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Tab Targeting Or Action Targeting - An Age Old Question

Precise Or Random? You Decide

Joseph Bradford Updated: Posted:
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One of the things that has always endeared me to the MMORPG genre has been the combat. When done really wel it's complex, hectic, and moreover - it's addicting. The genre has been built on the experiences we get when taking down giant raid bosses or stringing together some player kills in PvP. Tab-targeting has been the norm for many of the genre's biggest hits, but more and more games releasing today are opting for action-targeting, eschewing the traditional form of combat.

This is something that I've been thinking about recently as I bounce between multiple MMOs right now. Going from the straight tab-targeting from a game like The Lord of the Rings Online or Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers and then jumping into the PTS of The Elder Scrolls Online, it can defintely be jarring. But as to which is better - I think that is all up to personal preference.

Personally, as someone who has played MMOs since the early 2000s, I'm always going to have a soft place in my heart for straight up tab-targeting mechanics. This is where I can usually feel solid in my skill rotation - and as a result the attacks I make feel more defined and less random.

I love as a Red Mage in Final Fantasy XIV being able to lock onto a target and just burn them down with a few well placed DPS skills - or if there are multiple enemies I know my AOEs will land precisely thanks to the fact I've clearly got a target locked onto. However, as a result of this, these battles can sometimes feel routine - almost painfully so in the cases of battles in The Lord of the Rings Online as my Hunter. Games need to shake up the fights by making you think on your feet, such as dodging attacks, fighting adds as they stream in during the battle, or adding mechanics to keep you on your toes in long slogs. 

Tab-targeting feels like you have more control over your actions - especially in a hectic PvP battle. It can be easier to focus and burn down a single target as a group if everyone can simply change over to who the tank is focusing on. But in today's action-oriented world, I can understand why some would want the randomness - yet engaged - levels of Action-targeting. 

The Elder Scrolls Online is an example of a game where I feel like I have less control sometimes over my attacks, and as a result I feel like some skills are wasted when I cast them. Some require the accuracy of traditional tab targeting - such as Blastbones as a Necromancer - yet even though the MMO employs a semi-hybrid method where you can actually tab-target but you still need your reticle pointed at the enemy to hit them it can be frustrating. 

That said, I feel more engaged than I typically do in a tab-targeting setting. With games I've played for years, like World of Warcraft or LotRO, I do notice that I can fall into a trance going through a predefined skill rotation - something more easily facilitated with traditional targeting. Action combat roots me more in what's going on - but at the cost of the precision I love in most MMOs. 

I totally understand why many games are opting for this style of combat, though. It's flashy and reminds many players making the jump from single-player RPGs to an MMO something more familiar. It makes for better sizzle reels when marketing your game too. If you really enjoyed The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and want to jump to ESO to keep playing in the world of Tamriel, having the action combat is less jarring than learning tab-targeting rotations and gameplay. Black Desert Online is as popular as it due in large part to its flashy combat style and visuals, and stringing together combos can definitely make you feel powerful.

Personally, I want more tab-targeting games in the future. I love learning the intricacies of the skill rotations of not just my main character, but also coordinating with your group and their rotations to maximize healing or damage potential. And that's not to say that type of gameplay doesn't exist in other MMOs that use an action combat style - you definitely need to coordinate and use your skills wisely and effectively, but the feeling of attacks being random or wasted increases for me when I lack the precision tab-targeting provides.

So I open this to you: which do you prefer and why? Do you want more MMORPGs to release using tab-targeting, or are you more partial to the action combat we're seeing more and more of nowadays? Let us know in the comments below.


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore