Annoying Game Mechanics are those that just make you groan when you see them in a game. You’ve seen them at their best but you’ve also seen them at their worst. You can’t love them but you can’t hate them either, but you can definitely be annoyed!
This week the mechanic I’m having an issue with is Combos!
From fighting game to action adventures, a Combo is a series of attacks and abilities fluidly and smoothly strung together to inflict as much damage as possible on an enemy. In some cases, combos can even boost your combat effectiveness. When you think combo you will most likely think of fighting games, where they are part of the central mechanic, or beat’em-ups for the same reason, but you can also consider a series of synergetic abilities in RPGs a combo.
When used properly they empower the players, rewarding them for their strategic thinking or just their skill at using the game’s systems. Combos can come with a reward in the form of experience points or some in-game currency the longer and the more moves you string together, or increase the damage done, or even unlock special abilities mid-combo to make your life easier.
When developers fumble with the mechanic, you end up with unwieldy systems, sluggish combos with weak payoffs that frustrate players and make them feel anything but empowered. Or it can be the extreme opposite and make the game feel extremely easy if a combo was good enough, removing all threat and challenge. Combos are easy to implement and easier to mess up.
The staple of an annoying mechanic is that it’s seen both good and bad days. The following are some of the best and most disappointing uses:
- The Batman Arkham games have a fantastic free-flow combat system. Free-flow means you can change directions and targets seamlessly, going back and forth between enemies and chaining together different attacks and items without ever stopping. The better you do in a combo, using different attacks and manoeuvres to increase your ‘Variation’ bonus and the higher the combo multiplier is, the higher the experience reward you get.
The free-flow combat has another mechanic tied to its combo system. Once you reach x8 combo multiplier—that increases with every successful attack—you can perform take-downs. These manoeuvres take one or more enemies out instantly, considerably thinning the herd.
- Devil May Cry (including DmC) has one of the best combo systems in video game history. As you chain together combos you earn Style Ranks, which increase the more you vary your attacks, combine weapons, send enemies flying and in general juggle your opponents. The reward you get from each defeated enemy depends on the style rank you had when it died. And beyond each enemy, your overall style rank for the level counts for your final score at the end, and the higher the rank the higher the Red Orbs you get for buying new abilities and items.
- Dragon Age: Origin deserves a spot on this good list because of how well the spells and abilities play with each other. As you can control the order in which your party attacks, you can use abilities in tandem to take enemies out effectively. What makes it stand from other games, even in its own series, is how powerful these combos are and how satisfying it is to pull them off successfully. One of the best examples is Winter’s Grasp + Stone Fist. If the former freezes the target the latter will shatter and kill them outright. It’s a powerful move available to you early on and remains effective throughout the story. Same with Grease and Fire spells.
You don’t get experience bonuses or more items for using these combos, but they empower you with their lethality and their strategic value. And in a game where you’ll be fighting plenty of enemies, those two can make all the difference.
- Sacred has perhaps the worst combo system I have ever experienced. Not only do you need to find items to unlock each of your class’ skills, or exchange others classes’ items to get some of your own, but to create combos you need to combine some of these activation items together, losing them and getting the combo in return. It’s a clunky system that never seems to work in the player’s benefit, as the combos themselves are extremely weak.
- Dragon Age II & Inquisition simplified combat to such an extent that the combos mentioned for Origin, while still being present, lost all their effectiveness and power. Even if you freeze someone with Winter’s Grasp and manage to hit them with a skill capable of breaking them, it’ll just topple the enemy, stunning them for a short time. They also reduced the number and variety of spells so there are fewer possible of combos.
- Remember Me competes with Sacred for worst combo system in history. The general concept is interesting, as you can build the combos to suit your needs, with various attack categories offering different effects, but Remember Me messes it up by locking you out of most attack types and combos-lengths until you’ve advanced enough in the story. The result is a half-assed combo system that only adds variety and true empowerment options by the end of the game, by which point you really don’t care about it anymore.
- Castlevania Lords of Shadow is on this list and you might disagree. I won’t say the combat is flawed or bad. The fighting is smooth, fluid and the controls are tight for the most part. But…the combos themselves are worthless. What rewards you get from fighting don’t depend on your skill level but on the monsters themselves. Each creature has an assigned experience value and no matter what you do, that will never change. The Combo system fails to reward the player and the damage doesn’t even rack up the longer the combo lasts, as it does in similar games in the genre like God of War, where some attacks suddenly become highly damaging smashes if the combo is long enough.
6 thoughts on “Annoying Game Mechanics – Combos”
Combo can drive me crazy (I mostly play RPG games). Weirdly, I am as much at ease with DAO and DAII combo system (I didn’t get to play DAI yet).
I loved the Dragon Age Origin combos, as I mentioned, they made you feel powerful and added a lot to the fights. Dragon Age 2 lowered the number of spells and Inquisition cuts the list even shorter, to the point where pulling off the combos becomes night impossible. It’s highly frustrating!
I do think that combos in RPGs are much more difficult to do right than in other genres, but when you do it right, it’s fantastic!
Glad you liked the article!
I have a hard time with combos generally speaking, so this might be why I was comfortable with the DA2 ones. I find it weird that they may have streamlined things even more in DAI though. I don’t really see why. I remember being happy when I survived some of the DAO DLC of the ultimate edition (there was a golem one and the one where you played darkspawn which were said to be amongst the most difficult) without any problem. It made me a casual level type of gamer, very happy. And yes, very much enjoyed the article! Made me cringe even more at the thought of retrying Sacred 2 at some point! The game was all buggy the first time I tried it.
Sacred 1 was enough to put me off the whole series hahaha. I still remember having to input console commands in German to spawn a missing quest item. So Sacred 2 wasn’t the only one buggy as hell!
And yeah, DAI has limited spell/ability lists. Even advanced classes offer very few skills. Also, even when you coordinate the party’s attacks they all resolve at the same time and that makes the combos even harder to pull off.
I didn’t play Sacred 1 but liked the look of the second one so a friend gave it to me as a gift. After a few choice words at the bugs, I gave up on it (and probably went for another run of DAO or DAII afterwards!)
Limited spell/ability lists sucks. I don’t care for huge customization and tons of new things to learn but having enough to have a real choice is important. Well, I’ll see how things go the day I get a new desktop and can play DAI. And all party’s attacks resolving at the same time is counter intuitive. If you’re going to knock people out or freeze them, it’s to avoid having them all come at you at once. Seriously…
The only way I’ve found that I can get them to work well with my commands is gutting the AI so it just uses basic attacks, that way I can coordinate the abilities. But that makes the party useless and forces me to micromanage combat. Not really fun