However, Age of Wushu focuses a lot on uneven risk and reward. It is not enough to simply have RPS elements. A combat design built around mixups should also have many different options between these mixups that create an inter-RPS. Let me explain broadly: Some rocks beat other rocks, but the other rocks provide better rewards when used against scissors. Some rocks might even provide benefits when used against paper! The series of mindgames interwoven into your attack choice are the focus for this week.
Attacks that lose aren't the best idea
You and your opponent are at a critical point in your match, and you both choose to attack. If you chose a filler attack though, you're coming out on the bottom in that trade -- if your attacks trade at all.
Filler attacks are just that. They're attacks that are best used to fill space in combos. By using filler attacks, you can deal much more damage than if your combo was entirely composed of linking attacks. However, the benefits typically stop there. Choosing to do a filler against an interrupt or lunge will cause your filler to not come out, while choosing a filler against a combo starter will result in a highly unfavorable trade where you eat a big combo to the face.
Some fillers are OK to use when there's little risk, such as ranged fillers. Lotus Blooming From the Fire is not very good at close range, but when your opponent can't threaten you, it can rack up some free damage. Even this is risky. Fillers don't knock down or stun, so your opponent might choose to dash at you at that moment and attempt a lunge, or he might use a ranged combo starter.
You can identify fillers by using them. Any overt attack that doesn't provide some kind of limited hard CC effect is a filler. Some attacks don't really CC, but they aren't fillers because they interrupt your opponent's attack. Swallow Flies Over the Pond is a good example; it pushes back but doesn't lead into anything else. It's not a filler, and it's incredibly useful as a result.
Combo starters are the opportunity attacks of the game. They lose to lunges or faster combo starters and are generally bad if blocked, but if you can guess your opponent is going to feint, a combo starter leads to huge amounts of damage. They're the real high-risk/high-reward option in Age of Wushu.
A combo starter is any non-feint, non-lunge attack that provides CC. Although there are interrupts that don't provide true CC (such as Swallow Over Pond), they occupy the same design space as combo starters as they are used at similar times. For most styles, though, a combo starter is a move that sets up into more damage. Submerge the Lotus is one of the most identifiable combo starters in the game; it launches the opponent skyward and allows for extra punishment.
For most combo starters, you want to identify the best times to use them. The #1 time to use a combo starter is when you can identify when the opponent wants to feint or when he wants to use a combo starter that is slower than yours. Submerge the Lotus is a fast move, but against Split Earth Asunder, it will lose before it gets to attack.
They're also the best moves to punish laggy moves. Loathsome Clouds and Rain is a powerful combo starter, but it is horribly unsafe if blocked. It can be punished by all but the slowest combo starters, and this gives away big damage if your opponent uses it recklessly.
Lunges are the meat of Age of Wushu's attacks. A lunge is usually identified in its tooltip as "This movement can be used with flying skills to quickly approach the enemy." Lunges are sometimes called "charges," depending on which player circle you belong to (I pretty much coined the term "lunge" for AoW's charges; I think it's used only on Blue Dragon, where I play).
Not all lunge moves are listed as such in the tooltip, and there are many moves that lack the "lunging" elements of the move but otherwise behave like lunges. Most super moves, such as Slow Green Shadow or Flower-Stirring Steps are effectively lunges with no lunge distance.
Describing lunges is difficult, but it's important because they are the most important moves in the game. Lunges have two different ranges they use: charge range and activation range. The activation range is listed in the lunge's tooltip, while the charge range is hidden. Most lunges have a 5- to 8-foot charge distance on the ground and a slightly over 10-foot charge range in the air. Some lunges, particularly super moves, do not have charge range and have only activation range. Some lunges have longer charge range than others, some have a larger activation range against aerial targets, and so on.
Lunges can be queued, and this is the easiest way to determine if a move is a lunge. If it can't be queued, it is not a lunge. The inverse is not always true, but melee attacks that can queue are almost always lunges.
A lunge that is executed outside of activation range but inside charge range will attempt to lunge at the opponent until it arrives at the target (roughly 1-2 feet), then will attempt to activate. It will not activate when it reaches activation range. If two lunges charge at each other, the winner is typically determined by lag. This is bad, so you should generally avoid using lunges except inside activation range.
Using a lunge while inside activation range will begin hitting the opponent at the moment the game servers receive the request. To put this in plain terms, I'd say lunges activate instantly. Additionally, they place their target into a sort of "locked" stun, which I call "hitstun." It is very short and generally only lasts until the end of the move, but because this stun occurs immediately when the move starts, lunges are the choice moves for beating other moves. They are effectively dragon punches; they beat all other moves if started up inside their activation range.
Because of their unique hitstun properties and instant startup, lunges are ideal moves for ending combos. They're also good to use to beat even the fastest combo starters, which can be incredibly valuable for putting powerful moves on cooldown. Lunges also beat feints, but that's generally a crude use of a lunge unless it's a high-damage lunge (such as a super move or Blood Stops in Seven Steps). Lunges are best used to beat other attacks.
Lunges can also be used to punish moves that have very tiny vulnerability windows. Glamorous Illusion (or Flame Tree Silvery Flower -- they changed the name) is a pretty good example of a move that has an extremely tiny vulnerable window, less than 50ms long. If you block it -- or even get hit by it, amusingly -- you can punish with a lunge if you are lucky. Unfortunately, the punish window for it is so short that it is impossible to punish reliably unless your ping is under 30ms.
Most lunges tend to end right as the move stops hitting, and they have the same duration of stun on hit as they do on block. This tends to create magical moments in time when both combatants are in melee range of each other, at least one has a lunge on cooldown, and both regain the ability to act at the exact same time. I call these magical moments in time "critical points," and they are the most important points in time that exist in Age of Wushu. Next time, you will get to learn about this -- the most important lesson in Age of Wushu. I will leave you only with the words I said on my Twitter about this lesson:
"Outside of a moment, you can only react."
Age of Wushu is a wonderous place, full of hidden secrets, incredible vistas and fearsome martial arts. Join Patrick as he journeys through China, revealing the many secrets of this ancient land. The Ming Dynasty may be a tumultuous time, but studying The Art of Wushu will give you the techniques you need to prevail.