Here is part 1.
As it currently stands: you reach level 10, receive your first point, and then receive a new point every level. As the level cap expanded upwards to 80, new tiers were added to each tree to compensate for the increase beyond the former maximum. Typically, talents were from one of two varieties, with few exceptions:
1) A new ability
2) A percentage increase to the effectiveness of one or more abilities
With the Cataclysm expansion, Blizzard hopes to prune many of those that fall into that second category. Essentially, these are talents that “everyone” or “no one” took. They improved the abilities that characters were going to use anyway, and, basically, were boring. (Alternatively, they had such limited use that it was generally a waste to put any points into them.) They might as well be baseline, i.e., part of the character already, without action from the player. Blizzard’s hope is to do just that: bring many of these effects into the base package and give players meaningful choices with the new talent trees.
Unfortunately, I do not think they will succeed.
I believe they have sound intent, but the results they have shown us are lacking. All they seem to have done (at least so far) is thin the trees down. I like the idea of bringing many of the mandatory talents baseline, but they have reset the trees to a point where the players are going to end up in pretty much the same place as before: they’re all going to have their points in the same places as one another. (You can see the new trees at MMO Champion’s WoWTal.)
All of the talent trees have one talent at the very end. This apex of the tree is a powerful ability, allowing the character a powerful tool for playing its part in the game, be that dealing damage, taking damage, or healing damage. Blizzard representatives have mentioned that it is their goal to make this talent so appealing that everyone who specs into a tree strives for that talent. Every Affliction Warlock needs to pick up Haunt; every Arms Warrior needs to get Bladestorm. They are too powerful not to get; reaching the level at which you could get one of these abilities and then spending the talent anywhere else is a waste of that talent point. But this is exactly the problem. If you are a max-level Affliction Warlock without Haunt, the damage you are capable of doing is greatly hindered by your choice to put that point somewhere else. If that wayward point actually grants you more damage, then Blizzard takes steps to fix it so that it doesn’t, or increases the effectiveness of the end-tree talent you skipped.
So…why even give us the choice? Why not give that ability to everyone of sufficient level to have it? I do not know. Maybe I should get a Twitter account and bother them with the concern myself at the upcoming Q&A this Friday.
At any rate, this illusion of choice is just that…an illusion. If everyone who specs their Paladin into Holy has to take the ability Beacon of Light to succeed at the content Blizzard has created, then is placing that talent there part of a choice on the player’s end?
That question posed, I feel what Blizzard is trying to do. They do want to open up choice, but at the same time they have a lot of balance concerns already. There are 10 classes in the game, each possessing 3 trees to choose from. There are four different roles to play (if you divide damage-dealing into melee and ranged) encompassed by these 30 specializations in two primary playstyles (dungeon delvers and arena/battlegrounds fighters). While simultaneously striving to make all of these feel unique, Blizzard has to keep them relatively equal so that one spec does not greatly overpower any other. It’s got to be difficult.
I bet they would get some interesting results if there were no trees, and instead all of the talents were compiled into one tree. Imagine the builds the players could come up with if the tree borders were removed.
I like where Blizzard is wanting to take this. I just wish they would get it there already.