While I hung up my ESO sword, I do have a few comparisons to make with other games. The Internet and I have an outstanding issue with the combat in ESO (it’s better than Skyrim but combat in Skyrim was never the point) and the mix between a limited action set, “don’t stand in the red”, and free-flowing combat.
Combat is, for better or worse, more than half of the time you spend in game. Figuring out the model that works for you is key.
Limited action set
I won’t say that League of Legends created it but it certainly put it to the forefront. LAS provides a strategic (what skills can I slot) and tactical (what skills can I use) view to combat. There’s a fair amount of situational choice and LoL exemplifies that, to a degree. LAS in MMOs is best seen in Neverwinter and soon Wildstar (which also combines resource management). There’s skill variety, different variables (similar to the morphs) on a given skill and the flexibility to change pretty quickly outside of combat. I think it’s fair to say that LAS is going to be the way forward for MMOs and games in general from this point forward. It has a low skill barrier as you don’t have to map 18 keys so it’s easy to learn, hard to master. Good stuff all around in my opinion and sort of makes WoW look like a dinosaur in comparison. Mind you WoD is cutting what seems half the skills due to bloat.
Don’t stand in the fire
It seems any 3d game with terrain today has an indicator system rather than a numeric damage system. We’re no longer trading punches (which in Molten Core was 90% of the battles) and debuffs. There are damage spikes but also telegraphs or visual indicators to avoid it. Smart play avoids damage, bot play dies. The margin for error on this is where games differentiate themselves. Some have a lot of room (SWTOR) and some have next to none (Wildstar, WoW). Most straddle the line and allow different levels of skills. This brings in a bit more of the action-aspect of gaming from consoles and makes every fight thematically different as the bad stuff is different as well as the dance to avoid it.
Free flowing combat
This is a bit harder to define but it deals with combat on the move. Older games were more of the “stand and shoot” variety. The traditional glass cannon mage is a good example. Cast-times where you cannot move are a more old-school system, mind you they combine the risk/reward system for decision making. At a low/medium skill level though, it’s far from evident how you decide to keep casting with 0.25 seconds left or just stop and move. More recent games force you to be mobile for the majority of an event, with Neverwinter and Wildstar really pushing this concept.
The hiccup with moving combat is keeping track of your target. With the screen moving everywhere, you want to be able to continue attacking even if you aren’t directly looking at the enemy. This is a skill thing as circle strafing (a FPS concept) is very difficult for most players to grasp. For tab-target games, like WoW or FF14, this is built-in. For free-from games like Neverwinter or ESO, then you lose targeting when you move the screen. Wildstar uses a hybrid approach. The basic concept is “can I deal damage while moving”. Depending on the auto-target configuration, ranged and melee attackers have different situations too.
Of all current games, I consider Neverwinter the current best case scenario for active combat in an MMO outside of a MOBA. It’s got skill variety, plenty of stuff you should avoid and stuff to stand in, and a very response active combat system. You need to dodge, dip, duck dive and dodge a lot. It’s frantic but manageable. Given that it’s a free to play game, it gives the chance for everyone to give it a shot to see if the model (and not so much the rest of the game) fits. I won’t compare other games to this system as it’s really personal preference. It does bode well moving forward that the combat from this point forward is going to be more engaging and require more than a macro of pressing 1, 2, 3 for 10 minutes at a time.