Since I know some console folks (even me!) have been thinking it for a while, let's just say it out loud and get it over with: RaiderZ is a Monster Hunter clone! Got it out of your system? Good. Now go wash your mouth out with soap.
Our team already had some hands-on time with RaiderZ, so I'll try to do things a bit differently. For those familiar with the Monster Hunter series, there are a few big differences in RaiderZ that make it as similar to MH as World of Warcraft is to pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons. For those not familiar with the series, here's the skinny: Monster Hunter has you fighting monsters for their parts, which you can have crafted into items, which is then where all your stats come from. A nude level 2 is the same as a nude level 20, and from skill alone, you can tell who the better player is rather than who merely has the higher level.
Unlike the MH series, RaiderZ has a talent system tied in with its levels. Yes, both games unlock skills based on your weapon, but the similarities end there, especially since MH doesn't have any skill unlocks. You either have them all or have switched your weapon and all its skills.
While you can pick up a weapon and just start swinging it in RaiderZ, your skills are based both on your classes (you spend level 1-10 locked in one tree but can invest in other trees after that) and on your talents. So for example, you can be a Berserker who specializes in two-handed weapons but pick up the Defender's Shield Bash ability. When you hold a two-handed mace, you can't use that Shield Bash ability. However, when you bring out your one-handed sword and shield, you can no longer use your two-handed skills. This is inherent for the Monster Hunter series, but RaiderZ allows hybridization, which MH does not.
The different hotkey bindings you make for a weapon bind to that weapon type. That is, if you upgrade a bone sword into an iron sword, your sword hotbar won't change. I've seen this in some games, and it makes combat very difficult.
Next is the social aspect to combat. I love cooking meat in MH, but RaiderZ really knows how to appeal to the non-combat side of me. First, you have feasts. This isn't quite like WoW where someone lays one down and everyone eats it. Each player can lay down his own type of feast, such as noodles, vegetables, beef, broth, and more. Players can walk up to that feast, literally take a serving (your character actually holds the food!), and then you can eat or drink it... or not. I hadn't thought to try to throw it, but the game does allow you to pick up enemy weapons and body parts as weapons, so maybe you can start a food fight.
Guitars, another social feature, can be used as weapons, but more commonly they are used to make music. As with food, you can play music for your group to give out buffs (no, it's not a special skill, so you can be a Bard and cut someone in half with a sword). Different guitars have different sounds and buffs, so you can actually harmonize with those around you. I didn't get to play much with this since my partner, one of the developers, was a bit bloodthirsty, but prior to trying my guitar smash, I felt like I was playing Asheron's Call 2 again for a brief moment.
The one good similarity between the games is that, as in MH, RaiderZ bosses won't drop a full sword upgrade. You can use their weapons, but they will expire and disappear rather quickly. Instead, you get parts that can be used to create a sword. Don't use swords? No problem! The same items can be used for a staff or mace or whatever it is that you use. You shouldn't have to worry about useless drops if no one is a certain class. Everyone can use loot!
Hitting certain areas may break something off of an enemy. Yes, it's cool to take an enemy's horn and jab him with it, but more importantly, he can't use it any more.
The E3 demo, unlike previous ones, took place in a graveyard-like setting. Our enemies were skeletons and zombies, and our big baddy had a drum. By aiming at the drum, we ensured that the damage dealt by the drum was reduced and less frequent until it finally broke (which was pretty much a second before he died). So don't just bash something to take it from an enemy. Bash it to make the pain go away!
The realtime action combat handles differently than the combat in Monster Hunter as well. I was a bit disappointed that my "S" key had me backpeddling, since that tends to be a big no-no in MMOs. However, RaiderZ does allow at least some weapons, such as the two-handed mace, to block while moving (at a decreased run speed, but it's better than nothing). You still have some combos, though, like different swings for using your basic attack in quick succession.
Now, while enemies may have collision detection on, players do not. You can stand right on top of your friend or even run through her. I asked whether the same was true of PvP, but since we were both GM characters, this wasn't something we could test. See, the only PvP in RaiderZ at the moment is dueling. Perfect World wants to expand this, but the focus is on a good PvE experience first.
Before we wrap things up, there's one issue that I'm sure a lot of people are wondering about: the item shop. Perfect World knows that this is a big concern for players, and while the game's currently in alpha and things are up in the air, the main idea is that no one will be buying power outright. You need to play the game to get better items and gear. The cash shop is for potions, which you don't really seem to need if you know how to block and dodge, and appearance tab items (yes, there's already an appearance tab), though you can get both in game anyway. Yes, it's alpha and this can change, but Perfect World really wants players... well, raiding!
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!