Readers of Bio Break know that when it comes to The Secret World’s combat system, I have often been quite disparaging about it. It’s functional without the fun, a system that I have forced myself to make a certain peace with because I love the rest of the game itself. It’s just never been enjoyable to take on mobs in a way that I have in other MMOs, and I have no qualms putting TSW toward the bottom of a list ranking MMO combat systems.
As you may have seen from reading some of the comments on my TSW posts, there is an ardent defender of TSW’s combat out there: Tyler of Superior Realities. Now I want to preface this by saying that I really do like Tyler, I read his blog all of the time, and I’ve never had a problem with him providing devil’s advocate comments about the combat system here on the blog. But after reading his post this week stating that The Secret World’s combat is “fine,” I felt a rebuttal welling up and wanted to get it out there (but in all fairness, please go read his piece first).
It’s not just Tyler. There seems to be a sect of players that don’t merely appreciate and enjoy TSW’s combat but also feel affronted at all of the criticism that has been thrown against the system to the point of rising in defense whenever it is mentioned. And as there has been a whole lot of criticism, it’s been a neverending crusade to convince people that they’re actually wrong — the combat is fine, they just don’t understand it or their criticisms are invalid. Or that they’re part of a weird conspiracy against Funcom to slander the company/game and they never liked TSW to begin with.
Frankly, I kind of find it silly to try to convince someone what what they dislike is something they actually should like, especially when it comes to games. Subjective experiences and feelings are not something that you can debate with other people. I subjectively like key lime pie and you subjectively hate it, there’s no right or wrong here unless you can take it to an objective level. There can be reasons behind your subjective judgment, particularly when it comes to a leisure activity. When hobbies are designed to entertain us, then it stands to reason that some of that entertainment is not going to fit everyone’s whims and needs and tastes.
Video games have a feel to each of them as part of the design, and if that feel is off, players know it. They may not be able to put an exact finger on it like some seasoned critics do, but they can tell when a character doesn’t control right, when camera angles are off, when there is no solid visual and audible feedback on skills, when there is lag, when rotations don’t flow, and so on. It’s why polish and testing is so essential to getting this feel right. And MMOs have not had the best of track records on polish, particularly the further back you go in time. We played the games despite the janky controls and obtuse systems because there were other elements we really liked about them.
World of Warcraft’s accomplishment was making a game that played and felt good right down to the individual elements of movement, combat, and UI. Even today, it’s a tight, responsive game with enjoyable skills and fun combat. WildStar had terrific movement animation and controls. Guild Wars 2 paid extra careful attention to stances and fluid combat animations. It’s gotten better, generally, even in older MMOs that have been brought up to modern standards.
But let’s be honest here: a lot of people very much did not enjoy The Secret World’s combat from the beginning through today. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s an oft-cited reason why otherwise interested players rejected the game. In the Massively OP office, we have MJ who is netural-to-approving about the combat, me who is mildly disapproving of the combat, and at least three other staffers who gave up on the game citing the combat specifically. When Secret World Legends was announced, we saw a lot of resurgence of interest for the game, particularly at the mention of a combat revamp. Just lightly perusing our leaderboard poll and announcement post, I see comments like:
- I could not stand the combat. It was too boring.
- If they fixed the boring combat I may consider coming back. I just do not enjoy the combat in that game at all!
- I’m also worried about the combat system. Sure I’d like it to feel more fluid and dynamic, but that’s a function of a clunky engine than the ability wheel design.
- If the combat and graphics gets an overhaul, then I’ll give it a go.
- There was nothing wrong with the game what so ever other than the clunky combat.
- I own The Secret World and may well contemplate returning to the game, as long as they overhaul the combat. As it stands at the moment it is the most tedious and unenjoyable I have encountered in a MMO.
- All depends if they scrap that godawful combat system and totally replace the whole thing with something better, or if they just band-aid it.
- I think I’ve said this every time I’ve posted about TSW… tried playing this many times, love the story/lore/puzzles, lacklustre combat drives me away every time.
- Movement, combat and animation is disjointed and clunky now. I’m not certain they can bring it up to minimal standards.
- Updated combat system with hopefully a little bit more twitch, and better animations will bring me right back to TSW.
- Story could go on, and all the goodness that is TSW, but it would never be a great game because of the clunky animations and combat.
So many of these posts don’t have a tone of “screw TSW, I hate that game!” but rather “It’s a shame, I wanted to like it, but this particular system turned me off of it.” And that’s what I’ve been hearing and even saying over the past five years. Objectively, there are players who do not like this system and have elevated it as one of the biggest problems the game has. Whether you like TSW’s combat or not, it’s hard to bend over backwards to ignore that this is an issue and has been for a while.
Tyler’s post goes on to speculate that the problem comes not from the mechanics but more the ability wheel and build system. I disagree; I love the ability wheel, and while it might be a little complex at first, I’ve almost never seen someone cite it as one of the problems of the combat system. Rather, a slew of slightly-to-severely off elements are fingered: animations, “floatiness,” time-to-kill, lack of solid-feeling/sounding abilities, lackluster mob reaction, and the incredibly tedious builder/finisher spamming. The sum of which is a combat system that isn’t polished and doesn’t feel right at all to many players.
Here’s where Tyler and I come back in agreement. We both obviously love the game, want to keep playing it, and want the best possible future for it. We would love to have more people come into the game and enjoy it. We like having the freedom to build your own character and adjust to combat challenges with different builds. And we are a little nervous about what Funcom is doing to the combat in Secret World Legends.
From what little I saw on the dev livestream, SWL is skewing more to a Neverwinter-style of reticle action combat. Now, Neverwinter’s combat is quite decent, but it’s much further along the spectrum toward action combat than tab-targeting. TSW tried to straddle that spectrum to mixed results, and I’ve always felt its combat would have been so much better as tab-targeting, especially considering that the game skewed more to the “thinking/strategic” gamer than the twitch-heavy action junkie. From what little I saw, the combat isn’t that much improved or different, save for that they got rid of the double-tap to dodge (er, why?) and they’re adding overheating mechanics. Oh, and apparently shotguns are super-complex for reasons unbeknownst to me.
As I’ve proved by playing TSW for five years, bad combat isn’t a deal-breaker, but I was sincerely hoping that it would be getting better with a relaunch. I’ve got to get my hands on it to see how it feels and to see how the UI changes help to explain the mix-and-match build system, but I haven’t seen or heard anything right now that gives me great hope in this regard. If not done right, as with much of this relaunch, it could both drive away the faithful and fail to attract a whole new crowd. Let’s just say that if it makes both Tyler and I grumpy, then it won’t be a good sign at all. We shall see.
14 thoughts on “The Secret World’s combat is not fine — and it probably won’t be, either”
Mmmm.. Key Lime Pie.
Chalk me up in the camp that wanted to love and play TSW, loved the ability wheels and deep and rich options there, but hated the way the combat actually played out. Not sure why either, just felt off. I wished there was a story mode where combat was minimized (detective mode?) so I could fully explore the world and adventures. This is why I am very much looking for TSWL as it gives me a chance to see if they improved upon that.
I am mindful of the many people who love the game as it is, and how this hurts and scares them for the future of the game. I am not advocating for these changes to take away from their experiences – I am advocating them to improve mine. As is, there isn’t much of a chance for me (or many others) to play, and clearly there isn’t enough players paying enough money to keep the status quo (or they would). They are willing to bet the farm. They did. The dice are rolling…
I hope the result is something that can engage existing players, past players, and new players. The IP and world deserves it.
I’m another one that bought it and gave up on it pretty quickly despite liking the world and the stories very much. The combat was both very dull (being far too repetitive) and very time-consuming (taking a lot of spamming to finish off mobs). Doing something very dull for long periods of time is not something I am ever up for.
As you say the people that love it have to at least recognize that many of us don’t, and that the “many” includes folks like me who are perfectly willing to spend time figuring out systems and reading guides, and indeed enjoy that aspect of working towards mastering games.
The other big problem with TSW for me is that it had by far the worst performance of any MMO I’ve tried.
If Funcom fixed those two things (boring combat + rotten performance) I would gladly return. But I have to say, it doesn’t sound like either of those things will be happening.
Under most circumstances I would tend to agree that you can’t place objective determinations on something that is so subjective. For example, I strongly dislike the combat in SW:TOR, but while I do think there are things that are objectively bad about it, I don’t think I could say that someone is objectively wrong for liking it while I dislike it.
I recognize that saying people are objectively wrong for disliking TSW’s combat is a strong statement to make, and in some cases it may well just boil down to taste, but there’s just so much about the criticism that simply doesn’t add up that I have to conclude something funky is going on here.
The fact is virtually every criticism that has ever been leveled against TSW’s combat is either true of a slew of other MMOs (poor animations, lack of impact) or something you can fix by tweaking your build (slow time to kill, too much builder/consumer spam).
It is also entirely possible to like the ability wheel and still be tripped up by it. I don’t think the lack of vocalized complaints about the build system disproves that it is the source of combat complaints. Indeed, pretty much the whole premise of my post is that people don’t realize what’s really going on here. And I don’t mean that as a dig at them — it’s a very easy mistake to make.
Still, props for a well-written and respectful rebuttal. Don’t see a lot of those anymore.
I think Tyler makes a fair point in that a lot of MMO combat is rather repetitive. – after all “grind” and “grindy” are some of the most commonly used terms when talking about MMOs.
In my case it’s not that I don’t find repetitive and prolonged combat boring in other games, it’s that TSW is further along that spectrum than the ones I do stick with. I’m playing LOTRO again now, but I had all but stopped for pretty long time, and that was in fair part because getting through the quest combat was getting monotonous.
It doesn’t say a lot for the genre that we often feel either “Yeah, the game has a lot of boring parts, but overall it’s worth it for the good stuff” or “Yeah, the game has some good stuff, but it’s not worth it cos so much boring stuff to get through to get to the good bits”.
For me, I never minded the combat. I used a high health, big regen on strike fist/chaos build for the most part when leveling/progressing through the story. TTK was slow but I also never died, so… I was happy enough with it. Once I got through Transylvania and was QL10 I started looking up builds, making my own, etc. Never minded the 5 builder 2 finisher rotation.
But then in Tokyo….. AEGIS system. I dunno why but I just despised it. Even though mechanically it became a non-issue very quickly, even just knowing it existed just put this mental block on me. I finished the original Tokyo stuff, and I bought the issues up through Orochi Tower, but… I never made it to the tower, actually. I just stopped playing. I liked the game well enough, but for all that everyone loves the story that’s never been compelling to me, so it’s not the story that got me to play. And so there just wasn’t enough pull in the game for me to log in and deal with AEGIS anymore. I drifted away…. eventually uninstalled it when I realized I simply wasn’t logging in, not even for the events and whatnot. I just didn’t care anymore.
So for me it was AEGIS, not “combat as a whole.” Well, and I’d filled out the wheel, so I didn’t feel like I was really progressing anymore. I think that was the biggest thing — story didn’t keep me coming, the feeling of progression was. Once the wheel was done, so was I, I guess.
Sure it’s a matter of taste. But over the five years, a lot of complaints about TSWs combat system accumulated which just don’t add up and often don’t make any sense.
First of all on the one point where i fully agree on a problem with TSW: the “feeling” of combat very much depends on the games performance. On my old (dual core) CPU the game ran perfectly well and combat felt snappy and perfectly fine. On my much newer quad-core CPU the game actually runs a little worse, as it refuses to use more than one core. Since CPU and northbridge are optimized for multi-core use, TSW actually runs worse, despite the CPU also being a bit higher clocked than the old one. This small difference in performance translates into things in game sometimes also feel a little sluggish and not responsive enough.
So this is the one aspect where i understand where some of the “combat is bad” comments come from. When your CPU is not suitable for the game, and unfortunately that means when your CPU is actually new and perfect for about anything else on the market today, your experience can suffer. The big problem is that the new game uses the very same engine, so the very feeling of the game sometimes being a bit sluggish will be found again by people who have too new hardware. (Or AMD CPUs in general, at least pre-Ryzen, as AMD CPUs generally have lower single-core performance. )
That being said, i am still very critical about many of the complaints about the combat system. After all, many other things TSW is called out for to be bad is the very same in many other games. Most elements of TSWs combat are similar or even the same in GW2. Often there is the complaint about bad and unrealistic animations. In fact, TSW is one of the few games where a friend of mine who’s heavily into martial arts (during university time he did Karate and Kendo, by now he is into HEMA and is interested in about anything where you swing weapons around) actually looked at the sword moves and told me that they reminded him on some actually existing technique. I don’t remember any more what technique and school it was, but it’s more than most other games, no matter if MMO or not, can account for. (Like, in most games swords are swung like heavy hammers and shields are regularliy moved behind the back as counterweight. The very last move an actual fighter would do in his career… )
The often cited GW2 only “wins” by covering up a lot of its animation flaws under several layers of particle effects, if you switch those off and watch the animations again, many class/race/weapon combinations actually are terribly bad. (Yes, some are absolutely gorgeous and several are also well animated, but they are not consistent. )
The other often heard complaint about TSW is variety of animations. For that i can just repeat the challenge: just go ahead and simply -describe- 10 clearly different ways of shooting an assault rifle in standing position. (After all, all combat in MMOs is mobile, so kneeling or going prone is no option. ) But please keep them realistic and don’t make them look goofy… sorry, there’s only so many ways somebody can shoot a firearm, and some pistol and shotgun animations are already stretching the limit, so asking for more (often while at the same demanding more relistic animations) just seems weird to me.
The next thing is that many people who complained about combat really complained that it took too long. And i just can repeat, not only is my main in TSW well geared, i also have characters of all classes in GW2, most of them with ascended weapons and trinkets and some in fully ascended equipment. And within the scale of “similar enemies”, i find that my character in TSW can kill faster than those in GW2, when running an optimized setup on either of them.
So i am sorry, but a lot of the complaints in my eyes really boil down to people not caring for their setup, then complaining that combat would be bad.
The next frequent complaint is about the builder and consumer system, that it would be bad and boring. There my thoughts are along two lines. The first one is that i can see something like that in most MMOs. Sure it’s varied in one way or another, but even GW2 has some “build up and consume” system, e.g. on the Thief and Revenant, as well as in some way for the Warrior. They all function a bit different, but unnoticed by many, builders and consumers also worked a bit different on different weapons of TSW. This goes into the second line of thought, that while beginners were usually given a 5/1/1 setup for easy use, there’s so much more you could squeeze out of TSW if you invested the thought and effort. Of course, that also required much more complex rotations, double-consumers, target switching, etc. (to use up ressources built up on other targets) and thus were not beginner friendly. So they of course were not handed out to beginners, but the option was there. The real problem only is that most people never learned enough about the systems to understand and use them.
So i guess this is the second point (first one the technical problems) where the game failed: properly educating the player. The game made the mistake of treating every player as sentient and willing and able to invest brainpower. Unfortunately it turned out that the combination of these three requirements was not true. (Often it failed at point 3, where people just followed the line that they came home from work and wanted to relax in a game and not be challenged. )
Educating the player and giving more assistance would have been very helpful. The now chosen path of giving the player a deck right from the start is a good idea, i wish the original game would’ve had that. It would’ve avoided so many problems…
So this is the very only thing the new implementation seems to fix for me. But it splits the old playerbase. It already now drives them away. Before SWL was announced i signed up for dungeons and was in a group in minutes. Now i log in, sign up for any role, tank and healer included, and nothing happens for 30 minutes, before i also get bored and decide to play something else. This is even before the new game is out, so it’s not hard to predict what will happen to the “but it won’t be shut down” old game.
At the same time migrating brings a lot of problems. I don’t know if i will enjoy the new system, but based on the player skills and habbits of my girl (who i met i this game) as well as her reaction on the first preview very much tells me that she will suffer and won’t be able to keep up. I also hate loosing a friend list built up over five years. Some of the people there only log in once every few months, but i enjoy meeting them again and chatting with them. But hey… it’s so easy to kill that, so why not, eh?
That’s all without taking a look at five years of progress. I mean hey, it’s an MMO, progress is not an integral part of it, right? But i really wonder. 155 days played, although the game is advertised of having about 100 hours of story. So what’s the other 150 days? A lot of it was social interaction and doing dungeons and raids. But why should i do that again? If FC eagerly takes away anything now without any compensation, what would prevent them to just drop everything again in a year? There’s not a lot of motivation to invest into the new game for the mere hope that it -might- in the future get new content. I am sorry, but i consider it very likely that till that happens, i will be deeply rooted in another game and won’t give TSW more than a glancing look any more. This move effectively kills the existing playerbase, and i have strong doubts that it manages to really attract so many new players to compensate for that.
“AEGIS system. I dunno why but I just despised it. Even though mechanically it became a non-issue very quickly, even just knowing it existed just put this mental block on me.”
Interesting. I admire your honesty there. After all, my experience also is that AEGIS by itself is not a big deal. When people in my Cabal came to Tokyo the first time, they usually asked the very same few questions, got the same answers and were good to go. So for them just the Cabal being there to provide some info was enough, most got along with Aegis without problems, some even enjoyed it. (The only thing i really hated was that progress over 2.0 required loot which had to be farmed. As i hated the farming, i never completed the Tokyo dungeons in nightmare difficulty, i avoided the grind… )
So yes, Aegis was terribly introduced, had a number of issues in the first month or two, but was brought into useable shape after that and about six months later got another rework, after which is turned out to be a mostly good system. Unfortunately many people never “forgave” the first bad impression and continued hating it, never giving it the chance to redeem itself.
“Well, and I’d filled out the wheel, so I didn’t feel like I was really progressing anymore. I think that was the biggest thing — story didn’t keep me coming, the feeling of progression was. Once the wheel was done, so was I, I guess”
That’s a reason why i quit number of MMOs. The whole “been there, done that” feeling. So i consider it fascinating how TSW kept me that long, but i just felt more at home at its community than in the community of about any other MMO i ever played. I also have to say, the story alone of TSW wouldn’t have kept me for five years. No matter how good it is, it’s not all that much. And as already posted, if the game manages to get rid of me now, which it is likely to manage, even new content is unlikely to make me return. Time will tell, but my optimism is “limited”.
The combat is meh, not terrible. It’s unexciting, functional, dull. This is why I strongly questioned Tyler’s equating of TSW’s combat with GW2’s, which is fast, explosive, fluid and fun. It isn’t really about whether TSW’s combat system works or not; it isn’t even about time to kill or builder/finisher spam. It’s about whether or not it feels good.
For whatever reason it clearly doesn’t feel good for a lot of people who’ve tried it. A lot of this is individual taste. I personally have never understood what’s supposed to be so great about WoW’s combat, which feels fairly flat to me, but clearly a large number of people feel good when they fight stuff in WoW and not good when they do the same in TSW so even though they both feel there and thereabouts the same to me I temper my assumptions about the relative qualities accordingly.
I have absolutely no expectation that combat will feel better in SWL though. For me I am certain it will feel worse because I hate mouselock, while for people who hated TSW’s combat I suspect it won’t be different enough to matter.
As already said, i think a big factor if combat feels good or bad in TSW is how it performs on your hardware. It is a performance hog and i by now know how it feels on two different systems. On one it was fun to play for me, on the other it also became a bit exhausting and frustrating at some times.
If somebody doesn’t know the “good state”, i know how he feels about it. Most of the bad things people note i just can’t see or understand, but this difference is very noticeable. Unfortunately the very same people on the very same computer will have the very same sluggish behaviour with the new combat system, so nothing is gained. 😦
I think a lot of the combat complaints fall under three categories:
1 – People who wanted another zombie fighting action game (this is not what TSW is our should be, but that’s apparently what FC wants to make it now)
2 – People who truly did not enjoy the combat, but loved the rest of the game (the majority of lapsed players probably reside here, as well as more than a few who toughed it out because the rest of the game was enjoyable enough)
3 – People who made poor weapon combo choices early on and never figured out how to salvage the character (these are people who probably would not have liked some of the other challenging parts of the game, honestly)
I really feel like FC is listening to people in the first category above all else and to everyone’s detriment. The combat in TSW isn’t the greatest, but it is unique. I appreciate it for trying something a little different, even if people lampoon them for it. They probably could have addressed these issues without a relaunch, and definitely should have done so years ago. They have no one to blame but themselves, though. Plenty of players stuck around, spent money and kept the game in the revenue positive category for years, even after regular content updates ended (2 years ago, now). Despite a buy, subscribe, DLC and cash shop business model at launch that pushed a lot of people away, they stuck with it for a long time, only dropping the mandatory sub after they realized it was a noose around their necks. They should have seen the combat as the other noose. Too many weapons that just didn’t work together, especially early on in the game, with a large and complex system, and hoards of zombies swarming you all around Kingsmouth. Hopefully the decks and revamp do something about that, but they’re taking a big chance on the relaunch with what looks like lateral changes so far.
It might be just me, but from my experience you missed an important additional point:
4 – People who started TSW, but then GW2 came out and they wanted to switch.
I know that this for Syp probably puts me into the “sect” above, but it is absolutely my experience. To explain where i come from: I think by now it’s pretty clear that i am into the community. A lot of bloggers here skim over many games and state that they mostly play solo. Not so much me, i care for the people and keep an eye on them.
For TSW i was in the crygaia forum before the game launched. I knew people there and was in touch. Yes, i for a long time was not inside the closed beta (i only got in on the very last batch of invites) but many people i was in touch there were frantic for the game, declared that they would play it for years to come and everything. When i got into the closed beta i also found that some of them were in there posting for a while, so their enthusiasm was based on knowing the game. (In contrast, i still wrote a number of bug reports. Sure not the over 500 i wrote in Fallen Earth, but i guess i passed the 50 reports mark. But that’s another story. )
So at launchtime, they all were there, and were absolutely happy about the game. Everything was fine and dandy and combat was no issue at all! Only after a few weeks passed, something must’ve gotten terribly broken, as one after another got infected with “now suddenly combat is bad and i have to leave TSW when GW2 is released” virus. I mean, sure, i got it that they wanted to see and perhaps also play GW2. It was the new game, it was also not bad and it was no secret that they put their launch date just after TSW to use exactly that effect. I also was able to understand why they decided to only play one MMO. After all GW2 was buy2play while TSW was still subscription based. Not much sense to spend money on two MMOs if you don’t have unlimited time on your hands. (I for the 18 months played GW2 only for an hour or two on weekends, as TSW kept me busy… )
All the actual reasons why they wanted to switch game were understandable and fine for me. But of course, they “swore loyality” to TSW in forums and everywhere, so how could they switch without “loosing face”? So of course, as they wouldn’t easily give up the game they pledged themselves to, there was only one way out: the game must have some fatal flaws, making it impossible for them to continue playing. So all of them, even those who during the beta (which had worse performance issues than the life game) praised TSWs combat system to the heavens, suddenly were infected with the “bad combat virus”, which drove them away.
And that’s where i saw the first big wave of “combat is bad” statements: when people needed an excuse on why to leave the game despite “being so loyal”, so they could play GW2. This is where the big meme was born and i think this is what did a lot of damage to the game.
After all, if you read a MMO review and it writes “the story is great but the combat is bad”, do you play it? If you know that in MMOs you spend a lot of time in combat and you never experienced that level of storytelling? Most people rather skip and go for a MMO where people claim that it has good combat.
All that being said, i still dare to say that a number of complaints can be valid. The game is a terrible ressource hog and if you have an AMD CPU or even a too -new- Intel, which sacrifices a tiny bit of single thread performance for better multicore useage, the games combat really gets less responsive and thus less enjoyable. But according to my experience the biggest one source of “bad combat” statements was the release of GW2 and players needing an excuse to switch MMO.
Have you guys heard of TSW Legends coming soon to replace TSW? It’s supposed to address these criticisms.
SWL is the basis of both this posting as well as the one from Tyler, for which this one is the reply. So yes, it might be that we have heard of that already…
SYP: “I disagree; I love the ability wheel, and while it might be a little complex at first, I’ve almost never seen someone cite it as one of the problems of the combat system.”
The wheel was what made me quit.
Which is not to say that I *liked* TSW’s combat. It felt serviceable at best, but I could overlook it because the world, story, and character customization were so enthralling. I started playing MMORPGs with AC1, I’m used to seeing past dodgy combat design to appreciate the the virtues of the whole.
The problem was when I reached Blue Mountains, the starter deck templates stopped being effective. The game doesn’t do a great job of teaching you how to use the ability wheel in general… hell, I don’t think the in-game tutorials even mentioned that talismans = armor… so I was running from nearly all fights, because I would lose most and the rest would take forever despite being reasonably well equipped.
I don’t mind using my brain to play a game. In TSW, I enjoyed using my brain for the puzzles and mysteries. Asking me to *also* invest significant research time and brainpower to merely walk around the world was a bridge too far. I couldn’t figure out how to make a survivable character — the advice I found amounted to “start over from scratch, and you can’t use the combination of weapons you like/want” — so I quit.