Rune attempted to tie mouse movement to attack button presses in such a manner that players could control the direction of their swings. This was especially important to make use of when fighting undead enemies since they could only be slain by a well placed chop to the head. Way of the Samurai gave players the ability to assume different fighting stances. Thus, allowing for high, low and mid level attacks. Blade of Darkness was somewhat of a precursor to the Souls series in that it had recharging stamina, shield blocking and target locking. An additional feature was the ability to use directional keys in combination with presses of the attack button in order to strike foes from different angles.
Perhaps the most robust melee combat game yet made though is Die by the Sword. While possessing multiple control schemes, the most hands-on choice allows for direct mouse control over the player character's sword arm. It handles a bit like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, except with a far more dismemberment.
Well, distilled down to the essentials, melee combat is really about three forms of attack (cutting, bludgeoning or piercing). Conversely, there are really only three forms of defense (dodging, blocking or parrying). Injuries too can be broken down into three basic considerations; shock (temporary disruption of tissues caused by the raw kinetic force of a blow), pain (the nervous system reacting to damage sustained), and blood loss (the reduction in the supply of oxygen due to tissue damage).
This might come as a surprise to some, but inflicting an instantly fatal wound in reality is not as easy as mainstream entertainment media would have you think. Psychological conditioning aside, only direct trauma to the brain, spine or heart kills outright. Which means a lot of people who died by the sword (particularly the well armored) were most likely incapacitated by injures and exhaustion before being dispatched. Of course video games tend to lack this feature for reasons usually stemming from the extremely abstract system of "hit point tokens," "health flasks," or "life bars" used to represent characters in games. Typically, attacks don't account for the location or angle of impact either (not to mention the form of attack) which is a shame considering these factors heavily influence the lethality of a successful strike. In truth though a fairly realistic simulation of melee combat wouldn't be all that complicated. For example the kinds of strikes an attacker can make with a blade pretty much come down to about five:
- A vertical downward swing
- A horizontal swing
- A diagonal downward swing
- A diagonal upward swing
- A thrusting attack
I find it odd that no one ever made a serious attempt to develop a video game with similar mechanics. Especially since a little bit of programming would remove most of the tedious and time consuming bits of calculation needed in the table top game. My personal theory is that, much like movies, stylized depictions of violence are considered preferable to grizzly realism (see the video linked bellow for an approximation of what medieval combat might have been like without the Hollywood treatment).
So going back once more to the origin of The Riddle of Steel, Conan's father tells him that steel is the only true source of power. Later, Thulsa Doom tells him that "flesh" (fanatical followers in this case) is where actual strength lies. Ultimately, Conan realizes it is neither flesh nor steel, but his own beliefs that matter most. A good sword will not protect against a thousand foes, nor will a thousand allies prove salvation from a well placed sword thrust. What Conan believes in though, what drives him, what defines who he is...that (for better or worse) makes all the difference. And any game emphasizing this sort of thing is a game worth giving a shot...IMHO.