Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Turn-based vs real-time RPG combat

Many years ago, as my beloved adventure games were slowly consumed by role-playing games, I resented the very idea of RPGs on several levels. I had never played an RPG properly, and I was absolutely convinced that turn-based combat would be essential for my enjoyment. Now I have had the experience of playing three types of RPG: the MMO City of Heroes, which was an action RPG, all real-time, and the two very different styles that were manifested in the Penny Arcade Adventures series. The first two episodes had semi-real-time combat sequences, and the third has turn-based combat, but with a time line to determine whose turn it is next. Now, prepare to eat my words, younger self, because the real-time options absolutely wipe the floor with turn-based combat.

When you can literally walk away during a battle and be in no danger at all, something is lost. You don't even have to pause. It drains all of the excitement and tension out of the game for me, making it all about what weapons or spells to choose next. It also means that the game designers can go absolutely nuts with the number of options in combat, and they do. In the first two Penny Arcade Adventures episodes, you had three characters with one pre-equipped weapon each, capable of an ordinary attack or one of three special attacks. There were also about 15 different items you might use, and most of those were different strengths of the same type of item. There's no time to sift through a dozen sub-menus, because your characters will be dead by then.

In contrast, the turn-based Episode 3 has each character with one built-in class, two equipped classes and an upgradeable weapon, each with at least four different possible attacks or spells. There are so many new options every time someone levels up that I just stopped reading the post-combat summary and decided to learn my attacks during combat. After all, the names aren't going to tell me what they do. The mechanics of turn-based combat meant that the game designers added a lot of complexity to the play mechanics, and those start getting in the way of the fun.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So there you have it. For me, at least, turn-based combat bad, real-time good.
PPS - Based on the third Penny Arcade Adventures episode, I may not buy the fourth.

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