I’m pretty sure I’ll get a lot of flak for this statement, but I think number-based combat is a horrible idea. In case you’re not angry yet, that means I don’t particularly care for the combat in: Diablo, World of Warcraft, and just about every other MMORPG you’ve ever played. I don’t care if they have great stories, or if many of these titles are beloved by fans and critics alike, or even that World of Warcraft is the biggest MMO ever – I think it’s a horrible way to do combat.

Now that I can see all the pitchforks and torches out, let me just say that I have some logic behind that statement. Part of my gaming philosophy (if such a thing exists) is that skill should almost always triumph. If you tried really, really hard, you could beat Contra or Dark Souls without taking a single hit. It’d be absolutely insane to even try, but the possibility at least exists. The game may take cheap shots, and the difficulty isn’t exactly fair per say, but if you get hit; it’s normally your own fault.

That’s where I feel that many RPG’s tend to “mess up” (please don’t set my house on fire). Instead of basing combat mainly on skill or ability, the right gear and stats are essential. Want to kill that monster? Better grind for a few more hours. Have the need to pwn some noobs in World of Warcraft PvP? Oops, your DPS isn’t high enough, better do some more grinding. Oh hey look, a new character is coming out; better put your nose to the grindstone…again

Before I go any further, I’d better divide up my grievances instead of just lumping them all into the RPG genre itself. My problem lies with number based combat systems only – systems where the action is be real-time, but dice are secretly being rolled to determine the outcome of the fight. As I mentioned before, Diablo and most MMORPG’s fall into this category; which makes sense when you look back at their roots: pen-and-paper role-playing games.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with tabletop RPG’s; they’re a blast to play with a good group of friends. The problem is that the idea doesn’t translate well to videogames. In a board game, all of the rules bring order and cohesion, but it just doesn’t make sense in videogames. Rolling dice might be perfect for a board game, but I want my videogame fights to be more than a series of rapid clicks with occasional use of the number pad.

When I try to explain the concept of a Skinner box, I actually just ask people if they’ve played Diablo or WoW (and sometimes FarmVille). By removing all the unnecessary parts and leaving only simple actions followed by a small reward, it creates an incredibly addictive formula that can keep players hooked for years.

The problem is that once players discover the box, it’s hard to stop noticing it. I rarely ever play MMO’s anymore because of it. I love the idea of hack ‘n’ slash loot fests like Diablo, but the gameplay never seems to match, even if there happens to be an absolutely hilarious cow level.

Maybe I’m totally off base, maybe I don’t have the right to accuse some of the biggest series out there, and maybe I’m too easily annoyed, but I think this is a case of poor design. The games affected by this are by no means bad, that’s not in dispute, but combat ability shouldn’t be based solely on how many hours I’ve grinded or the numbers after my gear’s name. If I fail, I alone want to be at fault.

What do you think? Am I completely wrong, or am I justified in my complaints?