Hi. My name is MJ. And I like The Secret World’s combat.
There, I admitted it. And trust me, I am fully aware that it is not the popular prevailing attitude of TSW comment posters or even the most dedicated fans. The combat is the most-complained-about thing in relation to the game, even by those who love it. You can’t read any thread without a handful or more of “the story is so freaking amazing, but the combat sucks rocks and kills it for me” comments. To be fair, there are also a number who then reply and ask folks to elaborate on why the combat is so terrible, and a few times those folks actually do answer. Most of the vocal complainers, however, just say that the icky combat ruined their experience and leave it at that. Some go on about how other games are just so much better but still offer no actual reasons.
Well, I will buck this trend. I am here to tell you why I like TSW’s combat — with reasons! Since we already know why I love so many other features of the game like story, ambiance, and puzzles (my favorite aspects!), it is high time I address the combat element lest you think my silence on the subject infers my distaste for it. Just because combat may not be high on my list of priorities for any game, let alone a brain game like The Secret World, that doesn’t mean the topic isn’t important.
It’s all subjective
First off, I am going to do what so many of the most vicious complainers don’t: I am going to admit that my opinion is purely subjective! That’s right. I am not going to say that TSW’s combat is good or bad in an absolute sense, rather just what I think about it. If only some others would afford the game this courtesy instead of claiming that their personal preference is the definitive stance. Yes, this is all my subjective opinion, colored by my own experiences and preferences. Your own mileage may vary.
What is it about the combat that I like? As others have said, it can be hard to put into words, and initially I’d never even considered trying; my liking it was just something I acknowledged viscerally. It really is the feel when I am engaged in it, and how I feel when I just think about it. It is the excitement I have for using certain weapons or the glee when I use certain abilities. It is the overall conglomeration of my feelings towards various aspects of the entire experience as much as it is the actual combat itself. But without words to convey those feelings, how can I share with you (and I was always taught to share!)?
I like what I like
This is the hard part: Explaining why I like what I like using concrete words for abstract feelings. It took me a bit of thought, but here are some specifics I can articulate:
I like the build restriction. I’ve played many games that give you basically unlimited access to a dizzying array of spells and skills. With so many choices, you can almost be assured to have something to count on in any given situation if you add enough hotbars. However, in TSW, you are restricted to eight active abilities (one being your auxiliary weapon) and eight passive ones. It matters what you select, and choosing something that isn’t relevant to your current situation could have grave consequences. This is one aspect of focusing on TSW being a thinker’s game, which is a main reason for loving it in the first place!
I like the ability wheel. The fact that what abilities I have available to me are purely my own choice is awesome! Sure, I have to work to get specific abilities that are buried under ones I don’t think I’ll ever use (though often later find I do), but no one is giving me some standard one-build-fits-all hogwash. My playstyle is unique, and this system caters to that. The power is in my hands.
I like that you can switch builds on the fly. Other games have offered the ability to respec your character’s abilities, but not many allow you to do it anytime, anywhere (except in combat itself). You don’t have to travel to some far-off place or spend oodles of money to do something different. You also don’t even have to be locked into a class/weapon type when you discover you hate the one you chose initially. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate not having to reroll to change because I put lots of time into creating characters and grow very attached to them.
I like the weapons I play. Coinciding with the reason above, the fact that I really enjoy the weapons I play factors in this a great deal. My favorite weapons are the shotgun, rifle, and elemental focus. I love my characters stance with the shotgun, I love some of the rifle abilities, and I love flinging fireballs at people with the elemental focus. Now, had I been forced to continue playing with the chaos focus or sledgehammer (I specced away from the latter as fast as I could), I’d probably dislike combat a whole lot more. I am not even especially fond of blood magic, either; the sound effects make me ill. But I do keep that in some builds because of the healing abilities. In essence, I got used to it for the end goal.
I like the animations that come with the abilities I use. This is not to say that I like the animations of all abilities. Some of them I quite dislike and think are too showy. But since I do not min/max, I don’t feel pressured to use any particular ability. If I cannot stand it aesthetically, I don’t have to use it. Of course, what looks pleasing is even more subjective, like appreciating art, so what I like could be vastly different from what others would like. Of course, fighting world bosses with all those additional abilities is usually a painful experience for my eyes.
I like the element of surprise. With TSW’s track record of coming up with new things and new ways to do things, I like that I still feel a sense of anticipation that something new to experience could be around the corner combat-wise. Maybe it is just because I haven’t over-played the game to the point that I have all mobs memorized and defeated each 1,000 times, but that sense of “Am I prepared for what’s next?” keeps combat invigorating for me.
I like that combat is active. Even though I am not particularly good at doing it, I really like that combat makes you move around instead of standing in place. Tab targeting is certainly easier in many ways, but the challenge of this active combat is still enjoyable to me. It keeps me on my toes, makes me adapt and adjust, and keeps my brain engaged as long as a mob is engaged.
And that pretty much leads me to the ultimate reason I like the combat: Above all, I like that it is a thinking game — even in relation to combat.
Keep your thinking cap on
What you might find most surprising is that I like TSW’s combat even though I am not that good at it! Some people might dismiss my “liking it” as just the fact that I am all pro and can whisk through everything without blinking an eye. HA! That is so totally not true. I enjoy it in spite of the fact that I sometimes struggle with fights (as any who watch The Stream Team regularly could attest). And that pretty much boils down to the fact that I feel the combat fits in with the whole theme of TSW being a thinking game. Even when you’re pummeling/shooting/slicing stuff, it’s all about using your noggin. And you already know that is my favorite thing about the game!
Although I touched on this aspect in a few statements above, I think it deserves a bit more attention. Before sitting down to try and list out what the specifics were of liking the combat, I knew this piece was a key component because of one comment theme that has stuck out in my mind during many of these the-combat-sucks arguments — namely, when someone says WildStar’s combat is so much better. I so disagree. Now, I am not going to say that WildStar’s combat is bad (it’s all personal preference after all!), but I really, really dislike it. Where one person praises the telegraph system, I loathe it; it feels so juvenile and conveys a let’s-just-hand-you-everything-on-a-platter feeling to me. There’s definitely no mistaking where you should stand! On top of that, I don’t like the animation of it at all as I think it blatantly ruins immersion. In contrast, you have to play closer attention in TSW to ground indications to know when to move, and the graphics themselves are less intrusive.
It would be highly disappointing to me if combat ignored The secret World’s focus as a thinking game. I don’t want anything in the game handed to me on a platter, including (or especially) my combat strategies. Sure, sleeping through a battle while button-mashing or jumping exactly where indicated by brightly colored markers works, but I’d rather figure it out myself. In TSW, I have to keep my mind present in the battle, watching and learning from my enemy. I may have to adjust builds and strategies in order to succeed, but that’s what I like! I might even have to come back to the battle at a later time. That makes the success so much sweeter to me.
Simply put, I don’t want to spend so much of the game focusing on surroundings, gathering clues, and working through problems in my mind only to put all that on hold whenever I encounter a mob. I know the system is not perfect; I know there are problems. There is certainly room for improvement, and there are certainly people that really dislike the combat. But I, for one, like it.