Which flavour of RPG combat is best: turn-based or real-time with pause? It's a debate as old as time, and both have their defenders and detractors. Me? I'm all about real-time with pause, and when I heard Baldur's Gate 3 would be entirely turn-based—unlike the first two games, which used RTWP—I admit I was a little disappointed. To some people, including several members of the PC Gamer team, pausable real-time combat is the work of the Devil and basically indefensible. But I genuinely love it, and here's why.
First off, I love the feeling of stacking up a bunch of orders, then watching the results of my decisions unfold in real-time in front of me. It makes a battle feel like an actual fight—a chaotic, kinetic scrap—and not just a game of rock, paper, scissors with goblins. Watching your party swiftly and efficiently take out a group of powerful enemies, with spells, buffs, debuffs, and attacks that you've carefully thought about and queued up, is immensely satisfying. And if you screw up, you can quickly pause, reassess the battlefield, and try a different strategy without having to wait for every enemy on the board to take a turn.
An enemy is about to launch a deadly attack. You glance at your action bar and notice a counter ability has just cooled down. You pause, cast it, then unpause and watch your character shut the attack down. That kind of instant reactivity is, for me, one of real-time with pause combat's greatest strengths. It's less about second-guessing the enemy and more about reacting to them in the moment, which makes for lively, dynamic battles with a more natural flow. I find making moment to moment decisions, adjusting my tactics on the fly, a lot more exciting than the methodical back-and-forth of a turn-based battle.
Then there's the way real-time with pause gives you a choice of how you want to play, depending on the situation. I've never liked how the action in turn-based RPGs grinds to a halt, even if all you're doing is fighting some low-level critter that isn't worth your time. You have to sit and wait, impatiently drumming your fingers on your desk as Sewer Rat A inches a few steps closer. But in a real-time with pause game, you can carve through weak enemies like you're playing an RTS, saving the pause function for more challenging battles.
And turn-based combat is just so damn polite. I love the chaos and confusion of a big real-time with pause battle. When a bunch of evil mages start a fight, you know the screen is about to explode with a fireworks display of dazzling spell effects. Compare that to a turn-based battle where everyone waits patiently in their designated spot, stroking their beards, leafing through their spellbooks, pondering what to do next. The best RTWP battles sizzle with energy and feel more dangerous and unpredictable than any turn-based skirmish.
And let's be real: nostalgia is a factor too. Baldur's Gate was a formative PC game for me, and I have a misty-eyed fondness for that particular era of Infinity Engine RPG design. Obviously Baldur's Gate 3 will still be great, but I can't deny the fact that I'd be even more excited about it if it had RTWP combat. You might disagree with every single point I've made here, but that's fine, because it's ultimately a matter of preference—and my heart belongs to real-time with pause.
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Let's settle this.February 28, 2020