In the post-Dark Souls, post-Shadow of Mordor landscape of video games, all of us are suddenly experts on combat systems, able to sieve good from bad ones.
Although the selection process, according to some, might involve “a good system makes your calloused fingers bleed”, but things are rarely this simple. Let’s take a look at some game with distinctive combat systems, which go beyond the pleasant and visually excellent button-tapping ballet of Arkham-like combat.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, produced by the creators of this year’s hit NieR: Automata, Platinum Games, is a pretty interesting game, really.
With the cyberninja Raiden as its protagonist, it had a perfectly functional core combat system, but what gets it the spot on this list is the Blade Mode, AKA “Cut Everything” AKA “Oh dear lord, so detailed”.
If something has a discrete model, then there is 95% chance you’ll be able to cut it to tiny pieces. You control the angle in 360 degrees, you control the direction. If you’re determined enough, you can cut a watermelon to party-appropriate pieces.
The game launched in 2013, so it’s four years old now (where did the time go?), and yet nobody seems eager to do something similar. We do have dismemberment in many games, of course, but nothing near the freeform of Revengeance.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
We can’t seem to let go of putting Arkane Studios’ games on our lists, it seems. Dark Messiah was a spin-off from the Might and Magic series, a first-person perspective shooter/slasher with deliciously meaty combat and its systems were full of kinetic joy.
If you pick melee combat as your focus, you’ll find yourself hacking orcs to pieces with swords, whacking them around with staves, and every hit and every parry feels like it has proper weight behind it. If that’s not enough to provide a nice immersion, you quickly discover the joys of ragdolling enemies with well-aimed kicks, swinging chandeliers, or falling barrels. If you’re lucky and planning enough, you’ll impale your foes on spikes abundant in the game’s environments.
Magic worked like wonder, too, with a level of interactivity unseen until Divinity: Original Sin decided to make it one of its core features.
Mount & Blade: Warband
|Genre:||RPG, Strategy, Fantasy|
M&B: Warband is a very cute game. We’ve mentioned it previously, for a different reason. This time it makes the list, because of its massive variety of melee weapons, each with its own stats.
So you have things like reach, speed rating, separate damage values for each of available attack types. Some weapons have different modes (eg. you can use a bastard sword one-handed or two-handed), or special properties, like punching through blocks.
You control the type of attack with mouse movement, parrying is managed in the same way. Momentum has importance too, especially if you grab a lance and choose to kill someone from horseback.
The game isn’t pretty, true, but the combat and battles are a ton of fun, and every weapon feels unique.
Star Wars: Jedi Knight games
|Release year:||1997, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2009|
Yeah, we had the Force unleashed games, which made lightsaber combat look cool, but it never managed to make it feel cool. This is where the Jedi Knight games come in.
First with Jedi Outcast II, specifically, and then in Jedi Academy, which added some prequel-inspired weapon options to the mix.
Running around slashing foes, directing attacks with subtle movements of your mouse buttons and pre-determined manoeuvres was a blast, especially with Raven Software’s dismemberment engine. Jedi Academy added dual lightsabers, and Darth Maul-like staves, each with unique movesets, of course, and different input, so each style change is something new to learn. Buff it all up with certain acrobatics, and The Force Unleashed can hide.
Devil May Cry 3&4
|Release year:||2005, 2008|
Devil May Cry was a game that should never be forgotten. It singlehandedly created the genre for other games to follow. The franchise reached its heights when the third and fourth installments rolled along.
The games had a pretty hefty combat systems before, but the Styles introduced in DMC3 and the ability to switch between them on the fly introduced in DMC4 expanded on combat significantly.
While attacks on their own are largely about pressing buttons in a certain rhythm, with occasional direction input from the stick, the magic comes from combining them into incredible sequences.
And yes: these games track just how awesome and diverse your combo is. If you go around spamming the same attack over and over you’ll never crawl above C, which translates into fewer souls (currency) and lower overall mission score.
The Special Edition also happens to have five characters to master, instead of two we got in the game at launch, so more bang for your buck.
Guilty Gear (the whole deal)
Keeping up the theme of abnormally fast games with absurd skill ceiling, let’s talk Guilty Gear. The 20 years old franchise is in some ways a fighting game version of Devil May Cry.
Although it has entered the 3D world with the release of Xrd, it lost little of the speed and crispness of the previous, sprite-based incarnations.
There’s all the complexity now expected from fighting games, with attack cancels, five types of attacks (punch, kick, slash, heavy slash, and Dust, which launches enemies high in the air, open for heavy damage), special attacks, and more.
GG’s speed and high skill threshold make it not really suitable for newcomers to the genre, but you’ll find that the systems are complex and require split-second reaction speed.
Oh, and the soundtracks, especially for older entries, are some prime-quality hard rock, as befits the franchise so heavily inspired by rock history.
For Honor did a couple of things wrong, including matchmaking and connectivity. But its melee combat system is stellar, especially for duels.
At its core, the system boils down to picking one of three directions: top, left, or right. It informs not only your guard form, but also the direction from which you begin your attack. If your enemy matches the direction of your attack with their guard (or attack), it’s blocked. Then you have fast and heavy attacks, important for damage calculations and deciding which attack hits first if they start at the same time. Aaand then you get the specific moves of the various (and sort of numerous) classes.
Before long you figure out that what looks like a fairly simple rock-paper-scissors type of deal get enough modifiers and complexities to turn it into a 3D fighting game more than anything else.
Item-based progression etc. do introduce some balance issues, but execution aside, the system is valid and very sensible.
Tekken (currently up to 7)
Tekken finally got to PCs this year, which is a cause for celebration in itself. It also happens to be a pretty darned nifty fighting game, perfecting the more than 20 years old system, and pushing it to the logical conclusion.
This is what a long time of “testing” in Japanese arcades does to games, it seems.
Tekken at its core is focused on controlling individual limbs, chaining attacks, and looking great while doing this. It’s probably among the smoothest fighting games out there, system and animation-wise. The hitboxes are also very detailed, and scouting Reddit’s /r/HitBoxPorn can yield some interesting results.
Tekken might not be the most complex of them all, but polish and cutting away things which do not work is also an important part of development. And Tekken is great at this.
|Release year:||2009, 2018|
The presence of this series is probably no surprise to anyone here. Soulsborne have become something of a measuring stick for many people.
The games have a certainly demanding combat system, which is typically reasonably fair, but on the other hand it knows absolutely no mercy.
The key to victory lies in managing your stamina, which is drained by attacks, dodging and the like, and in learning your enemies’ attack patterns and general behaviours. Working out the proper timing to attack, block, dodge will hopefully keep you beyond the striking range of your opponents. It’s a game with a certainly very deliberate tempo, nothing like DMC’s mad speed.
The always present threat of violent death at the hands of every foe, and combat system unlike many we’ve seen before put From Software’s games as the shining example of how to do combat in games, for better or worse.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
|Genre:||Action RPG, action-adventure|
Dragon’s Dogma is a game that’s nearly criminally underappreciated. It blends some of the most distinctive features of other games to deliver something truly worthwhile.
DD’s probably most distinctive feature, undoubtedly inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, is being able to climb massive monsters to deal damage much heavier than you would be able to from the ground.
Each of Dragon’s Dogma’s nine Vocations (3 basic classes and 6 advanced) plays differently, even if some may appear to be simple upgrades at the first glance.
Combat is also more interesting thanks to your Pawns: NPCs you can hire to help you along. They can be of any Vocation, and cooperation is often pretty interesting: they heal you, they can stun or grapple enemies to expose them to your attacks, and are pretty helpful in general, albeit largely independent from you, barring basic commands.
Each Vocation (and weapon type, by extension) has a number of dedicated abilities, with up to eight (four per weapon) available at all times, at the cost of stamina, and a number of passive talents which can be shared across Vocations.
It works wonderfully, and even when you die horribly at the hands of bandits or huge monsters, you feel like you just died a heroic death. Which is nice.
So there you have it. Ten games with outstanding combat systems, some requiring skill and patience to master, others simpler, but with a large scope, or offering excellent interactivity. We have omitted some games from the list, such as ancient (by game years) Severance: Blade of Darkness, or some upcoming games like Mordhau, which may blow any other Medieval combat simulators out of the water.
Which game do you think has the best combat system? Let us know in the comments.