Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 31, 2015
Concentrating on the core

I rarely play a game just for the story. Game stories rarely reach the quality of a good book, and if you play for the story the game doesn't have much replayability. So I am far more interested in gameplay. And most of all I am interested in the core gameplay mode, what I call the "basic repeating unit" of the game, the one thing you do over and over and over. In a MMORPG that would typically be combat. For me to like a role-playing game, I need to like the combat system. And if the combat system is flawed, I typically won't play the game for long.

One prime example for that is Lord of the Rings Online, for which I technically have a lifetime subscription, and where I absolutely love the setting. But I find the combat unresponsive and annoying, so I ended up not playing it much. In Wildstar I liked the combat for solo PvE, but felt that it broke down in all multiplayer situations, with far too many telegraphs everywhere. The Secret World I considered combat to be somewhat sluggish, you need to shoot a zombie in the head ten times before he falls over. And so on.

World of Warcraft for me has passed the test of time, I still like the combat system after a decade and thousands of hours played. But as combat is different for the different classes, I am getting more selective with what classes I play. I like classes that have varied and interactive combat, for example having abilities that you can use under certain circumstances, random chances to be able to use some bonus power, interrupts, and a mix of damage dealing and self-preservation powers. My fury warrior is quite good for that, and so is my frost mage, in a completely different way. I'm less happy about my other two level 100 characters: The demonology warlock is by far the most powerful, being able to beat elite mobs the other two can't, but at the cost of having an extremely boring combat; very slow spells, and a sure way to beat almost anything by simply keeping a voidwalker alive forever (Health Funnel + Drain Life) and waiting that the elite mob eventually drops dead. The shadow priest I like the least, he curiously has less self-preservation abilities than the others, and doesn't do well against multiple enemies. He has a basic spell rotation that deals good damage against single targets, but isn't very interactive.

Having basically "done" Tanaan Jungle already, including the achievement needed for flying, and getting bored of just doing garrison maintenance, I am looking for another character to level to 100. And how much fun combat is will be the prime selection criterion. I leveled a beast mastery hunter from level 1 to 34, but I feel he somewhat has the same problem as the warlock: Powerful, but boring. I fiddled a bit with a unholy death knight I had at level 80, but ended up not liking it much either for similar reasons: Huge damage output, but not very interactive combat style, you could program his spell rotation in a macro. So last night I played my level 86 retribution paladin, and liked that one much better. Abilities that you don't hit blindly, but which depend on the situation, and a good mix of damage and self-preservation abilities that you can adjust to many different combat situations.

I'm pretty certain that rogue is probably the most interactive class in WoW, but that one might be a bit too twitchy for me. Monk I only tried at low level, but it didn't click with me yet. I have a level 65 shaman as well, but I never liked the totem mechanic nailing your bonus to a specific location, and forcing you to recast them if you move. The one other character I have which I still might play in my moonkin druid, where I find the sun/moon mechanic quite fun.

What combat mechanics from which game or class do you like particularly? Which ones do you dislike?

Game designers call that the "core game loop", or just "core loop". Games can have many core loops of differing fidelity (ie: as you suggest, combat rotations, versus the core loop of find enemy->kill enemy->get loot). And yes, it is indeed one of the most powerful drivers of engagement. There's plenty of literature out there supporting it.

Personally, my favourite combat class in WoW is Enhancement Shaman. It has a rotation that's somewhat variable, with two distinct modes of play (AoE vs. Single Target is quite different), and yet highly complex. I get bored playing Retribution Paladin because it's basically a much simpler version of Enhancement these days. Granted, I'm a bit of a masochist that way, so I can understand why it doesn't have the same appeal as other classes to other people.

And aside from fire totems, these days totems are just another temporary buff button or temporary cooldown; they generally don't last more than 15 seconds, so recasting them on the move for the most part becomes moot.
In Warlords, I've had good experiences with Windwalker, Feral and Fury, and found Arms and Balance (and solo Mistweaver) to be lacking. I'm going to look at Hunter next - it might be good for you as well, I think it's quite similar to Rogues, but With a slightly slower pace.

As for the Secret World, combat in that games revolves around trying out different rotations, and doesn't really come into its own until you've unlocked enough abilities to have some Choice. At that point I find combat to be really fun and varied, even if the rotations aren't as varied as WoW-rotations - it helps that I don't have to Level an entirely new character to check out what other fun stuff there is. You can hunt for new rotations on the web, or design your own! But it takes a while to get there, and if the atmosphere and investigation missions (<3 investigations) don't hook you you'll never get there. One of the big, glaring weaknesses of the game.
I was going to suggest Enhancement Shaman, as my main was a Frost Mage and the shaman was the class I liked next best. But yes, you have to either stay put or shift your totems.
I found Moonkin to be somewhat disappointing. The main problem is that the Eclipse mechanic is timed, so you are always doing the same rotation of spells (Cast A once, then B twice, then C three times, etc.). The procs make no difference to that rotation, they increase the damage of spells you were already going to cast as part of your rotation, but you wouldn't change anything. This does change up a bit in longer fights, but not for solo PvE.

Also, if you are looking for a balance of self-preservation abilities, Moonkin offers basically nothing. Entangling Roots breaks immediately in nearly all situations, and is almost never worth casting. The Balance Druid guide doesn't even mention it exists.
Rogue has perhaps the most annoying class design because the combo points are on target, and combo point transfer skill has cooldown, and if you're not "doing it from behind" you're losing on damage.

There is a talent for relocating all your totems at once that you can take as shaman (not sure at which level though).

But the best way to escape from boring rotations is to try healing. ;-)
My main is a Resto Shaman. I know you don't raid, per se, so a healer is pretty useless to you.

However, when I tromp around Tanaan to get oil, I switch to Enhancement spec.

Enhancement is a combo of dual wielding DPS, cooldown based magic addons for the DPS hits, with a side of healer. With "Maelstrom weapon" you build up points (up to 5) that you can use for a single target hit that buffs your stats, an AOE lightning hit, or a heal, all of which are instant cast for no mana. You can cast those spells without any Maelstrom Weapon points? But using them casts for free with no cast time.

You get everything you like... choices that pop up based on combat, and you can choose what you need to use them for... Fighting something tough? Woo! Use the Maelstrom weapon points to heal yourself or your bodyguard.

Enhancement Shaman works well with Illona, the Prot Paladin garrison bodyguard, too. You can attack the target Illona is holding down, or if you see Illona is getting beat up, step back and heal to get her back up before continuing the pummeling. I keep Illona as the "focus" target to make that easier.
Since you already have a death Knight I would say to try frost. Frost is a little more random then unholy. Although it's been awhile since I've played DW was more challenging then 2h so maybe you'll like it better.
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Forgot to add...

Yes, Enhance Shammies have totems too. When Resto, I use totems ALL THE TIME... I mean on cooldown without fail I'm tossing out Healing Stream and Cloudburst, with Healing Tide on the ready for situations that need it... but with the Enhancement spec outside of raids, I don't even bother. They're totally optional.

You're just tromping around the forest... there is no need to optimize your DPS like if you were raiding or something. Nothing in the outside world that is so dangerous that the people killing it need to be at 100% of potential.
Idk why but when I post on my phone comments get duplicated 2 or 3 times. Sorry about that.
FTL is one of my favorite combat loops. Every single play through had variation based on weapons randomly available. Every combat also varied based on the enemies shields, weapons, and boarding party

For the desire for fast twitch I don't know that any game has ever done better than counter-strike.

For slower deliberate PvP, I like the feel of World of Tanks, which you are very familiar with.

For an honorably mention I will say that Artemis might be the most dynamic co-op. That is due entirely to the personalities of your friends rather than anything the game is doing though.
As of WoD, Rogue no longer has combo points on target; they are now on the rogue. Target switching is still a pain for Rogue, but nothing like it was with CP on the target and 5 stacks of Deadly poison. DPS from the rear is now a thing only for Subtlety Rogue, and only for Backstab. All other abilities do the same damage from front or rear. Rogue is much less twitchy than you may fear. An addon like Slice Commander or Weak Auras to track timers is pretty much required, unless you can watch the default timers well.

Healing in WoD has apparently be difficult for a lot of people. Most instant cast heals are gone. Even Prayer of Healing has a cast time now.
Feral druids are amazing and totally worth playing if you've never leveled one. All the good things about a rogue and much more. I've played both a horde and alliance one to max level over the years, they're that good.

Totally agree with you about LotRO. I really, really wanted to love that game but the combat was just so mediocre.
Without the slightest hesitation I would say that the class I find has the most engaging combat is my GW2 Mesmer. I can play her in several ways and they all feel really fun and interesting. Examples.

I'm always a sucker for combat with active defenses. And now WoW's click-cooldown-on-damage-spike nonsense, but really active defenses. Activate an ability to brace for an attack for 3 seconds, doing no auto-attacks or any damage, but just waiting. If the enemy attacks you while you're braced, avoid the attack and then something good happens. Deal damage and make a clone, apply a debuff, reflect or capture a spell to fling back, that kind of thing. I love that stuff. More than anything else it makes me have to watch what the enemy is doing instead of just doing my rotation, not to avoid standing in fire or whatever, but as a means to exploit his attack to increase my dps and survivability. It's this precise reason that made the priest my favorite WoW healer, just for prayer of mending (on getting hit, heal for a bit and then bounce to someone nearby with less than full health, up to 6 times). With my mesmer, between active defenses, clones, and cleansing, you have just an absurd amount of time where you can basically negate anything an attacker does. It's crazy fun.

Another direction to take it, entirely, is to put a huge emphasis on positioning and combo fields. So I've got a bunch of fields, a circle of a certain radius around the enemy, or around me, or line I can place down between us or behind me or whatever. And these fields are already good by themselves. They do damage, apply debuffs, strip enemy buffs, speed up my runspeed, speed up my abilities. And I have lots of nifty abilities that not only do good things, but also change my position in some way. And if I can set it so that my decent abilities interact with my good combo fields, the result is pure awesomeness. Jumping forwards into my fields, flinging myself backwards out of them, creating phantasms to whirlwind through or shoot into them, leading an enemy into or out of them, hiding in them or behind my line to reflect projectiles back at enemies, blowing up my line to fling enemies against walls, all this stuff. Paying attention to positioning and using the right abilities for the right circumstances feels really rewarding. Especially because it's not at all twitch based, I'm not waiting for my ui to glow or pop up an icon to let me know I should use some other ability. I have to actually look and see and think strategically.

On the WoW side of things, probably the most engaged I felt in combat was on my priest back in wrath times, where healing was all about abusing the 5 second rule. You'd wait for that talent that gave you a free heal to proc, do a really big heal and hot and then wait. Use your free heal if your tank was getting low. Maybe have to use your long cooldown to get another free heal if there was a spike. Could get maybe 8-10 seconds of outside-5-second-rule spirit regen, which was huge. They don't really have that anymore. It makes healing easier, certainly. I can't really claim that managing mana to avoid going oom was necessarily that fun, but it was certainly more engaging than walking down the raid tossing out bubbles.
Sort of explains why I keep playing Destiny. The FPS mechanics in Destiny are so compelling and the endgame, once I got the hang of what I needed to do....Destiny does a terrible job of explaining this and seems to assume everyone who's gotten to the end understand the concept of rep grinding and gear statting....has kept me logging in every night now, something I don't do in any other game (even TESO is something I play in spurts for a day once every 2-3 weeks).

I may love story, but I agree completely on the need for compelling game play....come for the story, stay for the game.
I'm ashamed to say that I have maximum level characters of all 11 classes, and the only spec I truly hate is Balance. There's something about it that I find deeply unsatisfying.

From your criteria, I would suggest trying a sub or combat rogue, WW monk, or feral druid. Only pick feral if you don't find yourself annoyed by constantly waiting on resources.
In the past many people have decried the multiple changes in specs/talents that have occurred over the years, but it has kept things fresh for me as a Holy Paladin, and it is the reason(even after more than a decade) that it is STILL my favorite class/spec.

However, the problem in WOD is that there is a disparity in the mechanics between tanks and healers. Some tank classes can pull multiple targets in 5-mans and require very little in mana through-put versus heals, while other classes suffer from high amounts of burst damage when pulling the same number of mobs. It's Blizzards fault that people(healers) get all giddy when the tank turns out to be a DK, and it's the reason I actively seek them out when starting a Mythic Dungeon using the custom group finder. I-Level has nothing to do with this either, which makes the issue even more odd that the disparity exists.
I am so frustrated with the MMO insistence on making every mob take ages to kill.

It was an outright joke when SWTOR rolled around. A lightsaber can cut through anything... except flesh. "Yo momma so fat, she's two minutes work with a lightsaber!"

SWTOR was pretty bad for it, but at least it included trash packs of weenie mobs that were only there to get detroyed to help make you feel like more of a badass. More MMOs should do this.

Secret World is a fantastic game for storytelling, atmosphere, graphics/art, and puzzles/problem-solving... which completely falls down thanks to its core unit of gameplay. Which is, as you said, shoot a trash mob in the head eight times before it falls down. Playing with a sword LOOKS cool, but be prepared to spam 1, 2, and occasionally 3 or 4 for a good minute and a half per fight.

Boring as hell gameplay keeps me from spending any amount of time with the game. I'll get the newsletters with exciting looking stuff in it, think, "Oh man, why did I stop playing that?" load it up, and then my first fight against anything reminds, "Oh yeah, that's why I stopped playing. Boring as fuck, drawn-out combat."
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