About Us | Game Reviews | Feature Articles | Podcast | Best Work | Forums | Shop | Review Game

Go Back   GameCritics.com Forums > GameCritics.com Discussion > Community User Submissions

Notices

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 06-27-2010, 07:18 PM   #1
Zarmaka
New Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 35
Rep Power: 5 Zarmaka is an unknown quantity at this point
Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Over the course of my gaming career, I've always been fascinated by games featuring primarily melee combat, especially games that revolved around the sword-and-shield combo. I've played most of the popular action, action-rpg, and action-adventure games that have influenced melee combat in the past ten years, and I've begun to see which innovations have made good combat, and where the genre is beginning to stagnate.

If someone who had played shooters all their life and wanted to expand into the Action genre asked me, “What melee game should I play?” I would name two games, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Demon’s Souls. These two games are the best because the controls feel good, smooth and reactive, and when a player dies, they rarely feel that their character didn’t do what they told him to do. If you die in either of these games, it’s your fault, not the games.

Batman’s combat can best be experienced in the Shock and Awe combat challenge, which pits Batman against wave after wave of bad guys in a small arena. Initially, you have only two buttons that you need to press, attack and counter. When you attack, Batman strikes one enemy at a time, although you can switch between targets at any time. Even though you can’t block, or maybe because you can’t block, countering feels good, and the player gets a sense of skill from pressing the attack button to bash one enemy, then suddenly reacting to another enemy’s attack with a quick counter. Just like in the main game, as the challenge goes on, new types of enemies show up, some armed with knives and others with stun batons. Before you attack them, the knife wielding enemies have to be stunned with a swing of your cape, and you can only fight the stun baton enemies by jumping over them and facing them from behind.
You end up using four abilities: attack, counter, stun, and jump, and the end result is very satisfying, as you’ll need to vary your tactic depending on the enemy, all while keeping a look out for the red glow that signals you need to counter an attack. Each button press feels good, and the combat feels fast paced while retaining a tight sense of control and a lack of clutter.

Demon’s Souls’ combat is the best I’ve ever played in a real time RPG. Enemies block your attacks, and if you strike their shield, you recoil and are vulnerable to attack. The same can be said for you blocking their attacks. When you attack, you are vulnerable after you attack for the perfect amount of time. Long enough so you feel risk, but short enough that the combat doesn’t feel clunky or unresponsive. With its excellent lock-on system, you are able to focus on one enemy and circle-strafe around him, blocking, evading, and striking at just the right moment from just the right position. Furthermore, when an enemy hits you, you take a significant amount of damage, so each fight feels dangerous and real. Demon’s Souls features a stamina bar, which rewards smart, efficient use of your abilities and makes the player feel smart for winning a battle. There is a heavy and light attack, and there are combos, but none of them are over-the-top. In summary, Demon’s Soul’s combat puts players in dangerous situations and gives them the perfect tools to overcome them.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned God of War, by far the most popular melee combat game franchise. I only ever played the first one, mostly because I didn't want my family to see me playing a game with so much pointless nudity, but that's a topic for another time.

What I don't like about God of War, and games like it (Force Unleashed, Ninety-Nine Nights, Dynasty Warriors) that follow the format of light attack + heavy attack = long series of combos is that for the most part, they don't reward strategy the way Demon's Souls does, and although it rewards quick reflexes, I never get a good feeling from the decision to block or evade an attack because the roll and dodge mechanics feel imprecise, unlike in Batman, in which you know exactly what will happen when you press the counter button. Assuming you timed it correctly, you never ask "I hope this counter lands". The blocking/dodging in God of War doesn't feel good, and I can do them forever which takes some of the thrill away.
More important than the fact that you have infinite block that can only be taken away by certain special attacks, is the fact that blocking doesn't really do anything. It's not a clash of sword vs shield that leaves the attacker staggering backwards, it's just a temporary invincibility stance.
Another thing that bothers me about God of War-style games is that there's no lock-on mechanic. You generally don't need one for the hordes of smaller enemies, but in certain situations, like when the enemies are near death and you can grab them, half of the time, Kratos would reach out at the wrong thing. Also, a lock-on would make a lot of the fights against stronger enemies and bosses a lot less frustrating. Force Unleashed has a lock-on mechanic, but half of the time it doesn't work because you can also lock on to inanimate objects, and the game gets confused way too easily.

The last thing that bothers me about these combo-based games is the nature of the combos themselves. The combos themselves are made to look good, but not to feel good. When you swing your weapon, you hit as many enemies as are near you on-screen, regardless of whether or not any of them are blocking, and you can continue attacking for as long as you don't take damage. It doesn't feel like a fight because it doesn't feel like actions are followed by natural reactions.
Furthermore, with the exception of the armor-breaking combo, all the moves are the same. They look different, get longer, and some do more damage, but you'll never come across a situation in which X-X-Y is preferable to X-Y-X. For the most part (the exception being the armor break), one combo will always be better than the other, which makes me feel like I'm not being rewarded for strategy, unless you count "finding out which combo does the most damage" as strategy. You could play through most of these games by button mashing.
This is a symptom of a greater disease that drives some developers; these games get their enjoyment from how many enemies you kill and how gruesome their deaths are, whereas Demon's Souls gives the player enjoyment from the strategy it takes to kill each enemy. You string together series' of combos in Batman also, but the fact that you can only hit one enemy at a time makes the whole experience feel like your decisions matter, and you know you're being rewarded for not button mashing.
The problem with making the "fun" part of your game based around numbers and gore is that it gets old, and the ability to button mash kind of makes me feel dumb.
This is not to say that all combo-based systems are bad. Ninja Gaiden has amazingly fluid combat and is also based on a light attack + heavy attack formula, but there's a subtle difference between Ninja Gaiden and God of War. In Ninja Gaiden, the camera is zoomed in much closer to your character, and your attacks generally hit only one enemy at a time. Furthermore, there's kind of an invisible, automatic lock-on system that causes Ryu to automatically swing towards the nearest enemy that he's facing when you press the attack button. The result of these three things is a much more precise, engaging experience. Bayonetta is also very fun. Its camera is also zoomed in, not as low to the ground as Ninja Gaiden's, which makes the action easier to keep track of.

The whole point of this article is not for me to rant about how good Batman and Demon's Souls are, and how much God of War frustrates me. The conclusion I suggest to you the reader is that designers and players need to step away from the accepted norm that chaining light and strong attacks into 50-hit combos is an engaging way to implement melee combat. This style has been been the standard for way too long, and the fact that you can describe any game as "like God of War, but..." is proof of some developer's fear of moving on. Batman and Demon's Souls took huge risks by having combat systems that were unique, and I encourage gamers everywhere to try their engaging, immersive combat and realize that just because you can kill ten men in one attack, does not mean that the combat in a game is good. I think Batman and Demon's Souls can be used as blueprints for how to design fun combat against multiple enemies that truly makes the player feel like they are in a fight where their choices and reflexes matter.

I have much more to say, especially about specific games, but for now thanks for reading, and feel free to give your own opinion and argue with my points.

P.S. If you recognize my style of speech and bolding, its because I post in the comments as "Jonathan"

Last edited by Zarmaka; 07-04-2010 at 01:40 AM. Reason: streamline, made the point clearer, better
Zarmaka is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2010, 02:41 PM   #2
Richard Naik
Lt. Cmdr. PopAndFresh
 
Richard Naik's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 186
Rep Power: 6 Richard Naik will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Hey Jonathan, a few things to address:

-Nix the bolding. It's very distracting and it makes it harder to read. If you really need to put emphasis on a word use italics, and even then it should be used sparingly. Bolding should only be used for links.

-What point are you trying to make? An editorial like this should come to some kind of conclusion instead of just comparing/contrasting. Your opinion needs to come across loud and clear if you want anyone to read the whole thing. Perhaps you could talk about which type is your favorite and why?

-Labeling things with the with the subsection headers and pro/con labels makes it feel very rigid, like I'm reading a game guide instead of an opinion piece. Try making everything one long article and separate it with paragraphs instead of labeling and see if it flows any better.

You've clearly got some passion for the topic, but I'd like to see it rearranged and with a little more conclusiveness and some more of your personal views on the subject.
Richard Naik is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2010, 05:15 PM   #3
joetbd
32-bit Poster
 
joetbd's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Arkansas, USA
Posts: 392
Rep Power: 6 joetbd will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Just to back up Richard's feedback.
I read this, and said to myself "...ok... and?"
You seemed to be building a case, but you never really stated what your main point was.

You liked Demon Souls and Batman. Are you saying this should be the blueprint for other games? Or are you saying, that no matter what developers try to accomplish, all games end up in one of these two situations?

"I have much more to say, especially about specific games, but for now thanks for reading, and feel free to give your own opinion and argue with my points."

Im actually a big fan of 3rd Person Melee games. I prefer melee games over shooters. And I prefer something in between the two styles you listed. Where I can fight a couple enemies at a time, but not too many. Something where I am a tough guy (or gal), but not slaughtering entire armies all at once.
joetbd is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2010, 10:01 PM   #4
Zarmaka
New Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 35
Rep Power: 5 Zarmaka is an unknown quantity at this point
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

OK guys, I took your constructive criticism, and it was very helpful. I revised the article, and made sure the point was much clearer.
Zarmaka is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2010, 10:12 PM   #5
Zarmaka
New Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 35
Rep Power: 5 Zarmaka is an unknown quantity at this point
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Quote:
Originally Posted by joetbd View Post
Just to back up Richard's feedback.
Im actually a big fan of 3rd Person Melee games. I prefer melee games over shooters. And I prefer something in between the two styles you listed. Where I can fight a couple enemies at a time, but not too many. Something where I am a tough guy (or gal), but not slaughtering entire armies all at once.
I share your sentiments. I never liked the one-on-one nature of fighting games, but the one-on-thousands nature of Ninety-Nine Nights left me unsatisfied too, partially because when the time came for a boss fight against one character, the combat didn't like it fit the situation, but mostly because seeing 50 people simultaneously die gets repetitive.

What is your favorite melee game?
Zarmaka is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-01-2010, 07:21 PM   #6
joetbd
32-bit Poster
 
joetbd's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Arkansas, USA
Posts: 392
Rep Power: 6 joetbd will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zarmaka View Post
What is your favorite melee game?
My favorite games are not examples of good combat. They often feature "barely exceptable" combat.

I like combat to take place within the context of an adventure. Im not a big fan of fighters or brawlers (although I have played a ton of those). One of my favorite games is Drakan (and its sequel drakan T.A.G. on the PS2). Where the combat happens while your adventuring. Or even a side-scroller like Castlevania.

The combat in all of these games is rather weak. The AI is very bad (or non-existent). But that is the sort of situation I would like the combat to take place in. Fighting bad guys in an adventure setting like a forest, a military base, or a castle.

But what is "good" combat? That is a hard question. Melee combat in the games I like is almost always simple. Anything from "Mini Ninjas" , "Brutal Legend" , "Dead Rising" , "Fable" , "Assassins Creed". Often it is just one or two attack buttons and a block button.

Im OK with that. It definitely could be better, but I think too simple is better than too complex.

I think the combat in Darksiders is pretty good. It is simple, but there are advanced moves (if you want to use them). That is probably the best approach to melee combat. Make a simple system, with advanced moves that skilled players can use.

In almost every game, I think AI is usually the weak point. And weakest part of the AI, is the ability for the computer opponents to make believable mistakes.

We are all familiar with bad guys facing the wrong way, not avoiding your obvious attacks, and other really stupid mistakes. But I dont think the answer is to make them too smart (never making mistakes). Even more frustrating than a stupid enemy, is one that never misses, or their attacks are unavoidable.

I think the advancement in combat needs to be more complex AI. Not more complex fighting schemes. Opponents that ambush, attack from behind, and take advantage of your mistakes.
joetbd is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2010, 03:34 AM   #7
crackajack
64-bit Poster
 
crackajack's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Austria
Posts: 514
Rep Power: 6 crackajack will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

I also liked the battles in Batman, it felt correct for that game, actually feel like the known Batman figure and his capabilities.
Also liked the Gothic 1 controls. Swing the sword left or right or vertically in the middle. Quite simple, no blocking (iirc) but it had some tactics in it, tough it was often blamed to be bad. So they changed it and in part 3 it finally was as boring as in the most games.
God of war was fun for some time, but since i played Bayonetta, which is also not really perfect, i can't motivate myself to finish GoW (the collection). Fixed camera, weird evade move, it feels awkward for me compared to that more recent game.

But i think i like both styles, the frantic action+action+a lot more action or the more realistic, more guarded approach. Depends on the game and the atmosphere it wants to build.
Bayonetta with anything else than insane action would not fit, and Batman vice versa.
crackajack is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2010, 04:02 AM   #8
Zarmaka
New Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 35
Rep Power: 5 Zarmaka is an unknown quantity at this point
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Joetbd, it's true that sometimes simple combat is very good. I liked the combat in the original Fable better than in Fable 2, but I'd need to play the first game again to properly articulate why.
One example of engaging, simple combat is the swordplay in Wii Sports Resort. It takes ten seconds to learn, but it's still a lot of fun, and the player really feels involved.
Also, I feel like you would like the combat in the Zelda games, primarily Twilight Princess. It's a little easy because the enemies attack like once every thirty seconds, but it feels good.

Crackajack, you make some good points. I haven't played Bayonetta, although I might give it a try at some point. You have a point regarding atmosphere of the game, since Bayonetta is clearly supposed to be extremely flashy and visually stimulating, so that type of combo system works there.

Something I would point out, however, is that what I've seen of Bayonetta combat (in videos) is from a much closer camera position, and features relatively small numbers of enemies. Also, Bayonetta's attacks seem to be more focused on taking out a single enemy at a time, rather than lashing out twenty feet ahead of you to attack the whole horde at once. If my theory holds true, then Bayonetta in principle would have more engaging combat then God of War.
Do you think that these design choices in Bayonetta (closer combat, fewer enemies, more specific attacks) lead to a less "awkward" gameplay experience (compared to God of War)?

P.S. Could you guys help me out by rating the thread? You don't have to give it a five, but it'd help draw attention to the discussion.

Last edited by Zarmaka; 07-02-2010 at 04:08 AM.
Zarmaka is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2010, 04:50 AM   #9
crackajack
64-bit Poster
 
crackajack's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Austria
Posts: 514
Rep Power: 6 crackajack will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zarmaka View Post
Do you think that these design choices in Bayonetta (closer combat, fewer enemies, more specific attacks) lead to a less "awkward" gameplay experience (compared to God of War)?
I was in the level after killing the sirens, might not even be the half of the first game so i can't really adequately talk about GoW. The battles so far had hardly more enemies at once.
I think it's just the control scheme i don't like too much, it has not really something to do with other design choices.
But i think the goal of Kratos plowing through the enemies is also different than in Bayonetta than it is in Batman. He is a godlike creature with anger management issues, so blocking his way to revenge is no good idea is the concept. Even if it's tons of armies, get the fuck out of his way! This merciless one way style, through the chest of the enemy if he doesn't jump to the side, through the limbs of hordes of enemies, is its way of describing what character Kratos is and the strength he has.
Bayonetta might be the finer scalpel in this "action-melee" genre, and which erased my interest in completing the Collection at least for now, but it's, the more i think of it, hardly comparable to the Greek adventure. Maybe Bayonetta is in between Batman and GoW.
crackajack is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2010, 01:00 PM   #10
Zarmaka
New Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 35
Rep Power: 5 Zarmaka is an unknown quantity at this point
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Well, I'll tell you right now that it's typical for a fight in God of War to have six or seven enemies onscreen at once, and what I've seen of Bayonetta has had at most four.
Anyways, I don't think that the "kill ten enemies with one attack" method is the only way they could have established Kratos as a brutal, angry character. Obviously the character wouldn't work with a Demon's Souls-like combat system, but you could still get an equally angry, equally brutal vibe if you went more towards a Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry setup. Those games have similar combat, but feature a much more zoomed in camera, and the attacks hit fewer enemies at once.

Besides, the establishment of Kratos as a bloodthirsty berserker is done more by the overall gore level and the cutscenes than the combat itself. If Kratos fought one enemy at a time, but still ripped off its limbs or crushed its skull or ripped it in half when he was done, you would get the same emotional response. It might even be greater because the individual fight meant more.
Zarmaka is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2010, 05:08 PM   #11
joetbd
32-bit Poster
 
joetbd's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Arkansas, USA
Posts: 392
Rep Power: 6 joetbd will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

There are some things I really do not like.
One thing I dont like is a fixed camera. So games like God of War or the old Devil May Cry games dont appeal to me.

I see Bayonetta and GOW as similar games (in the DMC mold). But because of the camera, I would pick Bayonetta over those games

And I can not stand Ninja Gaiden because of the camera. And I was not happy about the Too Human camera either. Weird "dramatic" or fixed camera views seem to be popular with melee combat games.
joetbd is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2010, 08:41 PM   #12
Zarmaka
New Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 35
Rep Power: 5 Zarmaka is an unknown quantity at this point
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Yeah, people often comment on GoW's fixed camera, but it was zoomed so far out that I personally never had a problem looking at what I was trying to see. Although, as I said before, having a camera that far zoomed out is problematic for other reasons; it takes the player away from the action and leaves control feeling imprecise.

What exactly did you not like about Ninja Gaiden's camera? I only found it to be a problem when dealing with enemies with ranged attacks, since they often struck me from off-screen. That scenario didn't happen to me often enough to discourage me from beating the game.
Zarmaka is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-03-2010, 01:54 PM   #13
joetbd
32-bit Poster
 
joetbd's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Arkansas, USA
Posts: 392
Rep Power: 6 joetbd will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zarmaka View Post
\
What exactly did you not like about Ninja Gaiden's camera?
I only tried the first Ninja Gaiden (#2 maybe different). They used their "Dead or Alive" game engine, including the camera. And so it was really a fighting gaming camera. It was constantly bouncing around giving different dramatic views. And that is fine for a fighting game, where there is only one enemy and no scenery getting in the way. But it really bothered me in an environment with walls, cliffs, hallways, and tunnels. And the only concession they made was to "recenter" the camera behind your fighter. Which I consider the worst camera solution in video games.

Prince of Persia is a good standard for 3rd person games with platforming and combat. So there is already a base line that is easy to copy (and many games do). If a developer thinks they can make improvements (PoP is not perfect), go ahead and do that. But there is no reason to make something that is worse.
joetbd is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-03-2010, 09:27 PM   #14
Zarmaka
New Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 35
Rep Power: 5 Zarmaka is an unknown quantity at this point
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

Joetbd, I hadn't played Ninja Gaiden in a while, so I watched this video on youtube.

I'm starting to see exactly what you're talking about. A couple of times, the enemy physically gets between you and the camera. With regards to the camera constantly moving, that's because Ryu is constantly moving, and often at a high speed. His movement speed cannot be considered the problem, however, since it is essential to the emotions that players associate with being a ninja. The main problem that caused you to hate Ninja Gaiden is the fact that the camera is extremely close to the ground. Most game cameras are at least ten (scale) feet off of the ground as if on a crane, but the cameraman in Ninja Gaiden is holding the camera at eye level, which means that when the camera pans, it's a much more drastic movement.

If you mean the main series of Prince of Persia, I agree with you. The combat in the cel-shaded adventure from 2008 was awful, as was much of that game. The main series (timeline?) doesn't have great combat, but there are no glaring flaws; it's a good place to build upon.

Last edited by Zarmaka; 07-03-2010 at 09:30 PM.
Zarmaka is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-03-2010, 11:46 PM   #15
joetbd
32-bit Poster
 
joetbd's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Arkansas, USA
Posts: 392
Rep Power: 6 joetbd will become famous soon enough
Re: Please Rate this Article: Melee Combat in the Current Gen

With Prince of Persia Sands of Time, I was strictly talking about the camera.

Im chopping up these games, and looking at their elements individually. Because unlike the rest of you guys I dont have one melee game (batman) that I think does everything perfectly.

With most games, I dont even get to the point of considering their combat. Because something basic and fundamental is so irksome, that I cant stand playing the game.

Viking for example. It is a fine melee combat game. But the camera in that was very sensitive. You tap the camera thumbstick, and it swings 90 degrees (so now you cant even see your enemy). And there is no sensitivity adjustments in the options menu.

Plus, it tries to auto aim the camera, from time to time. So you'll be fighting a group of bad guys, and the camera decides this is a good time to swing around and look at a wall, or a patch of grass.

A perfectly decent (not great) melee combat game ruined by a non combat element. Other than the wacko camera, that was a game I could have gladly finished. Instead, I couldnt stand it for more than a couple hours.

Companies seem to give half hearted efforts, when it comes to melee games. Like Golden Axe, Death by Degrees, Eve of Extinction, 99 nights, Star Wars FU, Fairytale Fights, Conan, X-Blades, or Red Ninja. Every one of those games had positive ideas that could have worked, if they had not mucked up the fundamentals.

One game, where I liked the melee combat, Ico.
It wasnt a complex scheme of throws, holds, combos, or heavy and light attacks. There was one attack button. And no health bar. Thats all you needed. The stress came from the situation, not the combat's complexity.

Thats not a blueprint for other games. But it is an example of how games should interweave combat and other elements of the game. If you get all of the different elements of your game to mesh together, you dont need an amazing combat system.
joetbd is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump




Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.2
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
About Us | Privacy Policy | Review Game | FAQ | Contact Us | Twitter | Facebook |  RSS
Copyright 1999-2010 GameCritics.com. All rights reserved.