The other night in WildStar guild teamspeak, a group of us got into it over the subject of combat systems in MMOs. I voiced my opinion that while there’s so much about WildStar that I love, it’s highly twitchy and constantly mobile action combat system is somewhere down toward the bottom of the list. I’m not terrible at it and I’ve made my peace with how it works, but to me it’s not as interesting or engaging as, say, tab-targeting GCD titles.
For example, every fight with my Engineer more or less goes the same. I hold down my main attack button so that it starts auto-firing and then I quickly jam out all of the remaining abilities in rapid order (usually between six and nine additional skills). Then I keep auto-firing while I wait for those ablities to recharge and continue to spam them out as they come back online. That’s it.
It might be nice not to have to wait for a global cooldown, but at the same time I lose any sense of how each skill impacts the fight because they’re all going off together. It’s just a bunch of button-smashing to get the DPS meter up, throw out some buffs and debuffs, and hope that things die quick.
Not every WildStar class or build is that frantic, of course, but even as I’ve tried other ones, I’ve found that the game’s combat ultimately requires more keystrokes as I’m constantly moving and firing off multiple rotations for a single encounter. This was even worse in The Secret World, of course, because those battles can be so long as to have their own epochs named after them. Probably the most I’ve come to liking an action combat MMO was Neverwinter, and that only because it utilized the mouse so much.
Part of my dislike of action combat is that it feels as though MMOs are trying to compromise to the dumber, simpler console titles — you know, the ones that look beautiful but are slowly and surely taking information and choice away from their gamers, as if they couldn’t be trusted. I’m not the only one who’s noticed how in Fallout 4 the game outright hides kind of important statistics and information when it comes to shaping your character through perks and stats. Nah, we’re just all going to button mash, so what’s the point, really?
Maybe that’s being willfully blind and a little bitter, but I don’t think — for MMOs and RPGs — that I’ll ever grow to like action combat as much or even more than the older systems. I love having hotbars that give choices and offer a slightly slower-paced but more strategic combat system. Positioning? Not every fight has to be a mimicry of a boss battle where you’re constantly dodging out of red circles (because this gets downright silly when you’re fighting dodos and level 10 bandits).
In WildStar I’ve even started to get stubborn about NOT moving out of telegraphs, a stubbornness that I can afford due to heavier armor and a lack of caring whether or not an attack will kill me. I’m rejecting the game trying to make me some twitchy bunny player. No, I’m more stoic: I want to plant my feet, tab onto a target, and start unloading skills until one of us is dead.
I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for a comprise between the two systems, you can’t really do better than Guild Wars 2. Yes, that combat system had some issues — the telegraphs were messy and hard to see (especially when multiple ones overlapped) and identifying what skills people were using to chain off of was a pipe dream of the developers more than a reality of regular grouping. But the combat felt good. Animations, sounds, pacing, the amount of outgoing damage — it all had a really great feel to it. It was a little faster and more flexible than the traditional tab-targeting setup but less “ahh! run! duck! weave! juke! firefirefirefire!” than action systems.
That isn’t even to say that it has to be one or the other or a hybrid. There are other possibilities out there. Two other (much less used) systems include turn-based combat (such as Wakfu) and a kind of “wind them up and let them go” automatic combat.
Could a better MMO combat system be made? Maybe, but I really don’t mind sticking with what works and has worked well for years. If developers are going to try to improve these systems, by all means go ahead and try, but don’t just do it to try to be like the non-MMO crowd. I mean, who’s that worked for? Destiny?
Aw crap. We’re stuck with this type of thing, aren’t we?