Group Tactics for MMOs

Whether you’re using magic, science, or good old muscle power; whether you’re fighting computer-generated foes or other “live” players, there are a few basic tactics that are common to all MMOs, and indeed to video games in general. Surprisingly, a lot of experienced players are unaware of the basic underlying tactics, which prevents them from realizing their full potential. I’ve broken this down to five main ideas: prioritize targets, focus fire, pick your battleground, protect your team, and use every advantage. There are exceptions to most of these rules, but they remain true in 99% of MMO content that I’ve seen.

1. Prioritize Targets

1a. Pluck the Low-Hanging Fruit

An easy kill is a good kill. In general, you want to remove foes from the battle as quickly as possible, and the easiest way to accomplish this is to prioritize the less-defended foes. If e.g. you have a “boss” with two “adds” (foes assisting the boss), you want to kill the adds first. There are exceptions though…

1b. Healers and Glass Cannons Trump All

Some foes are more potentially dangerous to you than others. In general, foes that can heal their comrades are the top priority, because if you don’t kill them first, they’re working to offset the damage you’re doing, which makes you less efficient. The second priority, generally speaking, are “glass cannons”, i.e. foes that can do a lot of damage quickly but aren’t all that resilient.

2. Focus Fire

It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t understand this most basic of concepts: you should focus your fire so all damage hits one foe, instead of having each group member attacking something different.

Imagine a hypothetical battle: our heroes Al, Bob, and Chuck are fighting three bad guys. Our heroes all do the same damage, as do their foes. Our heroes have more health than their foes. Each hero does 1/3 of a foe’s health in damage each round. If each hero faces off against one foe, then for three rounds there are three foes dealing damage, for nine units of incoming damage. The units don’t matter here in the least. Moving on. If all three heroes focus fire, the first round they’ll kill one foe, the second round they’ll kill the second, and the third round they’ll kill the third. Now here’s the interesting part: the first round there are three foes up, and three units of incoming damage. The second round there are only two foes up, so there are only two units of incoming damage. The third round, two foes are dead, and there’s one unit of incoming damage. So in these hypothetical scenarios… fighting separately leads to nine units of incoming damage for our heroes, while if they focus their fire, they only take six units of incoming damage.

3. Pick Your Battleground

1a. Limit Your Foes’ Options

Use the terrain to limit the number of foes who can attack you at once. Choke points like hallways can prevent a huge number of foes from all attacking simultaneously. Putting your back to a wall can prevent attacks from the rear, and can prevent you from being knocked back.

1b: Bring Them To You

Often, foes are found in “camps”, where there are many more foes close by. Sometimes some of the foes will patrol around. Generally speaking, it’s wise to watch closely when nearing foes, to see if where they are is a suitable place to fight. Often, it isn’t, because of the proximity of other foes or hazards. In these cases, you should “pull”, meaning get the foes’ attention, and bring them to a place of your choosing. It’s often very poor tactics to just run into a room full of foes.

1c: Don’t Stand In The Fire

Seriously, don’t do that. It burns. Similarly, if there are other hazards, be aware of them and stay out of them. Whether they’re poison clouds, lava, pools of shadow tentacles, or whatever, just don’t stand in them. Which is to say, it’s important for everyone to remain aware of their surroundings at all times.

4. Protect Your Team

4a. Keep Your Healers Secure

Whose job is it to make sure that the healers survive? In a good group, this responsibility is often specifically assigned to someone. Healers often have inductions, which are delays between when they start to use a skill (e.g. healing you) and when they’re able to complete that action. When foes hit them, these inductions can be set back. This means if your healer is being hit, he or she might not be able to heal anyone. That’s bad. Generally speaking, it’s better for anyone else in the group besides the healer to get the foes’ attention and “pull them off” the healer.

4b. Bring Problems To The Tank

If you’re getting unwanted attention in the form of foes attacking you, generally speaking you should run to the tank. It’s the tank’s job to keep all the monsters attacking him or her. If you run around in circles, the tank might not have any chance to pull the foes off you. EXCEPTION: Some classes can “kite” effectively. This means they can keep foes running in circles as they whittle said foes down, with little risk or damage. If you’re able to do this, and if your group doesn’t mind, and if there’s enough room to do this safely, then cool! But in general, don’t. Just bring them to the tank. Remember, while you’re kiting, you’re not working at full efficiency, since you’re mostly running around; having a tank hold it down is generally much more efficient than kiting.

5. Use Every Advantage

“Buffs” are skills that empower you and/or your allies, e.g. making you stronger. “Debuffs” are skills that disempower your foes, e.g. causing them to miss you in melee more often. In general, you should be aware of all buffs and debuffs available to you, and you should know when to use each. Some buffs aren’t very situational; many you simply want on all the time. Debuffs on the other hand are often intended to lessen specific abilities of your foes, and so it’s important to know how and why to use them, as well as how often you can use them. Which buffs and debuffs are most valuable can vary based on group composition and tactics – e.g. a buff to ranged damage is more valuable if you have an archer in your group, etc.

Players who enjoy endgame raiding often are used to the idea of carrying around bags full of supplies, to make more difficult fights easier. Many games offer players the option of using consumable items to buff themselves and/or their group, and these consumables can make a big difference to a group’s success. Food, potions, scrolls, whatever the form, these consumables can give you advantages.

Now, unlike the other general tactics above, this one is a bit situational, in that for easier content you might not need to use consumables. Using them all the time can get expensive, in whatever currency the game uses, or even in real money, if the game has a cash shop. For this reason, I don’t advise people to always use all the consumables available. I do however recommend having a stock of the most helpful consumables, for use in more difficult situations.

2 comments so far

  1. moondog548 on

    Sun Tzu said: Don’t stand in the poop.

  2. Tesh on

    I kinda wish the AI would do that to us, too. Might make for more interesting fights.

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