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Combat Styles

Editorial By Dan Fortier on September 23, 2006

Debate: Combat Styles

This week, Dan Fortier and Garrett Fuller dance

Editor's Introduction: Every Saturday, we feature a debate between two writers here. If you have any ideas for future debates, please do not hesitate to post them in the comment thread linked at the end.
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Dan Fortier: When it comes to combat in MMOs there seems to be an ongoing struggle between those that want more involved combat that uses the skill or reflexes of a player over instead of the standard automatic 'hit a button and wait' method that seems to be the standard.

While I don't count myself firmly in either group, I have to say that I prefer to have a lot of strategic options in my combat, but that doesn't necessary involve strafing around like the old Robotron game dodging attacks. The reason I play video games instead of going out the local Renaissance Fair and swinging real weapons is because I prefer to not have to work up a sweat killing things. games like Asheron's Call, while offering more of a twitch style of combat, seem to put too much emphasis on free movement while not providing a more realistic combat than the automatic systems.


Garret Fuller: The biggest issue with the auto combat system is it forces the player to wait thru attacks. The one thing that should be sped up as far as MMOs go is the automatic fighting system. I can remember in older games you used to take a good two minutes to kill a single creature. Multiply this by a few hundred creatures to level and your now talking about a long time of game play.

I think that the auto target system still works for MMOs because of the combination of ranged and melee attacks. You need to be able to hold onto targets as you move through a fight. However, the fact that your avatar will automatically attack for you is something that I feel can and should change. Once you get your target it should be up to you to either melee, blast spells, or pelt your opponents with arrows. This will keep game play moving quickly while still allowing you to have some structure in the combat system.


Dan Fortier: The amount of creatures to level up in most games is a major reason I enjoy not being forced to manually control my characters actions. Take Risk Your Life for example: with all the clicking and grinding they should call it Risk Your Wrist. If I'm going to have to kill x thousand mobs to get anywhere I want to get there without wearing a wrist support device. RPGs are supposed to about taking on the role of another character, not about how quick you can click through an army of mindless AI. The stats/skills of your characters are supposed to make a difference and too much control blurs the line between your skill and your avatar.


Garret Fuller: I do think this issue carries over into PvP more than it impacts PvE. The auto attacks in PvP can be enhanced with macros to make the decisions of what strikes to use for you. I do think players should be more responsible for the choices their character makes in combat. The only way to really do that is by giving them the options to swing, cast, dodge, or run. Think back to the old fighting games or even new fighting games for that matter and how much effort when into combinations and skills.

Future MMOs like Age of Conan plan to have characters do combinations in battle. Hopefully this will encourage more player activity as it applies to an MMO. In the meantime, we all have to live with the auto attack system that is enhanced with a few special moves. I do believe as MMOs become more refined there will be more options for players in the skill department.


Dan Fortier: I think part of the problem people have with auto-attacks is that they are boring. Then again, anything you do several hundred times a day will get boring eventually. Developers could combat this by creating more combat animations, perhaps a dozen for each race/class and a couple for each special attack. Having the characters interact by parring, recoiling from wounds, etc would go a long way towards relieving some of the tedium of the current systems.

As far PvP goes, it is even more important to keep a balance between characters of equal skill and even though adrenaline junkie will tell you there is nothing like controlling your attacks manually in the heat of battle, most game designers know that it much more difficult to keep these kind of open system from being exploited. Players are very good at finding the flaws in a combat system and with the ability to aim spells and weapons and/or dodge similar effects it becomes a nightmare to constantly watch for ways it can be used to cheat.

In the end, I would rather have a system that was more entertaining and for me that doesn’t mean having to time the chop of my ax or lift my shield in time to defect a decapitating strike. More control in a system that doesn’t improve the flavor of the game is not an improvement at all.

Thanks for reading and make sure to give us your take on the topic!


You can comment on this debate here.

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