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: Cataclysm For Some


The Cataclysm expansion is bringing about some changes that will affect certain classes on a very basic level. Hunters, for instance, will no longer use mana as casters do; they will use focus, a mechanic similar to energy. Paladins are getting Holy Power (I will agree with Blessing of Kings and World of Matticus guest poster Rykga concerning the name, “Zeal” sounds much better and allows us not to use the abbreviation HP); I’m not sure how it’s fitting into the UI, but they’re similar to combo points on the caster. Druids will have a built-in Eclipse bar; as they cast Nature spells, they will move closer to a Lunar Eclipse, which will grant them bonus arcane damage, and vice-versa. The runes used by Death Knights will regenerate differently, and the class will only have one dedicated tanking tree (Blood). Warlocks’ soul shards will work similarly to DK runes, but will regenerate verrrrrry slowly on their own, and can be used to amplify certain abilities. Some of the other classes’ trees are being more refined in order to separate them from each other: the Fury tree for warriors is going to place a heavy emphasis on Enrage mechanics to differentiate it further from the Arms tree.

However, some classes are not receiving any of this extensive treatment. Mages, Shaman, and Priests especially do not really seem to have much in the way of new stuff to look forward to. There are some fun-looking talents for sure and they will all be enjoying the new masteries system, but will yet just be using mana to keep casting many of the same spells as before. Rogues, too, while their combo points, energy, and stealth are already quite unique (aside from cat-spec feral druids), will not be getting a lot of the same new-and-shininess bestowed unto other classes.

I don’t blame Blizzard for this in the least, and the changes are of course not yet final; we may see something new for all of those “left-behind” classes. I just hope that they are all just as fun to play as any other, in the end.

Warcraft: Glyphs are Boring, Part 2


I’ve often given thought to what I would do to change the glyph system that is in place. Rather, how I would change the glyphs themselves. Blizzard’s current idea is to add in another tier of glyphs between the current minor and major distinctions. These “medium” glyphs would be for abilities that are not used nearly as often but where glyphs would be appreciated. (As of July 16, the three types of glyphs will be Prime, Major, and Minor: Prime glyphs are the current Majors, Major glyphs will be the middle-range, and Minor remains the same.)

Again, a problem I have with the current glyph system is that you typically take the glyphs that increase the effectiveness of your ability rotation the most, and just use those. There’s no room for the utility glyphs that might keep you alive a little longer (unless you’re a tank, in which case there’s no room for the glyphs that increase your damage output), or the ones that are useful but only very situationally.

There are a bunch of glyphs as I’ve mentioned that are bland. They increase the damage of one ability by x%. What changes could be made to make them more interesting?

Adding a category of glyph between the higher and lower glyphs is a good start. It gives players freedom to use those situational glyphs and the ones they like over the ones that will increase their damage the most. However, the three Prime glyph spots are going to end up being the same three for each spec unless there are changes in store I’m not aware of. (Note that the last time I logged into the beta, it was mentioned that the glyphs were undergoing a lot of changes (and that some of them may simply not work)…so my hopes are up.)

My opinion: Blizzard should give the playerbase more flexibility. I understand the need for balance but surely there are some things they can do.

The ideas I’ve come up with are typically ways to fill holes in buffs/debuffs in a 10-man raid:

* Glyph of Plague Strike (or Glyph of Blood Plague) – Causes the disease to reduce attack power, like Demoralizing Shout, granting Death Knight tanks the ability to reduce the attack power of many mobs in the absence of a warrior or druid. Alternatively, causes the disease to reduce spell power. (Current: increases the damage dealt by the strike by 20%.)
* Glyph of Obliterate – Reduces the armor of the target by something like 2/3 of the amount a full stack of sunder armor for 15 seconds, but does not stack with sunder or expose armor from rogues. I’ve always felt that the name Obliterate was too cool to be applied to an ability that was just a simple weapon strike. (Current: increases the damage dealt by 20%)
* Glyph of Lightning Shield – Casting Lightning Shield causes a small-ish AoE around the caster. Alternatively, adds the damage to lightning spellcasts, consuming charges, enabling its use by elemental shaman. (Current: increases the damage dealt by 20%)
* Glyph of Frostfire Bolt – Casting Frostfire Bolt reduces the cast time of your next Fireball or Frostbolt by 20%, stacking up to 5 times. Mages haven’t been chain-casting the same one spell for the entire duration of a fight for some time, but this should spice things up for Frostfire mages anyway. (Current: increases the critical strike chance by 2% and the damage by 2%.)
* Glyph of Death Coil – Resets the cooldown on Demonic Teleport, Howl of Terror, Shadowflame, and Shadowfury. (Current: increases the duration by 0.5 seconds)

I admit, the above are just as similar to talents as they already are in-game. However, they would affect gameplay far more, in my opinion.

Another aspect to glyphs could be added efficiency, but with some drawback. This was implemented with a number of glyphs when Wrath of the Lich King shipped and granted them greater distinction from talents, but most (if not all) of the disadvantages on these glyphs were removed in later patches to encourage use.

Glyph of Death Coil (Warlock), for instance, could read something like: “Increases the duration of Death Coil by 5 seconds, but reduces your movement and casting speeds by 50% for 5 seconds as well.” Or, “Increases the healing you receive from your Death Coil ability by 300%, but removes the horror effect.” The second one would be great for PvE. The hindrances added to the first may be too severe…they are both just examples.

Another example could be a glyph for Hand of Freedom: “Increases the duration by 6 seconds, but does not remove existing movement-impairing effects when cast.” Or Glyph of Shield Slam: “Increases the damage dealt by 40%, but reduces chance to block by 20% for 6 seconds after casting.”

Another option for glyphs could be to change the system entirely; instead of class-specific ability-modifying glyphs, they could affect far more general attributes, as the (now-scrapped) Path of the Titans system was to do. The entire reason they scrapped the project was because it was too similar to the glyph system.

The Path of the Titans was a character enhancement system funneled down from the Archaeology secondary profession. You’d have like 10 slots, and each would be a minor boost to some aspect of your character. I do not remember a lot of the details, but individual slots had buffs such as “Reduces damage taken by 4%.” Each one had another effect as well, I believe with the intent of the player choosing one or the other.

Regrettably I do not think we will see significant changes to the glyph system. But 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: Glyphs are Boring, Part 1


Glyphs are character enhancements that might as well be synonymous to getting 10 or so more talent points. In fact, glyphs and talents in some respects have been interchanged, where Blizzard would decide to take the effects from one talent and attach it to a glyph and vice versa to keep both effects in the game, but essentially do nothing to our characters. I think this design is boring. Granted, it is a better system than simply giving us 10 more talent points, but I propose that it is still uninteresting for them to work in nearly the same fashion.

Additionally, much like the talent system, we end up with many, many players all taking the same glyphs for one spec. When it becomes obvious through testing that glyphs A, B, and C will get you the most mileage, why continue to offer the choice to the players? (There are some instances where personal preference can prevail over performance on this issue, but only as it does not fall too far behind in performance, and may be challenged by other players.) It is an awkward sort of game within WoW (again paralleling the talents) where if you do not know which talents to take, and/or you choose glyphs based on personal preference, you could easily end up with the “wrong” glyphs and perform less effectively than those who chose the “right” ones.

Blizzard representatives commented that some of the less effective talents that they’re removing are like “traps” for inexperienced players: they look appealing but are not worth the point expenditure, which a player would know if they looked into what other players have researched (or in rare cases researched themselves). The same thing can happen with glyphs.

In most cases you can mathematically prove which one is best, exactly like you can with talents. This, and the sharing of information which is the Internet, funnel many people to the sites that relate this information, resulting in players being allowed to make the “right” choice. I do not know that Blizzard expected the community to latch on to the game the way it has, but some fansites devote themselves entirely to the display and discussion of those results.

At any rate, glyphs are class-specific and modify one ability each in some way. For the most part, they increase the effectiveness by a percentage. A good example is the Glyph of Obliterate, for Death Knights – “Increases the damage dealt by Obliterate by 20%.” This text reads exactly like the talents that Blizzard is trying to remove – though in fairness, the talents they’re removing (as they’ve said) are for the most part the ones that increase all the damage your character would do by a percentage instead of those that offer increases to specific abilities.

It remains a balance issue. Blizzard can only handle balancing so much, and with as much interactivity as this game has between a character’s statistics, abilities, talents, and other enhancements, you can run into a lot of trouble with balance if you do not limit interactivity. A talent or glyph that benefits a certain specialization exactly as intended could affect another specialization in a drastically unintended way.

For instance, say Blizzard created a glyph for restoring mana to a melee-specialized paladin to ease resource management, allowing them to continue to use their abilities as is their desire as a game developer. Obviously it is no fun being unable to act as you are required because you have run dry the resource your class uses. However, healing-specialized paladins are required to manage their mana effectively in order to continue healing over time (I won’t get into why melee classes are allowed that over healing classes here). If this glyph is not limited, it could allow healing paladins to heal without limitation from their mana, which is an intended hindrance to healing. This would mean that other healing classes are less effective than paladins because the other classes would still have to manage their spell casting in order to not run out of mana. If Blizzard decides never to fix the problem they’ve created:

1) their previous and any further development of the three other healing classes (priests, druids, and shaman) is wasted time
2) giving paladins a resource at all and providing costs for spells is wasted time
3) people may stop playing the game altogether out of frustration (if they chose to level one of the three other healing classes), thus resulting in some lost money for the company

The list could go on. The point is, Blizzard is striving to achieve equality among the classes but at the same time instill diversity. The classes are different, but need to perform similarly well. Thus, you cannot have one that is obviously much more powerful than the others. (The argument could be made that paladin healers alone have enough built-in limitations that even infinite mana might not marginalize the other three classes as healers. This is one saving grace for Blizzard and the instilled diversity the game has.)

For those who haven’t played WoW, why are you still reading or for some historical nostalgia, the above example with paladin healing is almost exactly what did happen with the ability “Divine Plea” which restored mana over time. Initially, it would restore 25% of your mana over 8 seconds or so, but reduced your healing by 20% while it was active, intended for use by melee and tank paladins, or as an emergency ability for healers. However, the penalty was not enough, and paladin healers almost never ran out of mana because they could keep using this ability…20% less healing was not enough to stop them from using it whenever possible. So Blizzard increased the penalty to 50%…healers could still use it, but 50% healing is a pretty drastic hit compared to 20%…so the paladins had to make sure it was a good idea beforehand.

So what can Blizzard do to fix this? It doesn’t necessarily need fixing, obviously, as it is a fairly harmless system as-is. I just question the point of having a character enhancement system behaving very similarly to another one and would love to see something far more interesting take its place. I should note that Blizzard, just as with the talents, are changing the glyph system for Cataclysm. More on that next post.

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.