-playing titles has shifted drastically in the years since World of Warcraft revolutionized the genre; where once this style of game was known for recurring, monthly fees, recent developments have seen the increased adoption of a free-to-play model. Within the ever-growing world of free-to-play there have been many to step to the plate and few to succeed, but, regardless, the market continues to grow with each passing day. Perfect World Entertainment, a publisher that I had the pleasure of sitting down with at the most recent PAX East convention, is a studio that will be joining the crowded fray with two new titles that hope to set the new standard for a constantly-evolving segment of the industry: Neverwinter and RaiderZ.
In line with current trends within the genre, both Neverwinter and RaiderZ deviate from the more methodical pace of traditional role-playing games in favor of a fast, frenetic style of action. Of course, even between these two titles there remains a hint of dissension; Neverwinter finds a little more in common with World of Warcraft than does its counterpart where RaiderZ is more akin to Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online. The main division arises in the speed of the title’s and the commands allotted to the player, but, for all intents and purposes, these two games share a very similar lineage.
Much of the focus in Neverwinter seems to be directed towards the game’s narrative, a story that is derived from popular Dungeons & Dragons lore as can be told from the title. The hub city places users within the city of Neverwinter itself and will take players familiar to the setting through many a memorable locale. That’s not say that as much focus isn’t given to the mechanics themselves, though; Neverwinter is true to the namesake without being plodding. Cryptic Studios, the developers responsible for the game, had a representative take me through one of the game’s early zones in which several skeleton enemies arose to contest his might. Within moments, several opponents fell as the individual clicked fast and furiously, a pace that unleashed the character’s most basic attack as if they were ripped straight out of Diablo. However, as I said, the game does remain true to its roots as a member of Dungeons & Dragons lore; in particular, the Cryptic representative pointed out that each character has a selection of Daily Abilities that prove to be devastating assaults but may only be used once per day. This, I feel, provided an interesting strategical element that will certainly be interesting when groups of players tackle a challenging instance and are forced to tactically preserve their Daily Ability for the time of utmost need.
As with any free-to-play title, my concern with Neverwinter largely rested on the ways in which it would fund itself. Obviously, micro-transactions come into play at some point and present an interesting challenge to designers; how can something of value be presented without devaluing items earned by traditional merit. My worries were eased as both the Perfect World Entertainment and Cryptic Studios representatives assured me that all transactions would be made in the name of aesthetic enhancements and not unfair, ill-gotten statistical improvements. While nothing else was provided, this news is more than enough to assure me that Neverwinter will be a complete experience for both those players who feel like investing an extra dollar and those interested in partaking in a free ride.
Seeing Neverwinter was an interesting experience for me; I was familiar with Neverwinter Nights, the Bioware title that first delved into this intriguing world, but had heard little of Cryptic’s endeavors. Having now seen the game in considerable detail, I can safely say that I’m interested not just as an observer of the industry but also as a player. When Neverwinter arrives later this year, it could very well be one of the best to ever carry the free-to-play banner.
Though both games were of great interest to me, it was RaiderZ that I felt most impressed with upon leaving my meeting with Perfect World Entertainment. Unlike Neverwinter, it sports an entirely new universe with an aesthetic all its own; it’s bright, colorful, and not at all what you would expect from a video game made in this modern age of development. RaiderZ looks good not just as a free-to-play game but as a PC game in general, a feat that comes as a particular surprise given the typical visuals associated with the genre.
Obviously, though, the mechanics, not the graphics, are what truly makes RaiderZ pop off of the screen; it shares a lot with Phantasy Star Online in that the focus is almost entirely on action-based commands, but, unlike Sega’s opus, it also implements a variety of reaction-based commands that allow the player to defend themselves from the impending enemy threats. Despite being a massively-multiplayer title, RaiderZ plays with a focus on action that mind even remind some of God of War minus the obvious level of speed, ferocity, and quick-time events that would have no place within the genre.
As was explained to me and made clear within the first few moments playing RaiderZ, a clear focus is placed on the larger-than-life monsters that roam the game’s environment. In the demo, I was given the chance to face off with two different bosses that were each as large and imposing as any challenger that I had faced in my previous experience in the industry. To facilitate my experience, enhancements were given to my character to make them far more powerful than they had any right to be at this point in the game, but, even with that advantage, I was still challenged by the first world boss.
What made these bosses challenging and what sold me on the game is the simple fact that RaiderZ isn’t a game entirely devoted to building stats and plundering for equipment but instead often hinges on a player’s level of skill. I wasn’t being tested just because of a statistical disadvantage; I was being tested because of my inexperience within the title. It will be interesting to see how this impacts endgame play as users have mastered the game’s systems, but for now it seems to be the most interesting facet working in the favor of RaiderZ.
Even more unique was an approach RaiderZ was making towards diversifying the often-mundane experience of other games within the genre. Where in World of Warcraft every enemy is a flesh shield with a different name, every enemy in RaiderZ is an interesting experience that offers benefits to the confrontation. That sentence may not mean much, but this example should: when travelling on the beaches of one of the initial zones, I was assaulted by what appeared to be an anthropomorphic crab carrying a rather intimidating weapon. Upon felling the enemy, I was rewarded not only with the typical slew of experience points and loot but also with that enemy’s weapon, a tool that can be used for a limited time and that is accompanied by its own set of skills. Every weapon from every enemy allows the players to experience the game a little bit differently, a fact that serves to enliven an experience that most users are well-accustomed to.
When I first walked into my meeting with Perfect World Entertainment, I had no idea what to expect from RaiderZ and, in the interest of full disclosure, wasn’t terribly interested in what it had to offer. Seeing it and playing it for the first time is an experience that made me not only interested but excited for the game and ready for it to finally see its release next year.
The floor at this year’s PAX East was one filled with more free-to-play, action-based, and online role-playing games than it was with any other genre. Among that crowded scene shone both Neverwinter and RaiderZ high above the rest with their unique blend of action and role-playing elements. I’d like to thank everyone from Perfect World Entertainment, Cryptic Studios, and MAEIT Entertainment, the developers of RaiderZ, for their time at PAX East and, speaking for the rest of Got Game, we very much look forward to their future output within the industry.