The Warcraft developer Q&A on Thursday spent the first 15 minutes talking about the off-GCD change. It’s probably the most controversial change so far.
Let’s take a look at what this change is, why Blizzard made it, the possible downsides, and how it might impact gameplay.
What is the Off-GCD ability change?
If you haven’t had the chance to keep track of all the changes in the BfA alpha, the Global Cooldown (GCD) has been one of the biggest. In the alpha, some abilities that were not on the GCD were put back on the GCD. You might see this referred to as off-GCD or OGCD.
If you didn’t have a chance to watch the video yet, here are some resources that might interest you:
- Full Dev Q&A video on Twitch
- Text-summary on MMO-Champion
- Link to the Video, queued up to the GCD discussion at 15:48.
- Update on May 10: Blizzard announced they are taking some racials and on-use trinkets back off the GCD.
That seems like a simple change, but it definitely affects a lot of different aspects of the game. The latest developer Q&A addressed the reasoning behind this decision.
Why did Blizzard make this change?
This is the big question everyone has been asking. In the dev Q&A, Blizzard explained that one of the main reasons for this change was to bring back some more meaningful decision-making in-game. When things are off the GCD, then there is no choice between A or B, you simply use them both.
This change targets offensive abilities, not all abilities off the GCD. Why the distinction? Some abilities that are off the GCD give you an opportunity to react to the environment.
Ion explained how a life-saving instant heal like Lay on Hands should be off the GCD so that you can use it as intended: to save the tank’s life as a reaction to a huge damage spike.
To quote Ion’s summary of this from the alpha forums:
“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. Battle Cry/Recklessness -> Avatar -> Mortal Strike) heavily limits counterplay and makes worst-case burst damage more severe. “
The dev team also made this change to address the speed of the game. They don’t want World of Warcraft to be a twitch-reaction arcade style of play, where you have to use a whole bunch of abilities within milliseconds of each other. However, at the same time, the developers said that they want to keep Warcraft as a relatively fast-paced game.
During Legion, some specs have so many abilities off the GCD that they’ve become very twitchy and reliant on perfect computer-like timing. These macros help the player fire off GCD abilities in rapid succession.
This leads into Blizzard’s philosophy that a skilled player is one who makes smart decisions, rather than someone who has better twitch reactions (like reacting in two-tenths of a second vs five-tenths).
“We see WoW as a series of rapid fire decisions. Skill and WoW gameplay are about evaluating the circumstances around you and figuring out what you’re going to do with the next few seconds.” – Ion
Ion shares an example on this type of decision-making with a Restoration Druid at 25:32 into the video (queued up below).
What are the downsides to this change?
A lot of feedback has come in from alpha testers that this change feels awkward. The rotations don’t flow when you have to cast a buff and then wait to cast a damage ability.
Which leads into the other downside that people are concerned with: the rotations feel a lot slower. If you have to cast a buff and then wait, it feels slow.
Some specific spells feel like they’ve lost their intent. For example, with Heroic Leap on the GCD, its intent is lost if it can’t be used at a moments notice to get out of danger.
There are also a few specs that have extreme examples, like Fury Warriors. They’ve had so many abilities off the GCD in Legion, that alpha testing consisted of using one buff after another, after another, after another, before pressing a damage ability.
Blizzard has taken action after receiving some of this feedback:
- Heroic Leap, Disengage, and many other utility spells have been taken back off the GCD
- They admit Warriors don’t feel good right now and they are playing around with other ideas
- They asked for continued feedback so they can continue to iterate during the Beta
- May 10: They took racials and on-use trinkets back off the GCD
AMR’s thoughts on the GCD topic
This is a very interesting change, as it impacts a lot of different aspects of the game.
The impact of stacking cooldowns:
If you can stack off-GCD abilities, it is almost always mathematically superior to do so.
This removes a lot of flexibility from game design: if every off-GCD ability will just get stacked, why not just combine them into one ability that is just really strong? The developers could do this, but it would make things less interesting, in our opinion.
Stacking these off-GCD buffs also causes big, short bursts of damage. This ends up being boring*and leading to frustration. It’s boring because no matter what new ability gets added, it’s all the same: blow everything with Heroism at the start of the fight. It’s frustrating because if that big burst window gets interrupted, your damage for the rest of the fight feels like it barely matters.
(*Disclaimer, this is the opinion portion of the article. What we think is fun or boring might be different from you. In no way are we trying to say our opinion should apply to you, or to everyone at large).
Impact on the speed of the game:
As far as how the speed of the game feels in BfA, we’ll still be pressing buttons at the same frequency, so it logically shouldn’t feel slower. But it does because some of the button presses are using abilities that do no damage.
In Legion, we’ve gotten to a point where every button we press deals actual damage. That’s possible because we press 1 button that has a bunch of off GCD abilities macro’d to a damage ability.
We no longer have to use a buff ability and then wait before making use of that buff with our next ability. The GDC change brings that back in BfA.
We like this change and think it will make the game play feel better overall.
However, openers will definitely be affected by this. Most openers rely on those stacked buffs to do massive amounts of upfront damage before boss fights get crazy. So expect those to be deflated in BfA.
Impact on rotations:
These off-GCD abilities have contributed to many of the ‘programmed’ rotations.
The problem starts with simulations, which can execute perfect timing and fit in an exact number of spells into a tiny window. For many of these, perfect timing really is required… being 200 milleseconds too late means your last spell misses the buffed window.
This has lead to a huge reliance on macros and addons in Legion because humans can’t actually respond fast enough. Having so many offensive abilities off GCD heavily rewards players for using programmed macros and addons to help with their rotations.
We think this change has the potential to allow players who aren’t using cooldown marcros, to play at a higher level. This is good for people who just don’t want to use macros, and also for the large number of people who didn’t even realize it was a thing.
Impact on active-use trinkets:
Update: on May 10, Blizzard announced they are taking on-use trinkets back off the GCD. I‘ Our thoughts on this change: It looks like Blizzard is on the same page as most people – by pulling ‘minor’ things like racial and trinkets back off the GCD, they save a lot of trouble. This allows them to design what is on and off the GCD more easily within the context of a single spec. I’m leaving the rest of this section as originally posted so you can see our pros & cons on that topic.
Original thoughts (pre-May 10):
Active-use trinket effects were also added back on to the GCD. At first pass, it seems like this could make active-use trinkets more interesting, because getting a good trinket could change your rotation in a fun way.
In Legion, you’re able to stack nearly every offensive ability in a single button-press and then unleash insane amounts of damage. That can be really exciting to see those huge burst windows. However, the trinket effect itself becomes uninteresting… it’s just another ‘thing’ that stacks onto burst damage windows.
By putting trinket effects back on the GCD, on-use decisions could feel important again. Do I use it now instead of one of my regular offensive-buff abilities? Do I use it inside another buff window? How strong is it compared to my other abilities, not just other trinkets?
On the flip side, it could make a rotation feel awkward for some specs. Would people start avoiding active-use trinkets and seek out stat sticks? That isn’t interesting. So we’ll have to see how this plays out.
In the Beta? Test it for yourself!
In the end – Blizzard is testing out some design changes on the alpha and iterating based on feedback. So get in game and give it a whirl if you haven’t yet (and if you are one of the lucky few to have access).
If you like the change, you should definitely let them know, and why. If you don’t like the change, take the time to figure out exactly what doesn’t quite work, and why you feel that way. A well-thought out post will make the biggest impact on their design decisions.