Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sometimes Less Is More

I'm getting back into playing EverQuest II now that things in my life are settling down and I'm finding a little bit more free time (for now...). While I like EQ2 better than the other MMORPGs out on the market right now, I do think it has a serious problem in its game design regarding combat.

Combat in EQ2, at least for my main character, a monk, involves spamming combat arts as their reset timers expire. There are very few incidents when I need to hold back and think about what I'm actually hitting. Occasionally, I might have to avoid using AOEs (to avoid breaking mezzes, or for general hate control.) But other than that, well, I just spam click away. And its rather boring.

A good (MMO)RPG should incorporate tactics and decision making into the combat system by limiting what you can do at once. Unfortunately, there's very little of that in the game right now. Sure, there are a few limitations that you need to keep track of: your power bar, concentration slots, stance selection, etc. But for many of the classes in the game, none of that matters. You will always have enough power to win the fight (except in the hardest of raids). I can't fill my concentration slots (at least as a monk). And reset timers don't matter when you have dozens of combat arts to pick from, there's always one available to randomly move on to.

Final Fantasy XI was so much better because you had fewer skills to pick from, and they had relatively long reset times. Some of your abilities could be linked with other player's abilities to do combo attacks (called skillchains in the game), which could be used to exploit an enemy's weakness. This was nothing like EQ2 combat wheel... FFXI's system forced players to communicate with each other to strategize what skillchain they wanted to use, in what order the players would use their skills, and things had to be TIMED perfectly. That alone made combat much more interesting. But, you also had to watch for special attacks. Monsters would change their animation sometimes. A goblin reaching into his bag indicated to me that, as a Paladin, I should use Shield Bash to interrupt him; otherwise, he would light a bomb that did major damage. Since Shield Bash expired every thirty seconds, again, players needed to communicate, so someone else could make sure they had their stun ready. Combat often took four or five minutes (as opposed to a few seconds in many EQ2 battles...), but it was far more engaging since you had to pay attention, communicate, coordinate your actions, and manage your very limited resources carefully.

THAT was fun...

EQ2, on the other hand, is much more "faster paced". I haven't noticed any animations that indicate you should use a stun or stifle. Heck, half of the animations don't even finish properly, as the monster jump and jolt from one animation into the next. The chat bar scrolls so fast because its spamming so much crap that its basically useless. There are hundreds of numbers floating over the monsters head each second (I know, I know, I can turn them off). I've got five hotbars with dozens of skills that may do different kinds of damage, but for all intents and purposes are interchangeable because it doesn't make sense to pick and choose among them when the game lets me set them all off randomly one at a time as their timers reset and win. Granted, this rant applies more to DPS; when I've played a healer it was a little more interesting as I had more details I needed to pay attention to.

But it would be really nice to see the game slowed down a little. Make it so I have to pay attention and react to certain in-game events (such as a monster's animation) and give me skills that can be used to counter those events if we act quickly enough. Make it so theres a global reset on skill usage so at every point we have to think: whats the best skill I can use at this point in time, knowing that the wrong choice has potentially severe consequences (you won't be able to do anything else for a short period of time.) Make it so I have a reason to pick one specific combat art over the other forty; make it so I can't set them all off at once.

Make us strategize and use tactics and give us the time to THINK and REACT instead of mindlessly mashing buttons.


Kanthalos and Anaktoria said...

Nicely said, I agree for the most part, but I still like the feel of the world in EQ2. Btw, grats on your first Virgin Worlds plug :)

Brenda said...

In FFXI Online, you used combos to get your damage multipliers up enough so that you could get the xp bonus by chain killing similar monsters fast enough. In a good FFXI Online group, fights DID take only seconds... but you had to be a very, very focused group to work at that level (and not be crowded by other groups).

In EQ2, you can get pretty far with button mashing. Top groups tend to synchronize their longer-term debuffs and damage attacks so that every 30 seconds or so, the group goes into mega-dps mode. This allows a single group to do pretty amazing things... raids are built around this as well.

In that way, it's kind of like FFXI Online. Those mobs who do special attacks that you might want to prevent do usually make an emote or something warning you you'd better do something pretty quick. But agreed, it's easily lost in the spam -- requiring separate windows just for that kind of thing.

Your blog is going to force me to use my real name :/

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