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.