What have we lost to the GCD?

What have we lost to the GCD?

Combat in MMO’s

A Companion Piece to Cerebral vs. Visceral

(Note from Ryahl:  Thanks to anyone who is seeing this from the Lodestone.  Since both Aela and myself are more then a month out of playing the game at this point, we’re unable to respond to the discussion.  Please feel free to leave comments on this page, or visit my Lodestone blog if you wish to touch base or comment to either of us.)


So, my MMORPG.com article on combat styles (edit: Part 2 has now posted) has produced quite a bit of interesting commentary.  Now, that commentary is divided across a few different spectrum   Most of it is over at MMORPG.com, where the article was hosted.  But there has also been very good conversation over at Reddit in both the FFXIV and MMORPG subreddits.

One of the common themes in the comments is that MMO combat, since moving to the more action-oriented, global cooldown (GCD) style is that combat has become even more boring and repetitive.

It has!

I’m not sure, though, that this is entirely a problem with action oriented (e.g. dive-roll) combat or if it’s entirely a function of moving to a global cool-down, FPS style of combat.   I suspect that some of it is the latter, but I also think it’s part of a number of MMO elements that have had their complexity simply watered down over the past decade.

Some of it could also be the natural evolution of “solo based” character advancement, requiring PVE encounters that can be beaten by pretty much anybody with pretty much any build.  It’s hard to design interesting encounters to that low of a denominator.

I think most of us more or less agree that repetitive combat actions are boring

The simulator style of combat automates those repetitive actions into an auto-attack, which I’m perfectly fine with.  The problem comes from the abilities that the character can choose to use.

If those abilities are interesting and the choices are meaningful, then auto attack damage is simply that other thing going on in the fight.  However, when those abilities become simply repetition of the auto attack itself, that’s when the tradeoff for a GCD seems seductive.  Put simply, if all of your abilities are just pew-pew, then why have an auto attack going pew-pew?

At any rate, the title of the blog entry asks “what have we lost,” so let me get to that.  I’m brainstorming here, but it seems like PVE encounters (and just the mundane ones) had more going on way back when.

The things we used to do in combat

  1. Runners – back in Everquest, virtually every sentient creature would run away when damage accumulated.  If you couldn’t control the runner, you often got swarmed.  Hastes, stuns, damage bursts, heck even simply good positioning at the start of the fight all mattered.
  2. Calling for Help – This is a bit like running.  Yes, we still have mobs with social behavior, but that usually either (a) is hard-coded to the encounter or (b) triggers at the point of engagement.  Having to worry about calls for help mid-fight adds the need for more combat countering abilities (silences, stuns, etc.), increasing fight variety.
  3. Haste and Slow – Every MMO pre-GCD had classes, abilities and items which either added to, or subtracted from, the speed of the auto-attack.  I don’t think we can legitimately make things faster than a 1-second GCD, so this has largely gone to the wayside.
  4. Ability Recycle Time – This seems a bit obvious, but having a global cool down to process when someone can act doesn’t (or shouldn’t)  mean that all abilities need to recycle on a global cool down.  Having to choose when you can use abilities adds a resource constraint to combat.  I will admit that 1-hour and 2-hour recycle abilities from the old days are probably the wrong way to go.  However once per encounter might solve that (must be out of combat for x-seconds to recover the ability).  Additionally, when abilities have unique recycles, a whole slew of (de)buffs that increase or decrease those recycle times becomes interesting.
  5. Banes and Boons – An aspect of buffing and debuffing, but tied to the fact that we used to have different types of damage.  Increasing (or decreasing) vulnerability to specific damage types was an element of game play and learning the game world.  Note, this doesn’t have to be missing in the GCD era, it just is.
  6. Auto-attack cessation – I’m not talking about mezzing/sleeping/sheeping/squirreling here, nor am I talking about interrupts.  I’m talking about the ability to either enact medium length stuns or even intermittent interruptions (e.g. Paralyze from FFXI).  Putting this on an opponent could greatly improve your survivability, having it put on you could quickly send you back to your rez point.
  7. Accuracy – There was a time when we didn’t simply always hit. Yes, I know games today sometimes have miss rates as high as 5%, but it used to be a lot higher.  Abilities and items that could temporarily augment accuracy up/down used to be critical to winning some fights.  Yes, today we have abilities that let you hit x%  harder for y-seconds, but that could/should be distinct from flat out forced hitting/missing.  This one is actually a function of action combat – when you force your players to aim their shots (TERA and DCUO), it’s only fair to let them hit when they hit.  This seems like a necessary trade-off when you move away from tab based combat.
  8. Mind the Gap – LOTRO is the last game I recall using this.  Ranged attackers in LOTRO constantly try to increase the gap between you and them.  As a melee, this winds up creating a chaotic dance.  Heck, some of them create gaps and then root you (/shakes a fist at goblins).  This should be common sauce and there is no reason a GCD game can’t do this.  In older MMO’s, there were a number of regular mobs that could close gaps, either through charges, teleports or summons.

The thing is we used to have entire classes built around managing these functions.   Having these things as elements of combat increased the variability of itemization as well.  Heck, just putting this post together caused me to reference enfeebling magic in FFXI.  Take a gander at the classes and items that impact just enfeebling (debuffing) in FFXI.

Quite often, these days our abilities boil down to (a) do damage, (b) mitigate damage and (c) manage threat.  Granted, all of the eight items above have elements of the damage/threat paradigm (and let’s not get into that one, threat as a mechanic simply works in our current AI reality).  But, they differ in the methods and flavor of realizing those mechanics.

What types of things would you like to see in generic combat?  I’m not talking boss mechanics, but simply things that would make fighting zombies/rats/squirrels/orcs/goblins a bit more interesting?

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3 Responses to What have we lost to the GCD?

  1. Jack says:

    Generic mobs should have strengths and weaknesses. Currently, they are all weak. So to keep players on their toes, some could be resistant to physical damage, some could be resistant to fire, some could vary base on equipement they wear, some could even try to bribe you so you dont kill them. Having more than the lunge and reset animation for skills would also help, having less than perfect mobs would help too (mobs always attack in a consistent fashion, which makes repetitive even more annoying), differenciating between stronger and weaker mobs should be their ability to dps properly, not hit harder and take less damage (although for SOME it could be logical, just not all of them). Skills used by a lvl 5 goblin should be usable by your level 65 “hero”, especially melee skills. That kills immersion to know that your warrior, hero and savior of his people, cannot do an uppercut attack like the lvl 5 goblin he just crossed in the beginner zone. But that would mean making mobs interesting, something corporate developpers cannot do, it doesn’t generate enough profits.

  2. tupo says:

    Mobs having specific strengths and weaknesses that make them easier or harder depending on the player’s setup e.g.
    spiders that are
    - fast
    - soft
    - moderate attack but with weak penetration
    - killer poison
    - drop an important type of crafting silk

    so they’d be weak to ranged players or heavy armoured fighters but potentially very dangerous to others. they’d also create a niche for items with a boost to poison save e.g a silk hunter’s set of leather armor with a high anti-poison stats

    a second kind of spider might be the same except it fires a short-ranged immobilizing web instead of poison which roots and makes the player much easier to hit as well as preventing the player’s attacks which makes them lethal to solo players of all kinds.

    a third might be small, weak but fast spiders who hunt like a wolfpack that are strong against single attacks but weak to aoe attacks

    a fourth might be a slow, ambushing carapace spider with very tough armor which is hard to damage without two-handed weapons


    if each mob has strengths and weaknesses like this then class abilities and gear can be designed to counter specific situations rather than just all damage

  3. Turambar says:

    After playing FFXI for 10 years, it’s just unbelievable to me that FFXIV doesn’t have elemental strengths and weaknesses. If I’d cast Fire on a fire or water elemental in FFXI, I would fully expect and deserve to be booted from the party and blacklisted. FFXI elementals were among the most dangerous enemies around, between their huge resistance to anything but magic of the right element and highly damaging attacks. FFXIV just treats them as another fodder mob.

    All the enemies in FFXIV just seem weaker in general. They all take full damage from every damage type (Fire, Ice, Slashing, Piercing, etc.) so what is the point of having damage types at all? For that matter, other than one AOE attack unique to most mob types, the mobs are basically interchangeable from what I’ve seen so far. None of them seem to do more damage per hit than another mob of equal level. None attack or run faster or slower. None have higher or lower defense that I can tell. The reason everyone in FFXI leveled crabs and beetles from basically 12-70 was that they were the safest mobs, with no dangerous AOE, and one self-buff that any competent RDM or BRD would have off within seconds. Mandragoras used to guard and counter attacks, especially at higher levels. Rabbits had an incredibly dangerous AOE called Whirl Claws. All three equivalent mobs in FFXIV just stand there and let you hit them till they fall over.

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