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Mists' talent system revamp: Hit or miss?

Now that it's been a while a look at Mists' talent system
We've had the new talent system now for eight months, and it's had time to settle in, so it seems that it's an appropriate time to see whether it has been a success in its objectives, to assess the pros and cons of the new system.

In case you forgot, Wrath of the Lich King featured 71 talent points, which were distributed over three trees, resulting in some entertaining builds, and no requirement to place the last talent in the tree. The Burning Crusade was similar, but with 10 fewer points, and slightly smaller trees as a result. By the time Cataclysm rolled around, adding an additional five levels, there was concern about this system being bloated, daunting, and unnecessarily complex. So, with Cataclysm came a simplification: 31-point talent trees. At the time, Zarhym explained the change as follows:

Zarhym
We'd rather have a simpler design with a lot of depth, than a complicated but shallow design. The goal for Cataclysm remains to remove a lot of the passive (or lame) talents, but we don't think that's possible with the current tree size. To resolve this, we're reducing each tree to 31-point talents.

Cata also added a requirement that you get to the end talent of your main tree before moving onto the next, effectively removing the hybrid builds that had occasionally surfaced. But that change clearly wasn't enough, as most readers of WoW Insider will recall, there was a further revamp at the start of Mists, moving to the current system. It was a far more drastic change, too, with the disappearance of the talent trees we'd grown used to seeing. But was it a change for the better?

Cutting Cookies

One professed objective of the new talent tree system was to eliminate cookie cutter builds. With the previous trees, there were several talents that, thanks to the linear design, you just had to take. You couldn't get to the next talent down the tree without following the arrow, no matter how mundane the one above it was, and there were certain other talents, like small percentage buffs to spell haste or similarly boring choices, that were pretty obligatory. Not only that, but, despite the flexible appearance of the builds, there was not a huge amount of room for maneuver. There were, largely, pre-established builds that theorycrafters had put a lot of time and energy into for specific situations. Sure, you might be able to swap a talent here and there, some were optional, but very few in the grand scheme of things.

So by cutting out the chaff, Mists' talents attempted to remove cookie-cutter builds. Did they succeed? In part, I'd say. Part of the issue is theorycrafters themselves, and min-maxing players who will work out the best choice down to the last minute percentage and declare it gospel. And yes, there are simply some choices that are better than others. Healing Tide Totem is a good example of this, for restoration shaman. The other two options in the tier simply aren't as good, either thanks to being too situational or too tricky, at least in comparison to the powerhouse that is Healing Tide.

And even where the choice is less crystal clear, like the warlock Grimoire tree, the talent de rigeur seemed, for a while at least, to change every week. The discussion around that is ongoing, but there appears to always be an assertion that, for a given spec, there is a "best" choice. What people might not consider, though, is the marginal nature of that "best" option. As WoW Insider's resident warlock writer has said in the past, picking what's fun is another option. When the choices are marginal, picking the one you like the style of will probably give a better outcome than picking the one that gives 0.001% additional DPS.

There's no doubt that this has improved from Cataclysm to Mists. Zarhym's aforementioned post could be applied far better to the Mists trees than to Cataclysm's. But the developers have a really long way to go before they can confidently assert to have removed cookie-cutter builds altogether. And, what's more, with players' obsession with the "best option", it may be an impossible task.
Mists' talent system revamp Hit or miss

Exciting Choices, less often

This, it seems, is an area where the Mists trees have improved massively on almost all the previous iterations. Gone are the talents you took to increase your passive spell haste by 0.1%, instead you're generally picking talents that either grant a new ability or substantially modify an existing one. They're exciting choices, and this is a good thing.

To me, this counters my complaint with the Cataclysm changes, which is even worse with the Mists trees -- I miss getting something exciting every level. I said this when the Cataclysm changes were announced, and the number of talents we were awarded dropped off. And no, you didn't ever get anything before level 10, but every level after that it was like a favorite aunt had slipped a quid into your hand when you were leaving, and you got to spend it on something cool for your character.

Apart from how, a lot of the time, you weren't spending it on something cool. I keep harping on about the spell haste talents, and the talents that did something useful but dull, and the ones you had to take to get down the tree to the talents you really wanted. I'm so torn on whether I'm happier, from this angle, with the new system, where every time you get a talent point to spend you get something cool, or with the old one. Part of me misses the movement towards something exciting, which, particularly with the Wrath trees, was noticeable, and a motivator while leveling. But, given how fast the leveling element of the game has become, is this even a factor any more?


Oversimplification?

This seems to be a common cry from players who feel that the game is being "dumbed down". The new talent trees are "too simple" and reflective of the general reduction of complication in the game. The developers call this removal of unnecessary elements, and in this I agree with them. The old system looked more complicated, yes, and was far more daunting for the new player, yes. But was it really more complicated when all you did was to head onto Wowhead, or the armory, and copy someone else's build, talent for talent? If you really wanted to complicate things, you might make some tiny customization, a tweak here and a tweak there. But I'm sure we all recall inspecting someone who'd clearly made up their talent build from scratch, and shaking our well-informed heads.

Vanilla druid talent trees

Notwithstanding what I've already said in the above sections, there are at least some choices now. Saying "I use this talent because I prefer it" is a far more reasonable assertion when what you have available is just three options, which are almost even in quality.

And what's more, with the changes to the way the system works, on a practical side, we now have a more complex game, particularly in PvP and raiding. Now, just by having a stack of tomes in your bag, you can try using different talents on different pulls, switch up your CC talents for different comps in the arena, and more. That doesn't sound like oversimplification to me.

Now What?

My mind is not yet made up on the title question, but I'm definitely leaning more toward hit than toward miss. Looking forward to the future, what could Blizzard change to cement that opinion?

Is visiting a trainer really necessary any more? That's my first query. Given that they don't train you, they don't require you to visit them to change your talents any more, only to change your specialization, is it time for them to get the sack after that inevitable start zone quest? It seems that a better method might be to sell a more expensive item than a Tome, which allowed you to use it to reset your specialization. Sure, it's not necessarily that handy for everyone, but would you really miss the "flavor" of visiting your trainer just for that one specific task?

And I'd love to see a way to save builds. I want to be able to have my PvP build and my PvE build, for both talents and glyphs, to switch between them at will. That way I can combine having two specs, which I need, given the uselessness of healers at a lot of content, with not messing up by having the wrong talents or glyphs for whatever I'm healing right now. Yes, I could set up a weak aura, I already have one for PvP gear in PvE and vice versa, but I want this too!

Lastly, what about tri-spec? While the datamined spell is long gone, and Ghostcrawler confirmed that it wasn't coming any time soon, that would be a great change, removing, for me at least, the requirement for the change above. The difficulty is, I suppose, maintaining the balance between immersion, and convenience. What's your take on this?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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