Bioware have posted a meaty developer walkthrough of one of their instances, which they call flashpoints, and it’s got me thinking about interface and combat style in MMOs.
On balance the walkthrough has made me more nervous than I was half an hour ago. I’m looking forward to The Old Republic and I don’t want Bioware to spoil the game’s promise by trying to emulate the core aspects of World of Warcraft. WoW is all very well and good and a solid time and money sink for a few months every year, but there’s a lot about it that pisses me off royally, including the interface and combat style.
Interface-wise I’m specifically referring to the daunting cluttered mess of spell and ability buttons that inevitably dominates the screen as you approach the endgame. Even with handy action bar mods like Bartender installed, I can’t escape the feeling that the 40-60 buttons I’ve accumulated through 80 levels of grinding, looting and occasional mild fun are ganging up on me like some sinister digital analogue of the einzatsgruppen, closing in to strangle the life out of my hairy tauren paladin in the centre.
There’s just way too much going on for me to wrap my head around. And don’t even get me started about dual speccing – I’ve tried being a tank one hour and a healer the next and all the shuffling of spells and gear drove me crazy. And I don’t mean Mardi Gras ‘woah guys, keep the noise down!’ crazy; I mean Hannibal Lecter ‘I think I want to eat your face and kidneys for my amusement’ crazy.
As the combat style of WoW goes I can at least appreciate the robust tank/healer/DPS ‘trinity’ class balance, which has been well honed over the years and has always ‘just worked’. Aside from that aspect though I find it all too easy to descend into a state of boredom. Essentially it degenerates into an overcomplicated admin task: keeping up your basic ability rotations, making sure your spec matches the latest theory online, constantly having to reevaluate your gear and not really understanding what stats need to be prioritised because the game never teaches you, remembering to cast the right buffs for the situation, etc. The list of variables in need of attention goes on.
What’s weird is that all this pretending to be CEO of your own private little on-screen empire does hold a sort of twisted appeal, but it’s never been fun for me in the purest sense of the word.
Which is why DC Universe Online has been such a breath of fresh air. The combat is immediate and accessible with the simple left-click/right-click combo control system for basic attacks. You can’t have more than 7 abilities (7 buttons) available for use at a time, which if you think about it has, give or take, been the healthy norm in shooters (whether first or third person) going all the way back to Doom. And, above all, it is fun. There’s something about that added physical interaction (left-click = fire laser beam out of hand into Lex Luthor’s babymaker) that taps into some primal human instinct. The gameplay is, as a result, radically different.
And so returning to The Old Republic footage, it scares me a little that it seems to look and play distinctly more like WoW than it does like DC Universe Online. Ok the screen doesn’t look quite as cluttered as WoW at level 80, and there’s a lot of apparently jolly explosions and lightsaber frolicking going on which is pleasing, but how can there be 25+ distinct ways for a Jedi to twirl his saber, and why does he seem to robotically pause for contemplation after every special move like he’s having trouble remembering what he’s supposed to do next?
This is Star Wars. It’s not meant to be anything other than exhilarating, flashy, fast and epic, preferably all at once. I don’t know if I really want to see a channeling meter every time I use the Force to tear a chunk out of the floor and fling it at a rancor (or whatever the hell those swampbeasty things are in the video) – that ought to be a cinematic moment that makes me feel powerful, not a timer counting down.
Anyway we’ve got months to go before TOR comes out so there’s plenty of time for previews, interviews and other videos to assuage my concerns. I still have high hopes for the story, characters and dialogue.
Sadly I’m an HTML illiterate retard which means I don’t know how to embed the walkthrough properly, so you’ll have to waddle over to PCGamer to see it.
I know you don’t want to leave my blog, but you must.
Farewell, and to quote the infamous G-Man (because that’s always fun even if it is completely irrelevant in this circumstance), “I will see you up ahead.”