Monday, August 25, 2008



Warhammer Online introduces a new system for targeting creatures and players for spells and abilities. It is interesting to compare the Warhammer Online system to World of Warcraft. WoW actually has multiple targeting systems, each serving a slightly different purpose.

World of Warcraft Basic - Primary Mode

In the default UI (no mods, no macros), there is one target frame. You choose your target, and press the ability, and the game tries to cast it on the current target. So to cast a spell on a new target generally requires 2 operations:

1. Select new target
2. Press spell button - Spell is cast on current target

This method has the advantage that it is very obvious and intuitive. It has the disadvantage that changing targets is fairly costly in terms of operations. Additionally, switching between a hostile and a friendly target will turn off your auto-attack.

World of Warcraft Basic - Secondary Mode

In the default UI, there is a secondary targeting mode. If you have a hostile target selected, and you cast a friendly spell such as a heal, the cursor will change to a glowing hand. You can then click the frame of a friendly player, and the spell will be cast on that player without changing your target.

1. Press spell button
2. Select friendly frame - Spell is cast on friend, target is not changed

The advantage here is that your current target never changes, your auto-attack does not turn off. Offensive actions don't require a target switch, and only cost 1 operation. However, this method does not seem that popular among players, and is probably not very intuitive. Additionally, even Blizzard occasionally forgets about this mode. For example, spells that can affect both allies and enemies, such as Holy Shock, will not work properly, automatically defaulting to hitting the hostile target. Another annoyance is that all your friendly spells get "greyed out" as unusable, even though you can still cast them.

Warhammer Online

Warhammer Online seems to have two targets: an offensive target and a defensive target. Selecting a friendly player changes your defensive target, and selecting a hostile changes your offensive target. If you cast a hostile spell, it hits the offensive target. A friendly spell hits the defensive target.

In terms of operations, this is slightly different depending on what you are doing. If you are mostly attacking creature or mostly healing friendlies, then it effectively costs 2 operations or so per target switch. However, when you alternate between healing and attacking, it only requires 1 operation. In the best case scenario, you only have yourself and one enemy, and you never need to switch targets. I would imagine that this targeting system promotes attacking and defending at the same time. If there's no extra cost, you might as well throw out a DoT if you have time.

As well, this system is pretty intuitive, while only being slightly more complex than WoW Basic - Primary. The idea that offensive spells are cast on your offensive target, and defensive spells are cast on your defensive target just makes sense.

World of Warcraft Advanced - Focus

In WoW, you can declare one target your "focus" with the /focus command. Right now, you generally need macros or mods to work with the focus target properly, but in WotLK the focus target is being built into the default UI.

Having a focus target allows you to cast certain spells at your focus, instead of your main target. This is especially useful for crowd control, as you can automatically renew a crowd control spell without switching targets. Essentially, casting a spell on the focus target only costs 1 operation, while other targets cost 2 operations.

The focus target is also open-ended. A DPS can juggle two hostile targets. A healer can juggle two friendly targets. However, one of the targets is fixed, as it takes a bit of effort to switch focuses.

Focus, while very powerful, is not exactly intuitive, and takes some getting used to.

World of Warcraft Advanced - Mouseover/Click-casting

In WoW, you can also macro your spells to target the frame or mob that your mouse is hovering over. This essentially reduces the cost of all your spells to 1 operation. This is primarily used by healers, as they have to switch targets often. However, DPS and tanks do occasionally have uses for mouseover targeting. In particular, warriors will use a mouseover Sunder macro to build threat on crowd-controlled mobs. (Sunder doesn't do damage to mobs, and using mouseover ensures that you don't auto-attack the sheep.)

Click-casting is where you automatically cast a spell without changing targets if you right-click a frame. You generally need a mod such as Clique. Click-casting is pretty similar to mouseover targeting in effect, but you're limited by the number of mouse buttons you have.

These techniques reduces operation cost to the minimum. However, they are fairly unintuitive, and require extra setup on the part of the player.


In a lot of ways, the basic WoW targeting system promotes focusing on one activity at a time. If you're healing, you switch between friendly targets and heal. If you're dealing damage, you stay on your target and burn them down.

Warhammer Online seems to promote both offensive and defense. The dual-targeting system promotes using both abilities that help your allies and hurt your enemies. This doesn't just apply to healers. Any class could get and use helpful abilities, and still be able to concentrate on the hostile mob. Additionally, it's still very user-friendly and easy to understand.

However, both Focus and mouseover targeting offer much more control, and reduces the cost in operations, to the experienced WoW player. Mouseover targeting effectively obsoletes the dual-targeting system for healing, and Focus allows you to alternate between two hostile targets. Still, these techniques are not exactly user-friendly, and generally require the player to have a fair bit of experience in the game before she can master them.


  1. Dual targeting (I haven't played WAR so it might be)counterintuitive, you have 1 target, and potentially 1 off target. Typically I have auto-self cast turned on (am a tank, if I cast LoH, bubble etc, I want the default to be me).

    So WoW has:

    Target: click, autocast offensive spells (judgements for example), mouse over.

    Focus: requires macros.


    What would be nice is to be allowed to setup multiple foci, for example:

    5 mob pull, you set Skull, X and Moon as primary, secondary and tertiary targets, setting focus on circle. Then some fast way to move between them (I would suggest by default binding ctrl-shift-alt to the combos, so target, ctrl-target, shift-target, ctrl-shift-target, alt-target...). Would be nice to be allowed to shift quickly to targets I know I want to deal with.

  2. I apologize for being slightly off topic, but a friend of mine recently linked me to a gameplay trailer of The Chronicles of Spellborn (game is intentionally not linked since this is not supposed to be an advertisement).

    They're apporaching the MMORPG genre from a rather different angle: targetting works similarly to playing a point'n'shoot game like Counter Strike. You need to position your crosshair over the enemy you're targetting while pressing a button to use a spell or weapon.

    I play a healer or tank mainly, so from both perspectives I'm rather curious how this works out. I admit that I'm not sure there actually will be tanking mechanics as we know them from WoW, but boy after a look at the intelligent NPC AI (exmaple: in a group consisting of two melee and a caster, the caster will always try to keep distance while the melee will position themselves in between you and their mage, or (ie a rogue) use special techniques if you go for the caster and they can get in your back) I was feeling both queasy and excited from a tanking point of view.

    The healer inside me sure hopes to be able to select group members the way he's used to from WoW..

    Anyways, if you're interested, the trailer I saw can be found at:

  3. Being honest a crosshair sucks in this kind of game, in a swirling melee (try targeting a character behind you as a tank). Crosshairs work in first person games, because you have to point, in third person, it fails hard.

  4. I can just imagine trying to BoP a mage on the Jan'Alai fight with 40 dragonhawks on top of both him and I using crosshairs.

  5. In all honesty, there can be mouse over casting later on with mods, from what I've read, but it in no way invalidates the dual target system in WAR because of abilities like the DoK's Rend Soul. That ability does damage to a foe and heals the defensive target for a multiplier of the damage done.

    So, while click casting is better for direct healing than having to target and then heal, it doesn't allow for some of the new mechanics introduced in WAR.

  6. Very good point, Lyris. Having two targets allows for abilities which affect both targets simultaneously.

    To a degree, WoW does this already with abilities like Vampiric Embrace/Touch or the new Judgements of the Wise. However, such affects either hit all friendly targets, or a random selection of targets.

  7. To add to that, in WoW, you can have 1 ability which affects 1 target hostile and:

    1. Yourself
    2. Your group
    3. Your raid
    4. A random selection of friendly targets
    5. A specific target which matches certain criteria (like Chain Heal)

    Warhammer Online adds the ability to affect 1 target hostile and:

    6. One specific friendly target.

    Now, how important is it to be able to do 6? I don't know. In many ways, you might be able to get pretty much the same effect from 2 or 5. How important is specific versus random?

    For example, if the DoK ability read "deals X damage to target creature and heals Y damage to a friendly target with the largest HP deficit" (intelligent healing like Chain Heal) would this be better, worse, or equivalent to the dual-target version?

  8. @Rohan:

    The specific target is still better and by quite a bit.

    What if I'm trying to keep a particular DPS member topped up in a boss encounter? If my secondary target is automatically the player with the biggest HP deficit, sometimes my healing is going to the tank and not the DPS I want to keep topped up.

    The tank already has a bunch of heals incoming, but if I'm responsible for keeping one DPS up, then I can't do my job. That's one less clever dynamic that can be built into an encounter.

    Even as a small point, it's a real point.

  9. At this point, you are arguing game differences. In WoW, there's no reason to have a specific secondary target outside CCing because that's just the way the game works.

    WAR is different, and the ability to specifically target friendly players to benefit from abilities like the DoK will really shine with skilled players at the helm.

    The DoK skill, for example, does x damage and heals y target for z% of that damage, but it also heals friendly players within 10 feet of y target.

    You could make the game choose y target based on health density, but in the end, I don't want a game simplifying itself to make it more accessible.

    There's a reason that I've cancelled my WoW account and will be playing WAR.

  10. PS. Before anyone says it, the skill I referenced in my above post is not Rend Soul, it's Consume Essence, IIRC.

    Either way, both of them are directed damage wise at an enemy target and the secondary effect is directed at a certain friendly player.

  11. Raynmaker, Alevas (Uther)8:03 AM, August 27, 2008

    Well, I'll throw in my two cents.
    For very simple purposes - the vanilla WoW UI works great for dps, works ok for healers, and is pretty bad for tanks who have to melee (tab targetting/random melee cliking FTL).
    Of course, using an addon which contains a focus target is ideal. When playing my hunter or mage, I will focus my cc target and still be able to dps without a problem. And, the mage has a focus sheep macro for ease of use {/cast [target=focus] polymorph(rank 1)}.

    Also, let's not forget that WoW builds into its vanilla UI a keybind to target self without actually clicking on self (I believe default is the "alt" key).

    Now, when I'm on Raynmaker healing, I have a lot more options and I can be valuable to a raid other than simply healing. I have a target (usually the boss), I have a focus (the tank or a second mob), and I have mouseover macros combined with raid frames. I have an earth shock macro for my focus if I need. I have an earth shield macro for my focus if I need. I simply never have to switch either my target or focus target to effectively heal.

    The problem is that it took me a VERY long time to set everything up just as I like it. And, with every major patch, I need to readjust and reconfigure things. It's a work in progress and not a finished product. In fact, the entire game, as we've seen with Burning Crusade and with Wrath coming out, is a work in progress.

  12. In WOW, I'm a fanatic devotee of click-casting. Installing Clique changed everything about the way I heal for the better. I have all the spells I need fast (HL 4/7/9/11, FoL, Shock, combat blessings) on various combinations of mouse clicks and modifier keys.

    LOTRO has a similar system to Warhammer and WOW 'secondary mode'. If you turn on 'target forwarding', your effect or attack is checked against your target and takes effect if appropriate. If not, it's done to your target's target.

    So as ranged DPS, I can just target the tank or main assist and blast away, and the appropriate mob gets hit. As a healer I can do the same, or I can target a mob for damage while my heals go to the mob's current target.

    This is particularly useful because the main healing class (minstrel) also has to be constantly casting spells which damage their target and provide a short-term buff. No enemy target, no buffs.

    In WOW that would break some of the dual-purpose spells like Holy Shock, but that's probably not hard to work around- just let those affect the main target only.

  13. I just want to mention that WoW's single target system allows for spells that work both on friendly and enemy targets, picking an appropriate action for each. You mention holy shock, but the priest dispel is another good example of this. It is perhaps debatable if dual function spells are good or necessary, but it doesn't sound like WAR's approach would work with them.