Following a successful expansion in Legion almost four years ago, Blizzard developers surprised players by announcing a tentative change on the then-latest alpha build which would add certain cooldown abilities onto the global cooldown – the 1.5 second base period between casting or using abilities in-game.
With Shadowlands fast approaching towards the end of the year, it seems as though the global cooldown will remain on those same abilities – and that’s a mistake.
What is the global cooldown?
The global cooldown, or GCD, is a shared cooldown between abilities in World of Warcraft which activates when you use an ability. At a base of 1.5 seconds for most classes (with exceptions), it is a mechanic which stops all your abilities from being cast or used at once, and enables you to form a kind of rotation to your abilities – the basis of all combat in World of Warcraft.
Why is it bad?
It’s important to note why this change was so reviled by the World of Warcraft playerbase. The GCD as a mechanic is essential to stop a theoretically endless amount of your abilities being used in a split second, and as such serves a great purpose. The change to it affecting certain cooldown abilities (things which give you windows of high damage) is considered a poor change by many players.
After some rocky beginnings with artifact weapons and the accompanying artifact power mechanic, the Legion expansion (previous to our current expansion, Battle for Azeroth) proved itself to be a winner – class halls, Suramar’s developing story, the Mage Tower all being just some of the welcome sources of content beyond the usual dungeons, raids, and battlegrounds.
As the expansion hit its apex, however, players were fighting gods and their minions with pieces of gear nearly 200 item levels higher than what they had started the expansion with. Legion started with its beginner gear at an item level of around 800, with the item level of the legendary trinket from the final boss of the expansion, Argus the Unmaker, going up to 1000.
By comparison, in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion (where I really started my raiding foray) items from heroic dungeons and the entry-level raid dropped at item level 200, while the legendary two-handed axe Shadowmourne – a result of weeks of grinding at the highest level of raiding during the final tier – was item level 284. Two-hundred item levels across the course of an expansion versus eighty-four is a big difference.
This meant that damage from players had scaled exponentially, meaning a statistical squish was required to bring these numbers back down to manageable levels. Blizzard had already attempted a statistical squish during the Warlords of Draenor expansion but, judging by the fact that they needed another one so soon, the game required a bit more squishing.
Enter Battle for Azeroth. All of a sudden, these monumental levels of damage were falling away with each passing level. Legendaries – a higher class of item at endgame during Legion which had special, game-changing effects for your class and specialization – ceased to function at level 117. Players were extremely critical of the fact that having gained ten levels doing the Battle for Azeroth story and having gathered a host of gear which surpassed their previous equipment, their characters felt weaker, slower, and clunkier.
It should be noted that the statistical squish brought the damage numbers down too – damage per second values descended from the millions to around ten thousand damage per second in Legion end-game gear. A drop for sure, but not such a harsh descent when you factor in that all players were affected, and so were their enemies.
The slower pace was brought on both by a reduction in secondary stats across gear in Battle for Azeroth as part of the legacy of the statistical squish, and in large part by players no longer being able to chain their cooldowns. Macros and keybinds which had existed for me since 2009 were suddenly useless because of the global cooldown delay. My hunter which I mained into the new expansion (as I often do; can’t beat a tanking pet for questing!) was going into group world quests and taking 3-4 seconds to actually get ready to engage the target.
This might seem marginal at face value, but when you’ve been monstrously powerful for over a year previous, the other edge of the sword feels decidedly blunt.
What is Blizzard’s stance now?
Streamer and content producer for Nerdfusion Sloot took the time to interview Ion Hazzikostas recently. To his credit, Ion has never been one to shy away from the difficult points of contention in World of Warcraft’s game design, but he once again pushed for players to provide specific feedback on the GCD changes – “revert the changes” had already been heard. Fast-twitch reactions (outside of interrupts, he notes) should not cause a player to die, and Ion also mentioned that there is an element of skill when factoring in GCDs on your cooldowns.
The element of skill
Ion mentioned the element of skill being present when factoring in cooldowns. Since the early days of World of Warcraft, the average player’s game-sense has come on leaps and bounds beyond what it was.
Credit belongs to the developers and their attempts to make leveling a learning curve as well as an enjoyable narrative experience, but very much also to the literature, videos, and communities that exist for the game and the specific classes. When players graduate from casual play into activities which require co-ordination and planning such as mythic dungeon keys and raids, there is a much higher likelihood now that players will be prepared and able to do them compared to even a few expansions ago.
The introduction of additional time between key presses, often working out at somewhere around one second, does not have a tremendous impact on a player’s ability to look after themselves. From tanks to healers to damage dealers, seldom is something lost from that key-press sequence delay other than time, and that is what feels the most impactful.
Using my hunter as an example, the start of a fight would have me juggling three particular cooldowns out in the world – two damage cooldowns in the form of Aspect of the Wild and Bestial Wrath, and a special PvP talent which allowed me to summon a big basilisk who would attack my target for fairly high damage. If there were multiple enemies, I could consider using my area-of-effect PvP talent which summoned a bird which attacked the area. All three (or four) of these abilities were on a global cooldown.
As I hit each one, I have to consider that my ever-generating resource is at the cap and that I should spend it lest it go unused, and that whichever ability I choose first is counting down from that moment, sometimes uselessly. Aspect of the Wild and Bestial Wrath both affect my pet and my character, so whereas my pet would benefit from the bonus damage or effect, my character would be wasting it as I push more buttons to get the damage train started.
Skill might exist in a sense with knowing what the optimal order to push those buttons is, but enjoyment is not present when I have to accept that no matter what I do, some damage is wasted in the process. That’s simply not fun.
Ion also commented that the developers did not want skill to be tied heavily to the speed of pressing buttons or clicking. Understandable – actions per minute (APM) is not really an interesting metric for World of Warcraft like it would be for something like Starcraft. Players are capped out at a certain amount of actions per minute because of the GCD, and that’s fine.
In times gone by, healers sometimes found themselves in contrast to the age old rhetoric of ABC – always be casting – in order to restore mana or simply because they didn’t need to heal anything right that second, although this has gone away recently with healers being expected to deal damage too. However, hitting those valuable, life-saving abilities in order to rescue players individually or as a group when the big damage is coming in requires you to be quick – if they die, that could be it if you are not a class which has a battle resurrection.
To me, whenever I healed, the fun was in the frantic nature of responding to high incoming damage with an instant cooldown – the wings for a Paladin, or turning into an ascended water elemental as a Shaman – in order to respond to that incoming damage. Instead, you now have to ask yourself far more, “is it worth it?”
Also mentioned by Ion was the art of interrupting and how you should not die from not doing something fast enough with the exception of interrupts. These interrupting abilities are off the GCD, and using them to interrupt dangerous spells or abilities on enemy mobs or players is absolutely essential in a lot of endgame situations.
Identifying what needs to be interrupted is often a distinction between somebody who knows what they’re doing and somebody who doesn’t. If you don’t interrupt certain things, you die. Simple as that.
To use Ion’s point about skill and how having things on a GCD would highlight the need for it, why not put interrupts on a GCD delay? It sounds petulant, but I fail to see a difference, and in actual fact I would highlight interrupting as a much more prominent display of skill from a player or a group.
When to use your cooldowns in a meta-sense (should I use my damaging cooldown now, or save it for the more dangerous pack of enemies after this?) is a very good gauge of game-sense and skill as an individual and as a group, but that is not impacted by the presence of a GCD – once again, it’s the feel of the game that is impacted negatively, and the sense of fast-paced action and reactive play.
Ion mentioned in previous interviews the addition of something to accompany the press of a cooldown (while keeping it on the GCD) to make it feel more beneficial; more epic. A burst of damage absorption when you hit Shield Wall as a Warrior, an area-of-effect fire blast when you hit your Ascendance cooldown as an Elemental Shaman – impactful additions to make your abilities feel awesome to press.
I agree with him in his assertion that the abilities do not feel gratifying at the minute, but I would still like to see them off the GCD to fix a lot of what feels poor about them. Other changes seem like band-aid fixes, with the feedback of “this feels slow!” from the playerbase falling on deaf ears as if it is not relevant feedback.
Blizzard have already been accused of having a “mummy knows best” approach to game design and player feedback after the nightmare that has been the azerite gear system in Battle for Azeroth, and it is difficult to see any action which does not revert the global cooldown changes as anything but the same.
We are once again in a situation where the Alpha testing stage of the next expansion is upon us. Players are running all over the shadowlands and what they are finding looks stunning – if there is one thing you can always rely on Blizzard for, it’s solid visuals and fantastic music. Hopefully the development team will be less resistant to the feedback from players this time round, and make the changes where they count – reverting the global cooldown on certain abilities being a particularly big one.