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Top Ten Free-to-Play Games - Click for Kicks

Posted Sun, Feb 08, 2009 by Ralsu

For nearly a year, I wrote content for Ten Ton Hammer’s Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) hub. I was drawn by the chance to rekindle my relationship with D&D and the promise of a game that featured the authentic core rules. Turbine delivered on its promise to faithfully render the D&D experience, and I enjoyed the game for most of the time that I played it. Nevertheless, I found faults with DDO, chief among them the real-time battle system. Self-proclaimed “active” battle systems annoy me worse than a zit on the tender tissue where your nostril meets your face. But am I a dinosaur? Is real-time combat the future of gaming? 


No matter how high this Dwarf's stats are, the monsters in DDO will wipe the floor with him if the player behind the avatar is not adroit enough.

I have legitimate reasons to dislike real-time combat; I’d like a chance to state my case, to defend myself, before you (my reader and jury) convict me of lameness. 

Strategy is the core of good gameplay. Whether I am playing my favorite MMOG, a sports title, or a single-player RPG, I derive my pleasure from making choices to overcome my challenges. When I play Atlantica Online, I find joy in picking the right units and arranging them correctly to conquer foes. If I hop on the Playstation 2 for a game of Madden NFL Football 2008, it’s more important for me to utilize the right personnel and execute the correct play call to defeat my opponent than it is for me to press a combo of buttons to break a tackle.  Finally, when I am playing a Final Fantasy RPG on any console, my goal is to develop my characters in a way that helps them survive each battle. In a sense, any game I play is just providing a GUI (graphical user interface) on a bunch of number crunching. What can I say? I like numbers.

In contrast to the strategy required in the games I like most, titles with twitchy combat rely on the reflexes of the user to create a challenge. In DDO, it doesn’t matter how well I know the D&D rules or the spells available to a level 1 Wizard. If I can’t perform a tightrope walk along the beam in the ceiling, I’m never going to reach that treasure chest hidden up there. Without the manual dexterity to perform the Hadouken (↓↘→) before my opponent drops me in Street Fighter III, I might never win a match. Certainly, dexterity and agility are measurable traits (albeit imprecise measurements) and tests of those skills have merit. Even so, games that rely on challenges of deftness aren’t really providing any challenge; they pit the player against himself. The gamer’s limits are his nimbleness rather than any learning curve or leveling scale within the game. If I wanted to be aware of my faults, I’d enter a body-building contest.

Whether I like it or not (and I don’t), action components are coming to an MMOG combat system near me. I experienced it firsthand in DDO, but it doesn’t end there. During those sweet honeymoon weeks when gamers couldn’t stop making love to Age of Conan (AoC), webizens gushed about the sexy combat style of Funcom’s title. I wasn’t impressed because the need to change the focal point of attacks just sounded like needless button mashing to me. What seemed innovative to the masses appeared to be extra mindless work to me, and the trend looks to continue in the next round of AAA titles. The Chronicles of Spellborn features a targeting “crosshairs” of sorts. Champions Online and DC Universe Online promise action-styled combat. Aion looks to make the z-axis a real element in combat. The list goes on and on.

Deco Online uses a series of key presses to deliver more damage in combat.

Just as I have argued that microtransactions are coming to the Western market whether we all like it or not (and I like it), this action blend of combat is already invading F2P games. Cabal Online allows players to spam clicks or key presses instead of auto-attacking. Deco Online has gamers using key press combinations to deliver extra damage. The F2P audience often gets lobby games with heavy PvP elements (see Exteel or Rakion). It also receives the sports MMOGs (see Cody “Micajah” Bye’s In the Trenches). A number of kung fu games on the market likely involve twitchy combat, too. But should this old fossil get with the program and buy into the new fad?

Parting Thoughts

In moments of weakness, I almost cave and denounce myself for not embracing the acne of action combat games. Then I realize that I’m a gamer, dammit! We’re not supposed to be marvels of the human form or specimens of grace and agility. We’re supposed to be geeks, thinkers who take pride in our ruthless cunning, which enables us to take over the world (or at least virtual worlds). So, forgive me if I choose to apply an astringent to my pimples; I’ll pass on the twitchy games, thanks.

Do you like twitchy combat, or are you a dinosaur like Ralsu? Email your thoughts.

The Top Ten

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