Last updated: 2022-05-20
The Default Keybinds for MMORPGs are Wrong
The default keybinds for every MMORPG do not support skillful play.
Consider this illustrative keybinding diagram from the game RIFT (this is not a knock on RIFT, which is a good game):What we see is that the vast majority of useful keybinds for your left hand are being used for:
- a common movement setup – WSAD and QE – that is inherently awkward. You either have to move your hand to the left one set of keys, in which case your left hand is not in the natural typing location, or you have to train your left hand to move forward/backward with your ring finger, which is counter-intuitive
- UI functions that have no relevance to actual combat, e.g. “G” for Guild panel, “B” for Bags, etc
All you have to work with are the number keys, and unless you have the reach of Liberacci, that leaves you with only 6 keybinds (“1” through “6”) to work with for your abilities. This entire approach makes no sense.
Many players accept it as-is and work around it, either by adding modifiers (i.e. Shift/Control/Alt) to trigger abilities or getting hardware that helps to address the lack of available keybinds.
However, most players don’t address the root issue – by not fixing the default keybindings you are placing an artificial handicap on your skill level. It’s like trying to run but with your feet chained together. Yes, you can do it, but no, you’ll never hit your potential stride, and that’s what this is all about. Raising your gameplay.
By comparison, here are the keybinds that I used for WildStar:
I have over 20 keybinds to activate abilities / macros with a single keypress, which enables me to to fluidly circle-strafe and kite-strafe while activating abilities.
Notice that by using EDWR instead of WSQE for forward/backward/left strafe/right strafe:
- My forward and backward movement is controlled by my middle finger, which
- is intuitive
- My strafe left is controlled by my ring finger, which is intuitive
- My strafe right is controlled by my index finger, which is intuitive
- My left hand is in the natural typing position, in case I need to type in chat
So I’ve provided a couple examples of my keybinds. Before you start re-mapping your keybinds, there is something you must understand first…
Before You Keybind, You Must Understand What Proper Movement Looks Like
Real life combat is all about good movement. Flanking your opponent. Taking angles to set up your punches and kicks. The same principles apply to combat in MMORPGs.
Any keybindings setup should
- provide the ability to circle-strafe and kite-strafe to keep a target in your facing as much as possible, and
- enable high fidelity / accuracy for using abilities quickly, and
- minimize keystrokes with your pinky, which is the finger most likely to get aggravated due to high usage, and
- allow you to type in chat for communication with other players
Let’s look at these concepts #1 and #2 applied in the following video:
As discussed in the video, the setup I have landed on after years of iteration and tweaking is:
- right hand on the mouse for character facing, aiming, and camera rotation
- left hand for left strafe, right strafe, forward, backward, and all abilities
Here’s another illustrative video of how to strafe-kite properly, with footage from the game RIFT:
Moreover, modern games such as GW2 and WildStar are continuing the trend towards action combat with limited number of abilities, so there are fewer abilities to keybind. That said, if you feel you perform better with gaming hardware, great, stick with what works for you.
Keybinding is a sensitive topic, so keep in mind that the intention of the above video is to show “one way of thinking about it.” The way that you feel comfortable setting up your keybinds may be very different from mine – that’s fine – what matters is that you are able to execute the r numbered points above. I’ve had many gamers adopt my setup or its philosophy and they have reported good success. YMMV.
How to Learn New Keybindings
Realize that rebinding your keys is one of the most disruptive things you can do. It’s like learning to walk all over again. Therefore, you have to be patient. It typically takes a week of playing to get the muscle memory down for a new setup.
Do not remap your keybinds and then queue up for PVP or join a PVE raid. You will find yourself struggling and getting frustrated, because your natural reactions are to use your old keybinds. And then you’ll come blame me, and I’ll have to quote this section.
The easiest way to learn a new set of keybinds is to roll a new character, experiment, and by the time you hit level 10 or so, you’ll be well on your way to feeling much more comfortable with it. At that point you can try your new keybinds on higher-level characters.
Let me know how it goes!
Gaming Peripheral Reviews
In recent years I’ve begun to test and use gaming keyboards – here are my reviews:
- Red vs Brown Cherry MX Switches, Red vs Blue O-Rings
- CM Storm QuickFire Rapid Tenkeyless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
Game-Specific Keybinding Guides
Per reader request, I have created keybinding maps and guides for specific games, given that each game has particular mechanics that should be accounted for:
Mad props. I have been watching your videos for years, and I generally find them to be helpful, intelligent, and fun to watch (Played a MASH cleric for 2 years, LOVED it).
I was wondering if you would be willing to make a diagram like the Rift and GW2 ones above, for SWTOR?
I recently went back to the game, and in an effort to step up my game, I want to try your keybinding scheme, but the RIFT and GW2 ones don’t quite fit.
Thank you in advance,
hey love your guides but i was wondering how do you dodge roll back with this set up ?
ohh i forgot to say what game lol for the gw 2 set up lol sry
Dodge is mapped to “D”.
wanted to try out this keybindings guild wars 2, however i can’t figure how you have set new bindings to the mouse keyboards (expect mouse 3), is there a setting i have to change somewhere which will allow me to change the key bindings on the mouse?
I don’t know whether you can change Mouse 1 (left click) or Mouse 2 (right click), but you can change Mouse 3 (middle mouse button for standard mouse) by simply depressing the middle button when setting the key for a particular action.
o, I think i have misunderstood then what you meant.
so you turn the game camera by clicking and dragging and not by a mapped button to your mouse?
Currently dancing between GW2, Rift, and (as ever) WoW. I’m absolutely in love with the keybind templates you’ve thrown up here! Unfortunately, I think they won’t quite work out for me on my rogue. The class just has far too many must-use abilities, which is a huge problem with WoW in general, so I’ve got a ton of them on shift-mod macros which are very uncomfortable and far too sluggish to use effectively in a PvP setting!
Really wishing Blizzard would take a look at things here and say “Hey, y’know, maybe we DON’T need a dozen abilities that all serve the SAME FUNCTION!”
Wishful thinking. Anyway, thanks Taugrim, your guides have been a help right back to Prot Paladin PvP.
Hey Taugrim. I’m trying out your method of keybinding and I was wondering, do you use your pinky finger to tab target? Also, do you use your thumb to hit the keys right above the spacebar? Thanks.
Yes for pinky to tab target.
I only use my thumb for spacebar.
I’m a left handed SWTOR player. I use my mouse with my left hand; the direction keys for moving; the numpad + the 6 keys (home, insert, etc), and F10 -F12 for everything else.
Any keybinding tips for us left handers ?
I assume you have your mouse to the left of your keyboard.
If I were left-handed, I’d try re-mapping keys around my right hand, probably just a row up from the natural typing position, UIOP. So for example:
I = forward
U/O = strafe
K = dodge
7890- = 1-5
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For the record, before anyone spends 20 minutes reading this. This keybind set up has worked for me for literally every MMO that has came out within the past 13 years. It might need a few minor tweaks here or there to fit each specific game’s playstyle, but the core fundamentals are always the same. Also, it can work for Lefties as well, you just have to reverse the keys. (Use ‘J’ instead of ‘F’ etc, you’ll understand if you read below.) I hope it helps someone.
Yea I realize this post is a bit old, but I saw it linked on your MDPS Esper build post. I totally agree with what you’re saying about the terrible thought designers put into keyboard controls. Over the past 14 years of MMO experience I have developed a personal style of keybinds that I can port to pretty much any game. It’s a tad bit more elaborate, but normal computer input hardware would work perfectly fine.
So basically, I always mouse move. Being a hardcore WoW Raider for so many years gave a bad stigma to keyboard turning in general. (No one cared in Everquest. haha).But back on topic; I run 22 keybinds just off my left hand alone (not counting about 8 shift-modifiers). Basically, any key you would type with your left hand is bound to an ability. FDSATCZXVEG~M4. Also included are 4 keybinds on my mouse, two of which double as a shift modified bind.
So, for instance and demonstration I’ll use a Ret Paladin since that’s my shizznit, F D S A are going to be my main spam abilities. F = Crusader’s Strike, D = Judgement, S = Templar’s Verdict, A = Exorcism. Using FDSA for those abiltiies is key because your index finger naturally sits at the F key when typing.
Furthermore, T C Z X are other quick keys near the home position of your resting hand on the keyboard. T = Fist/Hammer of Justice, C = Word of Glory, Z = Divine Storm, X = Flash of Light. Those 4 binds, no matter what character or game are used for utility. T is almost always a stun of some sort for me, C can be another stun or a gap closer (like a Warrior’s Charge, but sadly Paladins have none), Z is ALWAYS an AoE spell, be it an AoE dmg spell or AoE Heal, and X is ALWAYS a self heal.
After that, V = an Interrupt. ALWAYS an interrupt. I have trained myself for so many years to hit V to interrupt an ability that I find myself doing it even when I don’t actually even have one to use. E is always a short term buff, Inquisition for me, but Rogue’s Slice n Dice goes there, etc. And G is ALWAYS an execute or a proc ability. Since G is directly beside F and 9/10 you want to hit your instant procs asap it makes the most logical sense to put it as close as possible to your #1 spam ability keybound to F. And the 12th and final bind on the usual gaming standard of 12 button bars is my thumb button on my mouse. Most mice have that button (I believe it usually goes back a page if you’re browsing the internet), but it’s bound to a fast ability that you might need in a hurry. For me as a Paladin it’s Hand of Freedom, but when I play Rogue style classes then its always Stealth or Blink for a Mage, etc.
Finally, keys 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 are usually bound to cooldowns. 3, 4 and 5 specifically are bound to the most important ones because its easier to reach and hit 4 and 5 with my middle finger to activate Avenging Wrath and Guardian of Ancient Kings than it would be to reach my pinky up to one of the other 2 numbers while maintaining maximum uptime on my spam abilities bound to FDSA. The ~ key is used for a short defensive cooldown such as Divine Protection, and Y, H, B, are used for long defensive cooldowns such as Bubble and Lay on Hands. Which is best because its a lot harder to fat finger those keys. The other 3 remaining ability bar slots are interchangable depending on encounter, but they’re activated by using Shift-modified mouse buttons I spoke of earlier.
tl;dr — Now, for the information actually relevant to MMO Strafing. Due to my left hand resting on the FDSA keys, I use Q and E as strafe left and right respectively. If I was to move my pinky and ring fingers up to Q and E I still have access to my main spam damage abilities that are tied to F and D. All the while I’m mouse steering with my right hand that never leaves my mouse, since every ability that I would need to do DPS, Heal, Tank or whatever is done with my left hand on the keyboard.
As far as this pertains to Wildstar, since it’s not necessary to need 36 keybinds (counting all my shit macros) to play, I play exactly the same, Q and E strafe right and left, but I added that the E key moves backwards and the R key moves forward. I don’t use them to actually steer my character, but I double tap them for my Dash rolls.
So in conclusion. (I’m sure you’re thinking ”Thank god!”), if you mouse steer and strafe with two buttons you’re comfortable with, try to add 2 more buttons near by to allow yourself to dash in any direction as needed.
—-As a side note, I swear to god I’m not a nerd or anything, I just had nothing better to do for 30mins while Wildstar was patching. :)
Thanks for the advocacy, and you get it.
People sometimes dismiss new things like this because it’s not what they’re using, without really thinking about through the why’s and the implications.
We’re all gaming geeks here, this is safe territory.
I misspoke, I use Q and W to strafe left/right always, but in WIldstar E moves backwards and R moves forward for dashing purposes. A minor oversight in the most important section of my post, due to lack of sleep I believe. Haha. But the end result is still the same. I’d edit my post but I don’t see an option too.
I’m actually proud of being a gaming geek lol. I’ve met more diverse, interesting and intelligent people over the years than I possibly ever could have doing anything else.
I do believe all of the ideas you’ve introduced for your post.
They are very convincing and can definitely work.
Still, the posts are very brief for starters. May
just you please extend them a bit from subsequent time?
Thank you for the post.
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I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty
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Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot.
I hope to give something back and help others like you aided
WSAD is pretty enough for every mmo’s on market and who waste good keys like R for Reply and F for target of target ? LOL and for what you need 20 keybindings in game like Wildstar ? + Mouse like Naga, G600, G700 or any other mouse with more than 3 buttons which is common in 21 century…