Battle system challenges
How a battle system should be designed in a perfect new-age MMO RPG?
Short answer: I don't know yet. But I can point out what feels badly wrong in existing MMOs.
One at a time
In conventional MMOs player usually fights 1 foe at a time. Simply because it is cost-effective.
- Player can manage 2 foes, rarely 3, at the cost of wasting HP/mana (and ultimately time and/or other resources to gain them back). Against more than 3 enemies you're almost inevitably screwed up badly.
- Rare classes/builds are capable to use AOE tactic. Gather 5-10 foes (usually considerably lower leveled) and use area skills to damage them all at once.
- There are occasional twists in multiplayer mode. Like, again, "Tank runs forward and gathers 10 foes, then the party tears them apart with AoE damage." But even in party it is mostly the same old one-foe-at-a-time.
One at a time isn't bad by itself. What makes it bad is endless repetition. And by now, people played it enough and deserve something else as the core of battle system.
A boss fight in conventional MMO feels like usual one-at-a-time with a single difference: the one is freaking BIG. It's not unusual to see players activate single skill or macro and go AFK for 15 minutes. Some people manage to kill those things alone. It takes hours of AFK with one skill activated in a loop.
This is obviously wrong and should not be like that. A good bossfight must require skill, not time. It should feel different from normal gameplay, although not too different at the same time.
To be honest, it does indeed require some skill for a party to beat such bosses. But essentially it all boils down to simple rule: whoever takes damage, must take less than healer manages to heal over time; and must have enough HP to survive 1 strongest hit.
In search for perfection
Endless repetition kills gameplay.
Therefore, game should encourage players to use different tactics in different circumstances. The goal is to make player guess and search for the most effective playstyle again and again. Game does this by varying relative cost-effectiveness of skills and tactics in different situations. Especially important here is the word relative. There's no point in making all tactics equally harder or easier: the one that used to be the best will still stay the best.
So, we seek a method to vary relative cost-effectiveness of skills and tactics.
By definition, cost-effectiveness is the usefullness of effect relative to amount of resources spent.
- Effect could be: dealing damage, buffing self and/or allies, restoring resources (healing, replenishing mana, etc.).
- Resources could be: time, health, mana, in-game currency, real money, etc.
Therefore, it is possible to vary cost-effectiveness by changing usefullness of effects, as well as costs, in different situations. For example, something like:
- In one place enemies hit hard but are vulnerable to disabling; in another place enemies do almost no damage, but are capable to disable the player.
- Traps can hurt a lot, thus making players think about some forms of protection; or can damage so little so it's safe to ignore traps altogether, "heal through", to save time.
- Can be plenty of resource-replenishment inside dungeon, like one-time healing or mana pots. Or none such at all, making HP and mana a valuable resource.
All this requires careful thinking and a lot of design work to do right.
Article continues in Situational gameplay.