Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 17, 2015
One combat system to bind them all

Since last weekend I started doing pet battles in World of Warcraft. I simply missed out on them earlier and had only low level pets. So in the zones that were level-adequate for my high-level characters, the pets were too high level for me, and I wasn't in a mood to grind low-level zones for them. But when you do the final upgrade of your garrison at level 100, you get an easy quest for an "Ultimate Battle-Training Stone". With 4 character at level 100 I could thus instantly boost 4 rare pets of mine of different types to level 25, and could start battling high-level pets. Which then gave me more pets, and lesser battle-training stones, so by now I have a decent selection of level 25 pets for different opponents.

A hundred pet battles later it struck me that in fact the WoW pet battle combat system in solo PvE is far more interesting than the regular WoW combat system: In pet battle combat you actually need to plan ahead, and you can't use the same pets with the same rotation for every battle. You can lose a fight horribly, change your pet selection and their powers and win the rematch. In comparison the standard WoW combat is far more simplistic, requires less thinking, and your optimal tactic is largely independent of who you are fighting. So why not "Pokemon the MMORPG", where all battles are pet battles?

The answer to that is probably that solo PvE is only one part of combat in MMORPGs. You also need to consider group PvE and PvP. And the turn-based pet battles of WoW that work brilliantly with you alone against the AI wouldn't work quite so well when there is a whole group of players involved. Because there are so many different ways to play a MMORPG, the combat system needs to work well in all those modes.

Wildstar, currently rumored to be preparing a drop of subscriptions after having pulled boxed copies from retail stores, in my opinion has a problem with the combat system. I really love the Wildstar combat system in solo PvE, because it is far more interactive than classic systems. But all those telegraphs and signals you need to respond to collapse into chaos in a group situation. When you are fighting a group of monsters with a group of players, there are telegraphs on the ground everywhere and you don't know where to step.

Even in World of Warcraft the fact that the combat system is used for different situations poses a problem. It is simply impossible to have a perfect class balance for all the different modes of play. And typically class balance is considered most important for PvP, somewhat important for raids, and less important for solo PvE. So I am left with a shadow priest that downright sucks in solo PvE. And the announced serious nerfs in patch 6.2 for some classes are pretty much incomprehensible for me as solo PvE player, because it isn't the classes that are best in solo PvE that get nerfed.

Sometimes I think the relative rise of the MOBA and decline of the MMORPG is due to the fact that a MOBA is only trying to do one thing, while a MMORPG is trying to do too many things at once. I can think of better game designs if I start with the premise that my game is *only* having solo PvE, or *only* group PvE, just like a MOBA *only* has group PvP. Using one combat system for everything imposes serious limitations on the MMORPGs of today.

IMO Pet Battles are a perfect type of "alternate progression" that WoW needs more of.

Someone could spend their $0.50 (or 700g!!!) a day just for that. They have a slight disadvantage if they don't raid. None of the epeen raider/arena people are affected at all if they don't pet battle.

While none can truly compare with the complaints of PvPers, raiders come close. IIRC GC said it was a very few % points difference in damage and raiders really complain.
Yes, turn-based does not necessarily translate well into PvP, where you can find people who just start taking the maximum time for each turn just to grief you.

Ah and BTW there are MMOs with turn-based combat.
A few percent do matter, given that it's not unusual to get a boss down to a few percent in the last tries before you kill him. I remember a couple of boss battles that were literally decided by who got in the last hit.
On the MMO focus point; we are seeing that more now with upcoming games like CU and Crowfall.

Atlantica Online is a great example of turn-based combat in an MMO that works very well.
This all presupposes that MMO players are all interested in combat as a form of entertainment, rather than simply as a form of option selection. A huge amount of PvE in MMOs consists of peforming tasks for NPCs to advance or progress your character and/or retrieving items from defeated NPCs/Mobs to the same end.

Some players clearly want to do this and also test their knowledge, skill or intelligence at the same time; some just want to get it done so they can have the stuff. Consequently, one player's engaging, challenging combat is another's annoying, time-wasting obstacle.

This has been demonstrated over and over in GW2, where mechanics for boss mobs have been tweaked many times, almost always making them more complex and/or more time-consuming, with the result that some people enjoy the fights more and others enjoy them less.

Personally, I can think of very few examples where making combat require more of my attention actually improved my enjoyment, whereas I can think of a lot of examples where having to do (and think) less made me enjoy the fights more.

That may have something to do with circumstances, though. It's not much fun in late middle-age trying to maintain high levels of concentration for hours at a time at the end of a working day. If I was an adolescent with weeks of time to fill and youthful reflexes I might well want livelier combat.

Another difficult circle for MMOs to square - the extremely wide age-range of their audiences.
I agree with the "MMORPGS are trying to do too many things." thought at the end there. You have basically a triad of activities: Leveling, PvE Battle Arena, and PvP Battle Arena.

Designers need to choose one of those three and focus on it. If they want to "Do them all" then they need to create 3 games based on the same theme. The games may share models and scenes, but the balancing and play would be radically different.
Yeah, a game where a Warlocks spec a certain way and just spam shadow bolt has problems.

Aside from doing too much, and having to deal with the theoretical possibility of everyone on the server being in the same place fighting, you've also got the skill problem. The game has to be accessible to newbies, and people who aren't newbies but just suck. Much like network TV, it can't find a good niche and so you end up with generic, not quite all it could be TV. And after several thousand hours of play, it's all going to be old hat anyway.

WoW has never been the most intense game to play. The way it rots your video games skills is proof of that.
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