[WS] Arkship 2013 Demo Telegraph’d Combat

Continuing my thoughts on my play experience at WildStar’s 2013 Arkship, I also want to discuss the thing that is most core to most MMO’s: combat. The most prevalent MMO combat style is the stand-and-deliver style found in World of Warcraft et al.  The other extreme is something along the lines of Vindictus, with button-mashing, arcade-style combat. WildStar is neither of those, but it takes elements from both. Like its content design it appears to place itself comfortably in a middle.

From a high level view, the easiest thing to discuss in WildStar’s combat system are combat telegraphs. In WildStar’s system enemies have normal, attrition-ish attacks, and they have the big attacks that should be avoided. When an enemy winds up a big attack the ground becomes shaded where the attack would affect players. Honestly I was skeptical at how much the “don’t stand in the poop”-mechanic could really make combat interesting.

Surprisingly it was. Here’s the critical point. In many MMOs, creature developers take a lot of work to make enemies different throughout the game. Most of the time, I simply don’t care. It’s rarely going to change anything I do. The problem is that in these MMO’s the differences between creatures are simply not noticeable to the degree that would require me to react. Even well telegraphed animations in some games kind of border on unnoticeable or just don’t overcome the laziness of knowing I will win.

WildStar’s ground shading psychologically forces a reaction. There’s too much of a conditioning factor to want to ignore a big red shape on the ground which a player knows to get out of. Yet, at the same time it is intuitive to understand.

WildStar has an ingrained learning experience for each creature. One monster’s rectangular ground shading might be a beam attack while another’s might be a charge. That first time or two facing a particular monster, I started to make associations with the ground shading. In the area I was playing there were plenty of variations of patterns to avoid for different creatures. Perhaps it was a huge arc which required me to get behind the enemy, or perhaps it was a random variation of circles on the ground. I am just amazed at how such a simple shape display affects some deep part of my reptilian gamer brain.

I would be remiss to not compare it to The Secret World. Both feel very similar. WildStar’s combat was much smoother, and with the art style it felt like the ground patterns belonged. The Secret World’s ground patterns feel like harsh overlays trying to convey information in a particular way without breaking too much “immersion”. WildStar is like, naw, let’s make it as bold as the surroundings. It felt more incorporated in to the heart of the game. Small changes in visual feel have a big impact on presentation.

The telegraphs extend to just about everything. There were spike plants in the field that acted like mines. If I tripped a spike plant there was about a 2-second wait as I was shown a circular telegraph around the spike plant. If I was fighting creatures near a spike plant it became a mini-game to see if I could trip a spike plant making sure the creature was inside the circle (and not me) when the mine went off. This was also a good way to get dissimilar creatures to fight one another. If I overaggroed a herd of deer and some predator at the same time, I could strafe to get the deer into a predator’s telegraphed attack knowing the deer would then ignore me to fight the predator. I’d kill them all, of course.

Most of the player skills were telegraphed too. If I rolled the mouse of a skill, the arc or line or other shape of the skill would pop up. I could make sure that my first attack would hit every target I intended to hit, or keep those I didn’t want aggroed out of the shape. WildStar devs mentioned that they were seeing very skilled players that could position themselves for maximum efficiency, which was not often an easy thing to do. Still that added another layer because I was constantly thinking about the shape of my attacks and how the battlefield fit inside those shapes.

I don’t feel the ground shapes telegraphs are a revolutionary mechanic that every MMO should instantly snatch up for their own. However, they work perfectly for WildStar. It makes the game a tad more game-y. It fits with the evocative art style. It synergizes perfectly with the very responsive combat system found in WildStar. It is possibly the most integral part of combat. And it’s still going to feel familiar.

I think this is going to wrap up my Arkship articles before I toe the line where NCSoft forces brave Californian lawyers to enter a frigid Mid-West. I do want to end with the point that WildStar is not going to be revolutionary in any sense with regard to these mechanics I’ve explained in the Arkship articles (though WildStar might be elsewhere). MMO veterans picking up the game will instantly feel familiarity with combat and content design. Yet, even in this alpha-ish build I can already see systems working very well together. That combination is what is going to make WildStar. We’ll see where Carbine takes it from here.

–Ravious

8 thoughts on “[WS] Arkship 2013 Demo Telegraph’d Combat

  1. Rohan

    Have you tried TERA? It features a very similar system, though with more emphasis on monster animations and less on ground overlays.

    1. Ravious Post author

      I have not, but I feel Guild Wars 2 also has that monster animation telegraph focus. Seriously the ground overlays make all the difference… at least to me.

  2. bhagpuss

    Do we really need ground markers for this? As I was reading the opening paragraphs I was thinking “sounds just like The Secret World”, as indeed you then pointed out. I was also thinking “and it was distracting and unnecessary there – is it going to be any different in WildStar?”

    Take the big moths in TSW. They do an extremely irritating charge that knocks you down and stuns you if you get hit by it. Before they charge a huge rectangle appears on the ground between the moth and you, there’s a pause, then the moth shoots along it like piston up a tube. The idea is that you sidestep or dodge out of the rectangle.

    Why do you need to see a rectangle? That’s my question. In GW2 Boars use almost exactly the same attack but no marker appears on the ground. They back up, pause, then charge. You can see them getting ready to do it and you can dodge them when they do. Wurms spit great rocks at you – they wind up like pitchers about to deliver a fastball, you see them do it, you dodge.

    I have no problem at all with the mechanics of the combat. Monsters having special attacks that need countering is fine. I would much prefer to see that from the animations and movements and if appropriate the spell effects, not from a dirty great marker on the floor.

    You comment that “it makes the game a tad more game-y”. My problem is that I want all MMOs to be a lot *less* game-y. I want to like WildStar. I really like the setting, the promo videos are first-class, the housing looks great. So far, though, I can’t quite work up any real enthusiasm. I hope it turns out to be better than it sounds, which to me GW2 certainly did.

    1. Coriolis

      I agree. Tera does this particularly well, with a wide variety of attacks and without the silly circles. More then that, since there are a variety of attacks with different attack patterns, you actually have to learn which wind up means what type of attack. It’s pretty intuitive though, a breath attack has a very different windup then a tail swipe. And then when you get your groove, monsters can enrage and do every attack a bit faster hehe.

      Playing Tera, I kind of realized how bad of a job GW2 did of having good animation that properly telegraph their attacks. Unfortunately I don’t think Tera has much else going for it other then the combat.

  3. moondog548

    Sounds like the right way to have engaging combat, but only if your art design supports it. I think I agree with other folks here pointing out that GW2 telegraphs for example are plenty sufficient.

    But ONLY when you actually care about what the monster is doing, as you point out in the article.

  4. Telwyn

    I do find more active combat engaging, and now in WoW I’m constantly wishing I could dodge attacks with a specific skill rather than just running out of the telegraphed area (some of the creatures in the Shieldwall Offensive daily zone have these telegraphed attacks).

    Tera does a good job of making this style of combat meaningful. I gather from your description that this feels meaningful in normal questing content? For me Tera’s combat is good because if you tried to ‘stand and deliver’ every fight the recovery times would be pretty long – you don’t regen health that fast when not at a campfire. So if you want to quest efficiently you are trained pretty quickly to avoid bad stuff.

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