Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 13, 2014
 
Combat controls

I watched Totalbiscuit's uncorrupted Shadow of Mordor YouTube video in order to find out whether I would like to play that game. The answer was: No. And the reason for that was the part where Totalbiscuit described the combat system as being the same as in the Batman: Arkham series. I played only one Batman: Arkham game, and the reason I stopped half-way through was because I hated the combat system.

Then I noticed the coincidence that there is another Lord of the Rings game I am not playing because of the combat system: Lord of the Rings Online. And that in spite of having paid for a lifetime subscription. So I was thinking what is was that made certain combat systems unpalatable to me. And I think the answer is how much the combat system feels as if I was in immediate control.

For Lord of the Rings Online the problem is that the combat system queues your key-presses and executes them some time later when the previous actions have been completed. This skill queue leads to combat not feeling very responsive. Sure, the character will do what you ordered him to do, but not at the moment where you press the button.

For Batman: Arkham the problem is similar, but somewhat different: You press a button, Batman does something immediately, but it isn't necessarily what you wanted him to do, or what you thought that button press would do. Batman frequently overperforms, making rather complicated moves in response to rather simple commands. That all looks very elegant and sophisticated (and combat *looks* great in a Shadow of Mordor gameplay video), but the player holding the controller isn't necessarily feeling all that much in control. You pressed a button because you wanted to hit the guy to your left, but the character decided that it would be better to hit the guy on your right and does that instead. Even if that was probably the better move, you feel that your role in controlling the character isn't all that important. Just mashing buttons also results in an elegant combat.

I think hand-to-hand combat in video games is somewhat problematic. Whether it is fists or knives, for cinematic reasons the hero character is fighting half a dozen villains at the same time, which is not very realistic. Shooters work better, because a single man with a gun looks less improbable if he kills half a dozen villains, using distance and cover to his advantage. That allows a shooter game to give perfect control to the player, letting him aim and see the immediate result of his shots. The game simulating hand-to-hand combat can't leave the player in perfect control, because he'd be overwhelmed if the fight was simulated realistically.

I'm still planning to give the Assassin's Creed series a second chance (didn't like the first one all that much). While it also suffers to some degree from that hand-to-hand combat system, AC has the advantage of combat not being the default option for every enemy you meet. But otherwise I am somewhat wary of those hand-to-hand combat action adventure games.

Comments:
For Lord of the Rings Online the problem is that the combat system queues your key-presses and executes them some time later when the previous actions have been completed.

I think that the queuing system is a consequence, i.e. a cheap fix to the inability to create a combat system which is as responsive as WoW. In LotRO I always get the feeling that I'm fighting underwater.....

 
For what it's worth, my experience of Shadow of Mordor combat is that it's pretty easy to hit whatever you want -- if you just press a button Talion will be fairly indiscriminate, but button-plus-direction is reliable.
 
As far as I recall, the thing to know about Batman Arkham games are that they're made for a controller.

If you want to hit the guy on the right or left, it's best to be holding down the right or left key as you press the punch key.

It's one of the games that's amazingly fluid even with a mouse/keyboard control system, as well as a controller, but one has to still be aware of some of the quirks.

I used to be amazingly bad and stilted and awkward at it, and then some time while playing the game, the rhythm of the combat clicked and I was suddenly chaining exceedingly long chains of attacks and making Batman do ridiculously awesome things.

Same thing happened with the second game, except I used a controller where I did mouse/keyboard with the first. Forgot how I was so awesome in the first game, struggled and got mauled with mistimed blocks, then eventually the timing clicked again.
 
Have you tried the Dark Souls games? Those have the most responsive combat controls I know. The combat is mostly hand-to-hand and fairly realistic and as a consequence you typically fight just a few enemies at a time. The hard parts are those when you encounter multiple enemies simultaneously.
 
"Whether it is fists or knives, for cinematic reasons the hero character is fighting half a dozen villains at the same time, which is not very realistic."

Not something one could really complain about in a *Batman* game, though!
 
I'd also recommend the Dark Souls games as having one of the most enjoyable real time combat systems. I was concerned at first that it might be too twitchy for me, and I think the pvp part of the game really is too twitchy, but in the main game you have plenty of time to see what the enemy is telegraphing and decide how to respond.

It ruined me for other sword fighting games, though. Whenever I'm loading up a game with melee combat, like Skyrim or whatever, I find myself sighing and wishing it were more like dark souls.

\[+]/ Praise the Sun!
 
Ha ha! That is exactly my experience. I thought this game looks like it might be up my alley (to me it looked like the "The Witcher" [AWESOME] set in Middle Eartch [DOUBLE AWESOME!]). Then I watched TB's youtube video and as soon as he said combat was like Batman I stopped watching and lost all interest. I bought Batman in a steam sale (or maybe a humble bundle) about 12 months ago and found the combat/movement to be totally non-intuitive and stopped after about an hour of play. I even purchased an xbox controller to see if this helped - it didn't. I just cannot enjoy a game where I'm fighting with the UI just to make my avatar move around or fight. I've had this same experience with "Darksiders" and "The Lord of the Rings: War in the North"
 
You pressed a button because you wanted to hit the guy to your left, but the character decided that it would be better to hit the guy on your right and does that instead.

Never encountered that.

WII sports felt like that. Never batman.

because a single man with a gun looks less improbable if he kills half a dozen villains, using distance and cover to his advantage.

The unrealistic things we'll selectively overlook and then call it a problem with the game.

Sure, you can take a bullet and your HP just goes down a bit - that's how the human body works!
 
I didn't like the Batman game controls either in combat (for any of the titles) but while I saw the evolutionary similarity in Shadows of Mordor, the controls are far more intuitive and fun....I actually could figure out what I was doing and why, which gave a better sense of control. So...maybe try a demo or rental some time, you may be surprised like I was.
 
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