I had some discussions yesterday regarding the combat in TSW, so I decided to throw a video together with some footage I got last night to help illustrate my point to the more visually oriented folks. Keep in mind that this video was shot after the NDA was lifted. No broken or perceived as broken abilities (i.e. Explosive Expert) were used during this video. I tried to focus on the more even fights (lots of 1vs1s, 1vs2s and some 1vs3s) since it’s hard to get a good idea of how the combat works in more chaotic zerg vs zerg fights. Most of the opponents I’m fighting are CB testers with QL10 FATE gear (4k+ HP). I’m wearing QL10 greens as well.
I know the video is boring. I’m mindlessly smashing 2 buttons the entire time, and I facerolled everyone doing it. I did this intentionally to illustrate why I think the combat is poorly designed and why it favors boring, repetitive gameplay. Here are the biggest offenders:
Superfluous abilities: The majority of attacks (i.e. resource builders and spenders) feel like they’ve been copied and pasted. Heck, even a lot of the animations are identical. The minuscule differences between them don’t have a big enough impact to warrant using more than one of each. For example, once you have a decent synergy with a builder and a ST/AOE spender, you’re pretty much set to faceroll your way through 99% of the content in the game, including PvP, by smashing 2-3 buttons ad nauseum. If you played SWTOR, I have two words that describe this perfectly: TRACER MERC. Every build I’ve tried in two months’ worth of testing feels like a tracer merc, hitting the same 2-3 button over and over again. Every once in a while I’d throw in a different ability, mostly because I got bored though, it’s not actually necessary. So what’s stopping me from using my other slots to build an engaging rotation you ask? Well, continue reading.
Ability Cap: Or how TSW rewards you for using boring rotations. Here’s the thing most people don’t realize yet: due to the homogenization of attacks, passive abilities have a bigger impact on your DPS (and healing to some extent) than the attacks you use. You might think I’m bullshitting you. After all how could that be true when abilities like Thor’s Hammer hit so hard? Well, it’s actually not that good. People who have done the math will tell you that you’re actually better off just using a rotation like the one shown in the video (i.e. frantically spamming two buttons over and over). You can accomplish this with pretty much any two attacks if you know what you’re doing. Mine’s actually not even that good compared to some other mindless rotations I’ve seen, but I’m a sucker for Chaos and punching people in the face. I guess I’m glad the animations are identical in this case.
How does TSW reward you for this? Having the attacks not make much of a difference forces you to limit the number of attacks you have. Since the majority of them are more or less the same, you’ll do just as good with only 2 or 3 compared to someone packing 3 consumers and 4 spenders. In addition, you’ll have 4 slots where you can put things that actually make a difference like defensive CDs, damage buffs and CC. The problem with this is that those useful abilities generally have long cooldowns (5 out of 7 of my abilities have 45sec CDs), which leads to mashing the same 2-3 buttons 90% of the time. One way to fix this would be to raise the cap to 10 abilities. Were that the case, I can see myself including at least 2 new attacks to my rotation, since the numbers of additional active buffs and CCs I can have is already limited by the weapons I have equipped. While hardly game-changing, adding two more bread-and-butter attacks could go a long way in keeping me awake, and might even provide a slight improvement, but with a limit of 7 active abilities? No way Jose. There’s better stuff to consider. The other (and most likely to happen) way to fix this would be to nerf the handful of decent actives left into the ground, thus making everything as boring and uninspired as the majority of attacks. Until then, mashing the same 2-3 keys is the price I and many others will have to pay for the sake of effectiveness.
tl;dr: the degree of similarities between the majority of abilities and the limitation on how many you can use at a time just seems like a very lazy attempt at balance and it’s the reason why the combat feels lackluster. The other MMOs I’ve played that limited you to such a small number of active abilities compensated by giving you access to ALL the attacks with the weapon you were using so the combat wasn’t as repetitive. I know that simple, mindless rotations are not new to MMOs, but this is the first game I’ve played that actually punishes you for doing the opposite.