Versus Mode: RIFT vs. Neverwinter (Combat Systems)

In a game where everyone is armed to the teeth, it really is all about how you fight.

In a game where everyone is armed to the teeth, it really is all about how you fight.

Practically every MMO has conflict at its core, so the combat system is a defining characteristic.

RIFT and Neverwinter approach this from radically different angles, giving the new player a crucial choice which really does depend what kind of game experience you’re after. 

The Classic MMO Style

RIFT favours the traditional tab-targeting hotkey approach which will be like a comfortable old chair for MMO veterans. During the course of the RIFT tutorial, the player character is drip-fed new abilities which can be added to the hotkey toolbar, each one activated by pressing the corresponding number key.

It doesn’t take long to work out the most efficient combination of combat abilities: press TAB or left-click to select whichever bad guy you like the least, then activate your opening attack (probably a ranged one to lure your victim away from his friends), wait for the cooldown period to expire, then fire off the next one.

It’s functional, familiar and gets the job done. No doubt as more options become available, players will be able to tailor their attack combinations to suit. The downside is that it feels detached and uninspired. For the most part, you simply stand toe-to-toe with the opponent, rooted to the spot as you exchange attacks. The animations often fail to connect even though the hitpoints are deducted, like the combatants are performing some bizarre psychic kata.

Button Mash-Fu

Neverwinter delivers a far more visceral, connected combat experience and is the reason why the initially frustrating fixed third-person perspective is required. Positioning and facing is vital to the system and you need to be on your toes.

Not long into the tutorial, and having already been introduced to two moves bound to the left and right mouse buttons, my third combat move–lunging strike–is a very satisfying charge which sends my opponent flying. By the time I’ve met up with the irritating Private Wilfred again outside a castle gate, I’ve got a number of moves at my disposal, including dodges and blocks, all bound to keys around the W,A,S and D direction keys for immediate and fluid access.

As we fight through the final combat sequence across Dragon bridge, situational awareness is required to avoid various area of effect attacks (denoted by red shapes on the ground) and which encourage some bobbing and weaving, making melee as much about positioning and tactics as exchanging attacks. I feel as though I have to work for my victories, rather than simply exchanging DPS.

Fight for the Right

Under the hood, both RIFT and Neverwinter are delivering similar mechanics–an assortment of tools to remove hitpoints from the enemy–but Neverwinter adds a layer of immediacy and mobility which adds a thrill.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better; for some, the more sedate system RIFT favours allows exploration and combat to be undertaken via the mouse with a hot beverage/pizza slice in the other hand.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that Neverwinter‘s combat feels a lot more like combat.

RIFT  3 – 2  Neverwinter

NEXT: The Final Verdict and Beyond

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About the author

Mat Westhorpe

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.