Wasteland Diaries: Combat overhaul

Merging a roleplaying game (RPG) and a first-person shooter/third-person shooter FPS/TPS seamlessly can be difficult to say the least. I can only think of a few examples of games that have been done well in this manner. But none of the examples I can think of is an MMO. Granted I haven't played every game in existence, so this is by no means a definitive assertion. I'll call Fallen Earth an MMO/FPS in this post, for the sake of simplicity, even though it's an MMORPGFPS/TPS, but that's a mouthful and it looks like something an Enigma machine spit out.

The Fallen Earth combat system is a mix of two very different game types: an MMORPG and a shooter. Some of my detractors insist that Fallen Earth is an MMORPG with "manual targeting," but I respectfully disagree and consider it as much of a shooter as games that run on the Quake 3 engine. Just because it doesn't have "bullet-drop" physics doesn't mean it's not a shooter. There is a combat revamp headed our way this month, so I thought I would do an in-depth analysis of the FE combat system. After the break I intend to pop the hood on the combat system and take a close look at its mechanics, then try to surmise what changes might be incoming (even though I've seen some of them).
Standard MMO fare is tab-targeting and abilities in a hotbar. You can use hotkeys to fire off skills and spells or click with your mouse. I prefer the latter. If you are using your mouse to aim and shoot you have two choices: switch out of combat mode (i.e., stop shooting) and click the abilities or use hotkeys. The obvious choice is to use hotkeys. Combat in Fallen Earth can be very straightforward or it can be very convoluted. It starts off pretty simple. You have a few abilities that you assign a hotkey to, and they augment your combat ability. Later on it gets more complicated.

A brand-new clone will have a fairly empty hotbar, but a level 50 clone will have a hotbar with everything but the kitchen sink. Many of the abilities are passive, with durations measured in hours, but there are quite a few that are active and have durations measured in seconds. When combat gets hectic, there can be a lot of button-mashing going on, particularly in level 50 PvP. In most cases, level 50 clones are hard to bring down and require either focused fire or a series of debuff and elemental damage mixed with weapon damage.

It takes time to get used to aiming with a mouse and hitting all the right keys at the right time. Most people don't stick around long enough to master it. The players who have mastered it are usually willing to teach the new guys everything they know, but in most cases, if they bother to learn they don't stay around to master it. Level cap PvP has become an exclusive club that drives out the weak or simply bores or frustrates the few who have decided to try to tough it out. The rift between the average player and the good player is nearly insurmountable now, and most who try will give up.

On the other hand, the PvE content in Fallen Earth can be laughably easy depending on the player's experience and skill. Some might disagree with this assessment, but I (and many of my peers) find the PvE content way too easy. Not to brag, but I have soloed most of group content in Fallen Earth. Sure, not everyone will be able to breeze through the game without breaking a sweat, but even when I was brand-new to the game, I don't recall it being very challenging. Once you have mastered the keyboard gymnastics of PvP, the AI mobs will be target practice or just walking loot-receptacles.

We now have PvP combat that devolves into a mosh-pit where the combatants unload everything (mostly short-ranged stuff) in their arsenals to kill one another, all the while healing themselves. And we have players taking on armies of NPCs without breaking a sweat. Both PvP and PvE are unbalanced due to having players who are too hard to kill. The obvious answer is to lessen the resilience of the PCs. From what we have seen so far on the Public Test Server (PTS), that is what is likely to happen. Armor mitigation and the dodge skill will be diluted. Weapon damage will be much more severe and more instrumental in killing other players. Mobs will be more dangerous because they will do more damage and miss less often.

The new combat system wasn't on the PTS for long. Many of the long-time PvPers from the largest PvP clans got together and tested the combat system. There were some glaring issues. Dodge seemed to not work properly, and stuns meant instant doom with the massive weapon damage being doled out. The testers voiced their findings to the developers, and even though the new combat system (and the faction control points) were slated for release with the 1.7 patch, the devs wisely chose to pull the two broken systems. Kudos to Fallen Earth, LLC and Icarus Studios for paying attention to their playerbase and testers. I'm not going to name names, but some publishers would have pushed it into live beta.

There are many who think there will still be a lack of PvP even once the combat is made more decisive. I don't agree, but only time will tell. There are a great many intricacies involved in a new combat system, and we don't have enough information to speculate much further into it. The testing that I was involved in (which included group combat, not just individual combat) gave me high hopes for the new system. I really enjoyed the fights we had on the test server. The combat seemed to flow better and was more intuitive (i.e., shooting someone in the face with a shotgun hurt him badly). The combat is intrinsically fun but may not be enough to kick-start huge battles in Fallen Earth.

In the meantime, while I'm waiting for the PTS to be updated with the combat system, most of the endgame PvP has moved to the Blood Sports arenas. Although I'm not a big fan of Blood Sports, I have found myself partaking in an effort to quell my urges to pew-pew. Until next week, queue up for Blood Sports, unless they drop the new content on the PTS, in which case, meet up in Trader's Flat.

Ed Marshall has been playing Fallen Earth since beta and leads the Outsiders clan. Wasteland Diaries is his weekly column that covers all aspects of Fallen Earth: PvE, RP and PvP. To contact Ed, send an email to edward@massively.com, find him on the official forums as Casey Royer, or hunt him down in the wastelands as Nufan, Original, Death Incarnate, and Knuckles Mcsquee.
This article was originally published on Massively.