Is MMO Combat Really That Bad?
Perhaps having grown up playing the original Everquest, I’m spoilt with combat in MMOs these days. I mean, one of my most beloved character in Everquest, a Warrior, had only two buttons to press when fighting, Taunt and Kick. And Kick was useless. People aren’t joking when they say that combat used to be a case of pulling a mob, turning on auto-attack and then going to make yourself a cup of tea. I drank a lot of tea in my late teens.
Still, on reflection, to call combat in the MMORPG of the late nineties or early naughties (I hate that term) mindlessly simple is probably doing it a disservice. Grouping was mandatory, pulling was an art, managing aggro was important, crowd control was a skill, maintaining a rhythm in order to chain fights was essential and death was inconvenient enough to make it all matter. Plus, in the time between button pressing (which for a Warrior was quite a lot), there was plenty of opportunity to chat, discuss, gossip and roleplay.
But don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that those days are over (mostly) and now I actually have attacks and maneuvers to perform during melee. Aside from giving my fingers a workout, it adds a lot more complexity and thought to fights than I ever experienced in 1999. Even if such once fundamental considerations such as threat, crowd control and a death penalty are a lot more diminished than they used to be, we still have a more factors and strategic decisions to make than ever before.
Of course, I acknowledge that soloing in most MMOs (particularly at lower levels) doesn’t exactly require a lot of thought due to its inherent lack of challenge but what about other activities like grouping or raiding or, in particular, PvP? I personally don’t think combat there is any less fundamentally complex or any more hugely tedious than any other type of video game. Perhaps I’ve been blessed with nimble reflexes and reasonable finger dexterity, honed during my childhood years on every type of game from Street Fighter II and Super Mario World to Doom and Command & Conquer that I don’t rate reaction time to be enough of a differentiating factor. Indeed, when you put eye-hand-coordination aside, these genres of games, whether it be modern incarnations like Call of Duty or Starcraft 2, are pretty basic for all intents and purposes.
Maybe my view is skewed though. As much as I enjoy leveling up characters in MMORPGs, my primary focus for many years now has always been player-vs-player. Whether it’s battleground matches in WoW, RIFT or SW:TOR or open world PvP in Everquest 2, fighting real opponents is my thing. I’m not a particularly competitive chap either, bothered about always winning, I just really like the challenges and decisions this form of gameplay comes with. I suppose fighting against other real people will always be more rewarding than the even the most challenging AI but to me, the decisions I’m forced to make on both a micro (when to use my cooldowns, when to counter spells or crowd control) or a macro (what flag to capture, who to attack, when to retreat) level are truly satisfying and deeply complex.
I wonder if the issue isn’t that MMO combat is bad but rather that, due to the long standing nature of these games, we simply become bored of it so much quicker. There’s only so many times you have play the same encounter over and over again before you get fed up, no matter the genre. Even combat in fast paced games like Call of Duty or Halo starts to become predictable and dull after you’ve beaten the AI multiple times – the challenge being the player-vs-player combat, something I would contest PvP in a MMO is just as strategic as.
I’m curious to get other people’s thoughts. Does MMORPG combat really suck? Or do we just have a perception that it’s less exciting than other types of games? Depending on the activity being undertaken, I’m probably in the latter camp and would recommend to any skeptics to give PvP a proper go.