Okay, so it’s no secret that I spend a LOT of my time coming up with talent guides. I’ve done talent guides for leveling. Talent guides for end-game raiding. Analysis of what talents I think are good. Analysis for what talents I think are bad and should be changed. I also apologize in advance for just rambling theoretically about guide writing and talent choices. None of this reflects actual things we know are coming, but I want to talk about the implications & problems with a possible design philosophy that I don’t necessarily agree with.
While I originally passed over one of GC’s posts last week, there was something that caught my eye today that I wanted to nitpick a little bit. The original post you should have all read is here. Context matters, so you should go back and read the full blue post. I’m not going to repost the whole thing. Instead, the quote I’m interested in particular says:
Because you earn passive bonuses just for spending points in the tree, those fun, niche or utility talents won’t seem as expensive as they do today. We want to create a lot more choices where you are choosing utility vs. utility. We want to see far more “cookie cutter” build guides that say “Spend the last 5-10 points where you want.”
First, I like the idea of the passive bonuses. It takes away the need to spend the majority of our points just on things that essentially say “increases damage/healing by X”. That’s a great goal to work on.
On the surface, more choices seems like a good idea. The idea of more utility talents and more options seems like a neat goal.
However, where I have problems is his last sentence about writing guides that tell people to just spend 5 or 10 points wherever they want. When I do that in one of my guides, it usually means that none of the options are good anymore and you can just dump some points into basically “garbage” talents, or that the choices just aren’t meaningful so I’m basically giving up on trying to make a decision.
Talent choices should still be meaningful, and there SHOULD still be choices. However, there is a right and a wrong way to allow for choice. All the choices have to theoretically not just be throw-away talents that people think are bad, but put left-over points into anyway. I don’t have a problem with presenting 3 or 4 different talent specs, like I do for my healing guide right now. I don’t mind 5-man healing specs looking different than 25-man raiding specs looking different from PvP healing specs. I don’t even mind if the talent trees allow enough flexibility that people can disagree about the right spec to have, or can choose not to follow the cookie-cutter build if they want.
However, I do mind the possibility of either having talents being so desirable OR undesirable that we can’t present a good “cookie cutter” spec in our guides. The goal should be, instead, for people to not WANT to follow the cookie-cutter builds, and for people to find neat paths of their own through the talent trees in places where it better matches their particular play-style.
At the point where we say “spend the last 10 wherever you want”, I feel like I’m not doing my job as a guide writer. A “best” spec should always emerge out of guide writing, because that’s the entire point of what people like me do. In testing phases, I’ve been known to spend hours jumping off cliffs trying to reduce my health enough to test HOT healing in a controlled environment. Having HOT overheals show up in the combat log was a significant improvement to my personal testing quality of life, because I’d do practical testing rather than using spreadsheets and simulations, so having the #’s show up with less effort meant I could waste less time running back up hills. Guide writers go to great lengths to be confident in the talents that they recommend to people, and being 10 points short isn’t going to be something that the guide writers will ever do. That’s just part of guide writing: fill up the talent tree & present it for other people to decide whether they follow you or not.
If we are investing in utility, it should be useful utility. Giving us bonuses that seem neat but have no real impact on our playstyle are just throw-away talents, and it’s usually at the point of throw away talents where we suggest just to dump points wherever. For moonkin/cat druids in a PvE raiding environment, our job is to be doing damage to the boss. We want to be investing points in talents that are going to help us do our job to the point where we aren’t just going to get laughed out of guilds like we were in the original days of the game. It doesn’t matter if we can daze things unless daze is an important part of the boss mechanic. In the days of redundant buffs, giving people more options to spec into redundant buff talents (that may be wasted in some circumstances) isn’t really an improvement to the trees.
The goal shouldn’t be to have guide writers suggest that people just dump points wherever. At that point, why bother writing the guides at all? The goal (instead) should be to get guide writers to have to write about decision points in the trees and how to decide between options based on their playstyle, which I do in my resto druid healing guide right now. I offer multiple decision points & help my readers be informed about their choice between options for different PvE healing build choices. For example, you may have to choose between having Celestial focus or not in a healing build (which is an interesting choice). Another interesting choice ends up being whether or not to pick up several other talents (empowered touch, living seed, revitalze), – depending entirely on whether or not they are good for your particular playstyle. I think it would be interesting for the talent choices to differ with slight differences in playstyle, for example – for there to be clear PvP talents versus clear PvE talents for DPS specs, OR multiple ways to come up with good DPS specs that alter how you do your DPS rotation (ie. mangle-focused versus shred-focused builds for cats, or something like that).
The good talent trees of the future are ones that allow for choices to be made based on playstyle, where there will still be clear guidelines for guide writers to follow about what are good choices for a certain playstyle. I like the idea of “choose your own adventure” talent trees, but there is always going to be one right path down talent trees for people who are trying to maximize their DPS, healing, or tanking potential – and if the talent points aren’t helping the player accomplish their goals, then people shouldn’t be investing points in those talents in the first place. I would rather feel like the talent trees are too full than feel like they are too empty, and the only time I’m going to throw my hands up and force my readers to choose totally on their own is when the trees are too empty and the choices aren’t meaningful.
More often than not, the talents we skip are ones that aren’t meaningful to our roles. So, improved barkskin is a really interesting PvP talent, but I would never pick it up for PvE. If the choice for me was between imp barkskin and imp tranquility, I wouldn’t care because both of them I consider to not be useful talents for my healing role. For my moonkin, if I had to decide between genesis & dreamstate, it wouldn’t be a meaningful choice, since neither of them would actually increase my DPS potential by enough to care.
So, the choices of the future need to be meaningful, without swinging the other way and feeling like the talent trees are so full of “bloat” that we can’t make a decent enough spec out of it. There has to be a clear pathway through the tree for a particular playstyle and role because that’s how we make sense and meaningfulness out of our choices (IE. I choose a tank healing build because I want to tank heal – OR, I choose a Panzerkin tanking moonkin/feral build because I’m a crazy tanking moonkin, OR I want to be a restokin that picks up both moonkin & tree form). We want the talent choices to meaningfully reflect a play-style, and for our investments to feel worthwhile based on the spell combination and role that we have chosen.
The choices should still be meaningful, and the guide writers should still be able to make enough sense out of it to come up with the carefully crafted “cookie cutter” builds. Even if we have to come up with multiple builds, and points where we ask people to make choices, these trees will still be complete. Figuring out the “best” specs to have for a given role & playstyle is part of the game that we play – and it’s something I enjoy doing.
The goal should be to have interesting choices, not to take away the role of cookie-cutter specs.