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Building Foundations

The purpose of this blog is to provide an outlet for my perspectives and musings on MMORPGs and the industry.

Author: GeekDadMan

As the Weapon Swings - Combat in MMOs

Posted by GeekDadMan Thursday February 11 2010 at 2:24PM
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As I have played MMOs over the years, I've come to recognize a few things that bother me about the way combat is handled. In this post I'll talk about four specific aspects, those of twitch-based mechanics, overall speed, collision detection, and friendly fire.

My Index Finger Won't Stop Shaking - Is That Normal?

Having spent a great deal of time in World of Warcraft playing PvE and PvP content, this has been my primary source of observation for this twitch-based gameplay. First though, I'd like to say that I know PvP is not handled the same in every game, but I have also experienced this aspect in Warhammer Online, City of Heroes/Villains, and Age of Conan.

To use a localized example, I'll set myself in a battleground instance which is built for PvP. Usually, I would think, when one army engages another they form a plan, organize, and engage according to said plan; combat would progress and both armies, having sustained damage, would either fall back and recover or press the attack. Instead, I see 15 people on both sides generally saying, "I'll do my own thing," and it takes about 5-10 minutes into the match to see some sort of organization form.

Now, to be fair, this isn't how it always happens. There are teams who plan out and make this part of the game their pinnacle of enjoyment. The point I'm getting at is these games aren't built for true combat; they're environments for aimless destruction by whatever means necessary. No matter your class or skill set, you end up mashing buttons, jumping around and screaming at your cooldowns to go faster. That last part is optional, but the first two are almost unavoidable.

I said that these games aren't built for true combat. You may ask, "How do you know?" and I'll tell you. If you look at these games (take WoW again, for example), you'll see a player using the skills given to them with reckless abandon, generally diregarding any form of strategy beyond the skill rotation. How is it that a player's character can use all of the flashy skills constantly without suffering from so much as being a bit winded? Cooldowns? Debuffs? These mechanics do help, yes, but they do not address the issue at hand. Once the cooldown is done, they use it again immediately. They're too  available.

We never see things such as stamina, or more emphasis on normal swings. Did viking warriors constantly spin around trying to whirlwind their enemies? No, they hacked at their enemy's shield and  splintered their defenses before going in for the kill, often with specialized equipment for doing just that. Okay, yes, MMORPGs are games, not real life, but that doesn't mean this can be used to ignore the foundation of what it means to engage in combat.

Here in a list of my thoughts on what should be implemented for more strategic and effective combat:

  • Limited stamina gauge based on stats (Movement and skills in combat drain it)
  • Allow gear to be damaged in combat and have it affect the flow (e.g. shield breaking)
  • Make personal defense more important (a tank can't just sit there and be wailed on)
  • Make skills more situational (conditions must be right for its intended effectiveness)
  • Place more emphasis on "normal" combat (A normal swing can be lethal)

For this to be effective, I think auto-attacks should be taken out, and control of the swings placed in the hands of the player. Want to fall back and be defensive? Focus your stamina usage on defending yourself. Attacking with certain weapons like, like blunt-types, leaves you open to counter-strikes.With this setup, I think players will be more likely to consider strategies and formations to help take out opposition. It should also lessen the "twitch" factor of games today and help a player focus on what's available to them at the moment.

Okay, Let's Kill These Gu-... Wait, I'm Dead Already?

Has that ever happened to you? Getting ready to take on the enemy and suddenly, in a flash of spell and steel your character falls to the ground and you sigh while you click to release your spirit. Sometimes this is unavoidable. If a giant hits you dead on with his giant club, you're dead, 'nuff said. But when I'm facing down a guy my level, dieing in two seconds does not a satisfying match make. Regardless of which end I'm on, killing a guy with hardly an effort seems, well, hollow. Feeding back into the first section of the post, having layers of defence like shields and armor for an enemy to break through should, in theory, give you at least some time to react and give the other guy a nasty scar before you fall.

While this occurence in combat relies heavily on the circumstances of the insta-kill, I feel it is something that should be looked into. And, if my ideal factors above are taken to heart, these occurences may be reduced to instances where you well and truly are outmatched.

Should I Be Able to Run Through You?

You see it in many places. The lack of collision detection makes strategic formations moot. If an enemy can just run through my line without slowing, how do you expect to protect your soft squishy guys in the back? Throwing enough dps on them to take them down isn't really the answer. That's a convention of non-collision mechanics. Charging the line is a risky endeavor; that's why mounted knights were used to break them and give the infantry the opportunity to move in and cut them to pieces. If I want to defend a tunnel from encroaching back guys, how can I stop them from passing right through me?

With a collision detection mechanic in place, players would be forced to think about their movements and actions. How can you break your enemy's line? Are there ways to circle around and get behind? Do we have the power to break them? The strategy creates itself when the setting gives ample reason for it.

Although it's not an MMO, Medieval 2: Total War is a good example of what I'l thinking of. When you storm a castle, you have to consider what routes are available to you, how dangerous they are, and how you can disable or circumvent them. Since each unit takes up space, you're required to consider what troops you should use to engage the enemy and who should go in behind them in case they're routed.

Hey, You Shot Me!

You won't like it, but friendly fire has its place in combat, and I think it can make for compelling fights. If an archer line fires a volley into the enemy with your troops engaging them, your guys are going to get hit. The same should be true for MMOs. If I'm firing into melee, I need to make sure my friends aren't in the line of fire. If a mage casts an AoE spell, I want to be out of it. Fiendly fire make people think before they act and take into account not only what damage they're doing, but who they are damaging as well. Yes, you may end up shooting or stabbing your friend, but that's war. People get hurt,and not always by the enemy.

If you ask me, twitch-based combat needs to let up in MMOs. It has its place in games, and I'm not saying it needs to go away completely, but it hampers truly great combat. Factor in more strategic, methodical, and dare I say more true-to-life aspects, and you have what I believe to be a greater atmosphere for meaningful engagements.

This post has been for my personal enjoyment, and I hope it has given some food for thought for all who read this (and apologize for the long-windedness). I wholeheartedly invite you guys to post your comments, thoughts, or opposing views for the betterment of discussion. Until next time!



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