Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Keep Moving Don't Move

As  my Necromancer jogged past the ghost-ridden ruins east of the Oldgate waypoint this morning, throwing down marks in all directions, summoning cadavers and creatures to trail behind her like the tail of a rotting comet, it occured to me to ponder the joys of casting on the move.

Time was when the way motion locked down at the start of a spell and didn't release until the end made for one of the defining divides between casters and melee. An assumption underpinned all: magic takes concentration.

Casting could be interrupted in all kinds of ways. A spell could fizzle or fail due to lack of skill. You could be out of practise or out of luck. A smart clout with a shield, the barge of a shoulder - a caster could miss her mark, fluff a line, drop a reagent, mess up a gesture. Casting spells; a delicate business.

My introduction to MMORPGs came with EverQuest, where to this day spellcasters need to keep their feet firmly planted when casting. There are workarounds but the intent is if you want to spell and run, play a bard or a hybrid.

The first time I recall being able to move and cast at the same time as a pure magic-user was in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. There was a clever trade-off; casting made you slow. I liked it. It seemed liberating, not needing to stand in place, yet kept the urgency, the nod to concentration.

As time passed and the genre opened wide such considerations lost their power. The connection between MMOs and RPGs drifted. Casting in place was a thing our ancestors did, not us. Not any more.

Although, I wonder, is that true? And do I even know? If I listed the MMORPGs I've played in the last few years, could I say with certainty which let casters spell on the fly? Let's see...

Some games I've played in the last year.
  • World of Warcraft - Erm, I think you have to stand still as a Mage and a Warlock? Not sure.
  • WoW Classic - Pretty sure you have to stay still here. Wouldn't swear to it, though.
  • EverQuest - My Magician has to stand still. I'm guessing all pure casters do.
  • EverQuest II - Wait, I should know this one... Oh, I remember. It's complicated. See below.
  • Guild Wars 2 - You pretty much get a penalty notice if you ever stop moving, so yes.
  • Rift - Don't recall having to stop to do anything in Rift. Everyone's some kind of hybrid anyway.
  • Neverwinter - Hmm. Free movement while casting. Probably...
  • Lord of the Rings Online - Long time since I played a caster there. Not at all sure but yes?
  • Final Fantasy XIV - I suspect even some melees have to stand still. Combat is very formal.
  • Vanguard Emulator - As in the original, casting snares you but doesn't root you.
  • Riders of Icarus - Yeah, you can cast and move in this one.
  • Secret World Legends - Ditto.
How did I do? Feel free to grade me in the comments.

The very fact that I struggle to remember in most cases suggests it  can't be something that impinges all that urgently on my enjoyment. If it bugged me I'd remember. Wouldn't I?

Guild Wars 2 stands out as by far the fastest-paced, most dynamic of the games on that list. Nothing else really comes anywhere close. That's the game I've played far more than any other for the last seven years. Read much into that?

EQII is interesting for a couple of reasons. First off, I play it every day and I still couldn't bring to mind the specific mechanics. I do mainly play a melee class but I do have a couple of pure casters, a Necromancer and a Wizard, both played in combat this year if not this month. You'd think I'd know.

I would have said they could cast and move but then I remembered one of the specific benefits listed on the buff automatically applied on entering Blood of Luclin solo instances: the ability to cast spells while moving. So normally you can't.

From this I learn either that I don't pay attention to such things or that I don't have a strong preference or that I quickly acclimatize and accept the conventions of whichever game I'm playing. In fact, all of the above.

I do know that if I've been playing a game that allows casting while moving immediately before playing one that doesn't I trip over the step. But I pick myself up and carry on. 

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is about the one upcoming game (that I care about) where this might matter. They agree. It's in the FAQ:
Most spells can be cast when you are moving, however they will more often than not slow down your movement speed. Some spells will require you to stand and not move; likewise, some spells may not slow your movement speed. Additionally, while most spells are spoken, some are gestured, the latter being very handy when an area is silenced by a player or NPC. 
Makes sense. Basically, Vanguard rules. Pantheon is basically Vanguard 2. Although, probably a good decision not to call it that, even if they could have, which, I guess, legally, they couldn't.

Anyway, there is no real upshot to all this. I just happened to think about it, which I haven't for a long time, and thought it might be worth mentioning. My takeaway seems to be that I don't have a particularly strong preference but if I had to come down one side or the other I'd drop, roll, dodge and fling a fireball at whoever was asking.

All at the same time.


  1. In WoW Classic you mostly have to stand still to cast people's standard go to offense spells such as Fireball or Frostbolt, but about half of the utility spells (including buffing) and a minority of offensive spells (Fireblast and some of a Warlock's debuffs/DoTs) can be cast on the move as instants.

    Those constraints had been loosened up over the years in Retail, so I have no idea just how many spells need to be cast in Retail.

    This was a similar phenomenon in LOTRO and SWTOR.

    1. Yes, I didn't mention instants. They're kind of an anomaly. Almost by definition if it happens instantaneously it can't be "casting", which more than implies a measurable passage of time. That's magic for you!

  2. FF14 actually is a hybrid at least for White Mages. Instacast spells you can cast on the move. But anything with a casting time you have to stand still for.

    And in Guild Wars 2 there are a few channeld skills you have to stand still for while channeling. But that is not specific for casters. Some of you can break out of with weapon swapping/moving. Which is annoying when you do it on accident.

    1. And channeling - that's another anomaly. I always liked channeled spells. I even like that possibility you could get interrupted. It made casting them feel like an adventure in itself. In GW2 I still haven't entirely figured out how channeling works. Playing a lot of staff Eles I cast Meteor Shower many times most days but I'm still not one hundred per cent certain what effect breaking off during the cast has. I seem to remember the number of meteors being proportional to the length of the cast but I haven't gone back and looked that up lately. Even if it was true it may have changed.

  3. I believe that on Neverwinter using most abilities for most classes (even non-casters) actually roots you in place. I guess you don't notice that because casting an ability doesn't take SECONDS unlike some older games.

    1. My combat gameplay in Neverwinter consists of hammering the mouse buttons and ocasionally dabbing blindly at the keyboard. I'm not sure I'd even notice if I interrupted a cast.

    2. You can't interrupt a cast, but you can't move while casting (including abilities that are bound to mouse buttons.)

  4. I think SWTOR handles this about right to my tastes. You have to stand in place for a lot of abilities, but all classes have at least some instant cast abilities you can use on the fly. Many classes also can choose to specialize in being more mobile, either depending on the tree they pick or by choosing talents that make certain abilities instant cast. On my current character I have just enough instant cast abilities to keep doing steady damage while I reposition myself during a fight, and I could move a few more over to the instant case column if I wanted to.

    SWTOR is not a game that I would hold up as a paragon of deep customization overall, but in this one area it does a better job than most MMOs I am familiar with. I have the impression that classes in most MMOs tend to be almost entirely one way or the other. Certainly for casters in WoW classic that's the case.

    1. SW:ToR is an interesting case. I deliberately didn't include it in the list even though I've played it in the last year because I was specifically thinking about how these games handle magic. I thought about The Force as a magic analog but I never played a Force user and anyway I still think it's a science fiction concept not a fantasy one. I ummed and ahhed about including SWL too, but Funcom do specifically use the word "Magic" and the game setting is definitely science-fantasy not science-fiction.

      Of course, none of that has anything to do with the issue of gameplay and movement per se. You could perfectly well code the game to require a character to be motionless when firing a gun. I don't think the same underlying genre tropes apply, though.

  5. WoW steadily increased the potential for casters to cast on the move over the years, peaking in Mists of Pandaria. At that point one class (warlock) even had a max level talent that let them cast all of their spells on the move, always.

    However, with Warlords of Draenor, casting while moving got the same treatment as flying: The developers decided it was something the game shouldn't have ever done, and they declared all-out war on the concept. Mobility for casters was drastically reduced across the board, and the concept of hard-casting on the move pretty much died outright.

    I was not pleased, to put it mildly. I prefer mobile combat, and being forced to be a turret as a caster is not something I ever enjoyed. GW2 and TSW handle it much better than older games like WoW and SWTOR, IMO.

    1. Thanks for that clarification. I never played WoW during Pandaria. That Warlock gameplay sounds good. It seems as if the current WoW senior developers have some serious issues with their predecessors. That kind of tension is an interesting topic in itself. It's been evident in several games I've played.

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