Turn Based Combat: Why it’s Terrific

Turn Based Combat has long been a staple of video games.

Formative favorites like the Pokemon games, the early Fallout Series, Sid Meier’s Civilization, and the Final Fantasy Games all have turn based combat at their cores. And it’s easy to see why. Turn based combat allows programmers to create a different system without having to input a seamless change from non-violence to violence.

It gives the player time to think, to plan, and to choose the best course of action. It makes video games intellectually stimulating, more akin to the mindfulness of chess than the reflex reactions and muscle memory of football. Turn based combat is an essential part of video games, and still plays an important role in the modern gaming climate.

That is not to say that turn based combat is inherently better than real-time combat, rather that it has advantages that real-time games cannot provide. Let’s dig into it.

Strategy

Turn based combat forces the player to think strategically. Now, one can prepare and think about real-time combat strategically. But it becomes a repetitive process, closer to the premise of Edge of Tomorrow than strategic thought. Turn based combat, like chess, gives you the time to think every move, to analyze the enemy’s weaknesses, and then to act.

You have to be thinking multiple moves ahead, trying to predict what the enemy will do, rather than just acting reflexively. It stimulates the brain like Chess, whilst providing an interactive narrative. Games like Civilization ask players to think about what would be best long term, instead of making short term, snap decisions.

It fosters a state of mind that has one eye looking at the future 10-15 turns down the road. Real time cannot offer this level of mental sophistication, asking rather that we deal with each issue as it comes. Rarely do you see long term thinking in real time video games, and when you do, it tends to be as a consequence of trial and error, rather than intentional foresight.

Ease of Play

A major advantage that turn based combat offers is ease of access. Not in the sense that it is readily available, but rather that it allows players of varying physical capacity to play. It is much easier for a handicapped player to play turn based games than it is to play real time combat.

Video games ought to be inclusive and interactive mediums. A game cannot function as escapism, or immersive story telling unless the game can be played with ease. And for players with disabilities, sometimes pure reflex based games are not easy.

Take for example, the Fallout Series. The first two Fallout games had turned based combat. The movement phase was free and in real time, until a player entered combat. This was a good system, and allowed handicapped players to enjoy the game completely. However, with the 2008 release of Fallout 3, a large segment of the old Fallout fan-base was lost.

Lost because the Bethesda switched Fallout to a real time combat system. Whilst we understand the arguments for real time being more dynamic, and more exciting, it is difficult to stomach the audience that is lost as a consequence of games choosing to change their combat system.

A Place for Everything

Now, that is not to say that all video games ought to be turned based. First Person Shooters would become absurdly boring if they lost their real time combat systems. But it is worth bearing in mind, that games can still be excellent whilst also allowing for a wider audience if they choose a turn based combat system. Take for example the old ‘Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic’ games.

There was a truly successful series published by Bioware, that has now become an MMORPG. It too combined the ease of moving freely with the battle tactics of a turn based combat system. Whilst it was a more hybrid system, you could pause and un-pause the game at your leisure, choosing your next move.

This hybrid system has been seen in many of Bioware’s games since, like ‘Mass Effect’ and ‘Dragon Age’. This system does not compromise either the fun of players who want real-time combat, or the handicapped players who cannot enjoy games unless their combat systems are turn based.

Turn based combat is not for all games. But it should be more prevalent than it is at the moment, for the sake of making video games more inclusive and cerebral.