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Talent Trees versus Sets

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Blizzard has announced a new approach to talents that drastically changes the talents system currently in WOW. They are replacing their current talent trees with 6 sets of 3. This drastically reduces the number of talent points from 41 to 6 and focuses each talent point choice.



You can find more info in the links below.

http://us.battle.net/blizzcon/en/blog/3773320/World_of_Warcraft_Class_Talent_System-10_21_2011#blog

http://www.wowhead.com/mists-of-pandaria-talent-calculator



From a game design pov this change is fascinating IMO and it gets at the heart of class design issues and balance issues. It even gets at the prospect that many mature MMOs face in that they have to continually add to their talent system when they produce an expansion.



IMO the concept of creating smaller sets of options for each choice is a superior method of providing real choice to players. It helps create a scenaro where choices amount to more than slightly tweaking the math behind their abilities and the choices can be balanced more easily across playstyles.

These changes are very controversial in WOW because they are getting rid of so much but I think if I was creating an MMO I would prefer to create it using small sets instead of tall talent trees. Tell me what you think.

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On the one hand, I enjoy talent trees. On the other, I like the idea of small sets like this. They do make each individual choice more meaningful, although I think the equivalent section of a talent tree is probably just as meaningful as a whole.


Not sure how I feel about making it so easy to re-talent, though.

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The most important thing, you can switch talents at will. It means removal of commitment. It means making the game easier for casuals. In short, now you won't have any talents but more like equipment you can switch anytime. That's the biggest change.

If this is better that the old one. Well, they are Blizzard, they rarely make things wrong :) But if you are a hardcore player you are not their target consumer, so the change might be not so great for you...

To me it seems they had two premises behind this. First, to assure character customization, second to cut down costs on balancing (your talent set is broken/underpowered by the last expansion? No problem, just switch to the one you believe is the best, without any penalty).

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This most certainly reduces the need for certain players to do the math that figures out what spec is best. Most players, including hardcore players, don't do the math themselves. They look it up on websites.

The small differences within specs is lost and replaced with a new system. I don't think there is a great argument that a lot is lost here. Sure the math changes but these tweaks are by definition minor and don't really compare well to the significant differences that a smaller set can offer.

Where there is loss is that they are going from 41 to 6. Even if 80% of those 41 choices are forced by min/max realities they offer an illusion of choice and make it seem like the player is doing something. Plus not all game situations involve hardcore min/max requirements. No one cares what your spec is when you solo but yourself. You probably need to balance your build more in these situations.

WOW was not built with this system in mind and to a certain extent I think it is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It is also incomplete as is. There is a clear need to also provide choices within the specialization choice. for example if someone chooses to be a protection warrior they should have sets of choices to make within that specialization. Not all tanking situations are made the same so there is room for flexibility there.

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My first thought when I saw this was "it's a bunch of bull testicles". Even after mulling it over for a while it still think it's a poor choice as a full on replacement.

Part of this response is because they said it was to remove "cookie cutter" specs, there is still not "real" choice. The player base it's to savvy and communicates to well for there not to be a cookie cutter specs developed no matter how little choice you give a player. It may not be a pure stat increase but people can still figure out which is the best choice for each game play situation. The fact their still chasing this and their record of other personal goals, "bring the player not the class" I'm looking at you, shows how idealistic and frankly mislead their development team is. They did a similar thing at the start of the most recent expansion and failed miserably there as well, in fact it encourage cookies cutter specs.

What gets me most about this change is how they have essentially messed up the reward system they had in place for the majority of the games run. The biggest bonus of the "classic" style talent trees where that when you "dinged" you got the pleasure (and there was a measure of it in the experience) of adding another point to your tree and visibly working yourself to a new goal (aka a new ability). With previous changes to how you get the next rank of spell (they gradually get better now) and now these even more several changes to the talent system the majority of the levelling process will become even more tedious.

Talent trees were also an excellent way to grant a level of customization to the player even with the "cookie cutter problem". Cookie cutter specs where frankly not that big an issue outside of raiding and high end PvP they occurred more often than not because players would rather do what someone else told them than make their own choices. The removal of them limits what little choice (even if it was an illusion in the first place) a player has in a game that is sourly lacking in it in the first place.

The fact is WoW is limited to the system that it was initially developed with. That system worked well and, although it could have been refined, it was largely regarded as an excellent way to advance a character. They are trying to revolutionize it to the point that there's little point in having in the first place. You may as well give the player all the abilities and let them choose what to put on their bars.

I'm sorry about the rant but i really don't find the whole thing fascinating on a design level only from the point of view of how misguided the blizzard developers seem to be at times. It's nothing new honestly, just a gutted version that would have probably been around in the 80s/90's when the idea was first being developed.

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You bring up a couple of good points. For example the problem with leveling now. Before leveling meant talent points but not anymore. The game also has 90 levels at this point. The game was not initially designed with 90 and it is clear that the game was not designed to go from 1 to 90. This is one of the problems MMOs face when they start adding levels and new talents to an existing system. The talent trees were getting taller and taller with every expansion which was causing problems.

I talked about this briefly in a previous post but one lesson to learn as a designer is that if you are making a system prepare for growth and expansions.

While the current implementation of the system probably still has cookie cutter specs there is no doubt that their current system is superior at providing choices outside of the core abilities one must take. For example, in a min/max world an ability that does not help the player fill their role (tank/healer/dps) is fluff and ignored. Now they can throw 3 abilities that are considered fluff by min/max standards and give the player a choice.

Another example are abilities that have an impact on min/max but depend on the situation. Imagine choosing between a benefit to AE taunt, ST taunt, or taunt spikes. All three are considerations for a tank and will change based on their role in a particular accounter. This is exactly the type of rapid choice that players should have and a set based system allows for these types of decisions.

The other issue is abilities that are all cool high end abilities but are closed off to players based on their specialization. It may be overpowered to give a player all 3 at once but any one of the three makes sense. There may also be high end abilities that don't mix with a specialization that are still fun to have. The prot warrior getting a high end damage increase for example or vice versa.

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It's certainly not innovative, and to be honest, a lot of those abilities look essentially the same, so it's still about tiny little gains. The only difference is, now it's in the context of a specific battle.



I don't like the idea of switching out skills per battle. It makes the choice almost irrelevant, at least as far as this particular execution for WoW is concerned. Maybe in another game it would be more interesting.

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I was replying when you posted so that's probably why I went over some of your points. :P

At this point (if they really wanted to do this system) they should cut the number of levels down dramatically. The adding of levels per expansion is an awful idea anyway in hindsight and 90 levels (especially without any sort of proper "treat" system for the player and how trivial they have become) is absurd in a themepark game such as WoW.

The talent tree system is one of the few areas of WoW that really lent itself to growth and expansion but they seem to be taking a totally different approach to what is logical (over the last two expansions at least). There were in fact very few "big" problems caused by talent tree extensions, it was mostly what blizzard perceived as problems, aka "balance" issues. They could have solved the other issue (new players getting lost) by implementing the guide system they currently use. Their idea of widening the trees seems too been one of the the best option but they decided against it.

Another problem is that the reason many min/maxer (of which there are very few) disregarded these abilities before because of how minimal a bonus they would give. Now that they are the only area of customization they will be heavily focused on and if it is at all possible for people to number crunch them they will.

The broad idea of changing specs easily is essentially borrowed from RIFT (maybe another game as well but I don't have experience with it outside of RIFT) except it gives that freedom while removing a lot of personal choice from the player. This sort of system could have easily been implemented in say glyphs alongside the talent tree system for a better result in my opinion.

The cool high end choices gave the specialization choice some extra meaning, at least for pure DPS classes and even gave a specialization some level on uniqueness. The fact a combat rogue couldn't shadow dance wasn't really an issue. The only reason people saw it as one was because the grass is always greener on the other side.


This is exactly the type of rapid choice that players should have and a set based system allows for these types of decisions.


That can and is/was already in the game with the use of shared cool down abilities. For instance way back when a Prot warrior *could* swap out of defensive stance and hit recklessness (I think that's the ability) to gain a nice damage burst. The duel talent system also meant a player could make a choice before the fight if they wanted a dps spec over a defensive one. What I'm trying to get at is that this sort of choice was already in the game and thus such changes where not necessary.

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Shared timers don't really provide the same type of choice as having the choice in talent specialization. Plus it just leads to ability bloat. There are some choices that should be made before the battle.

The game did have problems and still does. The talent trees greatly favor certain decisions. If you have talent points then there is a need to make these talent points equal. This is not even remotely the case currently.

I agree that using sets is not a new idea. The current glyph system uses sets. It is something like 3 sets of 8 with 3 choices per set or something like that. D&D wizard and cleric books are based on sets of spells. They also have specialization which alter the nature of the set.

Currently WOW has 10 sets in a class. (Specialization, 6 talents, 3 glyphs) The sets are simple sets and can be approved upon greatly. They can even add back hiearchy within these sets.ie trees

I am far less interested in this change from a player perspective and more interested in it from a design perspective. From a design perspective giving players 41 talent points to spend in 3 trees is a mess. It is guaranteed to produce exactly what the WOW system produced, eltistjerks.com. I have nothing against those guys but where these games can really be fun is when one can branch away from the norm and have a different experience and still be good. Using sets allows designers to create these scenarios better than overly large talent trees.

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It is not an mmorpg, but one of the things I really love about the MTG: TCG is that you could take something that was not necessarily percieved as a valuable play style and with the right cards create a deck that could compete fairly well with the more popular strategies. I feel like what WoW was and still is missing is that sort of creative use of "less optimal" choices. I don't think the new system solves the problem. It just tries to ignore it. Creating game "balance" by massively restricting choices is not an improvement. It's just lame. I really don't see how it provides any way to "branch off" from the norm.

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