Saturday, May 16, 2015

It's Not What You Do It's - The Way That You Do It : Landmark, Dragon Nest

When it comes to combat in MMORPGs, given a choice, I'll always go for the traditional. I like my hotbars and most especially I like to have full and complete control over my mouse pointer at all times. I'm a clicker and proud of it.

For a few years now, though, sentiment among MMORPG developers has been set dead against old fuddy-duddies like me. Industry wisdom has it that conventions like hotbar combat, tab targeting and even WASD movement have been acting as a drag anchor on the genre's chance of a breakout. To remain a purist would have been to close the door on any number of hybrid MMO/MMORPG/ARPGs and my curiosity would never allow that.

The first time I wrestled with the new controls was in the DCUO beta back in late 2011.Was it really only three and a half years ago? It feels like a decade must have passed at least since then. Then there was the original Dragon Nest, Neverwinter Online, TESO, half an hour of Tera and now Dragon Nest Oracle and Landmark. Most likely several I've forgotten about as well.
Don't mess with me. I know Origami.

It's not a massive sample but it's certainly enough for me to appreciate that it's not a simple case of hotbars good, mouseclicks bad. Yes, my preference is always going to bias towards the classic Everquest select-execute-observe style of combat but I do recognize that feeling comfortable and in control with no mouse pointer on screen is not an absolute impossibility.

Yesterday I spent around an hour exploring a little of the first underground level in Landmark. For a good while I had the dark, twisty caves to myself but eventually I fell down some kind of fissure and found myself in a cavern where monsters dwell.

Four kinds of monster to be precise - Chompers, Wisps, Slaugs and Abominations. That's the entire bestiary so far. Oh, and there's a Mushroom that explodes, if you count that, which I don't. All of the above were lurking or hovering or slithering around in the large, dark, cavernous space and over the course of half an hour or so I killed at least one of every kind.

Why do I get the feeling the tide just went out?

It wasn't easy. I'm not entirely sure it was fun. It was certainly inelegant and awkward. All I had was the standard-issue newbie sword with its two basic attacks linked to right and left mouse. Since the RMB attack is a leap I didn't use that much. Positioning was difficult enough already.

Progression in Landmark, such as it is, rides on Achievements. Many of the things you'd naturally choose to do turn out to have rewards attached via this system. The very first monster you kill rewards a Pulverizer, a handy device that allows you to tunnel quickly through rock. I wanted one of those so when a wisp started to zap me instead of panicking and trying to run away I whacked it with my sword.

Okay, that was just a practice round.
I won the first fight to my considerable surprise. And the second. And the third. I had my Pulverizer but now I also had another Achievement in sight, the one for killing ten monsters in the first level of the underworld. Some of the fights were close but I only died once, to my first Chomper, a notoriously awkward customer at close quarters. I got him on the rematch though.

My impression of the combat was "it's not completely awful". As a very - very - basic template it has possibilities. Like just about every aspect of Landmark right now it feels like something that might be ready for commercial release with, oh, no more than another couple of years work. Still, I can now at least imagine playing a character in EQNext using some much more polished version. Whether I'd enjoy it is harder to say.

If I don't, though, it will not be because of any innate and immovable prejudice against the type of combat they've chosen to go with. Dragon Nest Oracle went for exactly the same center-screen cursor targeting, LMB/RMB attacks system, only there it is a sheer joy to use. Granted my diminutive protagonist is using the left mouse button to fire a hand-cannon the size of a pygmy hippopotamus and that's what does most of the damage but it's not all range range range. She's also got a six-foot spanner she swings with the right to knock things down!

I don't have any shots of DNO combat.
Here's a cat instead.
The differences are manifold. Above everything there's the responsiveness. My character in DNO looks and feels solid with a physicality that most MMOs lack. The animations all match perfectly to the actions I'm taking and the impacts feel concussive and reactive. It's a real ARPG so everything is speeded up, something I wouldn't expect or want in Landmark or EQN, but if a fumbling amateur like me can operate the controls comfortably at those speeds then surely a more stately pace should be even more to my taste.

Dragon Nest Oracle also has a lot of explosions. I really like my explosions. Often you can't see what your fighting in GW2 for the particle effects, which I have on maximum at all times. I'd rather see a firework show than an ogre's face any day. It might surprise people who haven't played but original Everquest also has particle effects that can be cranked up until there's little on screen but swathes of neon color and enough sparkles to keep a unicorn factory running for a year. I used to play with those on full, too, except when I was main-healing.

If Landmark has anything in the way of spectacular visual effects during combat I missed them. That might be because it is pitch dark in those caves and apart from the wisps the monsters are hard to see, although darkness is a bit of a thing for Daybreak at the moment, so maybe that will change. It's also likely my very basic starter weapon has no attached special effects. You don't really get particle effects with a rusty sword. Just tetanus.

I'm really not sure about having a forge inside my house.
I didn't have much time to worry about the candlepower in my Lightstone anyway. (I made it myself, you know). I was mostly concentrating on keeping the monsters in the center of the utterly ludicrous calipers that Daybreak are using as a "cursor". It was quite a while before I noticed that as well as bracketing the target those giant parentheses also show you the state of your armor and health. An uglier, more intrusive and, well, plain daft way of doing so would be hard to imagine. That really has to go.

Despite the very major limitations and shortcomings of both Landmark's combat system and my natural ability to operate it I emerged from the underworld feeling oddly pleased with myself. A click of my Stone of Recall took me back to my tower, baking in glorious sunshine beside the ever-rolling waves, where I made immediately for the Forge.

In the course of my battles I'd managed to loot enough Ether Shards to make myself a better weapon. I went for the bow which, under Landmarks' latest, highly streamlined crafting system, you do indeed make in a forge. The farther back I can stand when I'm fighting something that can rip my head off the better I like it.

I think I might pop into Not-Norrath and have a go with it right now.

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