I am a man of many talents. But I’m only allowed to use these ones.

So what purpose do talents serve in World of Warcraft these days? The recent patch preparing the game for the Cataclysm expansion has brought a revamped talent system that is simpler and more intuitive than ever, but at the same time, as darkeye pointed out in a comment, it drastically reduces the concept of choice and flexibility which talents were originally designed to provide. It seems now that talents have been boiled down to not much more than two choices: ‘Which sub-class do you wish to play?’ and ‘Do you intend to PvP or not?’.

For some classes there’s still some debate out there amongst bloggers as to which talents are definitely worth picking up; I’m certainly seeing varying opinions on protection warrior talents at the moment, but it’s mainly the difference between one or two talent points invested in one talent or another, nothing particularly class-defining, and most likely to be ironed into a perfectly flat raid t-shirt by the people at Elitist Jerks in short order, after which every protection tank will wear the same t-shirt, and woe betide you in a PuG if you have creases down the arms of your talent T.

So what do talents provide? Well, they still provide sub-class defining abilities: each talent tree, while locking you in for the first thirty one points and not letting you dabble in other trees at all until then (this is a local talent tree, for local people), will provide some major ability that once would have been a mid-to-top tier talent in the old system. More importantly they provide a levelling incentive. With talent points having been switched to every odd level, it now means that Blizzard can smooth out the number of abilities they have to dish out each level. With the heavy pollarding of the talent tree all the juicy abilities look that much closer now, even though the player is receiving talents at a slower rate than before and will therefore technically receive major talents in the same level range as before. The spell book is much the same, with all abilities your character will earn being listed in each of the sub-class pages along with which level they will be gained at. The whole thing is geared towards tempting the player on and giving them further impetus to grab that next level and get a new ability; pull the lever, get a pellet.

Essentially then, it seems that talents have been transformed into a mini-spell book, in which you pick one path to define your character and then you follow that for specific abilities to help you in your precisely defined role. Interestingly, however, it appears that glyphs might be fast becoming the customisation option that talents once were – as much as you ever get to customise your character to your liking in a game that has more analysis and stringent regulations on How You Shall Do Things than the Great Firewall of China. With the fundamental changes to glyphs – once you learn a glyph it is permanently available to you, and glyphs can be changed easily through the use of cheaply vendor purchasable vanishing powder – it’s easy to customise your character in fairly useful ways without much expense or hassle. This seems most unBlizzardlike, however, and I expect vanishing powder to be changed to a rare raid drop costing 4000 gold on the AH and requiring a twenty seven part quest chain to be completed before it can be used, by the time the expansion is released. Admittedly the range and usefulness of glyphs varies wildly from class to class at the moment, with some classes having a wealth of options and others being rather limited in what they can make use of, especially when you factor in the narrowing of specialisation that each sub-class presents – there’s probably no point in using tanking glyphs on a Fury warrior, for example. However, the important point is that the glyph system is far more open to expansion than the old talent tree system, so where additions to the talent trees only came with major patches and expansions, new glyphs can be added to the Inscription profession without having to majorly rework part of a class’s levelling mechanic. I think it’s this flexibility-in-expansion that might see glyphs become the customisation option that players have always been hankering for since the first paladin tried to create a hybrid melee healer talent build and was laughed out of their raid. It’s certainly easier for Blizzard to experiment with glyphs than with talents from a mechanics standpoint, at least.

I would say that it’s a fun time at the moment to experiment with builds, Spinks has posted her protection warrior build of the moment, and although it differs from other builds that I’ve read about (and those builds differ from yet others) none of them are drastically changed from one another, it’s mostly personal opinion on one or two borderline talents, which may or may not be useful depending on your play style and situation. However, as Tam recently related, it’s not necessarily all fun and games trying to get people to understand how your new talents and abilities work in this brave new world, especially when that world doesn’t seem entirely sure what it wants you to do either. Eventually I imagine things will even out, the raiding scene will settle in to their usual work ethic, and talent specs will once again assume their traditional cookie-cutter form, but I hope that glyphs (with further tweaks and additions on Blizzard’s part) might still allow for some expression of individuality in an otherwise generic end-game of Tier <unsigned int> geared, cookie-cutter talented, Stepford Wipes. Wives, even.

5 thoughts on “I am a man of many talents. But I’m only allowed to use these ones.

  1. Tesh

    I’ve despised the talent tree locks since they were announced. I think it’s foolish to reduce customization and exploration in games like this where player ownership is already at a bare minimum.

    Maybe if respeccing was as easy as it is in Guild Wars, I’d meet them halfway in Compromiseland, but as it is, I think the talent system just isn’t well thought out.

  2. darkeye

    What got me thinking about this was looking at the resto druid talents, and not being happy with the 31-point talent, which I’m pretty sure Blizzard in the past has said they expect everyone to take. Saw ‘Typhoon’ (a knockback/snare) in the balance tree at 11 points and thought that would be a lot more fun and useful, especially in battlegrounds, than more healing, but that was before I realised that 31 point restriction. A meaningful choice for me would be to choose between ToL, Typhoon, Solar Beam (an interupt and aoe silence, a talent like that would be great for a healer than idly dpsing to gain mana)…

    It’s not that Blizzard can’t do talent trees, the mage fire tree is a masterpiece the way everything works together and looks a lot of fun, I guess that’s the problem if everything is so well designed and carefully calibrated then some of the choice is lost, they might as well just unlock the necessary talents as a player levels.

    This might sound like a contradiction, but shallower and more meanginful is the way to go, if they had combined the talent trees with the glyph system, and took a leaf from Lotro’s trait sets. Strangely, I think Lotro’s system is more freer, they just need to get some better designers to add more traits and get rid of the junk ones, hopefully when the level cap is raised and now that they’ve got more money. :)

  3. spinks

    I think you’re pointing out one of the really positive sides of the change. Even in my post, I could discuss every single talent that I decided not to take and the reasons behind it, and none of them relied on obscure understanding of derived stats for that explanation.

    Tesh sees it as reducing customisation. I see it as making customisation easy to understand to non-theorycrafting wonks.

  4. spinks

    darkeye: You’re pointing out where a talent combination might have been overpowered and the new system deliberately placed that combination out of reach, probably for that exact reason.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    It’s certainly interesting to see the varying opinions! Some people feel restricted by the fact that they can’t hybridise their build, others feel liberated that the system makes more sense now and is easier to understand without the need for spreadsheets, graphing calculators or a second screen with Elitist Jerks permanently open on it.

    I think this current change is probably for the better, even though the talent system was probably originally envisaged as a way to customise your character, as Tesh laments, it never really worked out that way. We ended up with a lot of filler talents that people always skipped unless they didn’t know what they were doing. Any particularly powerful hybrid build, such as the one darkeye is suggesting, would be nerfed by having the talent tree re-ordered in such a way that you couldn’t take all the talents you’d need for that build, or worse, the talents themselves would be nerfed, breaking them for people who weren’t using them in that way.

    I think Spinks is probably right, in that this restriction of the talent system is probably best for the way this particular talent system has evolved. It keeps people focussed on their sub-class, makes balancing talents a heck of a lot easier because Blizzard only have to worry about the first couple of tiers of talents being used in off-spec trees, and generally allows a much greater degree of confidence that the talents you’re picking up are going to be useful for your chosen role, again as Spinks pointed out.

    I think darkeye also has a valid point that talents in some classes just have a better synergy, feel more powerful, and just generally work better. This has always been a problem with talents (and abilities, and classes as a whole) so I don’t think it’s specific to the changes in patch 4.0.1. The thing is that, with far fewer talents per tree, it should be easier for Blizzard to iron out the ones that are perceived as being worthless, without upsetting the balance of the class due to some interaction deep in another talent tree that they hadn’t predicted. The cost of this is the last remaining remnants of flexibility and customisation that Tesh (and myself and others) desire, but my hope is that glyphs can be used to fill this gap.

    One example being that, at the moment, the Blood and Thunder talent for protection warriors is not overly favoured because it’s very hard to work a Rend into a decent pull for a warrior, with the Thunderclap spam -> Shockwave combo. still being considered best for generating aggro, but a second glyph of Heroic Throw that also applies a Rend to the target (as opposed to the current glyph of Heroic Throw which applies a Sunder) could allow warriors to use that talent more effectively. I think some would still not use it in preference to other glyphs, but the ‘definitive’ option on glyphs would be less clear, in general. Not to mention that they can be changed more easily than talents, so different glyphs could be slotted depending on the given situation.

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the expansion proper when players start raiding, I’m guessing that talents will almost become a non-issue and that glyphs will be where all the big theorycrafting arguments are to be had.

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