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If something proves effective in Real Life combat, it would be wise to do it again as quickly as possible.

Most game characters don't have that option, however, and will be forced to wait for a fixed period of time or a certain number of turns before they can use that room-clearing move again. While it could be argued that said move was exhausting and that the character needed to recover before acting again, why is he or she able to use a different and more powerful move immediately? More importantly, why does that move also have a fixed recovery time? Why does the majority of the character's repertoire have such recovery times?

The use of Magic A Is Magic A can Hand Wave this requirement but credibility is stretched for purely physical fighters. It's believable that a warrior would need to rest for five seconds after slashing six times in a row with a BFS, but it's less believable that the move's five or seven-hit cousins can be used immediately during those five seconds. The result is that moves become like on-board weapons with differing reload or recharge intervals.

The gameplay reason is to prevent players from repeating a super move over and over again until they run out of Mana, while still allowing them to defend themselves with other moves. If nothing else, it forces gameplay to become somewhat more 'varied' in that players can at best repeat a sequence of moves instead of using a single move ad nauseum.

The upside to this mechanic is that it adds a layer of complexity to the overall Metagame as players have to deal with timing as well as damage numbers and Standard Status Effects. Changing a skill's recovery time has a disproportionately large effect on its usefulness compared to its other statistics as one second less can make it a Game Breaker while one second more can make it entirely useless. As a result, the recovery time of an ability is almost always balanced against that of others as opposed to approximating reality or following flavor.

Certain games also have a global cooldown, which triggers after any sequence of moves depletes a character's 'stamina' or 'energy' and disables all moves while it recharges, possibly closer to how this mechanic would work in Real Life. There are also games with a combination of both, such as having common cooldowns for different sets of moves rather than all moves or having some moves with individual cooldowns and others shared.

Examples of Cooldown include:

  • Diablo 2 had the combination. Some spells were cooldown spells, some could be cast continuously. Unlike most games, if any cooldown spell was used, it would prevent all other cooldown skills from being used for the period, not just itself. Many skill setups in the game involved combining a cooldown skill with a fast casting skill.
  • All special abilities and magical spells in Dragon Age: Origins have cooldown periods in addition to consuming stamina and mana, respectively.
  • Common in DnD-type RPGs, with spells that can only be used once daily, and so on.
  • City of Heroes has a recharge time for all powers.
  • RTS games use this mechanic for superweapons and CO powers. In games where individual units or heroes have special powers, those tend to have cooldowns as well.
  • The World Ends With You. All abilities can be used instantly a certain number of times before entering a cooldown period.
  • All special abilities in Alpha Protocol have a cooldown time, which can be reduced by certain perks or armour upgrades. The ability Brilliance (which, itself, has a base cooldown time of 300 or 45 seconds) resets the timer for every other ability. Brayko becomes much less of a threat when you can use Master Chain Shot on him twice on a row.
  • Bloodline Champions uses cooldowns to limit abilities, as well as having them all activate global cooldowns. Certain abilities can be used to refresh these cooldowns or cause the enemy to suddenly have their abilities to suddenly be on a temporary cooldown, and a few may be activated that ignores the global cooldown.
  • Team Fortress 2 - The Scout's Bonk! Atomic Punch, Crit-a-Cola, and Mad Milk, the Sniper's Jarate, and the Heavy's Sandvich and Buffalo Steak Sandvich are all subject to cooldown, though they can be recharged instantly by visiting the respawn lockers and the Sandvich can also be recharged by picking up a health pack when you already have full health.
  • In Day of Defeat Axis machinegun is MG42, which quickly heats up when fired, so the player has a choice between shooting very sparingly and having a period of vulnerability later when the barrel finally overheats.
  • Star Craft 2 is moving a bit in this direction, where some Mana-based abilities are being replaced with cooldowns.
  • All Multiplayer Online Battle Arena have a cooldown mech. Some abilities are intended to be spammed and have, say, 5i-ish second cooldown, some may be used once in a fight and have a cooldown of 10–15 seconds, and ultimates are saved for big teamfights and thus have up to 2 minutes cooldown.
  • World of Warcraft uses cooldown management extensively for class balance. All classes have some form of resource management, whether it be mana, runic power, energy, rage, etc.; but also mix this up with cooldowns for individual abilities and occasionally shared families of abilities. To this, add a global cooldown, plus certain abilities that aren't on the global cooldown but also have their own shared cooldowns. The Metagame of managing one's cooldowns can therefore become as much if not more a part of the game mechanics as the abilities themselves.
    • In some cases, the "rotation" that one goes through with their character can affect Damage Per Second or Threat per second by several THOUSAND points, but are typically obscure and can only be found out by people using add-ons, trial and error, or just being told what to do.
  • League of Legends has a hero type whose resource management is replaced by cooldown management.
  • The Mass Effect series has both versions with various tradeoffs. In Mass Effect 1, each power had its own cooldown, which was abominably long or somewhat fast, depending on what passive abilities you had equipped. In Mass Effect 2, however, using one power put all the other powers on a cooldown after using only one power. In exchange, though, the cooldowns were greatly reduced to a few seconds for almost every ability; powers with cooldowns longer than ten seconds were almost non-existent. Unless the squad members used their powers, since the squad members had much longer cooldown times than Shepard.
    • In the case of biotic powers, this is somewhat explained away in the Expanded Universe. Biotic powers are difficult, and heavy use of them will very quickly wear out a biotic, meaning they can actually only use them sparingly. This means the game's portrayal is a bit of an inversion, as in-game biotics cool down a whole lot faster than "real" biotics would!
  • Hyperdimension Neptunia suffers from this when you're not in battle. In the dungeons, it is possible to execute one of three actions; swing a hammer overhead to clear away a breakable wall in front of you (as Neptune), ring a bell to trigger battles (as Compa) and show the location of the dungeon's hidden treasure chest (as IF). Problem is, the cooldown times for these abilities are atrociously long. It takes around half a minute for Neptune to swing the hammer again, which is kind of fair enough when you consider it's very heavy, but Compa has to wait about fifteen seconds to ring the bell once more.
  • Eve Online has the global session change timer, which starts when you do an action on a rather small list and forces you to wait 30 seconds before doing another (these include actions like dock at a station, change the ship you're in, join/leave a fleet, use a stargate, log on to the game; you know, that sort of thing). Most active modules have individual cooldown as well; active, repeating modules call it cycle time, while non-repeating modules call it a reactivation delay.
  • Solatorobo has cooldown present only in the fishing minigame; any weapons can be fired until they run out of ammo.
  • In Alien Hallway, the cooldown time is represented by a shaded-out area over the icon, which gradually drains away. When a unit is available again, its icon lights up green.