The Two Main Groups of Action Combat Mechanics and Their Uses

Like any self respecting obsessive, I like to plonk stuff into categories. I’ve been thinking lately about action games, and how I think most fit into one of two main groups, which I like to call “Loose” and “Solid”. Most people will have a preference of one over another, myself included, but they both have their place.

First, we have the “Loose” action games. These are your more arcade-y hack-and-slashers: your Dynasty Warriors and Bayonettas and God of Wars. I call them “loose” because they interpret your button presses loosely; inputting X, X, Y or some other simple combo will have your character flipping and pirouetting through enemies in a ballet of violence.

“Solid” action games, however, are more precisely controlled. Your attacks are more reserved, slashing once per button press. This is the mechanic type used by Assassin’s Creed, Dark Souls, and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Controlling your character is more slash-by-slash, hit-by-hit. It’s often a more precise and grounded method of control, hence “Solid”.

Loose action games are more useful when you want a game to be easy to pick up, but hard to master. They tend to have a floaty, fast and furious tempo, and it’s often possible to get through with button mashing and a little bit of forethought. It’s a more immediately gratifying play style, because you can often hack your way through swathes of enemies in just a few seconds. However, for me the dissonance between input and action often leads to disconnection from the action, so the game has to grab my attention using other means to keep me engaged. Dynasty Warriors- style games don’t grab me enough with their story or objectives to make me care about playing them for much more than maybe an hour at a time, tops. God of War and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, however, had strong enough stories and environments, as well as varied enough objectives, to keep me invested.

Two main types of action games 2

Solid action games are more my cup of tea. I enjoy carefully parrying and side-stepping attacks, pressing the assault blow-by-blow when the enemy leaves an opening. It’s a much more effective way of letting me engage with my character, because I’m more intimately controlling their actions. As much as the parkour, world and mission design of the Assassin’s Creed series was greatly improved since the first game, I think Assassin’s Creed Uno has a really good combat system for creating engaging, difficult, thoughtful battles. As much as I like the kill chaining mechanics that the series introduced later on, the foundation of the combat has always been cerebral and effective.

My favourite game, Dark Souls, is a logical progression of this style of play. Your position, the arc of your weapon in space, and the positioning of enemies are all very precisely represented by the game’s engine. It really feels like you’re controlling a character in that space on screen, and the way that your attacks connect with enemies gives the world a very tangible presence, which I think is the most impressive hallmark of From Software’s Souls/Borne series.

I think the reason why the Arkham games’ combat style has become to ubiquitous of late is because it’s a balancing of the solid and loose aspects of action game combat. Combat retains the blow-by-blow nature of solid action games, while offering smart target lock-on and combo moves from loose action games. This leads to an interesting system in which you have the tactile solidity from one side, with the accessibility and spectacle from the other. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor built on this foundation rather nicely with the addition of your wraith powers and bow, seamlessly adding a potent ranged option to the mix.

Perhaps, then, we need to add a third classification to the mix- games that fuse together elements from the two different camps. Like “Fusion”, that sounds cool. Of course, this means that the title lied to you. Well, welcome to the real world, tiger.

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