I guess auto-attack — that default, base-line damage attack that your character will perform over and over again without additional input — can be seen as a relic of early MMO design. Back in the day, it was standard to start up auto-attacking and only occasionally trigger special attacks, skills, and spells. But now we’re getting more and more into an era of action MMOs, and auto-attack is a casualty of “progress.”
Now, I’m not against action MMOs nor strictly for them; I’d rather evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. Games where the left mouse-button can be held down for a stream of basic attacks (Marvel Heroes, Neverwinter) sort of feels like auto-attack to me, and so I don’t mind so much. But yeah, I wish that my character in The Secret World would fire off a few weak shotgun attacks if I wasn’t doing anything else, and I really never liked how SWTOR lacked auto-attacks as part of its design.
In a weird way, not having auto-attacks makes combat feel more draining because I’m constantly having to mash keys or else my character will just stand around like a dummy. It’s the one thing I don’t like about WildStar’s combat, particularly because there’s so much movement involved. When I’m constantly moving to avoid attacks, I don’t or can’t always have an attack skill going. It’d be nice if my character would just know how to attack on his or her own for those few seconds.
It makes me really appreciate how Guild Wars 2 handled its action combat. It’s mobile and fast-paced, yet your character knows well enough to run through default attacks if your cooldowns are not up or you just have other things going on.
So devs, please don’t give up on auto-attack in your mad stampede to make MMOs an arcade button-mashing experience. There’s a lot of good still left in the traditional control scheme and I’d hate to see that go away.