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Guild Wars Factions Editorial: Kicking Combat Up a Notch

By David North on July 19, 2011

If you are ready to try your first MMORPG, you have a massive library of titles to choose from, but there are a few things to judge a title by to help you decide.  Of course, the game has to look good and it also needs to have a lot of content, but what about combat?  Yeah, combat: it’s what you’ll be doing most of the time in the game, so it needs to be fun.  Combat is one of the major reasons to play pretty much any game, and it's a reason I have stopped playing a lot of other games.  Why is that?  Most games in the genre have action that is very similar to the one sitting right next to it, on the shelf.  The combat is slow paced, the visuals aren’t very exciting and every fight feels like the fight before it. 

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Guild Wars for me was a bit of a breath of fresh air when looking at the overall pace of combat.  It wasn’t perfect but it was much faster than other games.  There were enemies all over, and decisions during battle had to be made quickly as we faced large groups of enemies, not a group of 3 or 4 enemies at a time that just had a massive amount of health. This was nice as it added more action to the gameplay and kept me moving.   For Guild Wars 2 this is pushed even further as we see elements of combat revisited and worked on in a new, fresh way for the genre.


In the first game I had to keep my necromancer still in order to attack or cast a spell, moving only to get a position that gives me an advantage over my enemies.  I am glad that this limitation has been taken away, as we can see in gameplay examples all over the internet.  Movement has become a huge part of combat as we see casters moving back from advancing attackers, hitting them with spells to bring them to a halt.  Same thing for professions using their long range weapons as we see the thief and engineer use their guns while moving.  Being able to constantly move without things stopping or slowing down allows for more strategy in combat.

Another nice feature in Guild Wars 2, is the ability to switch weapons, while the game updates your skills automatically, right in the middle of combat.  This reminds me of switching weapons in a FPS game.  To give an example, let’s say I have a shotgun and I am running around blowing enemies up in close combat.  The way I aim and move with that weapon is uniquely different to how I would aim and move with a sniper rifle.  Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses and I will play a certain way to adjust to those differences. 

It makes perfect sense that your skills should change when going from a staff weapon to an axe.  With an axe, you are going to want to go in for some close quarters combat, while with a staff you want to keep your distance so you can focus your magic better.  Since this feature has been brought into the game, the combat encounters that face players force them to use this feature.  This not only keeps the combat at an exciting pace, but also makes you choose what tactical role you will play for your party.  Just think, one second you are trying to bring down the health of a group of enemies, the next second you are bringing your allies back to their feet, giving them support to keep the fight going.  This also keeps the fights from seeming repetitive, as anything can happen during each encounter.

So, we have combat that is fast paced and tactical, now what?  Now we just need to make it look cool.  And that’s what MMORPGs have been doing, at least to an extent.  Some titles use the same visual effect for multiple spells and that can kill the feel of both your character and enemies.  For Guild Wars 2, the videos are showing us that spells and skills look unique to their class.  Look at a necromancer spell being cast, and then compare it to an elementalist spell.  There is a very clear difference between the two types.  The necromancer spells look darker, more sinister, while the elementalist spells look more natural with a visual effect that’s more vibrant. 


The same goes for our physical skill users as well.  Compare a warrior to a ranger or a guardian.  The way the professions move and execute their moves is very different, not just a bunch of characters swinging their swords and saying it is a different skill.  Giving a special animation to professions makes it possible to watch a character fight, and figure out what profession he or she is, giving more life to them and to the battle.

When watching videos of players fighting together against enemies, really take notice at the pace of the game play.  Look at how the players move and adjust to situations that they face.  Take notice of the visuals being used for spells and skills, and how they make the battle to seem intense and immersive.  Look at how players are always moving against enemies that advance against them from all directions, trying to get an advantage point against their foes.  Really look at all of these elements and you’ll see that combat in Guild Wars 2 is a pretty good reason to be excited about this game.

Feel free to leave a comment below, as I would love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences with the combat in MMO games.

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