There are plenty of video games out there with truly terrible melee combat systems. With the upcoming launch of some massive AAA titles such as the highly anticipated Hogwarts Legacy, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, and Horizon: Call of the Mountain, the promise of engaging and satisfying combat systems is a major draw for these releases, and the combat will need to clear a high bar in each cases to avoid lukewarm early reviews. Video games can live and die by their melee combat, with a quality experience getting elevated by the way in which conflicts are settled. In other words, good combat systems make games fun to play. Bad combat systems make games not fun.
Some of the best video games for melee combat were so inventive in their setup and execution. A poor system is conversely clunky, far from intuitive, unresponsive, visually unappealing, or perhaps even unimpressive in the way that it allows the player to deal with enemies. Combat will likely always be a part of the gaming industry as a way to draw narratives forward. It is vital that gaming studios expand, improve and reinvigorate their melee controls to reflect the continued need for memorable battle moments.
10 Gothic II (2002)
Gothic II from Piranha Bytes was a role playing title set within a medieval styled backdrop. Naturally, some kind of melee combat should be the star of the show, with the third-person camera setup allowing for a clear line of sight when it came to fending off enemies and wading into war with a variety of long swords, daggers and other assorted equipment.
While there are plenty of fantastic medevial games that take players back in time, the era in which this was released thoroughly held it back. It isn’t awful, but it’s certainly clunky, attempting to stop the tradition of button mashing with a series of perfectly timed combos, which ultimately interrupts the game’s flow. This could have been better with the right tools available.
9 Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic isn’t exactly known for its combat system. While there are characters available that bring blasters into battle, lightsabers and other melee weapons were also available, but the first two titles never quite grasped a proper system. The multiplayer online RPG The Old Republic from BioWare, had the opportunity to fix that with modern technology.
This has largely become a forgotten video game for the franchise though, with only a hardcore community of players continuing to support the release. The Old Republic only advances on the early mechanics very slightly, with the pace of combat still moving extremely slowly, as players choose their next line of attack. Compared to other games in the galaxy far, far away this is definitely lacking, but at least the animations are polished.
8 Horizon Zero Dawn (2017)
Horizon Zero Dawn from Guerrila Games and Sony was one of the games of its year. Its storytelling is gorgeous, its protagonist is compelling and the sequel managed to build on those brilliant concepts further. It’s never been a title that’s known for its melee combat, though, and that part of the game is altogether skippable.
The story-driven game largely relies on Aloy’s trap making abilities and long-range attacks. She does have melee weapons to hand, but this is very much a button-mashing situation, with players having to get dangerously close to employ an attack with very little skill. It’s not one of the worst examples of melee combat ever, but the rest of the game is so good that the heavy style feels out of place.
7 The Evil Within 2 (2017)
The horror title The Evil Within wasn’t fondly remembered for its melee combat. But The Evil Within 2 from Tango Gameworks and Bethesda perhaps made things even worse. The survival genre has often thrived with the third-person perspective, but usually with long-ranged attacks. There are great examples of melee focused combat systems in the genre though.
The best zombie survival games of all time will even equip players with chainsaws and axes to fight off incoming hoards. The Evil Within 2 instead has weapons such as knives, which barely reach the opponent and make very little impact. It’s hard to see if the enemy is even being hit and although there are some weapons that save this from being a complete disaster, it’s an extremely frustrating experience.
6 The Callisto Protocol (2022)
The Callisto Protocol was a highly anticipated game for its year. The previews looked exciting, the narrative premise was intriguing and graphically the title always held up. But the Striking Distance Studios and Krafton survival horror game immediately upset players, who were looking for a title that welcomed them in with straight-forward melee combat.
The third-person horror experience had such a big learning curve that many ended up dropping the game before they could fully master the melee system in action. Criticism for the project is still abounding, with the game barely explaining how to dodge, push back against and ultimately destroy the monstrous creatures coming to kill. There’s so much potential, but at the very least it needs to be explained better for those late-game moments.
5 Risen 2: Dark Waters (2012)
Pirates titles are all the rage and Risen 2: Dark Waters is a somewhat forgotten entry into the genre that ultimately paved the way for its current revival. Swashbuckling should be a lot of fun, and the key to a successful pirate experience is the sword fighting. Unfortunately, Piranha Bytes and Wizarbox got this wrong.
The pirate-themed video game is sinking down the rankings because of how slow moving and ineffective the combat was. A game like this needs fast-paced action. Instead, playing Dark Waters actually felt as if the character was moving through the ocean itself, those slow movements and extremely inaccurate attacks leading to a lackluster final product. The long-range system was an improvement.
4 Dead Island (2011)
The hits, or rather misses, for the horror genre just keep on coming. Putting together a combat system in a survival title isn’t an easy feat, as players must be allowed to react quickly to oncoming threats. That’s where Dead Island is a disappointment, with the Techland title promising big things but never reaching its full potential in the midst of its brutal action.
The first-person perspective doesn’t help, but the first-person shooter aspect of the zombie outing far outshone its close combat. It always looked as if the player character was floating around, with the controls never managing to reign in the movements of the protagonist. Hitting the enemy became harder with attacks sometimes phasing through, but improvements were made consistently which leveled it up from its early release.
Occasionally the time period can have a major impact on how a combat system is developed. Look not further than The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind from Bethesda, which basically doesn’t hold up on any level asides from its storytelling. The animations were poor, but the concept behind the innovative system wasn’t executed sufficiently.
While even replaying Skyrim can lead to a few harsh realities, it was truly an unwelcome surprise that Morrowind utilizes a stat-based real time system, with RNG components that perhaps would have been better suited to a full-on turn based design. It sometimes didn’t even look like the enemy was being hit, which makes the game dismally less interesting to play than lots of its Elder Scrolls siblings.
2 Game Of Thrones (2012)
Even some of the more devoted watchers of the hit HBO show Game of Thrones can be forgiven if they’re not even award there’s a video game RPG of the same name set within Westeros itself. Although Telltale has also produced a phenomenal project with these characters, from a story perspective, the Cyanide RPG hits the mark. However, its melee combat is among the worst of all time.
A TV show tie-in game will always have high expectations, but the laggy controls and turn-based system of combat is too clunky and difficult to navigate. The game should offer at least something for the player characters to rapidly slice their way through, but the pacing alone takes players out of the Westerosi backdrop, with the learning curve too steep as the game progresses. There are very few good points to this concept.
1 Deadly Premonition (2010)
There truly are breakthroughs in the zombie survival genre which demonstrate perfectly how melee combat can function in this setting. Deadly Premonition from Access Games and Toybox Inc. is not one of them. There are a lot of criticisms levied at this clunky and far-from polished project, which at the very least visually is ahead of its time.
From boring enemies that definitely don’t make zombies scary again to attack styles that don’t even hit the enemy, it’s hard to get a grip of what’s happening from moment to moment. Camera control and character movement is tedious, and it’s almost impossible to get immersed in the game’s world when the melee combat has no feeling of impact whatsoever.