Antiquated Combat: Builders and Spenders

Lifetap Volume 1, Issue 25 – Antiquated Combat: Builders and Spenders

This past weekend Marvel Heroes 2015 saw a hefty update, including combat updates and quality of life improvements for numerous heroes. In today’s bone-rattling issue of Lifetap, unravel the deep mysteries as to why Sardu believes builders and spenders is an antiquated combat mechanic based on his time playing the revamped Psylocke.


The gaming world may be buzzing with the arrival of the first wave of major fall releases, but a number of major MMO expansions also loom just over the horizon. The list below is far from complete, but should give you at least some idea of just how massive the inbound wave of expansions truly is.

  • EverQuest: The Darkened Sea
  • EverQuest II: Altar of Malice
  • Neverwinter: Rise of Tiamat
  • SWTOR: Shadow of Revan
  • Star Trek Online: Delta Rising
  • World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Before those particular waves come crashing into the MMO shoreline, this past week we also saw some major patches and updates hit. Two in particular ended up sparking some introspective analysis of my personal combat system preferences: World of Warcraft’s Iron Tide pre-expansion update, and the massive update to Marvel Heroes 2015.

Back when World of Warcraft first launched, I was more deeply invested in EverQuest II which I considered to be the superior MMO of the two. It wasn’t until sometime later that I played WoW with greater regularity, but I did at least fiddle with the game right from launch day. Since I’ve never been a fan of elemental mages and the warlock class felt too much like a cheap knockoff of an EQ necromancer for my liking, I settled on bouncing between warrior and rogue for the first year or so.

Little did I know at the time that one of my least favorite of all combat mechanics introduced with vanilla WoW – Builders and Spenders – would prove to be so influential on MMO combat in the years that followed. While I’m a big fan of chained attacks and various combo systems that attempt to improve upon blasé combat rotations, having to monitor additional class-specific resource bars never really clicked with me.

From a more practical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense that I can only smash something over the head with my sword for superior damage if I’ve had to tire my arms by swing the sword numerous times in smaller arcs first. What I also discovered ten years ago is that having to first build resources with one skill to fuel another made those combat rotations even more boring, rather than more interesting or varied.

Yet we see that combat mechanic still to this day in most major MMO releases. I commonly refer to this phenomenon as mana envy, since it was birthed from the notion that melee classes in MMOs were kind of boring compared to casters and needed to feel more vital in combat. I do appreciate the sentiment, but have reached a point where I find the use of builders and spenders about as vital an interesting as old school tab targeting and static hotbar combat.

Enter the Psylocke Combat Update

Marvel Heroes 2015 saw a massive update heading into the weekend, including combat updates for a number of heroes. A quick glance at the patch notes on the official forums helps illustrate just how massive this update truly is.

While the update as a whole is quite substantial, the standout line items for me are the combat updates for Cyclops and Psylocke. Since I had limited time to spend in-game over the weekend I decided to focus on the updates to Psylocke first, and plan to double back and check out the combat review for Cyclops sometime later this week, time permitting.

I was pretty ecstatic when Psylocke was first released earlier this year, partly due to nostalgia for one of my favorite comic book story arcs of all time, the Mutant Massacre run in the original Uncanny X-Men series. While I found her initial Marvel Heroes incarnation interesting, it was also yet another MMO character that felt cheapened by the injection of a builder / spender mechanic. Psylocke was still fun to play, but was quickly shelved in favor of other heroes in my collection.

With this new update, the builder / spender component has thankfully been removed, and you know what? Suddenly combat with Psylocke feels far more kinetic and vital. She now plays like the psychic assassin she’s meant to be, and I’d consider Psylocke to be one of the best hybrid heroes available. I could certainly attribute some of that to the freshness of the combat changes, but at the same time something clicks for me on a fundamental level now that was previously missing.

The Boredom of Builders and Spenders

Perhaps it’s just a layer of fatigue setting in from having played so many MMOs over the years, but I’ve reached a point where I’ve grown quite weary of builder / spender combat mechanics. I do still feel there is room for those systems, but more recent iterations of the concept have resulted in combat that tends to grow quite dull for me the longer I play a given title.

I’d much rather see a developer take a crack at meaningful iteration on the universal energy resource from the original Guild Wars than force gamers into lackluster combo systems tethered to class-based resources. As soon as you make a resource universal – health and time being prime examples – it suddenly opens those things up for manipulation which can produce very interesting results.

Have a preference for or against class-specific combat resources? Drop a note in the comments, or you can also follow my random babble on Twitter while I’m on the road for a secret mission this week. 

About The Author

Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.

Last Updated:

Around the Web