Old School vs. Modern MMO Combat

MMO CombatAs I continue to play EverQuest and dabble in the older MMOs it’s clear how combat and strategy has changed over the years.  Modern MMOs are all about pressing buttons.  How fast you can press your left mouse button, how well you execute keystrokes in order, where you’ve macroed your abilities, and whether or not you can time your keystrokes properly can be the difference between a mediocre player and a pro.  I’m overwhelmed with the number of abilities I have to have up on my hotbars, and how often I’m having to actively click, press, or faceroll.

Older games, or modern games built in a traditional style, are more about resource management.  I was in Sol A yesterday, and I would rarely use any abilities at all.  I made sure everyone in my group was buffed with breeze and quickness — which effectively doubled their dps, mez’d incoming adds, and debuffed mobs.  I think in a fight I pressed 4 keys then sat down.  Other classes may have the freedom to use abilities one after another, but managing mana is huge.  A wizard might be able to nuke non-stop but that same wizard will then be useless the next fight, or lack the mana to unload in a pinch.

Older games are about strategy, thinking ahead, and overcoming odds.  Modern games are about executing tactics and brute force.  There isn’t a ‘better’ way here, but they are quite different.  The latter, modern way, is more in-line with other modern games.  This generation is interested in action.  Any action will do, and they’ll all likely lead to success if done properly or frequently enough.  Older games are about choosing which path to take, knowing full well that failure is possible.  These are woven into the split-second decisions made during combat.  Do I pull this mob, or that one?  Do I use this ability or wait a few seconds? Which spells should I memorize (because I can’t use them all)  These decisions have been taken away from modern gamers.

It’s like the difference between Hungry Hungry Hippos and Risk — obviously two amazing but different games.  Where do I fall? You probably think I’m going to say I like the slower, more methodical gameplay.  I’m actually in the middle.  I think anyone who swings to either extreme and blatantly hates the other side needs to wake up. The answer isn’t in slow combat that was slow because of technological restrictions.  It’s also not in action combat designed to bring in non-MMO gamers.  Merge the two.  Make players have to think about which abilities they use instead of how frequently they use them, and restore that split-second decision.

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  • EverQuest also had a thing where you really had to “allow” your tanks to hold aggro. As a wizard I wouldn’t even stand up until the mob was at 80%. A wizard that nuked too early was a dead wizard. I liked the managing resources aspect. I nuked just often enough to keep myself at about 80%+ mana and that was okay. Nukes were powerful enough to be used as an occasional attack. And keeping that mana in reserve lets you put down several mobs in short order when a pull does go bad.

    Now this doesn’t mean that all slow combat is good, like you already mention. If it’s just slow because no reason then that’s boring. There needs to be strategy. There needs to be the opportunity to go explosive mode but have to rest afterward.

  • I think that FF14 will hit that sweet spot between old and modern. It wasn’t quite evident at lower levels, there was very little down time during any of the early dungeons I was in except during some of the bosses. I noticed I was running out of TP rather quickly during bosses, and had to slow my pace down. It was kind of nice, since I had gotten so used to just spamming hotkeys as quickly as possible with other games. I could see it scaling up as well for higher level content where you have to pay a little more attention to your resources and what’s going on than in some other recent games.

    At least, I hope that’s how it’ll be since I am planning on rolling a bard and I’d be pretty useless if my buffs don’t actually make that much of a difference.

  • I really don’t know what to like most. I like the simple combat and players have specific roles. I didn’t played Everquest, but from your Description I liked very much the role you played in the group. Reminded me my chanter in Aion and the Shaman in early wow.

    I don’t know if it is possible to find the sweet spot to combat and combine slow/strategic combat with a little bit of action paced combat. If the combat is not fast/responsive it feels “clunky” (like Lotro for example), but from the other hand if the combat is like guitar hero is not fun and don’t let you experience the game and the environment cause you are too focused on execution of the buttons rather than the environment. So I cannot imagine a middle solution. Of course I am not a developer and my imagination may suck :).

    I was playing Might and Magic lately and i was always thinking if this will ever be possible to implemented on an MMORPG..Imagine a group of players each wait his turn to use the correct ability..That would be very strategic combat, but this gow to the category of very slow combat, not the sweet spot you try to achieve 🙂

  • UO you would have characters that do one thing well, halberd corp por, stay on a mage with katana and poison, eat someone away with mace stamina. It was all very simple but worked great. Hell some people had carpenters who blocked people in with boxes and poisoned them. I miss such simple greatness.

  • I am in the middle of the road, wanting something in between as well. A lot of this Risk-style play disappeared when people didn’t need to prepare spellbooks and parties did not have to plan around rests.

  • “I think anyone who swings to either extreme and blatantly hates the other side needs to come to wake up.”

    I need to come wake up, then. I swing so far to the one side that I’m not even on your scale, I would love to try an MMORPG with a semi turn based combat system.

  • Jenks, I would love a good turn-based MMO as well. I have played a few but the execution just wasn’t there. The best MMO I’ve played with turn-based fighting was Wakfu but the game itself just seemed overly shallow.

    Something set up like an old Final Fantasy, gather a party of 4 – 5, and head out, using ATB to fight would seem like it could be a very cool game to try.

  • @Jenks: That’s called writing too quickly an correcting a thought. I was going to say come to the table and agree, but then I decided they probably need to just wake up. 😉

  • I think the nature of these two combat styles basically falls to the complexity of the decisions involved.

    For example, watching a beginner try to play speed chess.

    It’s a complete train wreak, because without previous experience, the complexity of the outcomes is just simply too much to comprehend quickly.

    At the other end, you have a first person shooter, where twitch reflexes are more important than repercussions.

    Imagine an FPS where each person had an energy shield they could put up for 3 seconds, where if shot the attacker is immediately killed. It would completely modify the flow of the game. Weapons with travel time would be discarded in favor of weapons able to punch quickly through the gaps in the shield. Much of the flow of the game would be removed.

    The same goes for MMO combat. Not enough “Actions” and you’re left feeling like you’re standing around watching the game, rather than playing it. Too much and developers are forced to simplify the game play to avoid overloading the player.

    Not to mention the sheer lack of perseverance in gamers these days. I recall interviews with the GW2 devs where a lot of their systems had to be modified because players simply got frustrated and quit.

    I think once lag becomes less of an issue, you’ll actually start to see proper AI in MMo’s. Once that happens, you’ll be able to have complex combat (flanking, blocking, cover, high ground advantage, counter spelling etc). While lag is present, you run the risk of the response times being too slow to make that kind of interactive play possible.