A Post-Mortem on the Cataclysm Talent Tree Post-Mortem
Roughly two weeks ago Ghostcrawler over at Blizzard posted a new discussion article on the Dev Watercooler blog talking about the Class Talent changes that were made when World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was released. Specifically, the post discussed what he and the other developers felt went well and poorly with the talent tree changes. Topics included the change to a 31 point talent tree, granting abilities key to that spec when chosen at level 10, being locked into a tree until you have spent 31 points, and more.
Like most of you I read the article and thought, Huh, maybe they do actually consider the changes they make! I thought it sort of tongue in cheek as I know they do consider things pretty closely, however, since then the topics discussed there keep percolating around in my mind. I keep thinking about what was said and the issues that it raises for me. I kept thinking, ok this is how the devs feel, but what about the rest of us?
Looking at the talent trees as they are now, what do I think of them as a player? What is positive and negative compared to the old systems? What would I change or suggest for the next major revision?
Being the soft spoken, calm, behind the scenes personality that I am, I would never be vocal about what was wrong LOL, who am I kidding. None of those adjectives describe me even remotely. Of course I would spew my opinion on all these changes and make them known, and what follows is just that, my take on the Cataclysm Talent system.
If you have not yet read the original article by Ghostcrawler outlining Blizzard's take on the Cataclysm Talent Trees we have reposted it at the end of the article here: Calaclysm Talent Tree Port-Mortem.
Messiahs List of Positive Aspects of the Cataclysm Talent Trees
Lets start with the good things, meaning whats better now with a 31 point talent tree, rather than the old WotLK 51 point talent trees.
Overall, I like the new 31 point trees, simply because they feel right. Maybe it is just because that is what I got used to since it all started that way in WoW with 31 point talent trees, but again that number just feels right. When it went to 41 points it seemed a bit stretched, and then when it went to 51 per tree it was just way too much. It was just way too many points and talents to work with to get to the final talent that you wanted in that tree.
Even at 31 points in a tree it still feels like there are some talents that are just filling space, but few enough that it's not a huge issue. When it was up at 51 points per tree, it felt like each talent gave so little that it was almost "why bother". The leaner, meaner 31 point trees offer more substantial talents that make you feel like you are getting ahead with each point, at least for the most part.
Overall there are far fewer crappy talents in the new 31 point talent trees, and each talent there generally offers more benefit per talent point than the old 51 points trees did.
The smaller trees are also far easier to manage for new players to the game, class, or spec, as it offers a more condensed version of the larger trees that is easier to see the flow and interaction through.
A great step forward was that as soon as you pick a talent spec you gain many key abilities for that spec. This means that you can immediately start getting used to that specs core abilities and start playing as that spec. In the old days (WotLK and earlier) you would have to wait many levels to earn a lot of those abilities, sometimes almost until end game. Giving them out right away makes they specs play better right from the start.
Messiahs List of Negative Aspects of the Cataclysm Talent Trees
There are also some negative things about the smaller talent trees that bug me, and others I am sure.
My biggest complaint is that, now that the trees are smaller, you need to spend 31 points in a tree before you are able to move onto spending points in another talent tree I feel really locked into that single tree. Sure you can get a few points into another talent tree late in the game, but not many.
This means that a lot of control for hybridization was taken away. Granted, as Blizzard states, hybrid builds rarely worked well, and were sub par in general, however many people did play around with them and had fun with them while leveling, goofing around, or for specific fights or situations. Even if they suck, we should have some freedom.
Next up, the way the trees are designed, there are very few options. Each tree has many KEY talents that no one intelligent is going to miss, and then a group of situational abilities aimed at either PVP, PVE, CC, Buffs or whatever. This means that if you are playing mainly PVP you dont really have that many choices, there is essentially one build.
This is because the trees are locked down pretty damn tight right now per spec. Most players playing a spec have the same build with the difference being 2-3 points allocated differently in their main tree and a few in the alternates. That implies that there really are not many choices to be made, but rather an organized progression through the tree. Players are not choosing the talents, they are being forced to take certain ones.
Given all of the above, do we really have any choice left? Most talent trees have roughly 38 points that could be assigned into them. Since you have to spend 31, that leaves a measly 7 points that you do not have to spend in the tree. Really, just 7 points not taken in a tree? Considering you max at 41 talent points the max you ever have available to spend elsewhere is 10.
Continued on page 2 with suggested improvements to the talent system
Messiahs Suggestions for Future Talent Tree Modifications
Looking at the Blizzard review, my take is they are too easy on them selves. While overall the Cataclysm Talent system is better than the Wrath system, it still has some pretty big issues. Not the least of which is that there isnt really any choice, but well get into that in a second. Rather than just rant on how they dont know what they are doing, Im going to offer some suggestions on what I think could work out better.
To ease the locked in feel I think that Blizzard should take a look at other games - shock and horror Rift for example gives a few more points but limits what you can spend in your main talent tree. This forces some hybridization and allows more customization. Rift does it by giving you 2 talent points every 3rd level but only allowing you to spend points equal to your level in your main tree. Obviously the exact numbers would have to change to meet WoWs talent system, but the idea works well to promote cross tree builds.
Also, come on Blizzard, get back to allowing more free-form builds. Instead of not allowing you into other trees until 31 points in your main talent tree, allow it after something like 16 or 21 points. Then also make it so that points in any other tree can never equal more than what is in your main talent tree.
Next up make more talents available, and make more big talents in the trees that are powerful and important. Right now there just isnt enough variety or choice. Better yet arrange them with requirements so that you can take one but not both great talents at any given level in the tree. This way there would be various builds per talent tree, not just one primary build with minor variations. My suggestion would be about 51 possible point allocations in a tree instead of the current roughly 38-40 per tree. This will allow a lot more choice and diversity all in the same spec. Right now there really isnt any choice, there is an illusion of choice as you level in that you get a new talent point to place into the tree, but really, there are very few choices of where to put that point. In fact if you raid, you are really down to about 3 optional points per build, the other points must be in the optimal places or you just wont cut it in a raid.
Another big one, is please just make a PvP tree already, and while your at it make spells, abilities, and buffs different in PvP and PVE when they need to be. It really sucks that after this long PvE players still have to suffer buffs and nerfs to abilities or talents simply because something is too good or too poor in PvP, and the reverse holds true as well for PVP players. Just deal with the fact that PvE and PvP are completely different animals, and make the spells abilities and talents function differently in each case. PvP balance matters a lot since there are 2v2 arenas, so each class needs to be close or you have ideal mixes (which we do).
This relates strongly to Blizzards comments that state that classes are closely balanced, which I actually agree with, but that I am sure I will catch flak for it as many feel they are not. I believe however that for PVE that statement is bang on, but that they are almost too balanced. Many of the classes are so close that it makes it slightly boring between them.
In PVE I want some classes and specs to rock it out in one situation and suck in another. It helps make all the classes more interesting. Having each and every class equally good or equally bad just makes them all the same. I would rather in PvE that balance was a fluid thing. After all you have 25 spots to fill, variety and options should be king. You don't need to worry so much about DPS class 1 = DPS class 2 to the 5th decimal place, players would soon learn that in situation A DPS class 1 rocks and in situation B DPS 2 class rocks and take both.
On the other hand, in PVP due to the small arenas like 2v2 class balance is critical, and so far in there, not very well done. Each season there is a new 2v2 or 3v3 team comp that just kills everything else. There are others that are fairly competitive, or competitive in a certain bracket, and then there are classes that are completely useless. Worse yet, it seems to change from patch to patch and season to season, making it impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to pick one character to PvP and stick to it if you want to be at the top of the ladder. Separating the PVE and PVP meta-games would allow Blizzard to have both interesting abilities and talents and varied non-homogenized classes, while still providing a highly balanced and equalized PVP environment. Allowing both types of players to have the best for their style of play.
There you go, Ive had my rant on the class talent structure as it stands. In addition to looking at the good and bad, Ive tried to list some constructive feedback, which is rare for me I admit.