Latest Battle for Azeroth alpha build puts many abilities on the global cooldown
In last week’s Battle for Azeroth alpha update, several players noticed that combat felt a bit… off. Turns out, several abilities that were previously off the global cooldown (GCD) were put on the GCD. Because of this, certain ability combinations that could previously be used at the same time now must be used sequentially, with the GCD in between them.
Why the change? In response to a forum post noting the changes, Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas provided a lengthy reply explaining the thinking behind them. Watcher goes into quite a bit of detail, but the following are the “major” talking points when it comes to the thinking behind the GCD changes:
- Some abilities being on the GCD felt bad because it meant delaying other abilities “just in case.”
- When interrupts were on the GCD, players would delay their normal rotation to keep an interrupt available.
- Being off the GCD an allow for “reactive gameplay.”
- E.g., casting Lay on Hands when something goes wrong.
- Being on the GCD allows for more nuanced decision-making.
- Do you use a defensive ability to escape, or an offensive ability to kill your enemy?
- With these off the GCD, there’s no decision — you do both.
- Do you use a defensive ability to escape, or an offensive ability to kill your enemy?
- Offensive burst cooldowns are rarely in response to unexpected events.
- Visual effects often get lost when multiple abilities are used at once. Having them on the GCD allows players to see, understand, and interpret what someone else is doing.
- Having more abilities on the GCD makes it easier for Blizzard to control the pace of combat, especially in the long-term.
Put in those terms, it all sounds fairly logical, really. That said, I still have my own thoughts on the GCD changes that I’ll get to in just a minute. For now, feel free to read Watcher’s post in its entirety. And please note, this is all very much tentative at this point in time. If you have an argument to make in favor or either side, now is the time to make it.
The “global cooldown” was so named because it originally was nearly universal. In the early days of WoW, virtually all abilities were on the GCD, with some of the only exceptions being “on next swing” attacks like the old Heroic Strike and Maul, which didn’t have an immediate effect when activated. For melee players especially, with mostly instant abilities, the global cooldown was the metronome that governed the rhythm and pacing of WoW combat, including the agile Rogue being able to act more quickly than others. But over the years, more and more abilities have been taken off the GCD, to the point that, depending on class, spec, and talent choice, it’s possible in Legion for someone to have 10+ abilities in their spellbook that ignore the “global” cooldown.
Recently, we took a step back and surveyed the landscape of what did and didn’t respect the GCD, looking to justify each of these decisions anew. This process is still ongoing, and further changes may come.
Aside from setting the overall pacing of combat, abilities being on the global cooldown can create potentially interesting choices: If you’re in an arena match and are low on health being melee attacked, but so is your target on the enemy team, do you use your next GCD to try to finish off your opponent, or to get yourself out of harm’s way? That’s a nuanced decision, where a skilled and experienced player is more likely to intuitively make the right read of the situation. If your defensive/escape tool is off the GCD, then there is no decision: You simply do both.
But on the other hand, taking something off the GCD improves responsiveness, and opens up avenues of reactive gameplay. Until Wrath of the Lich King, most spell interrupts were on the global cooldown. Back then, someone tasked with interrupting a boss (Reliquary of Souls in Black Temple was notorious in this regard) would often stop using any abilities at all when it was their turn in the rotation, lest they find themselves on cooldown and unable to interrupt. That’s technically a decision, but more of a nuisance than a satisfying choice. Similarly, trying to use Lay on Hands to save the day in response to a sudden dip in your tank’s health, only to have the spell fail to cast because you’d executed a standard part of your rotation a half-second prior, simply felt bad. We have no plans to put either of those abilities back on the GCD.
This brings us to a broad category of abilities that are off the GCD in Legion: Offensive burst cooldowns. These are almost always pre-planned and not generally used in response to an unexpected situation. With them off the GCD, talenting into such abilities often just becomes a matter of adding another line to a burst macro without any additional gameplay as a result. In endgame raid and dungeon situations, stacking all possible cooldowns has an outsized impact on someone’s total performance, while in PvP, the fact that major damage amplifiers can be applied simultaneously with an outgoing damage ability (e.g. Recklessness ->Avatar ->Mortal Strike) heavily limits counterplay and makes worst-case burst damage more severe.
Thus, we’re putting most activated offensive cooldowns, along with On Use offensive trinkets, back on the GCD. We will tune these effects around this change (see, for example, the increase to the duration of Recklessness in the latest Alpha build). Abilities like the Elemental shaman’s Stormkeeper have demonstrated that an offensive cooldown that takes the place of another spell (and even has a cast time) can still feel very potent.
Finally, while we wouldn’t make a gameplay change solely for this reason, there is some additional upside to being able to better telegraph the activation of a major cooldown via animation and visuals. For example, Recklessness has a warcry animation associated with it, but in practice that visual is virtually never seen, since it’s usually overriden by an attack animation milliseconds later.
When you’re used to a specific ability being off the GCD, there is some learned muscle memory that will make for a jarring experience when that changes. Or abilities that have always been macroed together may now need to be split out into two separate keybinds. Thus, we realize that initial reactions to the change are likely to be mixed at best. But we’re making these changes with an eye towards long-term improvement to the pacing and feel of combat, as outlined above.
Please play around with these changes, and let us know what you think: Are there any specific offensive cooldowns that we’ve changed in this build that feel especially bad? Are there any abilities that are still off the GCD but don’t need to be?
The list of abilities affected by this change is pretty long — Wowhead has a full breakdown as of the current alpha build, but there’s a good chance whatever ability you’re wondering about was added to the GCD. As for my feelings on the GCD changes, I agree with parts of Watcher’s post, and I do see the reasoning behind the changes — but I still think there’s a better way to approach the whole situation.
For starters, Watcher mentions PVP several times in the post. While his points work perfectly well in that realm of gameplay, it feels like a not-so-great way to justify also changing how PVE abilities feel. PVP was changed drastically in Legion, to the point where most abilities function differently than in PVE. If GCD usage in PVP is a problem, then Blizzard should target how those abilities function in PVP, rather than across the board.
Even if that’s not the case and the cadence of combat is the primary target here, adding abilities to the GCD feels like a band-aid fix more than anything. Sure, you can’t pop two or three offensive abilities at the exact same time. But even with the GCD in between them — and with the adjusted durations Watcher noted — you’re still going to get their effects overlapping.
If Blizzard wants to target offensive GCD usage, it seems like a better (albeit, potentially controversial) route to take would be to make abilities mutually exclusive. Rather than making people wait a little over a second between Recklessness and Avatar, why not make them choose between those two? Doing so puts PVE cooldowns in a similar vein as the defensive/offensive example Watcher used in his post. Will you get more use out of Avatar now and Recklessness later, or vice versa?
All in all, I do see where Blizzard is coming from here — I just don’t think they’re taking the best approach. The GCD, in my opinion, works best as a way of controlling a player’s standard rotation. Cooldowns, on the other hand, should feel exciting and important to use. That’s why they have their own cooldown. Adding in the GCD doesn’t make them less exciting, but it does make using them one after the other feel unnecessarily sluggish.
We’re likely to see a lot of change in this regard between now and the expansion’s release, but I’m hoping it’s a bigger change than simply adding or removing abilities to the list of those affected. What are your thoughts on all this?
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