More on MMO combat systems

Last week, I wrote about ‘mouselook combat’ systems supplanting WoW-style tab-targeting and auto-attacking as a necessity in MMOs. I thought I’d go further – especially since I’ve leapt from Tamriel into Tyria.

For me, Guild Wars 2 going F2P was the opportunity to see for myself just how wonderful this ‘paragon’ of an MMO really is. I’d be a rich panda if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen it held up as an exemplar of MMOs done right. No holy trinity, epic PvP, the Living Story… everyone knows the drill.

What I never did pay attention to, though, was its combat system. And so I was rather dismayed to discover, in my first five seconds in the world, that I had to hold a mouse button to look around. Another minute spent in tutorial combat hammered the rest home. I felt like I was 2008 again and I was back in Azeroth – and it wasn’t the good sort of feels.

To be fair about it, combat systems like GW2’s appeal to a different sort of gamer taste. After less than an hour of play, I could see the appeal of skill auto-attacking (as opposed to ‘white damage’ auto-attacking). It adds a little hands-free to otherwise hectic fighting, and it’s not all too different from the channeled melee skills in any other MMO. In fact, treating skill auto-attacking as extended channeling makes a curious kind of sense.

When the skillbar extends past the 5 key, however, that’s when the hairiness begins. It’s not the finger-acrobatics DDR that was LoTRO’s skillbar, but still, reaching for 6 to pop a heal takes a smidgen too much time for comfort in a hairy encounter. (Yes, you can change keybinds, but this is how it shipped, no?) Plus, no mouselook means way too much tab-spam to lock onto the correct mob before unleashing a targeted skill. It feels clunky and constrained.

As for adding dodging to the playbook, while it was a good thought on ArenaNet’s part, this slow-mo diving & rolling is a far cry from the quick, slick evasion of Neverwinter’s Trickster Rogue. It’s a mechanic to simply negate damage, rather than to reposition my character to avoid said damage, and that makes all the difference.

Lady Lairyn Aurey vs the Shadow Behemoth

I wonder: given that different combat systems appeal to different player types, is there some correlation between them and their respective MMOs that I’m missing?

TESO is an open and shut case. It was designed to bring one of gaming history’s richest single-player experiences to the MMO field; thus, it makes complete sense to replicate that experience by incorporating the same pure ‘action-combat’ system. Ditto for LoTRO – I hear it was overhauled into a WoW clone late in development, which explains the identical combat system.

But what of Neverwinter, an ‘action-combat’ MMO based on a game with a hybrid turn-based system? I can probably answer my own question: cash grab. What attempts there may have been to draw on BioWare’s legacy sure sank quick beneath the tide of glitzy monetization and Asian MMOisms – making it also sensible for the game to run with a combat system that might appeal more to gamers who buy into that.

And GW2, which was designed with cooperation and community in mind? Why the 80% old 20% new blend? Were the devs, perchance, counting on the familiarity that 80% engenders to engender the best traits of earlier MMOs that use similar combat systems – with the 20% as a differentiator? Or was this done merely to follow in the footsteps of GW1?

What goes into the decision to make a combat system how it is?

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8 Responses to “More on MMO combat systems”

  1. Action combat systems kill some of my immersion. In Neverwinter, I wanted to be the old man wizard archetype, but I moved and cast spells like a 16 year old gymnast LARPer. Basic animations may be dull, but combat is a means in a MMO world, not the only end.

  2. […] A blog on games and their lore, design, and culture « More on MMO combat systems […]

  3. I have the same feelings about GW2. It just feels old and the combat is boring. Just a loss of money to buy it. 4 me anyho

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