Far Cry Primal was promised to be a re-imagining of the Far Cry formula, by taking the series' staples of FPS combat and vehicular carnage and replacing them with a focus on melee combat and animal taming. The final product didn't really develop the game mechanics in alignment with the idea of a melee focused game. It felt like buying a ticket to see Rambo and ending up at the petting zoo.
The feverishly anticipated Kingdom Come: Deliverance may have been delayed, but it's still coming this year; Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord is still somewhere in the development ether, and Chivalry follow up Mirage: Arcane Warfare has just been announced. And so it seems that the age of melee combat may finally be upon us. But how much success do these games achieve in creating an authentic up close and personal combat experience?
There are definitely a few games that have done melee combat extremely proficiently, but they are few and far between. Games like Skyrim and Far Cry Primal may have a myriad of weapon choices and a deluge of attack types, but in the end it all falls down to simply spamming click until your target is a twitching heap on the floor. In essence you're letting the behind-the-scenes numbers do all the gaming for you.
The Dark Souls franchise is highly praised for its combat and has taken this one step further, with different attack animations and a stamina mechanic creating a rhythm of combat that feels more akin to the sword fights we see in films and TV. The feeling of tension as you and your opponent circle one another and lunge out attacks, testing the defence of your opponent and waiting for that crucial mistake is the kind of feeling many games with melee combat completely miss. The key difference? It's a third-person action game of course.
Most modern FPS games offer you plenty in terms of choice. With guns you decide not only what type of weapon you employ in combat, but also how you aim and how quickly you fire. Take Sniper Elite for example, where you get to watch slow motion bullets whizz across a map and total some unsuspecting Nazi's ribcage. It's brutal; it's satisfying. For some reason though if a game uses melee it becomes all about health and numbers rather than immediate feedback from successful aiming.
A good example of what I'm talking about are the classic games Jedi Outcast II and Jedi Knight Academy. The depth of combat customisation was truly amazing, especially for when the game was actually released. Not only could you change the colour of your lightsaber, you could choose what kind of lightsaber you had and even how many. Add on top of that the ability to choose your speed and strength of a swing, mix in a combat system that relies on your direction of movement to dictate the direction your weapon swing and you've got yourself a recipe for melee success. Knowing that you had negated all damage from a potentially lethal strike just from the positioning of your own blade was and is undeniably more awesome than just pressing a button and letting the numbers or the animation take care of the rest. Again though, third-person during melee combat. Clearly they thought first-person just wouldn't work.
There are some examples in modern day gaming that prove there's still ways to make exciting melee combat beyond the Devil May Cry and God of War way of slaughtering enemies. Mount and Blade is definitely up there and the melee combat in that game is arguably one of the most directly intuitive in terms of how your inputs correlate to the resulting attacks in game. Chivalry follows the same vein and that game has seen tremendous success and has sold millions of copies.
I recently got the opportunity to speak to Sam Ibbitson, Director of Meteor Pixel who are an independent game Studio. Meteor Pixel are currently working on what is looking like it could be the next step in melee combat gaming. Starting life as a mod for Chivalry, Bushido: Legend of the Samurai will be a standalone melee FPS (with the option to go third-person) title set in feudal Japan, with an exclusive focus on PvP combat. Initially the game is being built around a 1v1 dynamic but the team at Meteor Pixel hope to offer a multiplayer system similar to Chivalry's with support for up to 24 players in a single match.
The main selling point of Bushido when compared to Chivalry or Mount and Blade is that the combat system will focus entirely on timing and positioning as opposed to the precision in the attack itself. In Mount and Blade there was an exploit where players could raise their sword above and behind their head to cause a nigh on unblockable attack that went backwards as the system was based on hit detection – if the blade hits you and not your sword or armour, you get cut up and probably killed.
The idea with Bushido is that your attacks will deliver damage based on where you were when you attacked and the timing of your attack versus where they were and the timing of their defence. It's a system that will encourage swordplay more akin to the romanticised sword fights that all melee combat driven games inevitably strive toward, inviting players to choose their attacks outside of what the meta tells them is overpowered or similar. The final game will feature the ability to customise your weaponry down to the length and curvature of a sword which in turn directly affects how your weaponry can be used. It's this kind of focus on player agency that too many games miss and so Bushido: Legend of the Samurai is something all Chivalry and Mount and Blade fans should be keeping a close eye on.
With Virtual Reality technology just around the corner, now may be the dawn of a new age for melee combat in games. Everyone dreamed of swinging a lightsaber or a broadsword as a child and VR will one day give gamers that exact experience. Instead of just simply pressing a button, imagine being able to hold a sword above your head and bring it round in a huge swing to decapitate an orc. Now if that level of immersion isn't the whole point of gaming, I truly don't know what is. Surely a 1:1 recreation is precisely what first-person melee needs in order to succeed.
What do you guys think? Have you played a game with melee combat that actually made you feel as though you were in control of the combat? Or are you still waiting on a game to come and revolutionise the way melee combat is employed?
Share with us your thoughts below and which games, if any, you think are the ones that did it right and which upcoming titles you think people should be keeping an eye on.