Editor’s Note: This is the second half of a two part article on “The Close Combat Archer”. For part one, click here.
When did the bow (or crossbow) become a close combat weapon? In the previous article, we began looking at this curious phenomenon and compared archer methodologies in several games with historical precedent. Though rather simplistic in nature, the debate becomes more severe when we realize that any poor fix could alienate as much as a third of the player base. Archers constitute one of the three major combat classes (melee, archer, and mage) and for this reason must be approached carefully.
Ironically, the root of the problem doesn’t have anything to do with archers at all, but rather survivability. One of the biggest things that separate persistent world MMOs (and RPGs in general) from FPS is the concept of health. From Castle Wolfenstein to Halo, in FPS games a player that sustains a couple hits in close order is dead. This concept, while more realistic, doesn’t crossover as well into persistent world gaming. If one or two blows from a monster was enough to kill a character, no one would explore very far, complete many quests, or progress at a reasonable rate. To overcome this, RPG designers have instituted the concept of hit points. As the unrealistic nature of this health system is out of the main scope of this article, I won’t address it anymore here beyond observing that the end result is that characters (and monsters) survive far longer, recover far faster, and suffer far fewer complications from their injuries than they would realistically.
In the medieval era, a man who was struck by an arrow in the chest was either dead or severely injured, whereas in gaming, a man who is hit by ten arrows might very well shrug them off and win the day.
What does all this mean for archers? Simply this. The potency of archery is to inflict damage at range before the target can get into melee. But when health is super-inflated to offer the survivability necessary in MMOs it also makes the task of an archer killing its opponent at range almost impossible.
While this dilemma cannot be entirely resolved without a complete revamp of the MMO health system (a debate for another day), it can be reduced. Aside from the common model of acknowledging close combat archer as a “necessary evil” and doing nothing about it, there are two other methodologies to approach the problem. The first deals with combat at range and the second while in melee.
If it follows that an archer is most potent at a distance, then it would be logical for archers to want to sustain that condition for as long as possible. At Crécy, as I mentioned last time, King Edward III achieved this by placing a line of stakes in front of his archers. LOTRO has instituted a technique that enables this tactic in the form of traps. Its archer class, the hunter, can place traps in front of his position before initiating combat. If the trap is triggered, the target is immobile for a period of time allowing the archer to fight longer before the enemy closes the distance. Another method, also used by LOTRO, would be to have the archer’s arrows slow the target’s movement speed. This again protracts the period of ranged combat. The specific techniques can be numerous, but what essentially matters is that the archer has some way to either slow or pin his target, thereby delaying melee combat as long as possible.
The second method is to give the archer more close combat tools once the enemy is standing toe to toe with him. Again, LOTRO is near the forefront of this concept because of the large number of attacks options it gives the archer using melee weapons. This solution is entirely realistic because it represents a shift of weaponry to the changed situation. The draw back, of course is that most archers want to use their bows. If they wanted to play a melee character, they wouldn’t have picked an archer in the first place.
Ultimately, I acknowledge that in desiring the elimination of close combat archery, I am very much in the minority and would be very surprised if it were removed outright. However, I would argue that there should always be penalties to hit a target while in melee range and that every ranged attack should have an induction time that can be interrupted. The counterbalance to these penalties would be a combination of increasing the potency of archer attacks at range (which already is rather widespread), more tools to prolong the period of ranged combat, and the ability to use non-ranged weaponry effectively in melee combat.