This preview originally appeared in issue 244 of PC Gamer UK.
I dodge-roll sideways, flinging a bolt of ice into the flank of Fleetfoot, the three-tailed alpha wolf I'm battling. I gain a charge of ice magic, speeding up the cast time on my fireball: I aim and let it rip. The wolf turns, coiling back on its haunches, telegraphing its counter-attack.
This time, I hit it with a burst of ice spikes as it charges, step aside, and follow up with a two-hit combo of fiery explosions. I overextend myself, going for a cheeky staff-bash before the wolf retaliates, but I'm too slow: the incoming blow sends me flying backwards.
Playing a mage in an RPG is rarely this energetic. RaiderZ is a combat-heavy MMO that takes after the Monster Hunter series of console RPGs, mixing questing and crafting with lengthy, twitch-based boss fights. Successful hits are determined by your aim rather than a dice roll, and if you can get out of the way of an incoming attack, that's it: you got out of the way.
RaiderZ' approach to combat means that it's possible to eke out a victory – albeit slowly – through skill rather than hard stats. Or at least, that's the promise: in reality, as with Monster Hunter, your chances are much better with superior equipment. Everything you use is crafted out of pieces dropped from monsters, and while the game has regular fetch and kill quests, a lot of your time will be spent working towards your next hat or weapon. Talking to a crafter allows you to request a recipe, which adds an entry to your quest tracker. Mousing over individual ingredients tells you what monsters they drop from, and off you go.
To improve my chances against Fleetfoot, I've spent a good hour and a half murdering smaller wolves to gain enough leather to make a full new suit of armour. I've also killed spiders and run quests to gather the bits to make a new staff. It's undoubtedly a grind. The enjoyable combat makes a big difference, but it's hard not to wish for more high-stakes battling and less busywork. The fact that RaiderZ' biggest encounters are the incentive to keep playing, rather than just a way to earn the next trinket, does seem like progress – and the devs promise some truly huge monsters in the latter parts of the game.
Ultimately, loose alliances of players will go toe-to-toe with colossi that take a good hour to bring down, and success is a case of practice, skill and preparation. For the first ten levels, RaiderZ has a fairly hard class system where you're only able to spend skill points in one of four trees: berserker, cleric, sorcerer and defender. After that, however, you're free to invest in whatever skills you like – be that maxing out your chosen role, or dabbling across several. If it can move past grind-heavy MMO orthodoxy and take full advantage of its combat and monster design, RaiderZ has the potential to be a surprise contender.