Greetings from Blizzcon 2011! I’m not putting pictures or any formatting in this post since my internet is broken at the hotel and it took me an hour and a half just to be able to post this. NOTE: have done some editing of the post over-time as I’ve had more time to sit down & write. You should also see the more specific review of talent choices over at Sunfyre’s Nest.
There was so much information released that it may be hard to digest. I’m not going to pick apart individual talents at the moment, but I’ll talk about general themes, designs, and implications of the class-based changes.
First, everything you used to know about how talents worked got thrown out. Take the entire picture of talent trees and “specs” from your mind and throw them out the window. Done? Okay, lets talk about what it will look like. (NOTE: I also want to let you know that from a design standpoint, the implications of what this will do for all the classes is really amazing and will fix a lot of problems that their old talent system just couldn’t design around. SO, the concept behind the changes to classes in Pandaria is actually really awesome and I support the concept behind the change.
You will pick what specialization you want to be (in this case, there are now 4 specializations for druids: Cat melee DPS, bear tank, moonkin ranged DPS and resto healing). Blizzard is still calling them “specs”, but I’m going to call them “specializations” for the purpose of this post because “spec” is a word too closely tied to the old talent system that you just temporarily erased from your memory.
When you pick your specialization, you get access to a bunch of abilities & passive bonuses (like the current specialization bonuses you get for picking which talent tree to focus on now, only there won’t be a special talent tree to access, just all the abilities, procs, & bonuses you get for picking that specialization). In this case, they would be things like swiftmend for resto druids, starsurge for moonkin, mangle for cat, bear would probably get mangle, too. However, instead of just 1 specialization ability, there would be multiples (so, at different levels, you would pick up different specialization abilities, likely the type of spells you currently have to buy with talent points).
I know that seems confusing, but it means that resto will get a handful of resto things (wild growth, swiftmend, a shorter CD’d tranquility, efflorescence) as bonuses for choosing the spec. Bear would get a list of tanking abilities that the other specs wouldn’t have access to. Cat would get a bunch of cat-specific DPS abilities. Moonkin would get caster abilities, ETC.
However, there is a new “talent” system where all 4 of our specs are going to share one set of talent abilities.
What it will look like when Mists of Pandaria goes live is that you will choose one of three awesome viable alternatives for your spec every 15 levels. You will pick one from each screenshot on MMO-champion, and won’t have access to the other 2 of the abilities available at that level (ie. at 15, you can get feline swiftness OR displacer beast OR tireless pursuit – but not all 3). At level 30, you get nature’s swiftness, renewal, OR Cenarion ward. You pick one at each of the six levels. So, in theory, they are designed to give us interesting choices (though the extent to which they accomplished this goal varies a lot across classes & talent tiers).
This works great for some classes but hasn’t been worked out well for other classes, and druids look like they are still really in the early stages of talent design, since a lot of the tiers are really awesome-looking for PvP running around as a hybrid, but super awkward for PvE. The talents you get should still be able to add to the utility and effectiveness of your primary role that you will be performing in raids to make you desirable versus the other classes that are also getting new fun toys through their talents (so, some survivability talents & movement talents are fine because dead people can’t contribute to raids – but it has to be done in a way that makes you still balanced vs other classes, and as fun as it sounds to shift into cat/bear form all the time in raids as a healer, you won’t be as effective as other healing classes getting talents that augment their main spec when you won’t have access to your whole healing toolset in feral forms. Moonkin bouncing around between casting heals, doing melee-damage to the boss, and casting their actual balance spells wasn’t very desirable in raids in Burning Crusades and won’t be in Pandaria, either). They want every talent to be an interesting choice for every specialization at every tier, and it will take a lot of work to get there, but I really do applaud their efforts. For Tier 6, I would be fine with one hybrid talent if the other 2 allowed us to still focus on our main spec. For some of the feral utility stuff, I would be fine with it if we could stay in caster form to use that utility. Really small tweaks would actually be huge improvements in the talent system’s viability.
SO, what we know right now is that they threw out the old talent trees, you’ll get a bunch of specialization-specific abilities (in addition to some abilities baseline for the class as a whole to share similar to most of the current baseline abilities), and then all 4 specializations will share the exact same talents to augment your abilities. We will have to wait and see how these shape up for druids.
There is tons of other Blizzcon news, but this is something I felt that I needed to explain to druids, since just looking at the “blue post” version of the panels doesn’t explain very well how this would really work for druids. So, please do not panic. Don’t break out the pitch-forks. Please post constructive suggestions and keep in mind that they didn’t announce a lot of other things that effect whether or not certain abilities are useful. So, Blizzard gets an A+ for effort, and I can’t wait to see what this looks like when it’s finally polished enough to go live. They have a chance to redesign EVERYTHING about the druid class, and everything that you knew before may be wrong. It’s a new and exciting adventure we will embark upon together!