Action combat in MMOs: finding the happy medium

In a recent Massively article on Wildstar the subject of action combat came up with a comparison to action combat in Tera.

TERA was often very good about agency. There were several fights that required parties but could be managed completely solo by someone skilled at dodging and reacting. The BAM fights were my favorite part of the entire game, giving you huge opponents with overwhelming attacks who could be dispatched solo if you were smart. But it was an intricate dance, requiring a lot of awareness and careful timing of your various skills.

WildStar takes that thinking and runs with it. It brings that sort of scenario to every fight. Your opponents aren’t pushovers, but neither are they instant death. You have to dodge, weave, and think about your abilities if you want to emerge without a whole lot of extra bruises on your body.

Although the writer probably thinks of this as a positive for this upcoming MMO, I see it as a potential negative. Action combat for me is a double-edged sword, it can be fun but is usually overdone in games. Whether I think of Tera, Guild Wars 2 or the venerable Vindictus I find combat that emphasizes “bunny hop dodging” over anything as tiresome in the long run. Action combat was heralded as the solution to boring MMO combat, no longer do we stand still and hit a challenging monster for minute or more pressing ability buttons as and when available. Now you can dodge, position and jump around while hitting those same buttons! Guild Wars 2′s combat especially disappointed me, it didn’t seem to add much tactical thought to combat, but rather seems to require (in tougher fights) you to just dodge constantly while spamming attacks.

So if Wildstar is taking action combat makes every fight a dodge/movement fest then isn’t this just taking the now-common raiding mechanics from World of Warcraft and other similar games and putting them into every fight in the open world? Having raided a bit now (flex-mode and normal-mode) in WoW I feel that one or two boss fights with lots of movement can be interesting, but having lots of movement almost as a basic requirement is plain annoying (although WoW isn’t an “action combat” game per se, it certainly has a *lot* of movement requiring mechanics in raid-boss encounters).

I can’t see how Wildstar’s combat, according to this description, wouldn’t bore me very quickly from the ‘sameness’ of needing to move and dodge all the time. That may sound a bit backwards, but it was certainly my experience in Tera that the shiny newness of the action combat lost a lot of its lustre after 40 levels of leveling my priest with the need to constantly dodge and position.

TERA_ScreenShot_20130313_203726

I’d prefer more variety along a spectrum of ‘static —– action’ in combat in a game. But the trend seems to be one extreme or the other at present. Where are the games catering to the middle ground? I’ve not reached cap in Neverwinter yet, but so far on a squishy control wizard I don’t have to dodge constantly if I use my control abilities properly. So perhaps that’s the missing ingredient for action combat in some games (like my experience of Tera’s priest). At least if I can have a valid, alternative to the crazy bunny-hopping warrior or rogue type then I’m happy.

Who needs to dodge when you have your opponent on ice...

Who needs to dodge when you have your opponent on ice…

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7 Responses to Action combat in MMOs: finding the happy medium

  1. tsuhelm says:

    What I enjoy the most in MMO combat is when a string of actions is interrupted and another skill is then needed leading into a new rotation… I think for me that hopping and dodging due to the ‘repetative’ nature of MMO combat is just too much for most fights…whereas strategic positioning can be vital. The player has a character that dodges, parries and blocks (LOTRO :)) due to characteristics built up by build and design which is basically removed in all action RPG’s, try RP’ing a slow character in an action MMO…er…ok I am slow so will purposely step into this blow!
    Now a Street Fighter MMO would be interesting…all the RPG’ing would be fluff leading up to confrontations, matches and FIGHTS!

  2. j3w3l says:

    I personally enjoy the active approach to combat a lot more than the traditional as I feel more engaged. In rift I remember just having a few macros for different specs and I was done… one button shammy, and yeh we completed encounters but I wouldn’t consider that fun.

    For GW2 i don’t think most people noticed the complexity to the system, it just wasn’t needed in PvE at all. In pvp though it was a mix of complimentary builds, timed class skill uses and combo abilities (not just the official combos but using skills to inflict the most damage or survive as a group. Some of our GvG stuff was just insane but amazing.

    Also in Tera… you probably would have liked the Mystic a little more then, a lot more cc and buffing abilities. And did you try many of the dungeons, they really start getting good around that level

  3. lostforever says:

    I played as a Lancer in Tera but I didn’t have to dodge or move out. I could stand there and block special attacks from BAM with my shield by timing them. It was lot of fun to solo BAMs. Tera got the balance right here in that a group can easily kill BAM in 2 or 3 minutes but it took a skilled solo played about 10 minutes, so its still preferable to group.

    I am not a big fan of dodging or moving out as well. It seems silly for a shield wearing Warrior or a Guardian in GW2 to dodge all the time, why not just block with the shield?

    • Telwyn says:

      I think my issues with Tera might be partially with the priest class gameplay, it’s true. Never tried mystic but more CC would be good. I do have a baby lancer but we gave up leveling early on as the questing was too bland + Neverwinter tempted us away…

      I like the idea of there actually being a choice to stand and block in GW2, it’s a real shame that dodging is both so frequently necessary, I just don’t feel like tactical gameplay is rewarded or even very possible unless you’re extremely practiced AND dexterous/coordinated (which I’m certainly not).

  4. Hagu says:

    I am not playing Wildstar due to action combat, even though there is so much in the rest of the game that really interests me.

    I am on the other extreme; combat is not the most important part of an MMO for me. If i wanted that sort of combat, I would be playing a non-MMO on a console.

  5. Clockwork says:

    From what I have seen of Wildstar it is somewhat of a mix; enemies have both broadcast and non-broadcast attacks, so while a good player is rewarded, you can’t necessarily solo ANYTHING just by useful timing. In fact one of the chief complaints I have heard is that sometimes the broadcast attacks are the ones you don’t care about dodging because they sometimes are the weakest attack. The review I got was that it made combat feel somewhat disconnected, even if it was trying to be engaging because even if you were dodging attacks you would still end up taking notable damage.

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