MMO Mechanics: Three game-changing movement mechanics

In order to create the most truly challenging MMOs that connect players with the specific virtual environments they’re traversing, developers have always worked on unique ways to make navigation and adventuring as important to the MMOverse as every other way to play trope. At the core of any good exploration-heavy MMO should lie a solid set of movement mechanics that enhance the explorative experience and add layers of challenge or intrigue to the game at hand, rewarding the brave adventurers among us for completing epic journeys across dangerous environs. Those same movement mechanics can also bleed into an MMO’s combat system to create a more complex, engaging encounter that provides a fantastic potential for differentiation between enemy types in specific zones.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’m going to run through some of my favourite movement mechanics, discussing their best implementations and how they enhance some of the MMOs that employ them.

gw2 gliding1. Gliding mechanics

Regular readers will be aware that I also write our Guild Wars 2 column Flameseeker Chronicles and that the game’s first expansion very recently introduced whole set of zone-specific movement systems to the MMO. Top of the list is a full mastery line that teaches your characters how to glide around the Maguuma jungle, a rich, dense environment that’s a fantastic experiment with verticality in MMO maps. The map verticality in pre-expansion content ranges from simply absent to intensely frustrating, so the introduction of gliding in Heart of Thorns really was game-changing. The mechanics are surprisingly refined for such a new addition to the game and key features include the ability to hit updrafts for increased height and flight duration and the ability to lean while mid-glide to affect the speed at which you glide.

With Heart of Thorns, the ArenaNet team used gliding to both make the new jungle zone feel much more expansive and ensure that the new raids had a clever difficulty layer added. The masteries are required within the first raiding tier, and one fight in particular employs some very white-knuckle use of gliding to help players avoid wipes. Gorseval is a scary arm/tentacle monstrosity that fills his entire platform with death-causing nasties at a regular rate, so players need to strategically time jumps off the platform as this happens. The real challenge is finding an updraft to hit in order to gain more height so that you actually make it back to the platform when the coast is clear. While Guild Wars 2‘s gliding mechanics are limited to a single zone, plenty of other games have implemented gliding that isn’t so restricted. My favourite of the lot has to be the gliding ability of EverQuest 2‘s Fae race, an ability that was later reimagined in gliding and leaping mounts.

eveoline ship2. Jump drives and jump portals

On the surface, EVE Online‘s jump drives and portals might seem like a simple fast travel mechanic, but this movement system is actually a strategic gem for combat. One ship opens a cynosural field and then massive capital ships in the fleet can then instantly jump to that location from up to several lightyears away. A titan can also open a jump portal to that location, allowing smaller sub-capital ships to jump to the cynosural field too. Cynosural fields can be used to hot-drop capitals on top of opposing players as even a tiny frigate can fit the module required to generate them. In fact, there are many corps that set up traps in which a seemingly defenseless ship is used as bait to lure in attackers with the intention of lighting a cynosural field to call in the main fleet.

Jump drives and jump portals add another strategic layer to large-scale conflicts, almost turning the fight into a game of poker in which you never know what the other side has until they show their hand. Alliances often keep ships in reserve in order to force the other player to drive up the stakes by fielding more and more of their own fleet, or call in allies for help when they’ve misjudged the enemy’s true numbers. This kind of escalation is what caused the famous battle of B-R5RB in which ships worth an estimated $300,000 were destroyed. One titan pilot accidentally jumped his ship into the battlefield instead of opening a jump portal, and players from both sides of the conflict piled in to try to either save or kill the titan.

The ability to surprise enemies with ships appearing out of nowhere also increases the emphasis placed on spying and intelligence-gathering gameplay. With accurate intelligence on what forces the enemy can field or how many capital pilots they have online, strategists can better estimate how much to risk and how far a given battle will escalate. Since jump ranges are limited, good intel gathering can also tell you whether or not the enemy capitals are even able to be quickly employed at a given location or how long it will be until reinforcements arrive. While there’s always debate over the state of capital warfare and jump drives in EVE Online, the ability to hit the enemy in the face with 200 ships out of nowhere is definitely a game-changer and a big part of the strategy of war.

eq23. Sprinting mechanics

There are so many different sprinting or speed mechanics in MMOs that you may be scratching your head in bemusement as to how it made my list. I have to give a special mention, though, to those speed mechanics that elicit a fight-or-flight response in players by forcing them to either commit entirely to fighting an enemy or running from it in the first few moments of combat. Several MMOs have managed to accomplish this nicely despite sprinting one of the most basic movement mechanics in MMOs, the result having a major impact on gameplay.

EQ2‘s sprint is actually pretty elegant in its simplicity, with characters consuming a percentage of their mana every second in exchange for a significant speed buff. The idea is to force players to commit to fighting because if you’re already in trouble then you probably won’t have the mana to save your neck. It’s not a good disengagement mechanic for a combat that’s already tipped past the point of no return, but couples well with out of combat mana regeneration from drinks and totems since this will allow you to run much further when you’re not already entangled in combat. It was also very interesting in PvP too as players often couldn’t chase down fleeing opponents and still have enough mana to kick their heads in.

Age of Conan‘s old sprint ability drained stamina instead of mana, with the difference being that melee attacks also use up stamina. This allowed spellcasters to hit and run more effectively, as would be natural to such lightly armoured classes. This variation of the sprint mechanic has been used in several games and is an elegant way of tying gameplay styles to the core mechanics rather than just to stats on gear and character builds. Melee classes can have a higher base stamina and so can run for longer durations, allowing them to chase targets down before attacking, but they’ll be too exhausted after a big attack to immediately sprint after a fleeing enemy.

Over to you!

These three movement mechanics were the first to pop into my head when I considered the question of how such mechanics can radically enhance the player experience, but I’m sure you’ll have your own list to add to mine. What movement mechanics are employed in your favourite MMO? How do those mechanics enhance the game? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

MMOs are composed of many moving parts, but Massively’s Tina Lauro is willing to risk industrial injury so that you can enjoy her mechanical musings. MMO Mechanics explores the various workings behind our beloved MMOs. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to tina@massivelyop.com.
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srmalloy
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srmalloy

Sazri I
loved that City of Heroes used movement powers to remove barriers to
getting around the city in ways other than the structure of the city
defines it; all the other MMOs I’ve played have used restricted movement
and map design to channel your character and force them into moving
around only in the way the devs want you to. For example, there have
been any number of times when my character was only a hundred feet or so
away from where they wanted to go, but because of movement limitations
and map design I had to spend five or ten minutes just running them
around along the path it was possible to move along in order to
get around the barriers that the map designers had put in my way, where
in City of Heroes I could fly or superjump over the ridge or canyon and
move there directly.

Okiee Napalm
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Okiee Napalm

Wildstar’s double jump has me radically disappointed when I press the spacebar key in any other MMO, expecting to be able to hop like a silly idiot but I’m instead met with a somewhat “eh” feeling single jump.

I just want double jump in all my MMOs, especially the ones with exploration rewards and actiony combat. Flying in Draenor? How about double jumping in Draenor amirite

Kyanilis
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Kyanilis

I’m surprised Wildstar hasn’t been mentioned. Between being able to double jump and hoverboards it has some of the best feeling movement in any MMO I’ve played. The explorer path also has little flags through areas that they can touch for a stacking movement speed buff. Grab enough of those and you can basically fly across the zone at super speed, it’s pretty amazing.

Xephyr
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Xephyr

fangGWJ I think most people who hate on GW2 underwater combat forget how terrible it is in most other MMOs where you literally just use the same skills you do on land, which in most cases doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Baldigar
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Baldigar

Siphaed Styopa While it is more integrated, it is not ground-breaking, and I think some earlier renditions (such as AA) should have at least gotten a shoutout, as I’m sure they had at least some impact on the system that was taken up (and made far better) by GW2.

Day2Dan
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Day2Dan

Polyanna The restrictions make it more interesting, in my opinion. It allows unique puzzle, exploration, and even combat elements to be added without trivializing the whole thing and still providing a sense of that freedom of movement.

Sorenthaz
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Sorenthaz

Super Speed in DCUO was a blast with being able to not only run super fast but also run super fast up buildings and then rocket off into the sky with a super speed-propelled leap.  Leaping between buildings and stuff like that was just so fun.  
Also out of all the MMOs that have used gliding, ArcheAge has probably been the most enjoyable one for me since there’s so much cool hidden things out in the world to find with some clever gliding.   From my experience the stuff that was more difficult/challenging to reach often led to being the most rewarding.   And in general the gliding just felt very natural and fun.
Global Agenda’s jetpacks were also pretty fun.  Same goes for Tribes Ascend’s skiing/jetpack combo.  Though those are more shooter oriented than strictly MMO based.

ohforfs
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ohforfs

schlag sweetleaf lmao – hilarious :)

ohforfs
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ohforfs

Climbing in EQ2 was novel for it’s time.

Wurner
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Wurner

The first thing to pop into my head was AVATAR COLLISION DETECTION. It’s more of a limitation on movement than a new way of moving but it greatly affects how you move around in a game. After playing Age of Conan exclusively for over a year, I tried some other MMOs and though I eventually got used to floating through other avatars, at first I felt as if the games were horribly horribly broken.

Sleepery
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Sleepery

No love for jetpacks? No matter how crappy the rest of the game is, you’ll find me there if there’s a jetpack involved – Planetside 2, Firefall, Global Agenda. Makes verticality fun.

mancuk
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mancuk

Another for Super Jump in City of Heroes. Fantastic travel mechanism & most of my toons had it. But saying that every travel power in CoH was amazing, Super Jump combined with Super Speed was ridiculous fun, Fly was cool but easy mode in my opinion, Teleport had the most interaction & Super Speed on its own was brilliant if a little frustrating in some area’s (combined with Combat Jumping made it much better).
Also a special mention for Eve’s Warp Gates & Cyno jumping. I defy anyone who was part of the bigger game in Eve not to remember their first Titan jump portal jump as part of a huge fleet! I even loved the normal warp gates although they could get a little tiresome on a long roam & just dropping out of warp in a fleet on top of your intended targets felt cool as back in the day.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

1. It’s really too bad that ArenaNet didn’t incorporate flight or any other transportation (vehicle) from the beginning of GW2’s development. I can only assume that every newly created zone from this point on will utilize their flight mechanics. I think many online fantasy/SciFi games overlook the value of incorporating transportation gameplay as secondary feature of commuting. I also think the reason why fast travel has been so quickly adopted is because it’s less developmental work than to create transportation gameplay. Take a game like GTA where the primary mode of transportation is driving (as opposed to walking/sprinting). There’s legitimate gameplay of steering and controlling your speeds. Wherein games like World of Warcraft have endless assortment of “mounts” that don’t do anything except to provide a speed buff. No obstacles, no destinations, no progression. There there are games like Everquest where you travel by boat, and there’s no mechanics at all. You just sit and wait around.

I would like to see more games utilize transportation gameplay, as it would add a tremendous amount of depth to the game and make the world feel larger and grander. But the developer would need to be committed to creating legitimate gameplay. it’s a lot work, but it’s a huge payoff. 

2. The jump drives and portals are really just advanced scouting mechanic, Imagine if you’re able to send a bird or ferret into a dungeon and it comes back with some insight to where and what the danger might be so that you can prepare your entry. Furthermore such a mechanic would require more than one entry point. Meaning that dungeons should have more than one entry and exit in order for it to work in fantasy game like GW2. It’s a clever mechanic, but it’s also ripe for abuse in PvE. Unless of course the encounters were randomized in terms of threat levels. You can scout a dungeon to see 3 goblins, but have no idea of their threat levels until you actually engage them.

3. Definitely in favor a of using an action currency mechanic or what most people refer to stamina bar or mana pool. I think having stamina mechanic is really the best way to add tactics to standard fantasy combat. I think putting a prerequisite on weapons and armor that cost stamina to use, including having mana. In other words my Mage would be required to have minimum stamina rating in order to use mana. The larger the mana pool the more stamina it cost to maintain and use. So balancing everything around stamina allows for more flexible builds without classes. using Stamina for sprinting, jumping, dodging, even ordinary things like crafting would cost you stamina. It would slow the game down considerably but in a very good way.

schlag sweetleaf
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schlag sweetleaf

When I QWOP you QWOP

(just like that?)

Damonvile
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Damonvile

KingoZZie I never played either ( when GW2 had gliding ) but I was gliding in firefall years before either was ever launched :)

Damonvile
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Damonvile

rottenrotny zoward Tina Lauro that reminds me of having someone chase you, running off a cliff, they follow, you shadow step back to the edge, they fall to their death very embarrassed…..at least that’s how it worked in theory. Often I’d miss time it and still fall just after them :).

Rumm
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Rumm

Every game ever made ever needs double jump.

rottenrotny
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rottenrotny

zoward Tina Lauro rottenrotny Thought of another one from WoW:

Rogue Shadowstep.

I used to run AB and leap, to what would seem to my doom from the Lumbermill cliff, only to appear behind the bewildered opponent! :D

rottenrotny
Guest
rottenrotny

zoward Tina Lauro rottenrotny I life grip in looking for dungeon runs all the time, mostly the dps who keeps pulling before the tank. Great for the lols!

Gibbins
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Gibbins

Completely agree with the EvE comment, and the strategic element of it is very deep when you consider regular jump bridges, covert cyno’s for black ops and also wormhole travel.

I flew with a notorious bunch of folks that considered it to be the best japes ever to gather intel on who was going to foolishly mess about baiting random roaming gangs with a shiney titan.  Then after some time sitting on one of own Titan’s would bridge to another then another strategically placed beforehand across the universe until we all turned up and said “SURPRISE”.

They were right, it was generally very good fun indeed.

Also had some great fights by popping out of wormholes or turning up in bombers from a blops cyno etc.

Pashgan
Guest
Pashgan

I see swimming isn’t in the list despite many attempts to implement deep water gameplay. Devs of many swimming-based expansions must feel terrible – and that’s ok for that they’ve done with the games where swimming is a part of the primary gameplay/storyline rather than just a method to take shortcuts through rivers.

SallyBowls1
Guest
SallyBowls1

zoward Tina Lauro rottenrotny Until we started calling it Grief Grip

Siphaed
Guest
Siphaed

fangGWJ 
Aye, water combat is fun.  But my character is an Elementalist, so we have far more tricks underwater than most classes do.   The problem lies with the design that put quite a few “melee” style attacks in the water combat line up for select classes. They should have all been 100% ranged given the multitude of directions that can go about in water.
I’m really, really hoping that they -A.Net- simply uses water combat to redo the melee classes, rework some areas, and make an expansion entirely surrounding THAT area of the game (Mr. Steve Bubbles!).   It would be quite interesting to be able to go into an underwater Largos city (if such a place could be found).

Siphaed
Guest
Siphaed

Styopa 
1)  Might want to look up the information regarding gliding on GW2 before dissing it.  Maguuma Jungle spans 4 different zones, but is technically 5 if you include the Guild Hall area (for gliding purposes).  I’m sure they’ll eventually see about making it across multiple areas of the game beyond just those new areas.

ArcheAge was/is not as vertical as GW2’s design, so the gliding is kind of off in many areas. It doesn’t have vertical lifters like GW2 does either, so there is that. Another huge issue is no packages/holding items when gliding in AA vs GW2.  The Wyvern Matriarch, for example, has players interactively flying around the platform while bombing it with eggs to break a shield.  Another mention is multiple Adventure/Challenges that use gliding as the main mechanic behind them (race, Tarir orb hunt, etc). That makes gliding far more integrated.

zoward
Guest
zoward

Damonvile zoward  Your money is well placed …

Damonvile
Guest
Damonvile

zoward Damonvile My money would be on the 8 year old finishing it first ;)

zoward
Guest
zoward

Damonvile  As an interesting corollary to this: we’re big fans of Ninendo’s platformers in my family.  One of the odder ones is Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, because unlike in every single Mario platformer, Captain Toad cannot jump, and this is heavily reflected in Nintendo’s (excellent) level design on the game.  Neither my 8 year old nor I have beaten the last level yet.

zoward
Guest
zoward

Tina Lauro rottenrotny  Don’t forget Leap of Faith, the priest’s spell which was the inverse of Death Grip, drawing friends away from where they are to right in front of you. It was great for pulling a squishy who’d drawn too much aggro.  It was also a great way to annoy your friends!  Of course, the second Blizzard added it, everyone completely forgot its name and just called it “Life Grip”.

zoward
Guest
zoward

The first thing I thought of when I read “movement mechanics” was the old Diablo II “click on a spot to move to it”, where you’d go to click on a mob to hit it from a distance, and instead you’d miss, click right next to it, and then walk right up to it and it would start wailing on you.  Always fun for a rogue or sorceress.  And, of course, you’d end a long session with your wrists screaming in pain.  Yep, don’t miss click to move.

quark1020
Guest
quark1020

Strangely enough, I enjoy Aion’s flying/gliding mechanics best. While its true you had a very limited time to fly and only in specific locations, I find that bit of challenge managing your flight time to get as far as possible entertaining. It was great to fly without limits the first time I tried it in city of heroes, but it eventually felt mundane to me. Before its shutdown, I would generally make my characters choose either super jump or teleport, depending on the theme of the character. Both of these methods were more involved, making it a much more interesting to travel. Teleport was the most intensive since you only had a second or two after materializing to teleport to another location before gravity kicked in and you fell. With super jumping, though, I found it oddly fun to try landing on rooftops after every jump.

Dystopiq
Guest
Dystopiq

DCUO also has gliding if you specced into acrobatics

Sazri
Guest
Sazri

I’m not sure if they were the first, but City of Heroes use of free-form Flight was mind-blowing for me at the time. I LOVED soaring all over Paragon City.

Tina Lauro
Guest
Tina Lauro

dellis78741  My bad… I haven’t played in years and should’ve checked! I edited that section to reflect that. Still, as Brendan says below, I actually liked the perceived imbalance because I felt that it helped create a further pro/con consideration into what character type you chose. I really like when mechanics simulate real-world reactions to things such as combat.

Tina Lauro
Guest
Tina Lauro

rottenrotny  Blink, yes! I absolutely adore blinking at the last second! Death Grip is also a fantastic ability.

Nanulak
Guest
Nanulak

Gliding it super fun and can open territory that is otherwise inaccessible.  It takes some skill and is easily tweaked to meet developers needs / limitations.

TomTurtle
Guest
TomTurtle

Shadow step and dodging skills, not the stat-based dodges, come to mind. Movement techniques in general like that make combat more entertaining.

zyrusticae
Guest
zyrusticae

I still wish more games had free-running/parkour-like mechanics. It’s one of my favorite parts of Blade & Soul and really helps Dragon’s Dogma Online in feeling like your character is actually grounded to the environment.

I REALLY wish FFXIV went in that direction instead of making the movement mechanics [i]more gamey[/i]. One of my greatest disappointments in MMOdom. So much potential!

rottenrotny
Guest
rottenrotny

First ones that come to mind are from WoW:

Warrior charge. 

I’m sure other games/MMOs have similar charge type attacks, but I’ll never forget getting charged and insta-gibbed by crazy arms warriors in Vannila WoW AV. They were terrifying. Good times.

Mage blink.

Jumping off the zeppelin and blinking just before hitting the ground. Awesome.

Death Grip

Though not a personal movement mechanic, still quite a cool thing to yank that healer trying to hide in that back right into your Death and Decay.. and of course you macro it to say “GET OVER HERE!”

Estranged
Guest
Estranged

Seems so simple, but I must have mounts. Yes, they are just a movement skin, but I dont care.
So happy that TSW has them now.

Estranged
Guest
Estranged

DCUO is so fun. This great action combat game has been around for years. I do feel that it plays better on my PS4, however.

Nyphur
Guest
Nyphur

dellis78741 Interesting, that kind of shows that while it’s an elegant system in theory there are definite balancing pitfalls with using the same stamina bar for attacks and sprinting. Skyrim uses the same system as AOC used to, and it ran into some balancing problems with stamina that several different mods were developed to fix. It definitely worked to produce the fight-or-flight response though, especially when you’re just wandering around and hear the combat music kick in.

Styopa
Guest
Styopa

1) I’m not sure why GW2 would even get a mention regarding glide mechanics, as other games did it earlier, better, and not constricted to a single zone.  It was one of the few things Archeage did well, except the fixed timer on your glide was rather stupid, making it pointless to climb to a real height to glide further.

2) Sprint mechanics in EQ2 work fine, it’s just silly that high-mana classes can run further than martial classes.  (And no, it’s not rationalizeable by saying they wear lighter armor, because my cleric in full plate can out run a barely-armored melee character.

3) you missed one mechanic which was pretty much just CoH but it was novel and fun as hell: superjump.  I had lots of friends with superspeed and flying, and I’d never trade it for the ability to bound all over that damned city.

Polyanna
Guest
Polyanna

I mean, gliding is neat. But is it really that ground-breaking? It’s basically just a gimpy take on flying, minus the mount (appropriate for a game where mounts never were, and apparently never will be, at thing).

schmidtcapela
Guest
schmidtcapela

fangGWJ 
Some of my best PvP memories are from playing with the Alien in Aliens vs Predator. I became fairly good at using walls and ceilings to approach my prey either undetected or while dodging fire. A pity that kind of wall-crawling gameplay is so rare.

BTW, in DCUO my favorite movement power is acrobatics. Running on walls and ceilings, and using the zip-line, feels simply too good to pass.

KingoZZie
Guest
KingoZZie

Gliding in GW2 is pulled straight from ArcheAge. I think every game should have it, although I lean more towards ArcheAge. Nothing was better than flying over your neighborhood or dropping down on a pack carrier from above. Or hell, even boarding ships.

dellis78741
Guest
dellis78741

Age of Conan has not used stamina for sprinting in years, as it was creating combat imbalances between melee chars and casters.  They now use a separate energy bar for sprinting, both on foot or mounted (higher lvl mounts have a much bigger sprint bar and faster regen on it).

fangGWJ
Guest
fangGWJ

DCUO has things like wall walking/climbing that can be used in combat.  In fact I believe that there are certain encounters that have their combat changed dramatically by using your movement powers.

City of Heroes sort of got the ball rolling on this idea but I feel DCUO takes to new levels.

Also, I am one of the few that really enjoys Guild Wars 2’s under water combat.

Snipehunter
Guest
Snipehunter

Huh, I really was expecting from the title, that I’d find this article to be a breakdown of how CoH turned moving around into a fun game. Super jumping, teleporting, flying, et al. felt like a wake up call to a lot of devs at the time, but then again, most games never incorporated the lessons those devs learned, so maybe I can understand why there isn’t really any of that here.

JordanMyers
Guest
JordanMyers

Books of knowledge in EQ 1 was revolutionary at the time especially for making it easier to play the race you want.

Damonvile
Guest
Damonvile

I’m surprised Jumping wasn’t #1 considering how weird it is to go to a game that has no jumping and how frustrating it can be to be blocked by something that doesn’t even go past your knees! jumping has changed not only many combat encounters but they entire game worlds have changed because of it.

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