Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Types of MMO Combat

It's been a long held criticism that MMO's have changed very little in their combat systems over the years. The same mixture of auto-attack and hotbar abilities that Everquest popularized can be found in the majority of modern games today. What little innovation we've seen has involved mixing first person shooter elements into combat. Unfortunately, a lot of MMO fans are still only interested in fantasy settings that don't mix well with FPS style combat. Also FPS fans are used to getting multiplayer services for free and don't see the need to pay a monthly subscription. While eventually I believe a FPS based MMO will succeed its always going to have a limited amount of appeal because it's combining two genres with very different tastes.

However, there does seem to be some hope coming from the far corners of the MMO universe. There are a couple of games that are oriented on youth and use gameplay mechanics that haven't been explored very much in the MMO genre. Both Wakfu and Wizard101 seem to be aimed at slowing combat down in hopes of introducing more strategy and tactical elements. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have Champions Online and Age of Conan which are trying to speed combat up so that it appeals to console gamers. Having learned from the past mistakes of Tabula Rasa and Planetside they are avoiding the FPS trap. Instead these two games have combat styles which is reminiscent of cooperative fighting games. I expect both these games to do well with their Xbox 360 port.

This game has a combat system based on the game mechanics of collectible card games. If you're familiar with Magic the Gathering then you could easily pick up Wizard101. The art seems to be heavily influenced by Harry Potter and is stylized instead of being realistic. Since the combat is based on card combat the battles are considerable longer when compared to most other MMOs. However, this doesn't seem to make them boring since I know several beta testers who are gushing over the game. Also it seems that the Wizard101 characters has the same high degree of customization and pet options which has made MapleStory so successful. I'm not sure if this game will be micro-transaction based, but it seems to be designed to take advantage of such a model. I only hope this doesn't turn off too many traditional MMO subscribers. If you're interested go on over to West Karana for several write-ups about the game.

I know a little bit less about Wakfu then I do some of the other games I'm going into. It's the successor of a game called Dofus which is made by French developer, Ankama. There are several gameplay videos for Wakfu and it looks to play a lot like a tactical fantasy game such as OgreTactics or Shining Force. If you're familiar with the genre then it will come as no surprise that Wakfu will be a turn based MMO. I know it seems like a step backwards from the real time gameplay we're used to experiencing, but I think it could work. The artwork and combat animations are a mixture of sprite models and anime cell shading and remind me a lot of the Disgaea titles. I'm not sure of their payment model, but I know Dofus uses a sliding scale subscription model that is supposed to be very fair. I just hope the translation into English is well done. I don't want to hear anymore "All your base are belong to us" jokes.

Champions Online
But wait a second Relm, isn't Champions Online just going to use the same combat system as City of Heroes? Smack. Wrong. It looks like Cryptic has learned from some of their earlier mistakes and is getting away from putting all attacks on cool-downs. My early understanding of the combat system is that it will be more console like where your basic hit and kick buttons will give you power that can be used to execute your special attacks. While I know this will probably be called button mashing in a comment five seconds after I post, its a very popular mechanic in console fighting games. I have a feeling that Cryptic will make the first real successful MMO that sells well on the console. I'm sure SOE will get envious with all the money they are investing to turn the PS3 into some kind of MMO console.

Age of Conan
I've mentioned before how Funcom designed Age of Conan from the start to be compatible with consoles. It's a good thing they released on the PC first though. I have a feeling that console owners are much less tolerant of unfinished games and Funcom would probably now be involved in some kind of class action lawsuit if they released on the Xbox last May. As much as I hate the old "pay us to beta test" trick that Funcom pulled, I still love the combat system in the game. It should translate very well to console controls and will be coming out around the same time as Champions Online. I think the combination of Age of Conan and Champions releasing on the Xbox 360 are far more likely to make it the MMO console. I have a distinct feeling that SOE is barking up the wrong tree with the Agency.


Tipa said...


How'd I do?

Thanks for the mention :)

Scott said...

I'm just now coming around to even start paying attention to Champions Online, but the tiny bit I've read is starting to interest me, I'll admit. I think I'd like having a more action-y combat system like you described over any more DikuCRAP influenced whack-a-mole and wait for the refresh combat.

Age of Conan... many also called that "button mashing" but it isn't really. Button mashing implies that you can win, even accidentally, by randomly pressing buttons quickly, like old fighting games did. Age of Conan is more... busywork than button mashing. They turned melee into casting, with DDR-style rhythm/timing combos rather than showing a progress bar. That also gives you a chance to screw it up rather than a die-roll determining success or failure. It's a shame the casters themselves got stuck with the same old die rolls and progress bars.

Wizard101 is quite cool, and very fun. It's a CCG with Final Fantasy style combat visuals. Oh, and you're not instanced for the combat either, you can see other fights in the background. You can also freely join anyone else's fight and be auto-grouped with them with no experience penalties, as long as the fight lasts long enough for you to play a single card.

Relmstein said...

OMG! I got trolled by Tipa like right away. Damn all those blogrolls that tell everyone when I do a post.

I have this horrible sinking feeling that I will like everything about Wizard101 except for the payment model. Anyone know how they are planning on charging their customers? I don't think I could play if they made you buy virtual booster packs of cards.

Scott said...

No, they haven't decided (or at least, they haven't told us) yet what type of business model they'll use.

Many beta testers have stated they'd prefer a F2P with microtransactions model, but right now, the game is totally not designed for that and would require a fair amount of reworking. I'm rather thinking they'll go for a low monthly sub, around $5 to $8, no more than $10 per month USD. Or, like a real CCG, just buy virtual booster packs like you mentioned, which will be fine provided they learn from M:tG's mistake and don't make every booster card outweigh every default card, forcing everyone to buy every booster.

Personally, I'd prefer the low monthly sub, just like ToonTown and some others use.

Sithlet said...

There's also the Chronicles of Spellborn system:

Openedge1 said...

I did a brief write up on
Atlantica Online
Which has a more Final Fantasy feel than some others with it's turn based mechanics almost like FF-X2 ATB combat (as your limited in the amount of time it takes to do your turn)
Visually it looks good, and was fast, so I wonder if that game will take off or not.
Seemed busy for a Closed Beta.

Anonymous said...

Re: Wizard101: been testing it for awhile. Three of us in this household, including two adults and a youngster of the targeted "age group".

It has a few playability issues surrounding late arrivals to fights, but overall the game is pretty well designed and quite fun to play, albeit much slower paced than a traditional MMO's combat. It's like Magic: The Gathering for kids, set in the ubiquitous wizard school that is featured in so many pre-teen books (long before Harry Potter's version came along).

It is surprisingly vast and remarkably easy, yet engaging to play.

Regarding your question about payment, we've recently been surveyed about whether or not we'd pay $10 per month per account. There has been no survey on the issue of microtransactions. I suspect that if they allowed such cash-play, they would risk alienating their younger audience who may not be able to buy the best cards in great quantities (many good cards are one-time-use). MicroTs may work great in an adult game but when your eight year old can't win a duel against an older person with the financial resources to literally stack a deck, that's just going to make the eight year old lose interest. And they truly seem to want this to be for preteen kids.

Otherwise, I'm impressed with it. It's our child's first foray into the wide world of MMOs and it's pretty well designed with child safety in mind.

JoBildo said...

I really think that AoC will wind up doing better on consoles (not necessarily sales-wise) than it has on PC. I mean in terms of critical reception from players and press alike.

Next Fall is very likely when the game should have come out, anyway.

That said, I'm still digging AoC. The new PvP system should greatly heighten the sense of "stuff to do" that it needs as well. I'm level 52 now, as well.

Anonymous said...

The fact that AoC was designed to work with consoles is precisely why I didn't consider trying it.

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