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One Way to Make Tab-Targeting MMOs More Interesting

Yesterday, I was levelling my Warlock in World of Warcraft: Classic, and I stumbled into a quest that got me thinking about MMO combat design.

The quest itself was standard WoW-fare: Kill ten of these ungodly abominations and return thereafter. So, I readied my keybinds, targeted my unknowing victims, and prepared to devastate them with my character’s foul, stinky fel magic — as I had done thousands of times before.

But once I began trouncing the first enemy of ten, something unusual happened: I was dying — and fast! The enemy had cursed me, transferring half the damage I was dealing to myself. Suddenly, my “maximize damage” strategy was working against me. Worse yet, when I attempted to make a strategic retreat by casting Fear — a spell that usually sends enemies running for the hills — the enemy didn’t even flinch. As an undead creature, it was immune!

Suddenly, I couldn’t rely on my usual combat “rotation.” I had to employ a new strategy and ease off on my spellcasting until the curse expired. The encounter had thrown me completely off-guard. It was unusual. It was dynamic. It was engaging.

This raises a question: Why aren’t more enemies in WoW designed to shock players out of their habitual rotations and force them to strategize? No, not every unremarkable rat in Azeroth needs high-level boss mechanics. But emphasizing enemy abilities that disrupt combat complacency in players — such as the undead enemy’s curse — could make WoW far more interesting and dynamic.

Some say that the tab-targeting design of MMOs like World of Warcraft is dead. There are many reasons why, but I wouldn’t be surprised if combat staleness is chief among them. Reinvigorating tab-targeting with dynamic elements like this could save the genre from an undue grave.

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