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Combat System Preview

Dana Massey Posted:
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Mythic aims to redefine the way you look at combat

The downside of E3 is that everyone has so much to see that they cannot usually get more than a cursory glance at each title. MMORPG.com was in a unique position when it came to Mythic’s second major release Imperator. We had just been down to Fairfax to see the game and released this preview. With scarcely more than a month between the two viewings, we decided not to waste your time with the basics we had already told you. Instead, I had a long chat with Mike Lescault, one of the designers behind Imperator, about one of the most important aspects of the game: combat. Today, in our first in-depth look at an aspect of the game, we hone in on combat and how Mythic hopes to perfect the mechanic that has always been such a hot-button topic in MMORPGs.

Imperator is set in a sci-fi alternate earth reality where Rome never fell and the republic is locked in an inter-stellar war with the Mayans – who left Terra (Earth) years before, leaving a plague in their wake. This setting immediately differentiates the game from most others. It is not fantasy in any way. The characters look realistic; there are no wizards or magicians – only people. Although some games obviously leap into a similar setting – namely Star Wars Galaxies – this change alone provides them with comparatively uncharted waters to explore and create something new in.

The first thing players notice in Imperator is that there is no auto-combat. If you wish to attack an enemy, you need to select an attack. As you fight, you lose energy and gain focus based on what feats you choose. The various combat moves work off one, or both of these things. This combination ensures players need to pay attention and strategize their combat. For example, do they wish to work the whole fight and build up to one giant pay off move that zaps all their focus or would they prefer to play it safe, and use more, but smaller moves that use only a portion of their hard-earned focus?

Another goal of the development team is to do away with the artificial nature of MMORPG combat where you are told what happened, and thus what to do next. They have augmented text spew like “your target is hamstrung” with the visual animation of a limping enemy. This client-to-player feedback is key. First, it keeps your attention on the battle instead of a chat box, and second it draws you into the experience in a special way. When a player has to watch their opponent to decide what to do next, it makes the player feel as if they are actually fighting rather than simply playing a game. This system, made possible through their use of animation blending (for the limping walk, or other indicators) promises to provide Imperator with greatly immersive combat experience.

One buzzword I heard a lot at E3 this year was “state-based combat”. Of all the incarnations on display, Imperator’s take on this concept intrigued me most. A state is short for the state-of-being that a character or monster is in. For example, a monster can be stunned, knocked down, hamstrung, etc. In Imperator, you cannot simply jump to the end – a knock down – but rather must push the creature along the scale through teamwork. A good group in Imperator will utilize the strengths of each member to drive an enemy further along a scale of states, and then capitalize on their outcome. In a theoretical example, a trooper could knock the enemy into a stunned state where they keep fighting, but are a bit off-kilter. This provides the gunner with the chance to blind him, at which point he stops fighting entirely. Perhaps then, the trooper can drive him to fear, where he runs around willy-nilly, before the gunner again hits him and knocks him off his feat. At this point, the entire group is able to jump in, kick and stomp to inflict a lot of damage on the prone enemy.

Another interesting aspect of the combat system is how it makes groups actually behave like groups. Some players will have feats that key off states that they alone cannot drive the monster into. This in no way diminishes the viability of solo play, but rather enhances group play. First and foremost, Imperator has been designed to be friendly to solo players. This system merely ads an extra layer of spice for those that do team up. Good coordination is key. The best groups in Imperator promise to be those that talk and plan, rather than just those who can inflict the maximum DPS in a mindless flurry of button mashing.

We also discussed how they hope to make each class in Imperator feel different in combat. The difference between a light tank and a heavy tank is far too often simply mathematical. The light tank stands still, hits fast and takes more damage. The heavy tank also stands still, hits slow, and takes less damage. While these basic concepts remain in Imperator, the necessity of different play styles for different classes augments them. The heavy tank will remain the damage sponge, as he endeavors to keep the attention of the monster squarely on him. Yet, the light tank type class has feats that make them move around. For example, they might begin with an in close blast, followed by a semi-far away shotgun shot, etc. This creates a sort of pinball class that plays and feels a lot different from their heavier brothers. For once, the choice of class has a direct impact on the style of play. This promises to enhance reliability, as it turns each class into their own unique play experience. It also means that while the game is still an RPG, there are definitely elements of player skill to consider.

As with every discussion of game mechanics of a game that has not yet hit beta - this is all subject to change. However, it does sound like a deep and exciting system that should entertain the masses and hopefully put the focus on the game, rather than the mechanics that support it. Generally, I was quite impressed by what I heard.

Overall, the most impressive aspect of Imperator – and the reason it was runner-up in our E3 Awards for Best of Show – is that they employed no E3 smokescreen. Their game was available in their booth for people to play. There was no contrived E3 demo, just the game standing on its own two feet. Obviously, we did not have a chance to play eight hours, advance our character and see the combat system from all sides, but the basics of it were definitely there. The game also appeared infinitely more polished than it had just a month before. The animations were smooth, the combat fluid and the controls crisp. I was shocked at the rate of change – and only in a month. If they continue to excel at such a pace over the next year of development, Mythic has another hit on their hands.

We hope you enjoyed our first look at what Imperator has planned for combat. Let us know what you think in this comment thread and on Imperator's hype meter.


Dana Massey