First, what does combat detection mean? Combat detection generally means that there is more to fighting than just running through your ability rotation; players actually contribute to whether their attacks land or miss, while also running through ability combinations to deal damage to enemies. In the most extreme form, combat detection would entail a physics based damage system where you do the most damage from a certain angle at a specific acceleration, all calculated in real time. This sounds completely fantastic. This form of detection would effectively make MMOs into a kind of combat simulator where the person with the most dexterity and skill would prevail. One of the biggest flaws with this is that it would alienate a signification demographic of people, raising the skill cap for PvP astronomically high. With this in mind, a more physics based combat system would be better suited for a smaller game, though in the MMO genre, a small game is usually the kind that flops after only a couple months.
The other form of combat detection is roughly the way TERA has constructed their combat system. While there is still the actionbar that any MMO player is familiar with, the core of the gameplay lies with your involvement with the fighting that takes place. You have to actually line of your attacks and ensure they will follow through and cause damage. Though Tera claims it is an MMORPG, it really feels more like an MMORPG action adventure game. In many ways, Tera is everything I wish standard MMOs were and more, so my fingers are crossed that this game really catches on. What the developers have done here really does work on a large scale and I feel like it’s something we could move forward with as an industry. Gameplay feels much more rewarding because you are actually 100% a part of what your character does in their attacks. While there isn’t exactly a physics based system to the combat and the PvP skill cap is raised quite a bit, I feel like the way Tera has their game set up, learning to effectively position characters and use skills is something players will be able to learn and handle given the time and practice.
Combat detection also plays an important role in non-damage based characters. With a high implementation of combat detection, tanks will actually have to go out of their way to intercept attacks to defend their DPS characters. This means learning to time blocking to ensure the most damage is dissipated, as well as moving around the combat areas to generate threat and maintain agro throughout the entire fight. It becomes less about just maintaining agro and more about making sure every attacks lands on you, the tank, and none of your squishier party members have to take an significant amount of damage. This again raises the skill ceiling for players, but only to a certain extent because there is not an astronomical amount of new things going on. Tanks would have to learn better positioning and be more aware of all aspects of the fight, but other than that, it’s still just taking the brunt of the damage and keeping enemies occupied while everyone else picks them off one by one.
Where do we go from here? Combat detection is in most, if not all, major MMOs today in some shape or form. Button mashing for hours on end is no fun for anyone, and developers know this, but it’s about time we try something new. Tera was a step in the right direction, but can we do better? Combat is a central part of the genre, so the goal is so create a refreshing experience, but not in a way that will alienate the casual players who make up an increasingly large portion of players. There have been many MMOs who have done great things here and there in their gameplay or mechanics, but they always seem to be lacking in content or otherwise. We need to somehow take all the amazingly innovative things, such as Tera’s combat, or Rift’s ease of multiplayer, or even WoW’s diversity of content, and mash them all up into one game. Once we create something that truly plays like a new game, and not just a rehashed version of WoW with new ideas sprinkled in here and there, the genre will be able to advance. It is my firm opinion that this change needs to start with the most basic pillar of these games – combat. Once developers progress that, everything else will come naturally in a progression of innovation. The team that can defeat this problem is the team that will revitalize an exceedingly stagnated genre of play.