Monday, August 18, 2014

Why Mists' Talent Revamp Was A Success

After having spent an entire expansion with our new talent system, we can come to accept some reality about it. Blizzard's intentions for the talent system revamp were, in a few words:
"With this new method of distributing abilities, we can ensure that players are receiving role-defining talents at levels that make sense and will benefit them the most as well as deliver fun and meaningful choices along the way." [source]

They succeeded in most of what they intended for our new talent system. One of the things that everyone loves to talk about, however, is whether or not the new talent trees offer real choices. This article, for example, does nothing but talk about how Blizzard failed to add 'real choice' to their new talent tree system. In fact, here is a quote from this article, which you won't actually find in Blizzard's official statement about their talent tree changes:
"Blizzard wants to move away from cookie-cutter trees. That means it wants to create a system where there is no wrong choice, where every talent is just as valid as the next."
Read the official Blizzard post about the talent tree changes carefully. They want to make choices meaningful. There were of course blue posts and tweets from Blizzard developers and CMs stating that they wanted to create choice with the talent trees, but we kind of fabricated this idea that Blizzard wanted to create three completely equal talents per tier. Just look at most of the classes' talent trees - it's hard to believe that they were really trying to do that when we see the results. This article does get half of its statement correct - they want each talent to be just as valid as the next. However, they have no intention of there not being a "wrong choice", rather they have every intention of there always being purpose behind your choice.

Now, I'm not trying to pick on this particular article - you can see players everywhere, on the official forums and on mmochampion talking about the same thing. I think it's because Blizzard pointed out that they didn't want people to be able to go online and plug in the right talents without thinking about their choices. The thing is, we can still go online and plug in the right choices. However, the reality of how successful Blizzard was with this new system shows when you remove the "Increases your Fireball damage by 2%/4%/6%" talents and replace them with activated abilities and talents that dynamically change existing abilities. Now the choice impacts your playstyle, so even though you looked up the right answers, you still have to display the skill necessary to utilize the talent correctly and actually benefit from it.

The reality is that they wanted to create 'real choices' in the way that changed the way we play and affected our rotations and playstyles in a noticeable way. All of those old damage modifiers were removed and the crit chance, damage, cooldowns, and all other attributes of abilities are balanced to their natural state. We no longer make an artificial "choice" to increase our spell power by 10%, but rather our spells and damage are balanced around their default attributes, meaning the only talent choices we make change or add abilities and make dynamic differences in our rotations and playstyles. So yes, that means the removal of cookie-cutter trees, but that does not directly translate into "there being no wrong choice." It means that instead of "Spell critical strike damage increased by 33%/66%/100%" a talent you wouldn't ever not get and adds no noticeable change to your actual gameplay, you get talents like:

and then you have to decide between that talent and another talent that also makes a noticeable change in your playstyle.

We of course had unique and interesting talents within our talent trees before, but you never didn't get those. We tested the talents that were the best possible for the most situations and that was our specc. Now you have to choose between three unique talents, and the talent that is the best choice may change from fight to fight, and differ in PvE and PvP. Not only do we have to choose the best talent for a given situation, but that also means that we sacrifice our other talent. This makes the choice meaningful, which is the goal.

The new talents can be theorycrafted, just as the old talents were, but there is a huge difference because now each ability needs to be theorycrafted, tried and tested on every encounter, as a lackluster talent for most encounters may be amazing in a certain encounter, or the talent that is the best almost always may be awful for another. For example, during Throne of Thunder, it was generally accepted that for balance druids, [Force of Nature] was the best talent to pick for almost every PvE situation. However, the treants did not benefit from the [Fluidity] buff on Jin'rokh the Breaker, making [Incarnation] a better choice for that fight. This is a much better situation than we had before - it makes talent choice a living, fluid decision. You don't set and forget your talent build that you found online, which makes the entire aspect of having talents more interesting.

So if you want to argue that Mist's revamped talent system didn't succeed in creating "real choice" then you're right. If Blizzard created unique, interesting talents that all directly affected our rotations and playstyles while also being all equal in power, it would probably cost us a raid tier.


  1. Well written, and fairly accurate. The biggest issue comes when people could potentially do 0.1% more damage with a specific talent (at least on paper(sims)), yet they dislike that talent.. and then picks it anyways because it's "better". (Read: Rune of Power. Note: I like that talent, it's awesome for what it is, and the other options are there as exactly that OTHER OPTIONS.)

    1. True, alternatively someone could pick a talent that sims to be .1% better when they are less capable of using that talent, resulting in them actually doing less DPS than they would if they picked a different talent that they are able to utilize correctly. This was/is the case with feral druids - Dream of Cenarius is a better DPS talent, but if you are unable to use it correctly, you'll suffer far more than if you simply use Heart of the Wild for its passive agility increase. Situations like this actually help the case of the new talent trees - that you can pick the talent that best fits your playstyle. Before, if you didn't know how to utilize the cookie cutter talent for the best possible DPS, there was no alternative.

      Unfortunately, some people will feel pressured to take the "best" talent, even if it is barely better, but in all reality, your own effectiveness with a talent holds the biggest impact on whether or not it really is the best choice for you. This is something I wish I had remembered to touch on in my post! :)