- Even before Final Fantasy 16, the association of turn-based combat with obsolete hardware and the perception that it’s a slow and stale experience remained quite prevalent.
- Baldur’s Gate 3 is a magnificent throwback to the era of CRPGs and indicates the concepts of the past like turn-based mechanics are still very much desirable.
- Turn-based combat brings strategic depth to the mechanics, and just like real-time action, possesses its appeal. Many games prove that the concept can be exceptional if handled with perfection.
At some point, you must have encountered the turn-based vs. real-time debate and witnessed arguments like “turn-based is old-fashioned” or “it’s a stale genre no longer appealing.” And this brings us to my question: Is it a fact? Is turn-based truly no longer viable? I believe that can’t be further from the truth, as being an avid consumer of the genre, I can assure you; turn-based is just as fun as action combat if adequately implemented.
It’s not the case of outright one is better than the other. It comes down to how the mechanics are designed. I won’t deny the trend is slowly but surely shifting toward action and real-time combat. This was the reason behind Final Fantasy XVI’s change as well. But that doesn’t mean turn-based is old and not desirable anymore. If turn-based mechanics are designed creatively, they can lead to truly exceptional titles like Baldur’s Gate 3.
Developers Adopt Real-Time System To Appeal To Modern Audiences
We all fondly remember the many Fantasy RPGs and JRPGs we grew up with and the strategic turn-based combat that was their backbone. However, as much as we wish to deny it, it all comes down to personal preferences, and it seems modern gamers became more inclined towards intense action combat rather than strategically planning their turns and seeing how the opponent reacts.
This mentality affected Western media more than JRPGs. Primarily because of the success of games like Diablo and World of Warcraft, and the turn-based mechanics no longer being implemented with creativity, Western publishers began to avoid turn-based concepts and adopted either action combat or real-time with pause (RTwP) to appeal to the changing tastes of their audience. It’s good to see Baldur’s Gate 3 making a stand.
The desire to appeal to the Western audience was also the reason behind Final Fantasy’s adoption of action combat. We saw the change to real-time systems slowly emerge since Final Fantasy 12. The release of Final Fantasy 16 and the shift to completely real-time was a highly debated and conflicted event. The fanbase was practically divided between the traditional turn-based and the renewed action system fans.
Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly consider Final Fantasy 16 to be an excellent action game and among the few that handle the shift with perfection. What bothers me are the reasons and circumstances of going against the turn-based concept. Even the development team behind the game considered adopting the turn-based approach where you wait for the enemy’s turn to be slow and boring; something modern audiences do not like.
It’s sad to see Square Enix call turn-based combat slow and not appropriate for modern hardware when they played a vital role in pioneering the JRPG turn-based mechanics. Final Fantasy and other Square games with their iconic ATB system were among some of the best JRPG experiences, and a modern Final Fantasy with turn-based systems would have been a grand sight. Alas, the misconception of turn-based no longer appealing robbed us of the joy.
Similarly, another recent example is Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, which is throwing away its strategic combat in favor of real-time action, because of the prevailing thoughts that turn-based or strategic gameplay is a slog. One of my first Western RPGs, Dragon Age: Origins‘ strategic gameplay was its most ingenious mechanic, and, regrettably, the series is losing its identity just to follow the mainstream, God of War-esque action gameplay.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Showed Everyone How It’s Done
In an era of incomplete experiences, microtransactions, GaaS, and post-launch content requirements, Larian Studios dropped an epic blast to the past and delivered a rich and complete 100-hour experience that took us all by surprise. We were aware of what Larian is capable of following Divinity: Original Sin series, but Baldur’s Gate 3 still managed to amaze us with the enormous deal of creativity, freedom, and dedication built into it.
Dungeons and Dragons was a crucial part of our childhood, as we gathered our friends and embarked on an epic fantasy adventure and presented the Dungeon Master with all sorts of crazy possibilities. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a truly authentic throwback to those glory days, free of all worries and having a good time by letting the dice decide the outcome.
One of Baldur’s Gate 3’s most impressive achievements is how it captures the true essence of the tabletop D&D games; the ability to do anything you can think of in a situation. The game gives you the freedom to present a myriad of solutions to a particular problem and let the dice roll decide your fate. In addition, the game has exquisite writing which makes watching the outcome of your solution a true delight.
Since you’ll be spending 70-100 hours in the game, it needs to keep you hooked for the entire time, and the game majestically does so. The highlight is the ingenious turn-based combat of the game. Rather than the series’ RTwP combat, Larian decided in the favor of true turn-based it was highly experienced in, as it embodied the real nature of D&D mechanics. Rolling the dice, completing your action, and moving to the enemy’s turn is how D&D is supposed to be.
A complete adventure filled with a meaningful story, excellently written characters, freedom of choice, authentic D&D dice rules, and magnificent turn-based combat; the game is nothing but perfection. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a throwback to when Western RPGs were at their peak, and honestly, it’s a truly sublime feeling watching a true RPG experience in modern times. It’s truly no wonder the game is an enormous success.
“Turn-Based Is Slow And Old-Fashioned” Is A Misconception
If real-time systems are inherently better than turn-based in modern times, why did Larian Studios decide to adopt the latter over the former in Baldur’s Gate 3? Why didn’t this decision impact the game’s reception? Why did it appeal to the fans precisely because it’s turn-based? These questions all have the same answer; Turn-based combat is still highly desirable and not just a slow mess if it is creatively developed and implemented.
Alongside the slow and boring, nothing to do for the player except press a button after waiting, and no longer appealing allegations, another strong misconception is that turn-based was a combat system designed to be per the hardware limitations of their particular era. In old times, gaming systems were not strong enough to handle consistent, real-time combat with quick movements and multiple on-screen objects moving simultaneously.
Thus, a turn-based system was designed to mask these limitations. With characters in their places and just executing particular commands one at a time. I think that this can’t be further from the truth. Turn-based gameplay provides a strategic touch to the mechanics. You are actively monitoring and predicting your opponents’ actions while taking countermeasures. Perfectly setting up your buffs for a few turns and then watching your effort bear fruit is truly a soul-soothing experience.
To further reinforce my point, if turn-based were indeed a relic of the past designed due to hardware limitations, modern turn-based games shouldn’t be desirable and popular among gamers. Yet we saw many examples that show otherwise. Final Fantasy 16’s release created a pretty strong faction that wanted the game to retain its turn-based roots. In addition, RGG’s massive Yakuza series switched to turn-based which was skeptical at first but turned out to be supreme.
Similarly, Baldur’s Gate 3 has become the year’s most successful launch, topping all charts one after the other, despite being a game that is too much like RPGs of the past. Moreover, JRPGs that continue to retain their turn-based roots are still immensely popular. Persona 5 gathered a cult following, and the long-running Legend of Heroes series continues to rise.
— Gematsu (@gematsu) September 22, 2022
Even Mihoyo’s Honkai: Star Rail did better than its gigantic predecessor; Genshin Impact. My point is, certain repetitive and boring turn-based games shouldn’t label the entire genre old or stale. Both real-time and turn-based have their appeal, and from situation to situation the better option varies. If turn-based fits the core concept like in Baldur’s Gate 3 and is handled with perfection, it can lead to truly magnificent titles.
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