Thursday, May 22, 2008

Age of Conan: Melee Combat

Melee combat is the big selling point of Age of Conan. I find it fun and visceral in some ways, but also rather awkward.

Basically, there is no auto-attack. Combat is more like a console game, where you have three basic attacks (left, middle, right). Your enemy has three shields which they shift around. So basically, you try and hit them where they've left openings in their defenses.

This system is all well and good. Combat is bloody and fluid, and pretty fun with just the three basic attacks.

My problem comes with special abilities, called combos. To start a special attack, you press the hotkey for that attack, and then a specific sequence of basic attacks. That executes the attack.

For some reason, I find this really awkward on a keyboard. My basic attacks are bound to 1, 2, 3. I can use special attacks bound to 4 and 5 fairly easily. However, hitting specials bound to the other number keys causes me trouble. I generally have to take my fingers off the basic attacks in order to reach the specials, and that makes it hard for me to complete the specials, as I have to get my little, ring, and middle fingers back in place. I've been experimenting with using my other hand or the mouse to trigger specials, but then I can't use that hand to control movement. WTB one more hand!

Essentially, the basic attacks take up too much of "key space" accessible to one hand, at least with the default keybindings. I might be able to do something by remapping those keys to the middle of the keyboard. But right now I find that I'm skipping most of the combos and just hitting the basic attack buttons.

A very annoying note is that if you play an archer, your bound specials bar doesn't change when you switch weapons. If switching to a bow automatically swapped the specials available, it would be much easier. It's not so bad on a WoW hunter, as you can put range on one side, and melee on the other. The problem in AoC is that you use 1-3 in both situations. So it's like 1-6 for range, and 1-3 + 7-9 for melee.

It strikes me that this system would work superbly on a console controller or gamepad. You'd use your thumb to hit the basic attack buttons, and you could queue up specials using the right shoulder pad buttons.

Though to be honest, if I had designed this system I would have designed it differently. I would have allowed the player to replace the basic attacks with new attacks, but still keep the whole directional combat with the shields. For example, if you got a Poisoned Strike, you could replace your Middle Basic attack an Middle Poisoned Strike. Then whenever you made an middle attack, you would make a poisoned strike. (You could bind the same Strike to multiple directions.)

If you combined this with abilities that had cooldowns, it would get pretty interesting. If you have a Haymaker with a 10s cooldown on your Right attack, you'd make attacks to draw shields away from the right side, then Haymaker the opponent for a ton of damage. But now you can't use your Right attack for 10s, and a smart opponent can balance shields to protect the Middle and Left sides.

It would keep the twitch and visceral nature of combat. You could still have combos, but now the components of the combo could change. (I'd also remove having to start the combo by hitting a new button.) If Left, Left, Right triggers a Sweep, you could set it up so that Left and Right had abilities of your choice. It would be a little more strategic, and would be a lot easier to hit keys with one hand.


  1. if hot keys are remappable, consider assigning q,w,e for other attacks. on my WoW warrior, i use the q,w,e keys for stance switching.

    like your blog btw!

  2. Thanks!

    Problem with that is that I think at some later point Q and E become two other basic attacks (bottom-left attack, bottom-right attack). I'm not sure about this, but that's what the manual says.

  3. Q and E are for 2 additional swings (5 total) for certain classes at later levels. WASD are the default movement keys, with Z and C as strafing.

    I tend to only use 4-5-6 combos and 7-8-9-0 on bosses only (since you don't really have to move at all on bosses so far.) I also bound shift+1-0 to the secondary action bar and will be putting additional combos and spells there.

    My biggest complaint with the combat system is feedback. It's hard to see the damage numbers and there's no way to tell which directional swing you're performing and which one you have queued. Mashing buttons will usually give you one additional swing to a shielded side when the npc changes it, but it's hard to time pressing the swing buttons without losing dps time.

    Ideally I'd like to see either a swing timer or a fast global-cooldown-like timer on the attack buttons.

    (I'm also waiting for your post on the chat system, since that's gotta be by-far the worst part of the game) ;)

  4. I could be wrong here but I noticed for each combo there is a listing saying how many follow up attacks you do like (3UL) or (2M).

    I created a second hotbar for most of my combos except for my most damaging one which I keep in the 4 key spot. This way I can hit 4 and while I'm automatically doing the follow up attacks I have time to start another combo.

    There's still a flow to the combat that I don't think I've quite managed to grab but I'm getting closer.

  5. Relmstein, I think the listing is the attacks you have to do to trigger the combo.

    For example, Sweep says you need to do a Upper Right attack (or button 3). So you have to:

    1. Hit Sweep button
    2. Hit Upper Right button
    3. Sweep executes

    At least, that's my understanding of the system. I don't think it automatically executes a series of attacks for you.

  6. It strikes me that this system would work superbly on a console controller or gamepad. You'd use your thumb to hit the basic attack buttons, and you could queue up specials using the right shoulder pad buttons.

    I'm not too surprised to hear you say that. AoC will be out for the xbox 360 eventually and this often happens with cross-platform games.

  7. "But right now I find that I'm skipping most of the combos and just hitting the basic attack buttons."

    If you're playing a melee class and not using combos, you're not even going to be half as effective as a player using them. It's like comparing a Warrior auto attacking to one that can use Mortal Strike. There is no comparison.

    Don't get me wrong, I understand your hotkey clutter issue. I'm having plenty of that. I think it's just a matter of getting the right keymapping setup, though. (Not sure if you know this, but holding alt will show a different hotkey bar. So you could put something in Alt+1, Alt+2, etc, to make things more manageable.)

  8. That makes sense Rohan.

    Its funny though since most of my combos that only require me to hit one key deffinitely make my character swing multiple times.

    My Herald has an early combo that requires me to hit (M) once and it does 3 swings and bring up 3 different floating combat text numbers.

  9. I think pressing the combo button triggers an initial basic attack, though I don't know in what direction. Then you have the basic attack to complete the combo, and the combo result.

    1. Hit Sweep button - first attack
    2. Hit Upper Right button - second attack
    3. Sweep executes - third attack

    Or maybe the first attack you see is a queued attack from a previous button press. I'm not sure, I gave up on melee combat and went back to the Priest of Mitra.

  10. Thanks for this info. I'll stay away from AoC. These old fingers don't move as fast as the Nintendo generation as it is, so AoC would be even worse that WoW in that regard. I'll stick with WoW (where I don't even try to melee in arena.. hunter ftw there).

  11. Extra hand? Check out the Nostromo n52 gamepad... 15 keys easily accessible (mappable, macroable), 4 modes for each key, no need to move your hand.

    It's made me a decent gamer :)

  12. What I did, was map the basic attacks to the alt-bar (Alt+1, Alt+2 and Alt+3) Then I could use all the basic bars for different weapon-setups (one for polearm, and one for sword and sheild - since I play a guardian). So far it has worked out well, but I have not gotten to the extra attacks yet, and have to see how it plays out then.

  13. re-map your keys as follows:
    A=strife left
    D=strife right
    Z,X,C = additial slot


    life will be mush easier