Massively Overthinking: The slowest and fastest combat in MMORPGs


During a recent podcast discussion about City of Heroes’ official revival, the MOP writers were talking about its combat, which – let’s be honest – harkens back to a long-ago era of tab-target MMO combat that is relatively slow and tactical rather than fast and twitchy. In fact, I was hard-pressed to come up with a slower combat system in MMOs without resorting to literal turn-based titles (not that it’s an insult; that’s why I like it!).

But I bet the broader MMO brain trust could, so for this week’s Massively Overthinking, let’s do just that: Tell me about the slowest and fastest combat systems that you’ve ever engaged with in MMORPGs. Is anything slower than City of Heroes?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Without a doubt, Asheron’s Call 1 would be the slowest combat in terms of prep time. Mages sometimes took like 10-15 minutes to buff, and depending on their level, they could then play for only 5-10 minutes before needing to buff again, haha. What was worse, though, was that the fireballs and ice bolts moved slowly enough that you could physically dodge them. Same with arrows and even thrown dishes, if you were paying attention. It could be painful, especially against another player. Melee fighters with the healing skill (not healing magic, think more like first aid) had it much better, though it was more dull, as you could just use consumables to fight all day once you found a good spot with the right mobs. The problem was you basically just chose how fast/powerful your strikes would be, chose the height (high, medium, or low), then watched your health vs. the enemy’s with the occasional heal/potion needing to be applied.

Fastest might be PlanetSide2 due to its both being an FPS and having vehicles. Headshots hurt, as do exploding buses and planes. The original Darkfall could be brutally fast too, but only if you count being naked and running from the actual flying dragons that would patrol some areas, and that’s less combat than just outright murder-by-dragon.

Andy McAdams: Going back and playing Anarchy Online, I found combat is glacial. At lower levels, one action every 5-10 seconds degrees of slow. Even CoH feels speedier in comparison. I am really enjoying the slower pace of CoH; it’s a little bit more zen and less frantic. I think it CoH were the only game I was playing, it might grate on me a little bit, but since I’m jumping between WoW, Secret World Legends, and CoH, it’s a good balance.

I think the most frantic/fastest combat from my perspective was either TERA or Guild Wars 2. Playing my Mirage is so fast and furious and teleporting around is sometimes so fast I completely lose the thread of where I am or what I’m doing.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I don’t know if military arcades count, but World of Warships combat is slow, calculated, plodding, and strategic. Players can spend the first 2-3 minutes of each match simply sailing into their desired map position. Even after combat is engaged, certain ship types need 20-40 seconds to reload the main battery, or up to two minutes to reload torpedoes before another strike can be made.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I suppose the absolute slowest is Wakfu, right, since it’s turn-based? OK, OK, I already picked City of Heroes for slowest, but I do want to mention an outlier, an MMO that’s as old as they come but doesn’t really have super slow combat at all: Ultima Online. I wouldn’t call it twitchy, either, and you can’t faceroll yourself to victory, but a lot of fighting in UO comes down to precision, speed, and positioning in a way that leaves little room for error, which isn’t always true in 3-D MMOs. Not all of it, mind you; standing there waiting for your dumb hally or xbow to auto-attack is agony, I know. But I bet anyone who’s ever played an endgame provocation bard in UO would agree with me that you’ve got to be absurdly quick and stay on your toes and have your jousting skills all polished up if you don’t want to get scorched and poisoned and faceplanted in half a second. Which sounds pretty funny to me, as the game is 26 years old. You never stop moving as a bard; it’s intense. I guess I have to give kudos for a game that has range.

And really, City of Heroes can drop a toon pretty quickly too. It’s the pace of each skill, the relatively methodical nature of skill activation, that makes it feel slower and more tactical, whether it really is or not.

Can I chuck in an honorable mention for Classic Guild Wars? Something about the mid-aughts feet-planting slow skill activation, combined with the small health pools that were constantly under visible and dramatic threat from fire/disease/poison/etc. conditions, made that game oscillate between making me feel smugly in control and making me feel absolute panic. All in a good way, though.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): This was brought up during our livestream of CoH Homecoming a few weeks ago, but it does bear repeating: Final Fantasy XI’s combat was easily the slowest and most passive I had ever experienced before to the point where most fights could be done entirely with macro strings. In fact, moving from XI to CoH made me feel as if I’d entered warp speed in comparison!

I also have to call out Embers Adrift for its stupendously sluggish combat model (not a compliment) and Lord of the Rings Online’s whole slower paced deal (a compliment).

As for the fastest, the one that sticks out to me would be Black Desert, though I would be remiss to point out other action combat models like TERA or Kritika Online, though the former is about the maximum speed my aging hands can handle nowadays.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): The slowest combat I’ve ever experienced has to be Old School RuneScape. First of all, there are no buttons to push; you just click the enemy and sit back and watch your character whack it with a weapon until its healthbar runs out. And the combat itself is slow too; the “fastest” weapons only hits every 2.5 seconds, and slow weapons can be in excess of 4 seconds. Better yet, since combat is all random rolls weighted by your accuracy and the enemy’s defense, those attacks aren’t even all doing damage. Later bosses added some mechanics to keep you on your toes — move off of the marked tiles or you will get hit with a big attack, switch combat styles at certain times, quickly face away from the boss, etc. — but for the most part, it is entirely possible to go grab a snack in the middle of combat and nobody will notice. It’s the only MMO I’ve ever played where combat is more boring than farming crafting materials.

As for fastest combat systems, depending on your chosen class and spec, your DPS in Guild Wars 2 can sometimes end up directly tied to your APM. Probably the king of this was the Ranger’s Untamed spec prior to its nerf a few months back. It had a trait (which has since been removed) called Fervent Force that reduced the cooldowns of all of your skills every time you used a crowd control skill, so of course the min/maxers figured out a rotation that allowed you to alternate high damage abilities with CCs for crazy amounts of damage. The rotation was simple, but it had to be done super fast to get optimal dps. It was the most fun I ever had playing a Ranger, although I should probably be grateful that they removed it before I developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Oh, man. Man, oh, man. I spent over a decade playing EverQuest, and I have deep nostalgia for those days, but when I have wandered back into that game now and then, I have found the combat brutally slow. But I appreciate that it is based on my character’s fighting ability and not my personal response time.

Black Desert has been my most played MMO (in terms of hours played and what I play when I can’t think of anything else), and it feels much faster. I have gotten good at hitting the combos for the classes I play the most, and I do put up a fight (usually losing) in PvP. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be, but I still enjoy the combat, both PvE and PvP.

At the far end of the twitchy spectrum are the various multiplayer games my adult kids try to get me to play with them. I think they invite me along as comic relief. I am a sitting duck in every FPS. I never even manage to hide or run from the ghosties in Phasmophobia. If a game is dependent on my personal ability to notice things and react, and not on the strengths of the character I am playing, I am doomed.

Maybe I will give EQ another shot, now that I am thinking about it.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): My MMO game experience only goes back to FFXI and the original Guild Wars, so I’m not sure if I can come up with anything that really falls into the slow category reasonably. While it’s not an MMO, I really felt like the combat in SMITE was crawling along, at least in terms of what I was able to put out there. Long story short: did not love it.

For fast combat, I’ll double up on Guild Wars 2. A proper burst-based glass cannon can instantly nuke someone down. It’s quite frustrating to be on the receiving end of it without a “save my butt” skill off cooldown.

Tyler Edwards (blog): These discussions can be confusing because when talking about combat being slow or fast, some people mean it in regards to how often you’re pressing buttons, whereas others mean it in regards to how fast you kill stuff. I like fast combat as it pertains to button presses and slow(ish) combat when it comes to time to kill.

Assuming we’re talking about button presses, the slowest I’ve played is probably Final Fantasy XIV, on account of its 2.5 second global cooldown. I expected to hate that going in, but instead I only mildly disliked it.

Fastest is probably classic The Secret World, thanks to its 1-second GCD and abundance of instant-cast no-cooldown abilities. Outlaw/combat rogue in WoW could also be a contender, depending on what era of the game we’re talking about and how much haste you’ve got on your gear. Despite their reputation for speed, I’ve found action combat games tend to have speed bumps in the form of longer attack animations. They’re still fast, but they’re not the absolute most button mashy you can get.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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