Oftentimes my thoughts are a sparkling variegated cloud of fractured conceptions and convictions, a myriad array of crystal-shard fish which attempt to coalesce around a central conclusion, but continually billow and implode as sharks of uncertainty dash with writhen voracity through their midst. Contemplating the whole is to draw a conclusion from the ideas reflected in a mirror ball of madness, yet picking out one thought is to isolate it from the rest, where its now-muted rainbow facets are more easily considered, but also more readily exposed to the gape-mawed predations of incertitude.
This certainly describes my state of mind when contemplating action combat in MMOs, specifically when contrasting the forms of combat found in Dungeons & Dragons Online, Tera and Guild Wars 2. I think I like Tera’s version best, then GW2’s, and finally DDO’s, but when I try to formulate a reason why, I end up chasing a conclusion around my head as a kitten chases a spot of reflected light, where each attempt to grasp it is more frantic and furious than the previous one, until at last I am so confused and demented by my fruitless efforts that I inadvertently attack myself and burst, in carpet-tearing panic, from my place on the floor. And later, Mrs Melmoth has to coax me out from behind the sofa with a scrap of cooked chicken.
It seems to me that what we mean by action combat in MMOs can be pared down into a few constituent forms: targeting, movement and reaction. Sometimes these forms overlap: movement out of an area of danger is often combined with the reaction of responding to an enemy’s telegraphed attack – the archetypal dodge mechanic. My kitten-like flailings around the topic were no closer to reaching illumination, as all three games provide similar combat mechanisms. There’s also the fact that I feel I don’t have enough experience with Guild Wars 2’s combat to compare it fully to Tera or DDO, because I’ve yet to try PvP or dungeon instances in GW2, in which I expect movement and reaction will be required to a much higher standard than in the early levels of the game.
I do think DDO –although still fabulously refreshing compared to traditional rock ‘em sock ‘em MMOs– loses out somewhat to the other two. It was the first of the three, of course, and thus has the disadvantage of time and technology having moved on, but I think its biggest constraint was that it had to marry action combat with the traditional dice-based system of D&D – more a shotgun wedding than a marriage of common interests.
Thus I’m still not sure why I prefer one style of action combat over another, what with them sharing similar core mechanisms. Perhaps, in the end, it’s ‘the whole package’ which sets one system apart – that it has become more than the sum of its parts in some ineffable way. Still, I’ll take comfort from the fact that I know one thing for certain: I really enjoy action combat in MMOs. I should probably try to experience other fine specimens; I’ve never bothered to play Vindictus, to my shame. Maybe with greater experience will come greater understanding, or maybe it will just be adding more fish to the shoal of my confusion; either way, I’m rather excited to see how this area of the MMO genre develops in the future, because, for me at least, it feels like a step along a new and exciting path.