Age of Conan’s Combat System

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Age of Conan’s combat system: The next step in mmorpg combat evolution? Possibly. I was browsing their official site for more information on the specific systems and I came across the latest Dev Diary (#5) that laid out the basics of their combat system. I’ve been following AoC at a distance because I’ve naturally been gravitating towards Warhammer. I still believe strongly that Age of Conan will have a lot to offer players looking for something fresh and now after studying up on the combat system I believe it might be the next evolutionary step in how developers will design their games.

The various sub systems that make up AoC’s combat system are somewhat intricate and far more twitch than a standard combat system. The first drastic difference is the complete removal of the auto attack system. This places every swing, every attack, every skill use in the hands of the player. When to use them and how to use them become far more important than simply being able to use them. The developers have set out to make a more involved and real time melee system; essentially a more fast paced and dynamic system requiring more skill from the player than ever before.

Weapon choice and how you use that weapon play a big part in combat. Mobs and player characters will dodge and react based on exactly where you attack them. All weapons can hit more than one target giving the game a more realistic and almost crude and unpredictable style truly fitting of the barbaric setting. Each weapon appears to have pros and cons such as knockback or arc which determines how many enemies you can strike with one blow. In a recent video from GenCon a video was shown with players fighting on mounts and how reach obviously played a part in the system.

I was surprised when I discovered how deeply the systems involve the player. It’s more than choosing at who and where you swing your weapon and more than knockbacks and arcs. Combat in Age of Conan is comprised of the offense, which looks fantastic on its own, and a very dynamic defensive system which plays an equally important role. They have broken their Defense system into two categories: Active and Passive. The passive defense is all the standard armor, resistances, buffs, etc and thankfully something players won’t have to bother much with. The active category is broken up into several parts making it an integral part in combat. AoC will have collision detecting and active dodging. Collision detection is well known, but the active dodging system is where more of that twitch play comes in. If a projectile or big enemy swing is coming at you, tapping a certain direction will allow for short quick movements out of the way. Extremely interesting in theory, but hopefully more than another excuse to run around like crazy.

Lastly, the defensive system that shows the most ingenuity is the Shield system. This plays in-part with choosing where to attack your enemy but also where you know your enemy will strike you. Customizable and capable of being fit to your own ‘style’, the shield system is a very dynamic means of protecting yourself from incoming damage. If you’re opponent favors the right side then shifting your defense to counter will matter. As a constantly changing variable in combat, and something your enemy will also surely be doing, this could be the biggest implementation of micromanagement a mmorpg has ever seen.

Combining all the variables from offensive and defensive play, in theory, really paints a picture true to what the development team has set out to make: A very fast paced real-time and dynamic system that is sure to be anything but another boring mmo combat system. I’m looking forward to experimenting with all that AoC’s combat system has to offer. I think Funcom, despite what most people are thinking, will have a great game full of fresh ideas.


  • I have this fantasy in my head of AoC combat being something like Jedi Knights 2 lightsaber battles.

    We can only hope.

  • I expect I’ll be in the minority when I say that combat system doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t want twitchy gameplay in an MMO, especially not twitchy melee gameplay. I can barely tolerate it in single player rpgs and the thought of it in an MMO is daunting to say the least. How do you take advantage of active defenses like dodging when you have to deal with lag and latency? If mobs can dodge and avoid attacks in the same way, you have the reverse problem. I don’t doubt that when it works it will be fun, but when it doesn’t work it’s going to be supremely frustrating.

  • My little brother loves Jedi Knight 2, incidentally, this combat system sounds like a quantum leap from where we are now. Love to see it.

  • I heard them talk a lot about group and team play. Where that is all fun and stuff, will I be forced to group to level.
    That brings back bad memories from my FFXI days.

    (I’m also curious how a real time (twitch) combat system will work with Lag vs reaction time to server)

  • The lag issue is a good one that I would love to see someone from Funcom comment on.

    As for more information on the combat system and Conan in general: A very large Q/A was posted on the official Conan boards two days ago. It’s REALLY worth the read.

  • A twitch system demands a non-laggy system for sure. I was on the beta of Tabula Rasa and played it for a few months after release. One of the things that appealled was the fact you did have to aim and fire to hit something, not just press a button and let auto-attack do the business. It felt far more involving and exciting and worked well. (although it did have other skills on key presses, much like any other mmorpg)

    There was one particular area where lag was bad and boy did it have an effect on gameplay! But a twitch system (you could argue) does add healthy pressure to the developers to get the architecture tip top and non-laggy 🙂

    Don’t hit me keen but I’m looking forward to AoC more than Warhammer 😉 and warmly welcome a more twitch-oriented style of combat.

  • I look forward to this game, but I have to say I am a little bit disgusted by the high violence in the video. I hope they will offer an option to tune it down.

  • In the vid, they spoke often of PvE play. I wonder how this twitch aspect will change PvP? Oh and are there no magic classes in the game?

  • In AoC…

    – you’re not forced to group to level.

    – there ARE magic classes, 3 types of mages, 3 types of priests.

    – the combat system consists of
    1) normal directional attacks (left, right, vertical swings),
    2) combos (combinations of directional attacks, initiated by hotkeys),
    3) placement of directional defence ‘shields’,
    4) active blocking (raises the block/deflect chances),
    5) movement (for targeting and dodging)
    This is ALL being keyboard controlled by a hotkey interface. That’s a lot of buttons to master in the heat of the battle (which might be a bit daunting at first). And that’s too complex a combat interface to be truly twitchy (even if you map some of the actions to the mouse).

  • I don’t know about it being too complex to be twitchy. It’s obviously a more difficult system to master but given a small period of time there will be some who are better at it than others. Perhaps not the first day of release or even the first week, but give it a few weeks and I’m sure it will be considered the most twitchy mmo combat gameplay out there.

  • I think this sounds like an awesome system for a small-scale skirmish game that’s played in a lag-free, leatency free environment.

    I harken back to my Mechwarrior 2 days, where skilled players maneuvered and targeted their way to a quick victory by focus firing on the mech’s weak spot.

    However, the game completely changed when you went to online play vs lan play… instead of twitch happy precise targeting, you battled lag and latency in an attempt to hit your target. It was still fun, but all the precision was gone, and it was all about raw damage.

    I like WoW combat precisely because you can limit the painful effects of lag. I’m hesitant to get excited about a combat system that seems so vulnerable to lag spikes. And with the pvp focus, I think it will fall into the FPS camp, where there’s no point to play if you don’t have awesome ping. I worry that they won’t be able to pull it off on a large scale.

  • I find myself disappointed with those unwilling to move away from auto-attack systemsm. Fortunately for me, the majority is tired of the same old MMO combat systems. So, whether you like it or not, real-time, twitch-based combat more similar to FPS games and action games will be the new MMO combat systems.

    As far as lag being taken into effect, it shouldn’t be any worse than for current systems. I mean, I’ve seen strange things happen in auto attack systems… so I wouldn’t expect much a difference here. However, when lag is minimal, you should be really feel the benefits.

  • Don’t get me wrong, Keen. AoC IS the most twitchy mmo combat gameplay out there.

    I’m just trying to say, if people expect AoC combat to be like some console games, e.g. Ninja Gaiden, or like the (to date best) realtime melee combat system found in Mount & Blade… then they WILL get disappointed 🙂

    Highly involving, yes. But a little too slow to be truly twitch-based AS a FPS. Trust me 😉

  • […] One of the hottest MMO features being talked about lately is Warhammer’s Tome of Knowledge (ToK). I’m not going to write another post about all the features we can look forward to because Syp from WAAAGH! has done a great writeup. Instead I’m going to talk more about how the ToK will be tearing down the quest barriers for Warhammer and future MMOs. With all these “next gen” (I really hate that term) games on the horizon we’re going to see a lot of developers try and set themselves apart from the competition; like Funcom is doing with Age of Conan’s combat system. […]

  • Alex, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with moving away from an auto-attack system, my concern is actually the ‘active’ defense aspect. In a game like wow, it doesn’t matter how much you lag so long as you’re in the right position the server keep chugging away the auto-attacks and hit/miss/crit calculations. In AoC, you’re supposed to actively dodge attacks, and presumably enemies will actively dodge you as well. If you’re lagging, you won’t be dodging anything. If your latency is too high to accurately predict incoming attacks, you won’t be dodging anything. If you’re lagging and your target sidesteps your first attack, you could spend an entire fight swinging at an enemy that has moved without you realizing it, while it beats on you with impunity.

    For a PvE game those issues might be marginally forgivable, but in a PvP game they’re going to be brutal advantages for whoever has the lowest latency, lag free connections to the server.

    I’m vastly more interested in WAR than AoC anyway, but I’m interested to hear how Funcom is going to handle these issues.

    Also, while the ‘finishing moves’ in that video were cool and excellently animated (if a little bloody for my tastes) am I the only one that thought the normal combat animations tended to look like wild flailing about with minimal contact feedback?

  • Some of them for sure looked like wild flailing and I can only imagine how much more wild and spaztastic it will look in PvP vs. other players who are avoiding being hit. In the FAQ I linked to up there I think I read that you have to hold still to hit someone… that could be a drastic change to combat as we know it.

    I think the guy with the polearm though looked really neat as he spun it around behind his back and jabbed at the guy – that might have been a finishing move, I’m not sure.

  • Well, it is a soft-lock system despite the real-time swings. Therefore, as long as the character is soft-locked when you swing, you will make contact. So, for example, let’s say your swinging at another player who is laggy. One second, he is in front of you, and you have him soft-locked. You swing, but he is suddenly behind you. Because he was in front of you at the time of your swing, the server recognizes a hit despite his lagged position.

    As far at low latency players having an advantage… well, it would seem that the MMORPG is the only genre of online gaming that hasn’t seen this aspect. Lower-pinged players will ALWAYS have the advantage. That’s why you should play on servers located close, have a nice high-speed modem, and turn off your torrents before playing.

    As far as the combat animations are concerned. Most of the videos are of two-handed wielders for some reason. And, since they are two-handed swords, they mostly look like flailing. As far as contact feedback is concerned… well, the MMO has collision detection, so that should make it the most contact feedback intensive MMO to date… considering you can just float through pratically everything in previous MMOs.

  • I can say from what I know that it’s not a twitch game. Just as players time their hotkey presses, you’ll end up timing your combo key presses. From the videos, defense comes into play mainly when you’re choose where to attack between special skills.

    Though I imagine more than any MMO to day, the PvP will require some good twitch reactions. This and Spellborn that is.

    Can’t wait… 2 more months.

  • If it has even ‘some’ twitch reactions required then that’s 100% more twitch than any other mmo I’ve played. The game itself doesn’t have to be counter strike level of twitch gameplay,/ but if it requires the player to take action in a timely fashion based on the timely actions of the enemy then that’s twitch enough for me.