Another beta pass, another dollar -- so it goes, eh? This time around, Blizzard released a very significant change to the whole of WoW with the introduction of the supermodel-skinny 31-point talent trees, as well as the new feature of talent specialization. Lovely, aren't they? What does it all mean, though? Glad you asked!
First, talent specialization is a new feature that is being introduced alongside the major talent tree overhauls. The basic premise is that once a player hits level 10, he will select a talent tree in which he wishes to specialize into, granting him specific bonuses, abilities and the all-important mastery tailor-made for his chosen tree. In the case of balance druids, well, we don't really know what those masteries are just yet. We can assume that the spell damage is going to be added back in, possibly the spell haste as well, and reports are that our pushback resistance will be folded into the specialization system as well; however, there simply isn't any solid information out there as of yet.
Before I begin to look at the talent tree itself, I want to make one quick little PSA beforehand so that everyone can understand where I'm coming from:
Blizzard has not finished working on the druid talent trees. I repeat, Blizzard has not finished working on the druid talent trees; all three trees are subject to change and will change, so do not freak out about things as they stand.
With that out of the way, the balance tree is looking rather thin at the moment, mostly because Blizzard simply hasn't gotten together all of the talents that they want to have in there. Given that, it's rather difficult to go into anything definitive on the talents that are currently there. In fact, most of the talents that have currently made the cut are rather bland -- not in the sense that the talents themselves are bad or boring, more that they're all old news that we've seen before. What's really interesting are the things that aren't there.
What's missing in action
One of the biggest things that'll probably jump out to every balance druid on the planet is the lack of Moonkin Form in the talent tree. Oh, don't worry about it, we aren't so lucky as to have lost that talent yet; nope, Moonkin Form is still here to stay. Further note that Starsurge is listed on MMO-Champion as being the new ability that a druid receives for selecting balance as a specialization, but Starsurge is also a talent listed in the balance tree. Confused yet? You see, the designers currently don't know if they want Moonkin Form or Starsurge to be the ability that a specialized balance druid receives, so in this latest patch, they were toying with the idea of it being Starsurge -- but they hadn't yet gone back into the talent tree to replace Starsurge with Moonkin Form. Suffice to say, one of those two options is going to be talented at that tier; we just aren't sure which one yet.
Another talent that's interestingly gone MIA is Dreamstate. Note that I really don't have any particular attachment to Dreamstate and certainly won't mourn its passing; should it be gone, however, this does leave us in the interesting position where Euphoria is our only source of mana regeneration in the current build. Mana regeneration is a fairly important function. Remember that Blizzard has stated that it really doesn't want caster DPSers to be worrying too much about mana regeneration within the confines of a standard encounter. This isn't to say that mana management doesn't matter, just that you shouldn't ideally run out of mana in a standard boss fight. Will Euphoria be enough to cover that for balance druids? No one can really say at the moment, but it's certainly interesting to wonder how this will pan out.
Last out of the missing talents is Typhoon. The reason for this, it appears, is that Typhoon is currently trainable to all druids at level 50. Whether or not this is intended, I simply cannot say. It is possible that this is merely another bug with the specialization feature wherein it is only to be trainable to druids who have specialized in balance at level 50. There really hasn't been any information one way or the other. For now, at least, I would assume that Typhoon is no longer a talent and that you will have it at level 50 if you are a balance druid. If you aren't a balance druid, whether you'll get to keep Typhoon or not is a bit in the air.
What's left behind
After what's missing, there are a few intriguing things about what's been left behind. As I said before, the vast majority of them are simply things that we've all seen before; however, there are a few talents still around that are worth noting. First, it's worth mentioning that along with only being a three-point talent, Starlight Wrath now only reduces Wrath and Starfire's cast time by .3 seconds instead off the full .5 that we've previously known. It's a bit odd that Starlight Wrath has survived while other cast time reduction talents have not -- at least, I haven't seen any of the others -- and it makes me wonder what Blizzard is up to.
Aside from that, Genesis and Moonglow both have also survived the cut, yet this does not surprise me at all. It may seem out of place to have clearly restoration-centric talents within the balance tree, especially when the trees are being hacked down in size as they are, yet this change, or lack there of, was rather predictable. Blizzard wants for there to be a reason for each spec to dip down into another, instead of focusing all of the points into a single tree; feral really has nothing to offer restoration, and balance has been the fallback for tree druids for quite a while now. Given that, it only makes sense that we'd end up seeing a few restoration-based talents in the balance tree -- just as there are still feral/balance-based talents in the restoration tree (at least partially). I do hope that Blizzard returns the favor when they get to expanding the druid talent trees. Right now, a balance druid really would only spend points on Furor and Blessing of the Grove in restoration, which is only five points into another tree. Perseverance is still there, and still useful, but it isn't quite the same.
Overall, the balance tree looks and feels unfinished, which funny enough, it is. We've still got a long way to go before the dust settles from converting that talent trees from the monsters that they are now into guppies, so all we can do at this point is sit back patiently and wait for Blizzard to make a move.