MMO Mechanics: Damage over Time
A very common mechanic in nearly all the games I’ve played is the “Damage over Time” or “DoT” spell. It seems that every class has at least one spell or attack that is a DoT, and some classes have so many they’re considered to be “DoT classes.” My question is. . .why?
I actually posted some thoughts on this on the EQ2 official boards earlier today, and as their combat originally was conceived, I can see why DoTs could have been thought of as at least useful, if not ideal. In their original combat style, you see, monsters/mobs had a lot of hit points, your “specials” cost a lot of power but did (relatively) high damage, and your auto-attack did (relatively) almost no damage at all. The DoT was a sort of compromise between this. It was a low-moderate damage special attack that was given a lower power cost as compensation for spreading the damage out over time. As an added bonus. if you ran out of power with a DoT ticking away, you’d still get some “higher damage” output even with having been reduced to just auto-attacking.
In practice, this kinda worked, but not really that well. Most DoT spells had durations of anywhere from 16 to 30 seconds (ticking every 4 to 6 seconds usually), but had recast times in the 12 to 20 second range. Meaning that you could recast the spell long before it had applied all of its damage, thus tossing your supposed power efficiency right out the window and making the DoT actually cost more power for less damage than a similar level direct damage spell. For the sake of power efficiency, some players would resist the siren call of that “ready to go” casting button and wait out the timer, but most wouldn’t. Add in that most mobs would die in about 12 to 15 seconds (well before the DoT had run its course) and you have the base of my argument that this didn’t work out all that well in practice.
And then they revamped their combat. And it’s been revamped a few times more since then also, though not as drastically as the 1st major one. Still and all, I’d say that EQ2’s current combat model closely matches most of the other games I’ve played. You initiate combat, auto-attack goes on, you spam your special attacks until the mob dies. Combat speed is controlled by a cooldown timer rather than by a power pool and the power pool isn’t much of an issue if it’s an issue at all.
So the question becomes, in this current combat style that most MMO’s share do DoT’s still have a place? Very few monsters manage to live for the full duration of a DoT spell if you aren’t raiding. Very few DoT spells aren’t reapplied before running out their timers (unless the recast time is longer than the timer, but this seems to be fairly rare). I’ve seen this in WoW, WAR, DDO, VG, SWG, GW, and even in Free Realms, though FR seems to have revamped its combat and gone to purely DD’s now. Assuming I’m remembering the little FR that I played last August correctly too 😉 In the case of EQ2 some gear has an added ability that adds damage to your special attacks, and for a DoT it’s only applied to the 1st tick, making it better to recast a DoT as soon as its recast is up, rather than letting it run its timer out. A lot of “alternate advancement” skills on some classes reduce DoT duration in order to make them tick faster. It seems that SOE is at least partially phasing them out as a result.
I would argue that DoT’s as currently implemented don’t have a place in the current style of MMO gaming anymore. Combat would need to be a lot slower paced and one would need a reasonable expectation that the DoT would apply most of all of its damage in the fight to be worth casting. The ability to reapply a DoT before expiration alone is a deal breaker for me also. But slow strategic combat isn’t the direction the industry’s been moving. Combat keeps getting more frenetic, mobs die rapidly. It makes the party feel heroic to do so, after all. And DoTs have been left by the wayside as a result. In order to improve the games they they’re in, I think it’s time for them to simply be converted to direct damage spells and call it a night.