It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the future of online MMO’s is in the free-to-play business structure, granting players all the fun they can have, fueled by micro-transactions. While some publishers struggle to fit their properties into the model, publisher Perfect World has been bringing MMO’s to Western audiences from overseas for years.

Their two newest entries, Neverwinter and RaiderZ were on display at this year’s E3, and look to earn fans for extremely different reasons.

For those who don’t know the origin of the title, Neverwinter will be attracting attention for its place within the Dungeons & Dragons universe alone. The developers could have used the licence as a safety net, but so far seem to be taking the pressure as motivation. Both games are emphasizing action-based attacks and evasive defenses, but controlled through interfaces that won’t be intimidating to newcomers.

Built around the expected classes, Neverwinter looks and plays like a fantasy RPG is expected to these days, but sporting visual fidelity and detail that more closely resemble full-priced MMO’s. The developers promise a wide range of environments and visual styles across the game’s many locations, with an interior dungeon the environment demoed at the show. From animations to enemy design and behavior, the mechanics seem to be shaped by a ‘simple but effective’ philosophy.

Granted a small number of primary and secondary attacks and defensive buffs, the real satisfying action comes courtesy of a – you guessed it – twenty-sided die. As hits are landed, the on-screen die slowly fills, allowing the unleashing of special attacks once completed. With dynamic enemy types and a final boss that matched challenging fight routines with character design that did justice to the fiction, the brief time we had with Neverwinter certainly left us wanting more. Did we mention the loot? There’s plenty of that as well.

For those already fond of the Dungeons & Dragon mythology, action-based MMOs, or simply those with some time to try out a free-to-play RPG, the game shows much promise. Neverwinter may not be released until the end of the year, but so far we like what we see.

RaiderZ MMO Preview

The other free-to-play MMO that will be sure to turn some heads among the online RPG crowd is RaiderZ, an experience that the developers claim isn’t about expansive mythology or monotonous fetch quests. This game is all about teaming up with online friends, tracking down enormous and dangerous monsters, and taking them down.

Much of the unique gameplay shown reflects this group mentality, with more than a few eccentricities that promise a personality all its own when the game is released. The moment-to-moment gameplay is, once again, action-based. The emphasis is placed on evading enemy attacks and targeting specific points on each uniquely-designed monster. In the demo we were shown the boss in question was a two headed ogre, with the assembled party informed that the weak point to attack was the large hide drum being carried by one half of the sizable enemy.

Successful landed attacks were signaled by a loud, reverberating drum hit which was both practically informative and visually satisfying. The movement required to target the enemy’s weakness meant dodging attacks, blocking direct swipes, and switching between crushing and slicing two-handed weapons. With slightly more emphasis on action and movement than Neverwinter, the developers on hand didn’t shy away from comparisons to the Monster Hunter series so popular in Japan.

The most notable aspects of the game revolve around the group buffs and perks. Aside from an extremely flexible ability system that allows players to mix and match traditionally class-specific skills, RaiderZ features some of the most striking and odd mechanics MMO players are likely to see. In each of the party member’s inventories, a particular ‘Feast’ item allowed the players to spawn a buffet, cooking pot, and roasting boar within the game world. Each member was able to utilize the collected food items to boost health and reserves before going into battle.

From there, it was time for a group musical performance. Selecting an acoustic guitar in place of a primary weapon, each party member strummed a tune until the group played in sync, granting offensive or defensive buffs to all assembled. The look and sound of these unique mechanics certainly separate RaiderZ from the competition, but also support developers’ claims that party play is at the core of this experience.

It will take time to see just how much depth and complexity there is in the experience when the game is released this year, but for now RaiderZ has our attention on personality alone.

Both the titles from Perfect World offer some promising features, with no real barriers to entry that would prevent MMO enthusiasts from giving either one a serious look. For Neverwinter, the time and energy placed on the technical prowess of the environments and animations hold serious promise for the future of free-to-play, while RaiderZ proves that there is still plenty of room for innovation and a sense of humor.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.