Perfect Ten: The 10 types of MMO rotation


Rotations! They’re not just just for your tires any more; they’re in your MMORPGs, determining what order you should press the shiny buttons on the bottom of your screen in order to do stuff. But there are apparently people in the MMORPG genre who sincerely wish that we could go back to a time when MMOs didn’t have rotations. Unfortunately, this is a completely fictional time; every MMO has rotations so long as you have any abilities to use. Unless you’re just standing in a field watching a fight happen and not having an input, there’s a rotation.

But like any longing to return to a nonexistent time, there is an authenticity to that longing. There is genuinely a sense that things have changed in some way, but in order to understand what has changed we also have to move past the hyperbole and the longing for a mythical past to discuss what actual rotations. So let’s look at the most common models, shall we? No, it probably won’t allow us to answer why people long for a past that didn’t exist, but it will let us talk about this from a unified place.

This isn't how EQ2 works. It's just funny.

1. One-move spam forever (the “Brock Lesnar”)

So you get an ability. That ability is “Hit.” It deals damage. Your next ability, “Hit Harder,” deals more damage. They are not different in any fashion. Why would you ever use “Hit” again? It’s not worth it. Just use the one more forever and never deviate; there is no reason to do anything else.

You might argue that a rotation of one ability is not a rotation. I would argue that if your ideal state of play is “hit one ability forever” you probably should not be talking about game design. Even Mario Mario could jump on things or shoot fireballs.

2. Hit each button when cooled down (the “Keysmash”)

Just to be clear about something: If you think my ranking here is “bad” to “good,” first know that this is basically how City of Heroes handles things for many archetypes, and this is very explicitly the kind of “rotation” that don’t exactly task the ol’ grey matter. As soon as you can hit an ability, hit it. If you can’t hit it, hit another one that you can. Your goal is to have everything on cooldown at all times. It’s pretty straightforward, at least.


3. Combo sequences (the “Konami Code”)

At its simplest level, this can be as straightforward as hitting the “Shatter Armor” ability to increase the damage your enemy takes, then hitting “Hit Hard” over and over until Shatter Armor wears off. It can be more ornate than that, though, and a lot of games use this (including some CoH power sets) where you want to hit with one ability, then another, then another. Most stop at about three hits, for whatever reason. Enough to build a sequence, at least.

4. Fixed sequence (the “Hokey Pokey”)

You hit what’s bound to one, you hit what’s bound to two,
You hit what’s bound to three, four, and, five – it’s what you do.
You hit the six and seven, then you hit the one again,
That’s how you kill a boss!


5. Build-and-spend (the “Monopoly”)

So when you’re getting past combo sequences or just rote sequences of one-two-three-four-five, what do you do? Well, you create a set of builders and spenders to make things more involved! If you have “Hit A Guy” and “Hit Several Guys” as Builders, they add Resource Points which you can then spend on “Set A Guy On Fire,” “Set Several Guys On Fire,” or “Really Just Unload On This One Dude For A While” as necessary! Sure, that example isn’t terribly involved, but it adds an extra level of strategy to your gameplay. Sure, you could set this one guy on fire, but he’s almost dead, so why not save your Resource Points for the next group of guys?

6. Priority sequences (the “Whack-a-Mole”)

A slight variant on just hitting everything when it cools down and one that World of Warcraft in particular loves is the priority sequence, which works when stuff not only cools down at different rates but also randomly comes off of cooldown or gets powered up. Thus, it flows like an IF-THEN loop from programming. If “Set A Guy On Fire” is powered up, hit that. Otherwise, hit “Turn Up The Heat” if it is cooled down. If not, hit “Seductive Dance.” And if all else fails, go for “Hit A Guy.”

Am I describing a hypothetical ability sequence or my preferred Friday night? You decide.

weedle weedle weeeeeeee

7. Phase-based play (the “Guitar Hero”)

If you’ve ever played rhythm games like Guitar Hero, you know how this feels. First verse, chorus, second verse, chorus, and so on. Now, this doesn’t just go on for hours unless someone custom-built a Yes track listing for the game, but it’s the same basic concept. You use a set of abilities until something changes, then you use a different set of abilities, then you go back to the first set or go through a third phase, and so forth.

8. Situational micro-rotations (the “Errol Flynn”)

This is very much a case of waiting for something to happen, usually external to your character, at which point you will execute a few abilities in short order and then moving on to another rotation. A lot of things in Guild Wars 2 wind up like this, for example. You don’t have all that many abilities, but when an enemy uses “Magical Attack,” you have a three-ability sequence you unleash, and then you go back to another smaller rotation for when nothing else is happening. It’s like a priority sequence with more variability.


9. Proc-based play (the “Mario Party”)

Hit a button until something lights up and then hit it! When will it light up? Will it ever light up? Don’t worry about it. Your life and rotation are a roulette wheel. Instead of farming for critical hits or whatever, you’re farming for successful triggers of another ability. Which might also involve critical hits.

I hate Mario Party. That’s neither here nor there.

10. Multiple rotations in one place (the “Voltron, Defender of the Universe”)

Yeah, a lot of time several of these coexist in the same space, even! You have situational micro-rotations for things like AoE or single-target attacks, and you also have some priorities and some procs, and you’re building and spending and managing combo attacks. It’s all a careful interlinked web of abilities that play off one another, and player skill is determined by your ability to keep all of those abilities in your head as you place.

Which might sound a little bit demanding, and it can be, but at least it’s not just endlessly spamming “Hit Harder” on a target until it dies.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at or with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
Previous articleNeverwinter previews Adventures in Wildspace’s new dungeon, heroic encounters, and more
Next articleLord of the Rings Online patches up ahead of tomorrow’s hamster event I mean anniversary event

No posts to display

Subscribe to:
oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments