Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Of Combos and Conjunctions

"You and me, we're in this together now
None of them can stop us now
We will make it through somehow"

NIN - We're In This Together

While Tyranny's tangle of roleplaying choices must occupy the bulk of any commentary, its gameplay mechanics also deserve some mention. Skipping over the skill-based character development for the moment, let's take a look at combos:
Each of your tyrannous companions comes with two reputation-unlockable abilities requiring both you and that companion to act at once. While more powerful than regular skills, they're limited in use (once per combat or per rest) and require you to find an opportune moment for both characters, managing their global cooldown timers appropriately. Kills-in-Shadow's little teleport there is basically what the monk's Flagellant's Path from Pillars of Eternity should have been. Utility aside, they add quite a bit of aesthetic charm to your party make-up, making it look as though your team is really working as a team with each companion adding a bit of flair to your own character's combat behavior. Kills-in-Shadow's jumps meshed perfectly with my own "damn the torpedoes" attitude. After seeing how naturally combos work within Tyranny it seems odd in retrospect that they haven't been featured in every other RPG with NPC companions over the past couple of decades.

So I ended up wondering why, if combos add such satisfying aesthetic and practical options to single-player games with simulated teams, do we not see them in multiplayer RPGs with actual teams of multiple players? After a bit o' cogitatin' ah done 'membered wut you striplins ain't know no-how, dat we dun did dat in da olden days. If I recollect proper, why it were back in the spring of aught-seven when tha witch-king come down from Angmar an' done invadered tha down o' moldy cheese, we peoples free of middlin' earth would use these things called "conjunctions" or "fellowship maneuvers" to give our combat tactics that extra spit-shine:
When initiated on a monster, conjunctions stunned it and brought up a menu of four color-coded skills for each player in the group. Each player could choose to personally regenerate health or mana or damage the monster instantly or over time, but when executed in a particular pattern a conjunction could also trigger AoE effects or group-wide bonuses. The better coordinated your group, the greater use you could get out of such maneuvers. Among other things this lent a more relevant role beyond hitting things to Lord of the Rings Online's rogue class, the burglar, as best able to initiate conjunctions by sneaking up behind enemies to trip them, etc. Groups would plan ahead as to who would hit what color in what order. A couple of instances were even built around them.

My only complaint was that no matter how many times my groups called upon the "Tramp of Doom" it never summoned even a single succubus.

Now don't go buying yourself a LotRO subscription. I'm talking about the gameplay of yesteryear, not yesterday. As online game demographics shifted from the old nerdy crowd who wanted a challenge to casual mass-market brainless trash who want everything dumbed down until they can face-plant their way to victory, LotRO's various features were gradually stripped away leaving nothing but mindless loot-grinding. As of several years ago, fellowship maneuvers were deemed much too complicated for modern gamers and nerfed into irrelevance. Complexity sends millennials scurrying for their safe spaces.

I've been calling Pillars of Eternity and related games the "RPG revival" as a joke but dare we hope that some of Tyranny's ambitions might bleed into the industry at large, and even into MMOs? When my trusty bolverk Kills-in-Shadow and I heft our warhammers and stampede across the battlefield, I can't help thinking how easily she could be replaced with an actual player and how little it would take for coordination to once more become an ideal in computer games.

Just stop pandering to cretins.

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