Warcraft: Four Point Oh Point One


Death Knight tanking: The long cooldown on Death and Decay makes stuff frustrating. Lost a melee dps who did not assist. Need more practice.

Paladin healing: Required some acclimation and practice. More like learning to walk again, only much easier.

Hunter leveling: No mana? No ammo? No problem. Kill Command is less Damage per Focus than Arcane Shot? As Beast Mastery? Probably needs fixing.

Reflective water surfaces are awesome. The rippling effect is nice but wanting.

Prime glyphs, as predicted, are super boring. Major glyphs are terrific. Minor glyphs remain pretty stupid.

In every case so far, I am set in my first 31 talent points. It is the remaining five that I sometimes am unsure about spending…I expected more choice given the proclamations. I’d love an additional 2- or 3-point talent on many tiers. Still want more variance between individuals playing the same spec.

I’m starting to feel like the game would be better as either PvE or PvP. I feel like the developers, forced to fit the abilities/talents/glyphs into both is hurting the game. It is honestly amazing that they’ve done as well as they have but I would be in favor of sacrificing one for the sake of the other. (In my case, PvP for PvE.)

Overall I am in favor of the changes brought on by this patch. That said, I’ve hardly been playing, and am eagerly awaiting the expansion set to come out in less than a month.


Warcraft: Talent Trees, Part 3


After messing with the new talent trees for a bit (and with the usual caveat “it’s still beta so this could all change”), I have concluded that things have not changed much overall. Many talents have been rolled in to the class builds or removed, some new ones have been introduced. But we still don’t have enough choices in my opinion. I can safely pick up all of the talents I want and not be worried about those I am missing.

I am pretty sure Blizzard will be unable to truly follow through on building their talent trees to the point where there are “meaningful choices” between talents. Perhaps I have simply been playing the game for too long to have any issues with the choices I have and the decision is not difficult for me, but then we are back to the problem where inexperienced players will fall into the traps of choosing the poorer talents. This is not to say that I have made the correct choices per se, but I feel that these trees have talents that are, to me, obviously mandatory, especially within the primary tree for the spec.

It all starts out so beautifully…I have a choice between a 2-, 3-, or another 3-point talent on the first tier. They all sound okay! So far so good, I have to choose which ones I like best to put points into them! Filling up a 3-pointer and putting 2 into the other 3-pointer, I progress to the next tier. I figure I can fill that last point somewhere along the line. This process continues through the tree, and I can indeed go back and fill that last point because somewhere along the line there is a talent I don’t care for. In fact this happens a couple of times. In the end, I’ve put points into all of the talents I want and filled them, with enough points remaining to pick up some of the nice subspec talents in the other trees.

I feel that a number of other players will come to the same conclusions and repost their thoughts, find a great deal of agreement or at least go through a few tweaks. The result is approximately the same…the number of builds is limited. You might as well be along a set path when, at level 10, you click the button that says “Holy” or “Retribution”…where your spec is based on the spec you choose, instead of the talents therein.

So it comes down to, at least in some cases, having choice in your subspec. This is less true for hybrid classes. Choosing where to put my final 7 or so points as a mage is an interesting one, as they will all probably increase my damage in some way. But not so for my shaman…those last few points, with everything I want from Enhancement, are going into Elemental, to further increase my damage. If what Blizzard has said about personal accountability thus far for surviving through fights (and limits on the mana of healers) is true, then maybe I will toss them into Resto instead…but based on current themes, it’s not going to happen. (As an aside, Blizzard has also stated that they want hybrid classes to be more specialized and focused, so seeing an Enhancement shaman with worthwhile healing ability would seem unlikely.)

Time will tell.

Warcraft: Blizzard Twitter Q&A



They answered one of my eight questions.

Q. If every specialization is intended to take their 31-point talent, why is it not baseline at the level you could acquire it?
A. Those talents are a good “brass ring” to work towards. They often change your character pretty dramatically when you get them, so it’s a fun moment. There is definitely an interesting philosophical discussion about talent trees and how many talents should be mandatory vs. optional. Some players would like a model where everything is on equal footing with everything else. Others want to make sure there are some safe decisions so that they don’t have to do tons of theory-crafting research every time they talent their character. We are trying to shoot for something in the middle where we have some expectation for how a particular spec will play (for example, we don’t want to have to develop and support the non-Chaos Bolt Destruction rotation) but players can still decide if say Blitz is something their Arms warrior will use or not.

Warcraft: Talent Trees, Part 2


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.

Warcraft: Talent Trees, Part 1


As posted here, the talent trees will not just be overhauled, but the system they’ve been using for 6 years now will be changing quite a bit.

To summarize:

1) The trees are being “reverted” back to 31-point trees, approximating the number of points in each tree in the 2004 version of the game when the max level was 60
2) At level 10, you will choose a tree to place a point into, and then be locked into that tree until 31 points are placed, at which time you may put points in whatever tree you like
3) The masteries system Blizzard unveiled is still there, but you get all of the benefits of your tree from the beginning, rather than each talent point scaling up your mastery bonus
4) When you put your first point into the tree, you will receive access to an ability iconic to that tree
5) In preparation, each talent tree is being drastically slimmed down, with a lot of talents being removed entirely (Blizzard referred to the process as basically removing the boring and pointless talents)
6) Blizzard claims to be keeping each talent to a 3-point maximum, so there will be a mix of 1-, 2-, and 3-point talents
7) No longer will characters receive a talent point every level, in order to keep the maximum number of talent points at 41; instead, they hope to alternate talent points and new abilities from trainers with each level

One of the promised changes with Cataclysm was the talent tree overhauls. Every tree was to be thinned, with more “extra” points available so that people would be free to put points where they see fit. Instead of 58-60 mandatory points and 1-3 “slush” points for each build, they hoped to allow us builds with only 52 or so mandatories with greater freedom in slush points. They admitted that there were too many points that were boring and still talents that just about no one put any points in due to the limitations in which those points would yield positive results.

This is all good. What is the point in allowing choice when many, upon researching their builds at fansites, will wind up with nearly the same exact build as many others have chosen? It is tantamount to there being no talents at all, where you would choose your specialization and that was all the choice you received; all of the nitty-gritties of the build were then applied automatically. Essentially, who wants to put points into talents that will not allow you to perform as well as others, those who chose the “right” talents? The difference came down to knowing which talents were the right ones, and if you didn’t know then you were labelled a bad player. (That’s not to say that having the right talent build gives you all the tools you need to play well, but it certainly helps.)

The problem, if you want to call it that, is the community. The community numbers in the millions, with thousands of sites devoted to relaying news and offering forums for what has been colloquially referred to as “theorycrafting”…building up a knowledgebase, applying mathematics and testing various methods for doings the most damage, or surviving the most hits. It is from this theorycrafting that the “right” talent choices are formed, as testing these choices will provide the greatest throughput for your gaming experience. When downing bosses is serious business, you can’t afford to make the wrong choices.

Before the community really took hold of this concept, players found more freedom in choosing their talent builds. These choices were built largely upon what an individual player felt made them excel in a solo play environment; most of the content at what is called the “end game” (where you reach max level) is devoted to groups in dungeons, where most of the enemies your characters will fight are too difficult to take alone. That said, often, similar choices were made among players. Most chose the talents that granted them new abilities, but it was the talents that improved other abilities that had questionable efficiency. Deciding between hitting 100% harder with some attacks 25% of the time and hitting 5% harder with all attacks all the time is a little difficult at a glance. Obviously, it would be awesome to put points into both, but the number of talent points is not infinite, and there were a lot of talents like this, and still others with more questionable benefits. (Do I want to cast my spells faster (resulting in more damage over time) or do I want my character to run faster, getting out of the way of inevitable threats to continue doing damage without taking damage at the same time?)

When a larger portion of the playerbase reached the highest level, the end game dungeons garnered more attention. At the time there was very little else to do to further progress your character. The game’s developers had placed the max-level content in these dungeons, and to get through them you had to participate in groups. Certain boss encounters required a level of competency from everyone in the group; many players wanted to do better, in order to complete content faster or at least with less stress (no one likes running back into the dungeon from the graveyard after dying, and so blame would be meted out). And so, the process began…they started to talk, bringing ideas together through the internet. There weren’t many ways to test ideas at the time, but you could still reach some consensus with simple math.

At any rate, this spiraled into what we have today: people eventually concluded that certain talents were not worth taking and instead others were. We have nowadays those who make the right choices (by choosing the same things that everyone else does), or those who make the wrong choices (by choosing the talents they like or have served them well in some aspect in the past). Granted, there are some variations based on playstyle…players who participate heavily in the Player vs. Player content will take talents which provide greater survivability or utility at the expense of some damage or healing output, for instance. However, even those PvP builds will be set and copied by others; utility may be difficult to quantify, but people will still look to peers for advice, and you end up seeing the same builds in use by many, many players.

As an example of this in practice, check out wowpopular.com. This website queries the armory for the “best” players; it checks to see who’s completed the highest end-game content (or who has the highest Arena rating, for PvP) and makes a note of their build, tallies it, and then displays the most popular builds based on that data. You can go to this site, copy the talent choices, and be pretty sure that you’re running a solid build without knowing anything about it (this lends credence to the idea that a talent build is not the summation of a player’s ability, again, since you don’t even need to know what the buttons do…but that’s another argument).

Anyway, that’s a bit of a rambling background on the subject of talent builds: if you’re playing class A at the current max level of 80, despite having 71 talent points to spend, you really only have 3 choices for how to spend them. If you’re not using one of those, you’re “doing it wrong.” Next I’ll talk more about what Blizzard is trying to do to fix this situation and my thoughts on whether or not it will work.