Repost: WoW class design and the illusion of choice

In 2006, I began writing guides to help new players learning World of Warcraft. My first adventure in guide writing was taking over the leveling guide for druids. More recently, I started the healing guide, when I felt there was a gap in the information available to healing druids who needed to do more than just 1-button spam their way to victory. In fact, it was likely my guide writing that brought so many of you here to the blog in the first place. So, I want to reflect a little on what the changes to the talent trees in 5.0 mean in terms of how we think about class guides, and how this impacts our choices we make in this game.

There are many types of choices we make: What faction, what class, what guild, what to focus on (pve, pvp, leveling, manipulating the Auction House, collecting pets, farming herbs, dungeons, etc). However, for whatever you do, you want to feel as though you are the best you can possibly be (anyone who feels otherwise probably doesn’t read WoW blogs, anyway). Everyone wants to know the best and fastest way to level, the best way to conquer enemies on the battlefield, the best way to contribute to your team, and the best way to get epic loot.

With the new talent trees in 5.0, Blizzard wants to introduce a new layer of choice into the talent choices we pick up. We have largely heard this “choice” word thrown around a lot over the years, with your trusted guide writers still handing you a correct solution to your problem of having to choose things like talents, glyphs, gems, and enchants. People seem to like the idea of there always being a right answer.  For the new talent trees in 5.0, you can only take one of the options from each tier of the talents. As a guide writer, I’m still obligated to tell people what set of talents I think is best. If I don’t come up with a right answer, the players will just keep looking until someone else does. Since the number of page views on my blog shoots up dramatically any time the current resto druid talents change, I’m really not convinced that people want to have to figure out what talents to pick out on their own. We really just want to know how to be the best. Then again, the old talent tree system also sucks – there are lots of things where it’s too hard to tell what is good or bad and why they would matter, and so people may just be reliant on guides because the difference between a .1% and a .2% DPS increase is small enough that people can’t figure out which one would be better based on the talent tooltips.

I don’t think the new talent trees really need to be about choice. Instead, I think it is still more important that picking up those talents make us feel more powerful at the role we chose to do. I don’t care about choice within the talent trees as much as I care about having the talents potentially feel meaningful.  Does it matter if the talent trees in 5.0 end up with cookie-cutter specs? Not really. What matters is that the class and role you choose to play in the game is fun, effective, and that the talent system adds to your strength at your chosen role. Choosing your talents, glyphs, and enchants isn’t really fun game play for most people (except maybe crazy guide writers like me). Instead, the talents are the things that help augment your fun by making you feel more powerful. There will always be guides to tell people the optimal way to enhance their character, and I think that is fine with me, as long as the classes are fun to play (and viable at the role they choose to do).

The new talent system is still better. I like it better because it simplifies the whole process into a system that is easier to balance and design, should make it easier to write talent guides, and increases the probability that long-standing problems with the classes can be fixed by taking the whole system and turning it on it’s head. There will still be a need for guides to explain what each talent does, and what ones are better. With the druid talents likely reading like long novels, I’ll still have to spend a lot of time explaining what the talents do. As long as I can come up with at least one viable talent set for each druid specialization, I’ll be happy.. I think the new talent system will be good when it’s done, but I’m not convinced that “choice” is going to be why people love the new talent system in Mists of Pandaria. I think they will like it because it allows Blizzard to fix game mechanics in a way that makes the game more fun, and that’s what really matters to me.

Posted in Written By Lissanna

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