Friday, August 22, 2008
WAR combat is slow
Whether you measure it in seconds, or in the number of clicks or keys pressed until the enemy mob is dead, a single combat in WAR takes a bit longer than in WoW, and much longer than in AoC. Note that this is just true for a single combat, it takes fewer combats to go up a level, and there are fewer levels, so in the end you reach the level cap faster in WAR than in AoC; there is less grind in WAR. But if you start WAR for the first time and are used to something else, the long time it takes to kill your first mob might come as a surprise. My very first WAR beta character was a Runepriest, and after my first fight I thought healers in WAR were underpowered, because they killed mobs so slow. Then I tried the other classes and noticed that they *all* kill slow compared to other games, and that healers actually weren't all that underpowered.
There is no denying it: Some people will dislike the slower style of combat. It *feels* less powerful if your level 1 character needs to hit a level 1 monster repeatedly and using all your abilities to get it dead. In Age of Conan my first character was a Tempest of Set, and in the first part he could kill some mobs with a single lightning bolt. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning plays very, very different from that. But of course power is relative, and once I got used to it, I actually preferred the slower WAR combat, because it gives me far more tactical options. Combat takes longer, but is more interesting than blam, blam, combo, dead.
This made me think of my frost mage in World of Warcraft, my third character I leveled to 70. I had spotted something of a design flaw, namely that there are very few character stats that affect mage combat. So I bought exclusively gear giving bonuses to frost damage, and ended up with a completely overpowered frost mage for soloing. I was able to kill mobs of my level or even slightly higher levels with between 2 and 4 frostbolts; so if I started combat at maximum distance I was able to kill mobs before they could even reach me, avoiding the need to use defensive spells like frost nova or doing maneuvers like blink. I reached level 70 having done over 80% of my lifetime damage with a single spell, frostbolt. That did feel powerful, compared to the holy priest and protection warrior I leveled up before. But it was also a lot more boring. The priest uses a combination of buffs, heals, shields, and damage spells to kill mobs. The warrior builds up rage first, and removes the mobs armor, before doing an execute killing blow. All that takes longer, but is more interesting, because it actually matters which buttons you press in which order. And combat in WAR is just the same as the slower WoW combat of my priest and warrior.
WAR has some classes that are simple to play, and just have health and action points (which works like mana for powering all spells and abilities). But more classes in WAR have additional combat mechanics. I already mentioned the Waaagh! build-up of the shaman, who gets bonuses to heals when he uses damage abilities, and bonuses to damage abilities when he heals. Ironbreakers build up "grudges", witch hunters collect "accusations", and so on. All of these work slightly different from each other, but the general thrust is that you are building up power during the fight, which you can then unleash for extra powerful moves. In addition to the class specific mechanics, every class builds up morale during a fight, which allows you to use special morale powers. All of this *requires* that combat takes more than a handful of blows.
Taking the example of my shaman, I'd start combat at range, hitting a mob with spells, but won't be able to kill it before it reaches me. I can keep damaging it with various spells, but am taking damage as well. Now I get various options: I could build up enough Waaagh! to be able to cast a large healing spell as instant, thus uninterruptible. Or I could use my detaunt ability before I heal, which reduces the damage I take from the mob for 15 seconds, or until I hit it again. By healing myself I increase the power of my next damage spell. And all the time I'm gaining morale, enabling me to use my first morale ability, which deals both damage and heals me. Yes, all that takes time. And yes, if I don't watch out and just spam damage spells I could lose the fight. But that is exactly the beauty of it: Solo combat that requires some skill, some thought. It still isn't rocket science, but you better think about what you are doing. I like it!
But there will be a number of people who will not be happy with WAR's slower combat. Some of them just prefer faster, more twitchy combat, like in Age of Conan. Some, to be brutally honest, won't like having to think during solo combat, preferring mindless hack'n slash killing. I don't think it is even possible to create a combat system that pleases everyone. The system of WAR isn't that far away from the WoW system to really risk alienating a large portion of the customer base. But after WoW there was definitely a trend towards making combat faster, with games like Tabula Rasa, Hellgate: London, or Age of Conan, and WAR is definitely moving in the other direction. They say WAR is everywhere, but maybe it is not for everyone.