Remember back in Wrath of the Lich King (not that long ago), when we had these hugely cumbersome talent trees? You had to invest 5 points in things that you get for 1 or 2 points now. New players looked at the giant web of 1% increases to abilities, and talents buffing abilities you didn’t normally even use (ie. Improved faerie fire for moonkin was a source of constant frustration for the druid community for a long time). You spent talent points on buffs and debuffs that benefited your raid, so everyone spent 2 of those talent points improving Mark of the Wild (we spent 5 points on improved MOTW back in Vanilla & TBC). As a reminder of how daunting those talent trees used to be, lets take a look at a picture of the WOTLK talent calculator:
Why am I showing this to you? Well, lets take a look at our very recent history. In this case, the final talent point in a tree is 51 points deep. For Cataclysm, rather than making the talent trees 56 points deep (and then 61 in MoP), they shrunk the talent trees for Cataclysm. This streamlining got rid of a lot of talent point sinks (no more Improved Mark of the Wild), and reduced the point cost of a lot of talents (ie. Cataclysm’s tree has mostly 1 to 3 point investments). Cataclysm also constrained you to only being able to put points in one tree until you hit the end, to stop the endless cycle of trying to create ultimate hybrid builds by investing points split more evenly between two trees (ie. the “restokin” specs this blog was named after).
As someone who maintains a leveling guide for WOW, I often interact with new players to the game who are first trying to navigate the druid class and figure out how to spend their talents. Talent trees largely have a “right” and “wrong” answer. For a restoration druid at level 85, Wild Growth is NOT optional, it’s NOT a choice. It is something you HAVE to take or you will fail at being a restoration druid. What is the difference between automatically receiving Wild Growth as you level and placing a talent point in Wild Growth? Well, really absolutely nothing. The only real decisions you get to make are for talents that increase your damage/healing/survivability/utility by leess than .05%, as those end up being non-mandatory talents, and when you run out of “mandatory” talents, you are free to pick through whatever unhelpful dredges are left in the talent tree to figure out which ones are the most likely to provide some benefit (and often times, people make the wrong choices even for “optional” talents).
However, Mists of Pandaria (and beyond) have the same problem of needing to give you more talent points and additional class progression in a way that has the ability to turn talents back into this sort of jumbled mess.More levels means more points, and that means more filler junk, more confusion, more spreadsheets, and creates all sorts of balancing issues.
My recent adventures in Star Wars: The Old Republic has taught me one thing… That more talent points isn’t always better. The SWTOR talent system is modeled off of the Burning Crusade and WotLK style talent trees. When I started my first character, I had to figure out what talents I wanted to invest in. As a brand-new character, I looked at the talent tree on Torhed (wowhead’s SWTOR equivalent) and saw a bunch of talents that largely say: “Improves your Blah by 1%”. When you are new to a class or game, you don’t know what those abilities do, just that the talent says it makes the ability a tiny bit better. You often invest points in talents that you realize later you aren’t ever actually using. I ended up having to change my talent spec somewhere between level 20 and level 25 because I realized that my talents just weren’t fitting the rotation I was actually using in combat. The talents just didn’t seem to be doing anything to help me, and getting to place a talent point in minor stat upgrades every level didn’t really have any real meaning at all – it just slowed down my leveling process by having to go out in search of trainers that could help me undo all my mistakes (and it took me half an hour to find a trainer that would unlearn my talents in SWTOR).
Another approach to “talents”: Diablo III
In addition, I spent some time playing with the Diablo III beta, and saw how their skill system ended up feeling a lot more meaningful than the talent choices I was making in SWTOR. In Diablo III, you choose what skills you want to use (and add runes to augment those abilities), and your choice of one ability prevents you from having access to others, as there is a limit on how many abilities you can have at one point in time. In Diablo III’s skill calculator, you can have up to 6 active skills (which you can change if you need to), and you get to choose 1 of 5 possible runestones to modify that ability, and you get 3 passive skills that also improve your effectiveness. In this case, there isn’t an obvious answer as to what “spec” you should be, since every Wizzard may end up with a slightly different arrangement of skills, runestones, and passive abilities. While you still have the opportunity of making bad choices, you do get the ability to make your character’s build much different from other people and it allows for much more variety.
Based on all of this, I decided that I am all in favor of Mists of Pandaria’s new talent trees.
The MoP system keeps the best part of WoW’s talent system for each class (ie. the core choice of being resto, moonkin, cat, or bear for druids), and borrowed some of the better choice mechanics from other games that force you to pick one at the exclusion of being able to have another ability instead. In MoP’s system, you don’t choose your core spells through this new talent tree. Instead, you choose utility abilities that will augment your character’s power (regardless of which specialization you choose). All those old “mandatory” talents become things you automatically pick up, which were never really about making choices in the first place.
Does the Pre-Beta version of the MoP talent calculator still have flaws? Sure. Some of the utility choices don’t really provide something every druid would want to use. However, I think those individual talents in the MoP system are a lot easier to fix than a plagued system that permeates too many video games. I welcome the simplification in terms of number of points, and I welcome the increased complexity of not always having a “right” answer. Sometimes, simple systems still have a lot of complexity. At the very least, the MoP talent system allows for a lot more growing room for future expansions.