The Problems with Master Strikes

I love the combat in this game. It is really unique and incredibly satisfying to master. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it couldn’t be improved.

For a long time I couldn’t decide whether I like Master Strikes. They are fun to pull off and a great reward for leveling your defense to make them easier to do. They are invaluable when fighting groups since you can’t really be too aggressive at risk of getting pummeled in the back if you try to concentrate your attention on any single enemy. However, I feel that the Master Strike creates some problems that hamper the rest of the combat system and force the player to fight in a specific way.

Master Strikes can do significant damage depending on which animation you get, even if your opponent is wearing heavy armor. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. However, Master Strikes also punish the player for attacking, as the enemy can get an unblockable counter, regardless of the direction of your attack, your combat stats, whether you use a feint, or any other factors in the players control. You can’t attack in a way that keeps you safe from a Master Strike. Every single time you swing your weapon you are gambling that your opponent won’t counter you with a Master Strike.

And therein lies the problem. Attacking normally puts the player at risk, regardless of your personal skill or in-game stats. There is always that element of uncertainty. However, when you just stand there and wait for your opponent to attack the outcome is entirely in your control. The only risk is missing the (very generous) block timing, which is entirely in the player’s control. Not only are you not taking any risks, but you can potentially deal more damage than you ever could with normal attacks. The current implementation of Master Strikes strongly encourages a passive playstyle, whilst even measured levels of aggression puts the player at risk for reasons primarily beyond their control.

Now I know I am dragging on, but I have one more point about the flaws of the Master Strike system, which is how they discourage the use of combos. Unlocking combos seems like it’s supposed to be the “big reward” for leveling your weapon skills. However, they don’t feel all that rewarding. Even ignoring Master Strikes, pulling off combos is rather difficult. If your timing is off, the combo will fail. If you accidentally attack the wrong zone, the combo will fail. If the enemy dodges or perfect blocks, the combo will fail. If there is some wonky issue with the hitboxes, the combo will fail.

Combos are already unreliable and the vast majority of your attempts will fail for one reason or another. But Master Strikes discourage you from even attempting them in the first place. The reward for pulling them off is a rather feeble attack that often does little-to-no damage, will probably take multiple attempts to pull off even at max stats, and every swing puts you at risk of an unavoidable counter. The risk in attempting them is much greater than the reward.

That about wraps this up. Are my experiences consistent with everyone else’s? Am I just an incompetent wretch who doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Please share. Also, what is with random peasants using master strikes?