Grappling with combat mechanics

combatWhile one might chalk this up to middle age, the truth is that my dislike for fancy combat mechanics in video games has been pretty much a running theme for my entire career. I appreciate that game designers want to keep shaking things up with new combat systems and styles, but thank you but no thank you for me.

I don’t really like combo systems nor mechanics that require me to build up certain resources to expend them. Usually this comes down to UI frustrations. In combat, my eyes are on the action and not on my hotbar or anywhere toward the bottom or the edge of the screen. I want to be able to attack with the keyboard from muscle memory, relying mostly on a tried and true rotation with the occasional special thrown in depending on the circumstances.

What I don’t want to have to do is to keep flicking my eyes down to see if I have enough go-juice to power an ability or if I’ve proc’d a certain skill or if I’ve built up sixteen tiny buffs that can now be spent. Yet if the game works with me, I’m willing to meet it halfway.

For example, my SWTOR Operative has combat abilities that rely on a two-stacking buff called tactical advantage. There are certain skills that will always trigger a TA and throw a buff up on the screen informing me of the fact, but better yet, my agent does this little audio chuckle to let me know that one is good to go. It might be silly, but that audio cue makes fighting with this mechanic silky smooth — I don’t have to look down to see the buff, I just know it’s there from the sound. Really, any audio or visual cue that the devs can arrange around my character is a great help when it comes to fiddly mechanics.

Classes that require a lot of high maintenance to get fighting properly usually turn me off. I’ve been struggling with Psylocke in Marvel Heroes due to her style, and there are a LOT of other characters in that game that are built on quirky mechanics that are more trouble than they’re worth.

I’m a traditionalist — I like having an energy or mana bar that skills draw power from, or better yet, skills that simply have cooldowns of varying times depending on their power.

This is why I’m struggling with my Engineer in WildStar; I hate the volatility mechanic, which runs through most skills. There’s one skill that I can set up to be insta-fired if my volatility is between 30 and 70, but in the thick of combat I don’t have time to be looking down to see if I’m in the sweet zone. Thank goodness I’ve found at least one rotation that’s pretty much frustration-free.

What combat playstyle mechanics do you like and which do you hate?


5 thoughts on “Grappling with combat mechanics

  1. Arcadius September 2, 2015 / 9:37 am

    I am absolutely with you here. Mechanics should get out of the way and let me interact with the world. Most things should be intuitive. In fact, the world should be far more interesting than my buttons. To me this is one major distinction between an arcade game, which is all about the buttons, and an RPG, which is about the world and the story.

    Double-resource classes (like WoW monk healing or the DK) also come to mind as a way to make gameplay more challenging without actually making the combat more interesting. SWTOR sniper rolls into cover have the same affect – an artificial constraint on the way I play my character. (Of course, crouch is the answer.)

  2. C. T. Murphy September 2, 2015 / 9:59 am

    This doesn’t bother me. In most cases, including the Engineer, there’s a steady pace and rotation to things, even with a semi-volatile resource system on top. With enough practice, I can time things without having to look at the UI as much, which is what I end up doing with most any class, including those who run primarily on cooldowns.

  3. Atheren September 2, 2015 / 10:14 am

    As I arrange my toolbar I stick actions that are combos or require a buildup on the far right and work them into the rotation if I see they’re available, but I mostly use straight up actions that I can rely on.

  4. Rowan September 2, 2015 / 11:27 am

    This is one reason I liked the combat in TSW (that so many said was “clunky” without ever elaborating further). Eight actions fit (with keys to spare) on two rows of my Razer Nostromo. Two builder and two finishers on the main row specials and cooldowns on the secondary. I loved that it freed me to watch the action instead of my bars (especially with my background as a healbot in WoW raids) Loved it. The aegis killed my love, though. I dislike the “everything plus the kitchen sink” button mania in WoW-clones like SWTOR.

  5. Dahakha September 3, 2015 / 4:58 am

    The main thing I have trouble with is keeping track of essential buffs and dots that use those combo resources. I’m thinking Feral Druid in WotLK WoW here – keeping 2 bleeds up, a self buff, and trying to maximise the resources on the main burst attack…so much trouble.

    I played a Balance Druid in WoW, and the Eclipse mechanic was interesting, but hard to get used to. I never got to play the new version in Draenor, though, and the description sounds horrific to me – a continuously changing meter that dictates what your strongest spells are, and you have no control over it? No thanks.

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