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: