Necessity is the mother of futile dodges.

Calcaneus. The heel. That terminating projection of bone behind the articulation of the lower leg. A major structure of the foot; a critical design flaw, and cause for recall, of the Achilles model of Greek hero; and the primary reason why action combat doesn’t work in MMOs.

The KiaSA Guide to MMOs has this to say on the subject of action combat: It’s an awful lot of jumping around, without really taking into consideration the power of the heel.

The KiaSA Guide to MMOs has this to say on the subject of the heel: Provides a simple yet highly effective method of being able to pivot on the spot, thus ruining most forms of action combat found in MMOs today. Also: combined with a baby parsnip and a doll’s wig, can present a passing fair representation of Prime Minister David Cameron.

‘Dodge! Dodge!’ cry the developers; thus I fling my character around the screen like a freshly landed sea bass flopping its way across the deck of a boat, trying—in utmost futility—to escape its tormentors. In the meantime, my enemy stands on the spot and spins around slowly, punching me all the while.

“Can’t you see I’m dodging here?”

“Yes, yes [smack] you’re doing a tremendous job. [thwack] Stirling effort and all that [thock]. I really am quite in awe [spang] of your mobility and [biff] energy, leaping all over the place [poon] as you are [bosh]. I mean, you’re really making my job [funt] modestly more difficult [dorf] than it need be, maybe more [bum].”


“Sorry, I was aiming higher, but you, well—moved.”

“I’m not going to be able to sit down for weeks, you know.”

“Look I’m sorry, it would have happened if you’d just stand still, instead of all this…”


“This flopping around.”

“I am NOT flopping.”

“Here we go…”

“This is active dodging!”

“Uh huh.”

“I was trained by a Grand Master, I’ll have you know!”


“Spent punishing years in Tibet.”


“Forged my mind and body into the singular living embodiment of the art of ‘getting the frack out of the way’.”

“But aren’t you just, uh, running around in a circle and jumping a bit?”

“Oh, that is IT. The minute I’m able to stop dodging I’m going to fwap you *so* hard. Are you… are you tiring at all yet?”

“Not really.”


“I could probably go on like this for hours. I mean, it’s not like I’m having to break a sweat or anything; I just keep spinning on my heel and carry on punching. How about you?”

“I’m getting quite tired actually.”

“Perhaps you should have a little lie down.”

“I couldn’t possibl—”

“Here, let me help: [FUNCH]”

Oh sure, I can dodge the preposterously telegraphed attacks, where the enemy spends more time winding-up their strike than I used to spend trying to eke out an extra bit of speed from the Evel Knievel Deluxe Dare Devil Stunt bike. That damnable bike, where I’d quickly wind the handle to close to the theoretical maximum speed, then spend the next half an hour oscillating between fractionally faster and fractionally slower speeds as my body alternately lost and regained its coordination, before ultimately tiring to the point where I slipped, mistimed the release, the bike flopping pathetically over onto its side two centimetres away from the ramp, and I knocked myself unconscious on the launch ramp as I fell. Good times.

That form of one-button active dodge is just a quick time event in disguise. Certainly the ‘dodge event’ serves to break up the monotony of traditional rock ’em, sock ’em MMO combat, but it’s not really a step-change in the evolution of combat, more a small step in the right direction.

Tera solves the ‘heel pivot’ issue by having the mobs be continuously dumbfounded when your character dodges. Whenever you leap behind a mob, they will stand there in a comic ‘Durrr, where’d she go?’ sort of way, before slowly turning around and—after a merry ‘Boh! There she is!’—continue on with the fight, allowing you to get a few free hits in without retaliation in the interim. Still, Tera was one of the few MMOs where I actively sought combat, rather than trying to avoid it all costs unless directed to do so by a quest.

DDO solved the problem by making casters ludicrously more powerful than melee, and seemingly giving every boss a massive unavoidable AoE knockdown in order to punish anyone daring to get into melee range. The fact that casters need to chain-chug mana pots purchased from the Turbine store in order to maintain their level of power? Coincidence. But that’s the danger of having the power-gaming community rule a game: it’s terribly easy in such a case for the developer to exploit the need for maximum optimisation, primarily through in-store incentives.

“Oh, you don’t *need* to buy this from the store. Not at all. The content can be done just fine without Store Consumable X. I mean, gosh, of course you’ll probably run it about thirty seven seconds slower than if yo—”

[Store Consumable X has sold out]

MMOs, for now, are combat. Even in TSW, which at least tries to mix things up a little, I’m beginning to tire of the number of problems in the world that can only be solved by going out and slaughtering a *precise* number of tightly clustered creatures. Yet for all their insistence on combat being the Ultimate Solution to all problems…

“MMO Mother, I can’t do up my shoes!”

“Kill five pairs of them!”

“MMO Mother, I’m having trouble with my homework.”

“Kill your homework!”

“MMO Mother, I can’t open this packet of crisps.”

“Kill the packet and all the crisps inside. And then kill nine more packets to teach them a lesson!”

“MMO Mother, there’s a wasp!”

“Right, what you need to do is travel halfway across the world and ask Uncle Geoff whether we can borrow his wasp catcher. You’ll probably find that he’s happy for you to do that, but that his wasp catcher is broken, as it often is. Thus, you’ll need to travel to seven locations across the globe, collecting the rare parts which can only be found in these out of the way places, and bring them back to Uncle Geoff. He’ll then repair the wasp catcher for you, but only if you can perform the Ritual of the Wasp. To learn the Ritual of the Wasp, you’ll need to speak to the Fifteen Sages of Waspdom, who are spread out—far, far, far, far out—across the world. They’re slightly eccentric folk, though, so I expect each of them will require you to quest for an insignificant item of no consequence before they divulge their secrets. Good luck!”

“Can’t I just kill it?”

“What sort of crazy talk is that?! Kill it… I never heard such— aye, what sort of child says such things? I blame your father.”

…it seems strange that when seasoning their combat, the MMO chefs decided to leave variety in the spice rack. The current format of standing still and playing a game of Farmville on fast-forward (press buttons, in order, based on time-limited resources, eventually win) clearly doesn’t lend itself terribly well to a more dynamic form. It’s almost as though MMO combat is stuck somewhere between the more cerebral experience found in tactical RPGs, and the more dynamic action found in beat ’em ups and FPS games, and can’t really decide to which audience it ought to cater. That’s not to say that MMO combat doesn’t have its own style, its own niche differentiation, it’s just that the fundamental design is nowhere near compelling enough to be used so persistently, without it quickly becoming impossibly dull.

7 thoughts on “Necessity is the mother of futile dodges.

  1. bhagpuss

    I like standing still and hitting stuff. I do not like jumping about. I’m hoping the current obsession with “dodging” and “action” is a fad that will soon pass. In the meantime there are workarounds.

    In TSW and GW2 I’ve already found that if you work your build right, pick your targets and overgear you can ignore the new “action” combat, carry on standing still and hitting stuff and progress just fine. The odd thing it doesn’t work on (moths) I just skip. I don’t feel any obligation to complete any content that isn’t amusing.

  2. Melmoth Post author

    I think that’s another thing that Tera got right: if there was a telegraphed attack then you had to avoid it, or you were in trouble. With a lot of the pseudo-action MMOs we’re seeing, you don’t have to worry about avoiding the attack much of the time. Then other times it’s a one-shotter.

    Which leads to a subgame of Dodge or No Dodge?, where contestants must guess the correct time to dodge the monster, based on nothing but the player’s blind luck and prodigious self-belief that they harbour some form of latent psychic power.

  3. Telwyn

    I tried Tera very recently and found the combat very engaging actually. I play a healer often, and for once combat didn’t come down to health bar + my healing – their damage = success or failure. Nope, in Tera a lot of creatures will interrupt your heals and kick you on your behind if you stand and fight them (at least as a squishy healer). So I spent a lot of time kiting, but also a lot of thought on combinations of abilities (such as the jump backwards retreat) that would maximise my damage while minimising the time I spend in danger of being hit.

    Granted it was only the trial and I might get bored of it eventually. But I’ll be going into GW2 with an expectation of something better than the WoW-style combat model.

    Even in Tera I think it’s more than just active dodging that defines the combat as more interesting. It’s the importance of position – of knowing your surroundings as you fight. I loved throwing the lower level AoE heal, which appears as a circle a bit in front of you, and then running through it to get a heal as I retreat or reposition to redo one of my DPS cycles. You are forced to look at the game world and not your ability bars (or their cooldowns) which is something very different from WoW et al.

    I hope that the system for ability interactions between players in a group in GW2 will also encourage this environmental/situational awareness that’ll encourage immersion in the game and a bit more creativity in combat.

  4. Vic Sandman

    And this is why I think GW2’s dodge shouldn’t have a recharge meter on it. It’s a pain in the ass to keep track of and defeats the point of evasion-based gameplay, which is to take the player’s away from the UI to the game world.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    @Telwyn: “I think it’s more than just active dodging that defines the combat as more interesting. It’s the importance of position”

    I think the great thing about such design is that it forces you to look into the game world more. As you say, one has to pay attention to the game world, and not so much health bars and hotbar buttons, which makes for much more entertaining play, I feel. The changes to healing, which you mention, are another great way that the developers have tried to pull the player into the game world more.

    @Vic Sandman: I think you’re right, although in fairness Tera also had cooldowns on its active dodge. However, due to the fixed and heavily choreographed nature of the auto-attack cycle, I found that I’d eventually know when my dodge was off cooldown by the number of auto-attack cycles I’d completed (auto-attacks were generally a chain of three different attack animations, culminating in a larger attack on the third swing which also activated a chained skill ability).

    Tera’s combat might not seem ‘all that’ to many players, but I think it has some very clever innovations which allow the player to intuitively know when the cool-downs on certain abilities have expired, as well as other mechanisms which prevent the player from having to scan their hotbar all the time.

    This is why I found Guild Wars 2’s combat a little disappointing in comparison, and why I found their ‘We want you to look into the game world’ statement slightly disingenuous, for as far as I can tell, their combat system is still largely about staring at the cooldown counters on hotbar icons.

  6. spinks

    One thing I didn’t like so much about GW2 dodge was how it always interrupted any spell you were channeling/ casting. Maybe I was doing it wrong but it doesn’t feel very fluid to hit dodge, interrupt yourself, and end up 6′ away from the monster in whichever direction you dodged. I was expecting my character to weave a bit but stay in place :)

  7. Melmoth Post author

    I’m not sure how it worked with casters in Tera, but I’m not sure that any of the caster attacks had a channel or build-up. Certainly the casters’ dodge was nice in that it pinged the character backwards, but still left the enemy within spell range.

    The melee dodge, on the other hand, was generally in the direction of movement, which meant lots of tactical options, especially since you couldn’t normally move through an opponent, except when dodging.

    I’ll be interested to see how GW2’s dodge works in PvE; I get the impression that it definitely has its uses in PvP.

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