Why Eric Shwarz hates cooldowns

Games writer and RPG enthusiast Eric Schwarz has come out with another opinion piece on Gamasutra, this time concerning the use of ability cooldowns in RPGs.

In practice, my biggest complaint against cooldown-oriented design is that it tends to take a way a lot of the tactical depth in a situation.  As a brute-force stopgap to “solve” poor game balance and make up for problems in other mechanics, many such games feature abilities that are extremely powerful unless mediated, and often in very large quantities.  This usually raises the question: “if my abilities are all so powerful, why am I not just using them all the time?”

The end result of all this hard limiting is a system that isn’t just rigid and limiting, reducing the sense of control and interactivity the player has, it also ends up largely reducing combat from making smart and tactically valuable choices to a series of quick time events: press the hotkeys as they light up to win.  At absolute worst, this can create a feeling of “false interactivity”, where the player isn’t so much making smart decisions within the rules as he/she is playing a pattern-matching game.  Instead of “what abilities should I use, and when?” the questions posed to the player are “press all your buttons as soon as you can.”  The resemblance to quick time events, and their pattern-matching mechanics quickly becomes apparent.

The full piece is here.

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