MMO Combat: Dull vs. Annoying

I would love to see MMO combat reinvented, or at least step back a few years while we wait for something to change.  Just as a heads up, I’m a fan of auto-attack, tab targeting, and the traditional MMORPG combat.  I’m totally open to new ideas, though, and I think we need something brand new.

However, there are certain aspects of modern MMO combat I absolutely despise.

Too Many Abilities

I’m really tired of having three hotbars and 36+ abilities.  Options are nice, but I’d rather they come in the from of strategy — not macroing.  There’s something incredibly pure and relaxing about combat in EverQuest as a Rogue.  I was talking with my friend just the other day about how nice it is not to have to run around  facerolling every battle.  Manage your health, use the right abilities when you should use them, and be aware of your surroundings.

Flash Over Substance

One solution to the tab target, auto attack, hotkey until dead approach has been to convert the game into an Action RPG all about spamming attack that may or may not be tied to hotkeys.   Simply removing the act of targeting mobs doesn’t fix anything.  The result is just a dumbed-down game all about spamming AOE attacks.  I’d prefer something like Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim, but I haven’t seen it pulled off well in a MMO yet.  Maybe that’s the direction to go, and it simply needs to be refined.  That said, I don’t know if I want to sacrifice the almost D&D feel of MMO combat.

Active Dodging

I don’t like rolling out of red circles.  I think rolling around on the floor is a total joke.  I would rather take my character and reposition him manually.  Don’t stand behind a dragon because its tail will swipe you, and don’t stand in front of it because it will breathe fire or snap at you with its mouth.  Those are two of the best mob/boss mechanics out there.  They are simple, make sense, and don’t require me to suddenly dodge out of a random red circle on the floor.   I actually prefer tank and spank over active dodging.

I’m not usually one to state that something is broken without offering up a solution.  In this case, the best solution I have is to simply get rid of the mechanics that are more annoying to me than the dullness of the same old system.  I for one would rather be bored with a system I like than be frustrated or annoyed by a a different one.  There are only so many different ways to do combat with the available input devices. Perhaps a different direction with the same system?

  • Focus on the difficulty
  • Require fewer, smarter inputs
  • Alter other mechanics such as health bars instead
  • Rely more on the RPG side and utilize character development over twitch input

If you have any suggestions, let’s hear them.

  • I share your views and figured I was in the minority with the direction many games seem to be going. I love the pace and simplicity of original EQ. I tried to get back into it a few months ago and still love many aspects but was put-off by seeing what waits at higher levels with a tremendous number of clickables, AA abilities, disciplines and socials required. It looked as bad as EQ2.

    This image demonstrates it pretty well:

    I miss the simplicity and enjoy the slower-paced D&D-like feel.

  • I agree. After playing Neverwinter for a while it was really refreshing to play in the FFXIV beta, which so far seems much closer to an EQ pace of combat.

    One of my friends mentioned how boring combat was as we were playing and I just thought to myself that I rather enjoyed it. For some reason when combat is slower I feel like I can make more strategic decisions about the fight, when to activate abilities, when to hold off, where to position myself, keep a look out for adds, etc. I also feel like the rushed pace of combat somehow bleeds over into feeling like I need to rush through everything else a little bit too, rather than taking more time to enjoy the scenery and smell the roses a bit.

    If I wanted to play an arcade game or an FPS I would do that, not an MMORPG.

  • I like action combat well enough in and of itself, I suppose, but in the actual, practical context of a mmorpg I’ve found that it really just ends up detracting from the experience that I’d prefer to be having.

    RPGs have always been my favorite type of game and I like them best in large part because they have always played out equally in my imagination as on the tabletop or screen. I enjoy that my character can dodge incredibly well because I planned and built him that way. It becomes a component of the character, rather than simply an expression of me pressing buttons. Along those same lines, I enjoy the slower pace. It gives you space to think. Not to mention that, for me, a great RPG is not a game about combat but an adventure!

    I also think the social aspect of a mmorpg is impacted by action combat, and generally for the worse. I found it incredibly, frustratingly difficult to play guild wars 2 with other people. It’s what I wanted to do! But everyone was always completely engaged in their own actions – dodging, leaping, pushing, pulling, running to the next objective – and so was I. The actual combat was very engaging, but it felt like that was all I ever did. I just wanted some space to communicate, make a strategy or tell a joke. Sure, VOIP helps, but it’s the pace that burns me.

    Honestly, I’m not really even bored by tab targeting. I’d much rather see improvement along the lines of more ways to interact with the world besides combat.

  • As usual I agree. I also think you could save yourself a lot of typing these days by just naming a topic and declaring “Everquest did it better”. Which, in almost every case, it did.

    Tab targeting is an interesting one, though. I’d been playing EQ and other MMOs for several years before I even heard the term. I didn’t start to use tab targeting at all until maybe 2003 and I have never used it routinely. I must have missed that part of the EQ manual because from the first day I played my first MMO, Everquest in late 1999, I targeted with the mouse pointer and that’s what I’ve preferred to do ever since.

    Whether I’m tanking, healing, on crowd control, doing dps duty, solo or in a group, PvE or PvP, if I can target with my mouse pointer I will. I also use the mouse pointer to operate the hot-keys on screen wherever possible. For years I actually believed using the keyboard for anything more than movement and chatting was tantamount to cheating.

    So, I could live happily without tab-targeting.

  • I miss DnD spellbooks. They added a real tactical element to every encounter.

  • I agree..and I thought that I am the minority or I got really old 🙂 Action combat is good and you can enjoy it for an hour or 2 but after that you become tired, at least me. I liked the combat in Tera but couldn’t play more than 1-2 hours until I get bored…I was so focused on combat that simply ignored everything else.

    I strongly prefer traditional tab – target system with moderate amount of abilities over anything else I have seen so far. I will dare to say that vanilla/TBC wow had it perfectly right.

  • Fewer abilities per character, more abilities overall. Make each class a specialist, bringing something unique and valuable to the group – tank, dps, heal, mez, slow, charm, dmg absorb, buffs, travel, etc. There are tons of neat roles that a game should have, but it’s all been dumbed down to “everyone can do everything!” because of the need to appeal to soloers, who are playing these games for all the wrong reasons anyway.

  • Abilities should have different uses depending on the situation. The problem with most mmorpgs now combat wise is the abilities all have very narrow, focused uses and the developer gives you too many. So instead of thinking how to best leverage your abilities to survive you just end up memorizing what to use when and what hot key to press.

    The best example of a felixible ability I can think of off the top of my head is a rifle skill in gw2 (jump shot I think). You could use it for burst dps, a gap closer, a gap creator, a combo field finisher, to travel from one ledge to another.

    Every ability should be a sandbox that opens up possibilities and forces the player to make choices on how to best use them tactically.

    Regarding the comment on elder scrolls combat, I hope it no one ever uses it again. I hate the hungry hungry hippos melee combat in those games…..

  • @Misaligned: EQ (later in its life) and EQ2 definitely got into the realm of way too many hotkeys. I think the SoE devs have come right out to say that EQ Next will not have as many hotkeys.

    @Balthazar: That’s funny; I too have several friends who all thought FFXIV combat was completely slow and boring, but I felt so relaxed and able to enjoy myself. I loved thinking “Okay I want to use this ability next” instead of having to remember to mash every ability when it gets off cooldown.

    @Filch: You bring up an amazing point. I hadn’t even thought to come at it from a social angle. You’re absolutely right, when combat requires too much action and hands on attention it becomes impossible to interact with others.

    @Solarbear: Heh, yep. I agree.

    @Bhagpuss: I never really tab targeted either until later. I think the term is more or less used to indicate a type of targeting system that ‘locks on’ to the target instead of hitting whatever is in your reach.

    @Jenks: Amen to that. I preach the same thing on a regular basis. Define roles, break them out, and quit homogenizing everything.

    @Fergor: Hah! That reminds me of Age of Conan’s combat. Every time I played I felt like I was playing a game of gory hungry hungry hippos.

  • I think Balthazar might be onto something here. The frenetic [?] pace of combat and kills-per-minute ratio bleeds out into a perception and approach to “a” game in general. I wonder if there are enough slow(er) paced MMOs out there to supply material to analyze if slower combat would lead to players being happier with a slower pace in game as well.

  • I also prefer less abilities. To keep a feeling of uniqueness and specialization though, I think that being able to specialize each ability would be nice.

    For example, lets say every cleric gets a Giant Hammer they can summon to fight for them. This ability is only one button on the UI. However, each cleric can specialize the Giant Hammer to do one of many things: heal them and their allies, cause slowing ice damage, burning fire damage, stun, etc. This way each cleric is a little more unique, and has important choices to make all while keeping the number of abilities low.

    Another way to do it is Warden combat in LotRO: 3 abilities lead to dozens of results. The cleanest UI I have ever had in a game except for maybe Allods. It has been quite a while since I played Allods but I seem to remember only having a half-dozen abilities on my melee healer and never thinking it was too few.

  • @Jada-K: I love the idea of specializing abilities. There might be a total of 10 unique abilities per class, but those 10 (when customized) could result in thousands of different combinations. Each ability could essentially have custom slotting, or a tree associated with it. Fascinating possibilities there.

  • I hate hotkey combat. I’m talking wow, vanguard and other games with more required abilitys than you have easy access to.
    Guild wars with 8 was good although became cooldown combat, ddo’s action combat wad enjoyable but too fast paced, ryzom had a good system with customizeable skills such I’d like to see more of but I think the best thing we could do would be to add the old systems of kiting, controlling, mezzing, buffing, debuffing and others that created unique classes, reasons to group and variety. Slow down the pace of pre and post combat to aid the social element and that will be s winner

  • Some of the problem with MMO combat might be in the sheer amount of battles any given character goes through to reach end game. After hours, days, weeks of grind, any combat system can potentially become boring.
    For some reason the Final Fantasy console games popped into my head when thinking about this topic. I recently played the FF7 pc release and was shocked at how my tolerance for grind had become extremely high. Back in the day when that game came out I remember thinking how loooong it was and getting annoyed with how many fights there were. This play through seemed a breeze and I even went out of my way to level all the characters and their abilities etc. Weird thing was though, most of the fights (like 90%) involved just hitting the same button every time to make the party physical attack. And I was ok with this. The good fights like Zolom and Ruby and other bosses took a lot of strategy and were the highlights of the game.
    I think that if MMORPG’s could have a HEAVY focus on other aspects of play besides combat, then boring combat would be ok as long as there are a few fun fights scattered around.

  • I think the slower pace of early EQ combat, along with the forced grouping, pulling, and downtime, worked together to create an unforgettable social experience for many of us. I think they all need to go together though. You can’t just slap slow combat on a solo centric MMO.

    And now for something completely different. You guys really have to try this game. It has me completely addicted.

  • I actually like telegraphing and active dodging – it doesn’t even have to be dodging, I’m OK with blocking, interrupting, walking out etc. but I prefer monsters indicating their attacks over having to learn “every 30,5 s the dragon does a tail sweep in 57,3 degree angle and 25 m distance…” by heart. I believe the latter gives a too big disadvantage to those who like to learn by trying instead of checking Internet guides.

    @Bhagpuss, I think “tab targeting” is a name for system that uses “sticky” targets and homing spells; I’m sure there is more people like you who prefer to chose the targets using their mouse rather than cycling through them with tab. (I do as well.)

    One thing I am unsure about is the downtime. (Recently, I played quite a bit of RO and GW2, whose approaches on combat downtime are like day and night. Especially if you do not have access to a priest/HP/AB.) I think downtime can be very good for groups as it gives them chance to socialize, however it has two big problems: First, it is bad for soloers who have to sit at their computers doing nothing. Second, due to buffs characters usually bring, it is usually going to be bigger for soloers than for groups, while the desired effect would be the opposite.