Am I cynical? I do think so. I’m paranoid, too. Hey, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean there’re not REALLY out to get me, you know. And when they do… defenses in depth, and claymores on multiple clackers. Just saying. Nothing says “Hi!” quite like 50,000 ball bearings to the face.

Moving on, and pertinent to the cynical vibe… I gotta say, I think the timing of the following massive Blizzard announcement seems a little too convenient when it comes to wanting to get people off the Real ID topic and on to other things.

That cynical disclaimer being said, I’m going to go ahead and post this distraction, because as I’ve stated before… the new leveling game in Cataclysm really IS the one thing I’m most looking forward to, so announced sweeping changes to how we level, and what Talents and abilities we get when, and how, really will affect the whole experience for me.

Quoted from Zarhym (and when I get a chance, I’ll add a link, this is coming from my email… and if my wife ever does decide to tank this blog’s credibility, all she has to do is write up some complete crazy crackhead talk, email it to me and tell me it came from an official source. I’ll go “wow, that’s nuts” and then post it.).

When we first announced our design goals for class talent trees back at BlizzCon 2009, one of our major stated focuses was to remove some of the boring and “mandatory” passive talents. We mentioned that we wanted talent choices to feel more flavorful and fun, yet more meaningful at the same time. Recently, we had our fansites release information on work-in-progress talent tree previews for druids, priests, shaman, and rogues. From those previews and via alpha test feedback, a primary response we heard was that these trees didn’t incorporate the original design goals discussed at BlizzCon. This response echoes something we have been feeling internally for some time, namely that the talent tree system has not aged well since we first increased the level cap beyond level 60. In an upcoming beta build, we will unveil bold overhauls of all 30 talent trees.

Talent Tree Vision

One of the basic tenets of Blizzard game design is that of “concentrated coolness.” We’d rather have a simpler design with a lot of depth, than a complicated but shallow design. The goal for Cataclysm remains to remove a lot of the passive (or lame) talents, but we don’t think that’s possible with the current tree size. To resolve this, we’re reducing each tree to 31-point talents. With this reduction in tree size we need to make sure they’re being purchased along a similar leveling curve, and therefore will also be reducing the number of total talent points and the speed at which they’re awarded during the leveling process.

As a result, we can keep the unique talents in each tree, particularly those which provide new spells, abilities or mechanics. We’ll still have room for extra flavorful talents and room for player customization, but we can trim a great deal of fat from each tree. The idea isn’t to give players fewer choices, but to make those choices feel more meaningful. Your rotations won’t change and you won’t lose any cool talents. What will change are all of the filler talents you had to pick up to get to the next fun talent, as well as most talents that required 5 of your hard-earned points.

We are also taking a hard look at many of the mandatory PvP talents, such as spell pushback or mechanic duration reductions. While there will always be PvP vs. PvE builds, we’d like for the difference to be less extreme, so that players don’t feel like they necessarily need to spend their second talent specialization on a PvP build.

The Rise of Specialization

We want to focus the talent trees towards your chosen style of gameplay right away. That first point you spend in a tree should be very meaningful. If you choose Enhancement, we want you to feel like an Enhancement shaman right away, not thirty talent points later. When talent trees are unlocked at level 10, you will be asked to choose your specialization (e.g. whether you want to be an Arms, Fury or Protection warrior) before spending that first point. Making this choice comes with certain benefits, including whatever passive bonuses you need to be effective in that role, and a signature ability that used to be buried deeper in the talent trees. These abilities and bonuses are only available by specializing in a specific tree. Each tree awards its own unique active ability and passives when chosen. The passive bonuses range from flat percentage increases, like a 20% increase to Fire damage for Fire mages or spell range increases for casters, to more interesting passives such as the passive rage regeneration of the former Anger Management talent for Arms warriors, Dual-Wield Specialization for Fury warriors and Combat rogues, or the ability to dual-wield itself for Enhancement shaman.

The initial talent tree selection unlocks active abilities that are core to the chosen role. Our goal is to choose abilities that let the specializations come into their own much earlier than was possible when a specialization-defining talent had to be buried deep enough that other talent trees couldn’t access them. For example, having Lava Lash and Dual-Wield right away lets an Enhancement shaman feel like an Enhancement shaman. Other role-defining examples of abilities players can now get for free at level 10 include Mortal Strike, Bloodthirst, Shield Slam, Mutilate, Shadow Step, Thunderstorm, Earth Shield, Water Elemental, and Penance.

Getting Down to the Grit

Talent trees will have around 20 unique talents instead of today’s (roughly) 30 talents, and aesthetically will look a bit more like the original World of Warcraft talent trees. The 31-point talents will generally be the same as the 51-point talents we already had planned for Cataclysm. A lot of the boring or extremely specialized talents have been removed, but we don’t want to remove anything that’s going to affect spell/ability rotations. We want to keep overall damage, healing, and survivability roughly the same while providing a lot of the passive bonuses for free based on your specialization choice.

While leveling, you will get 1 talent point about every 2 levels (41 points total at level 85). Our goal is to alternate between gaining a new class spell or ability and gaining a talent point with each level. As another significant change, you will not be able to put points into a different talent tree until you have dedicated 31 talent points to your primary specialization. While leveling, this will be possible at 70. Picking a talent specialization should feel important. To that end, we want to make sure new players understand the significance of reaching the bottom of their specialization tree before gaining the option of spending points in the other trees. We intend to make sure dual-specialization and re-talenting function exactly as they do today so players do not feel locked into their specialization choice.

A True Mastery

The original passive Mastery bonuses players were to receive according to how they spent points in each tree are being replaced by the automatic passive bonuses earned when a tree specialization is chosen. These passives are flat percentages and we no longer intend for them to scale with the number of talent points spent. The Mastery bonus that was unique to each tree will now be derived from the Mastery stat, found on high-level items, and Mastery will be a passive skill learned from class trainers around level 75. In most cases, the Mastery stats will be the same as the tree-unique bonuses we announced earlier this year. These stats can be improved by stacking Mastery Rating found on high-level items.

To Recap

When players reach level 10, they are presented with basic information on the three specializations within their class and are asked to choose one. Then they spend their talent point. The other trees darken and are unavailable until 31 points are spent in the chosen tree. The character is awarded an active ability, and one or more passive bonuses unique to the tree they’ve chosen. As they gain levels, they’ll alternate between receiving a talent point and gaining new skills. They’ll have a 31-point tree to work down, with each talent being more integral and exciting than they have been in the past. Once they spend their 31′st point in the final talent (at level 70), the other trees open up and become available to allocate points into from then on. As characters move into the level 78+ areas in Cataclysm, they’ll begin seeing items with a new stat, Mastery. Once they learn the Mastery skill from their class trainer they’ll receive bonuses from the stat based on the tree they’ve specialized in.

We understand that these are significant changes and we still have details to solidify. We feel, however, that these changes better fulfill our original class design goals for Cataclysm, and we’re confident that they will make for a better gameplay experience. Your constructive feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

Wow. Umm, okay.

First thing of note, all this is coming in a future Beta build.

So, a quick and dirty “I’m tired, bottom line it for me” breakdown.

When we make our new characters, at level 10 we’ll have to pick a specialization up front. Like, for Druids, before we ever spend our first Talent point, we’ll have to check a box choosing either Balance, Feral or Resto. When we choose our spec, we immediately unlock a set of core abilities and spells directly related to that one spec. We then get to spend our first Talent point in our chosen Spec’s Talent Tree, and we will continue to spend our points exclusively in that one tree as we level, until we hit level 70 and 31 points in the tree. After level 70, we can place points in other trees if we choose.

It’s stated that we’ll get a new Talent point every other level, and the levels we do not get a Talent point will be the ones we get new spells or abilities, so that every level gained feels like an improvement. However, what is not clear is, will we then get Talent points on even levels, and new skills/abilities on odd levels, or vice versa, or an occasional mix or what have you.

Then there’s all that Mastery stuff way up near the top at 75.

Hmm.

Well, sure, it all sounds great, but it also sounds like a very dramatic overhaul, coming as it does with non of it implemented in the Beta yet.

My gut opinion of this is, if they are planning on doing this, I wholeheartedly support the intent, I think it sounds like an outstanding system. My only concern is how extensive the changes will have to be, and how much work Blizzard is taking on. It’s going to be damn hard, guru level insanity, to not only make these changes in a timely fashion, but have them achieve their stated goals, be balanced in implementation across the classes, and feel highly polished and finished when released.

I’ll be hoping everything comes together.

31 Responses to “And now for something WTF?!?!”
  1. Brewa says:

    Please ignore the man behind the curtain, hey, look at these shiny changes that we may implement in beta Soon(tm).

  2. Ming says:

    I think it’s silly to assume that this is being released just to divert attention from the RealID issue. Yes, they probably find the coincidence convenient, but really if you remember the class previews and class Q&As and Cataclysm feature previews they’ve done in the past, making an announcement like this takes a lot of time and double-checking and translating to finally get around to posting.

    On the changes itself, they sound really awesome. Most people’s problem seem to stem from the fact that you have to go 31-pts deep into a tree before you can put points in other trees, but because they’re going with the early specialization option, they have to enforce it. Consider if they didn’t do this, and there was a Druid that get the benefits for “specializing” in Feral and then immediately went and started the talents in Resto.

  3. Kaethir says:

    My eyes popped out of my head when I saw 31-point trees, but really that’s not a big deal.

    I dislike being FORCED to reach the bottom level of a tree before taking anything in another tree. Especially as a Druid, that feel against the flavor of my class, as it means being less adaptable than I am already forced to be.

    I’m also leery of them being able to balance this huge change this late in the expansion’s development, as you state.

    Even given all that, I’m cautiously optimistic about the changes.

  4. Analogue says:

    I do really like getting a “signature” ability at 10 as long as it’s a cool one… but no weird specs? That makes me sad.

  5. Christian K says:

    /Cast Misdirection

    :)

    Real ID now required for Talent Trees!

    Now talent trees have an exciting new feature. REAL NAMES with Real ID!! You will OPT-IN by accepting a new TOS and warning page before you spend your first talent point. We realize this will upset some members of our community but remember talent tress are an optional part of the game.

  6. arrowrest says:

    Overall, I have to agree with Kaethir on this one. This is a major, major change to how class talents and choosing your specialization compared to previous versions of the game. Considering how open the developers were previously with talents and dual specs, this seems like a reversal to their previous class design philosophy.

    If the game is to continue with future expansions and additional levels, this is probably the way to go in order to avoid over-bloating the talent trees which is a good thing in my opinion.

    However, I’m very nervous about seeing this just being announced during the beta testing. You would think major, structural changes like this would have been developed, thought over, internal tested and already in the beta since it’s so central to how we’ll play our characters.

  7. bigbearbutt says:

    Don’t worry about it, Ming, I’m sure nobody, myself included, REALLY thinks it was a conspiracy to time things this way. On the other hand, I pride myself on my sarcasm. I couldn’t be me without saying SOMETHING about it.

    Don’t worry, I ain’t a card carrying member of the tinfoil hat brigade just yet.

    Although, I did hear that Lady GaGa is really a space alien, and that all of her songs and videos have subtly embedded subliminal messages subverting our will to obey our masters in the Bavarian Illuminati, and that Adam Weishaupt is secretly writing the lyrics to her songs from a teletype signal transmitted from his cryostasis coffin.

    I heard it from this guy I met in a bar, whose best friend is the janitor at the facility Weishaupt is stored, so you know it’s true!

  8. Ming says:

    Sorry BBB, I guess my sarcasm-o-meter broke a little. : (

    To give a confession that is probably not necessary, what really torks me in discussions is not people having different opinions, but rather when their facts or reasons are wrong. Like, for example, everyone knows that Lady GaGa is not a space alien, but is in fact the female reincarnation of Adam Weishaupt, which explains the connection to the Illuminati. I mean, come on, get your facts right!

  9. Neil says:

    Cleverly-timed distraction, no doubt about it. Not that it’s working on me. RealId on forums is a terrible idea, no matter what they do with talent trees. Moving right along, though …

    This looks really great, though. I’d rather get one Interesting Talent Point every two levels than one Meh Talent Point every level.

    I also really, really dislike the existing problem of “[spec] is no fun until level 40, then it’s awesome”. Obviously, a class should get better as it levels up, but classes like Retribution Paladins, Enhancement Shamans, Assassination Rogues, or Shadow Priests are just painful to play before they receive their tree-defining talents. I wouldn’t mind a weak-hitting Crusader Strike at level 10 as long as I have something to push while waiting on autoattacks. This system looks like it’ll resolve that issue. And that makes me happy.

  10. Calsong says:

    Does anyone else predict Cata is a little longer off than we expected? Blizzard has a history of waiting until they can do it right to do it, but I’m getting a little anxious for new content.

  11. Thromean says:

    I was wondering how they would reward leveling in the new model of design. If you recall they said that they were going to do away with spell ranks, and for a lot of levels that was all you went back to trainer for: updates to spells you learned 20 levels ago. So if they didn’t mix talent points in with new skills/spells, there would have been large blank areas where your only tangible reward for leveling would have been the bright swirly graphic and some slightly higher numbers on your damage spells.

    If they get rid of a lot of the {increases effectiveness of xxx spell}, then maybe the talent trees will be much more interesting. Still not sure about locking us into 31 points before the other trees open up though. Everyone having a 31/x/x build or some 31 point iteration will only be fun if we have some interesting choices to decide between in the tree. Using the now obsolete Cataclysm talent calculator for my dk tank, i had anywhere between 58 and 63 points in the blood tree depending on what i was trying to do. Lots of choices and it made for a bit of fun seat of the pants theorycrafting. (If anything i can do is called theory crafting, is there WAG crafting?)

  12. Maritime says:

    Back during BC I started to level a dranei enhancement shaman, but stalled out before 20 because it just didn’t feel like a melee class. I really look forward to giving the shaman another go when this change is rolled out.

  13. kattrinsaa says:

    Mentally switching into hunter mode, I wish that pets got more talents and when they hit 31 pet talents in their main spec could start putting things into one of the other two pet type specs..

    but all I can think of in boomkin mode is WTF? I can’t get Omen of Clarity till way after lvl 70?
    my usual boomkin build goes to OOC in resto early to help with mana issues till I can respec at the appropriate time to snare moonkin form, then i build resto back up and then finish off balance tree..

    (for you non-druids, OOC causes occasional clearcasting = next non-autoattack free of mana/focus/energy/rage/whatever resource you are using) which really helps out early on before you get your resource regenerating abilities in.

  14. Minos says:

    I’m waiting anxiously to find out about the effect of this on the feral tree. Will fewer talents overall mean fewer differences between bear and cat specs? Which sort of abilities will it give you when you announce your feral intent at level 10? Maybe the forms themselves? That’d mean no kitty Dash for Trees and Boomkin, and I’d miss the bear form quest.

    Actually, I don’t remember hearing anything about it, but they’ve just about got to make one feral form or the other a level 1 ability. The current paradigm of levelling one way for 10-20 levels until you get a completely different playstyle is too much like the petless lowbie hunters they’re doing away with.

  15. Mama Druid says:

    I’ve played many games where a model like this was used, and it makes a lot of sense. From the perspective of creating a new character, they’ll actually feel like they are playing the specialization they chose at level 10. This is a huge improvement. I’m beginning to suspect that I may not be touching my 80 after Cata for awhile. I’ll be having too much fun playing a whole new set of characters!

  16. Kav says:

    I’m excited. It’s another change basically creating another game for me. I thrive on knowledge and learning a game like WoW over again intrigues me. It makes it seem new again. Researching my DK and Bear is as much fun as playing them. What, you thought I worked at my job? Ha. =)

  17. Dechion says:

    Apparently I am wearing my tinfoil hat today, or perhaps I am just cynical as all hell.

    I would expect that coming out with something even close to this ground breaking there would have been a bit more info/pictures/slideshows etc. I think that this was something they were planning to announce in the near future and it was rushed to put up a smokescreen for the Real (bad) ID(ea).

    There really should have been a bit more polish than “we plan to do this at some point in the Beta” if it was more thought out.

  18. Catsclaw says:

    I would think that they would have to make the +hit talents that exist in most DPS classes in one of the trees, passive to all of the trees or remove hit from the game. As it is, many classes spend points in other trees to get the +Hit they need while leveling. If this is not made passive or put in all the trees then for leveling there will be one tree everyone uses. Although in most classes there already is. There will have to be major changes to make leveling as any of the 3 trees equal to the others. As it is, most classes have one tree which dominates for leveling. How many druids are seriously going to level as Resto? For that matter, any healing class. You don’t level as a healer, unless you like long slow fights, you spec for DPS for leveling. Just my thoughts

  19. Sarabian says:

    That sounds like awesomesauce to me. I like being more effective in your role at the earlier levels. I think there will be kinks to iron out, but in all I eagerly look forward to this new talent style.

  20. Neil says:

    Katt – I have a hunch (or at least a strong hope) they’re going to make sure Moonkin have enough mana while leveling. For example, there’s a new ability called “Lunar Justice” or some such that returns 2% of your mana for each kill, or something like that.

    It’s important to keep in mind that they’re not implementing a new game system with the current game’s numbers. They’re implementing a whole new set of numbers with the new system! For all we know, moonkin will have their talents and coefficients re-balanced to provide more mana than they know what to do with while leveling.

  21. Corwyn says:

    Blizzard needs to come to grips with the fact that fun and interesting talent trees are not determined by their depth, number of points, etc. Fun and interesting talent trees come from having fun and interesting talents. I use Hawk Eye as an example. This is a talent which has a marked effect on gameplay, does not do any demonstrable damage, and yet, every hunter wants to take it, and very few actually do. This is a talent I want in my tree. Preferably 50 or so with the same feel. If Blizzard’s designer aren’t capable of coming up with fun and interesting talents (which sadly the former cataclysm talents seemed to indicate), then it doesn’t matter how many times they rearrange the cushions.

    I hope they are taking this opportunity to throw out ALL current talents. Start with a fresh slate, when they have 50 or so talents in each and every tree, they can start adding back the few best talents from the old trees. Brainstorming would do them good I think.

  22. niceas says:

    Hello BBB.

    I suspect that there will be some problems related to the implementation of the new (proposed) talent system, however I don’t feel that it will be a total write-off.

    On a related note, I really, really hope that this REALID thing turns into a public relations nightmare for them.

  23. Thom says:

    Luckily, my multiple personalities can help me be both angry and excited about two completely different things. TAKE THAT, BLIZZARD!

    Seriously though, I do like the direction they seem to be going to with these talent trees. We’ll see how it looks as they get closer to implementing it. Shiney new, I MEAN NO, MUST FOCUS ON REAL ID. But there are only 31 talent points … think of the .. NO, NO! NOOO!

    OK, maybe that doesn’t work as well as I thought.

    Oh, and Bear, totally agree that about implementation. If they do this well, it could be really fricking awesome.

    I’m still never posting on the forums if the RealID change goes through. :)

  24. Does this mean we will ALL be basically stuck getting all PvE AND PvP talents?

    I like the fact that we can currently pick & choose what’s important to us, and what isn’t. Being “stuck on rails” until we get 31 talent opints in seems annoying.

    Oh, RealID = Devil

  25. Melpo says:

    A lot of talk has been made of the 31 points before you can move to another tree, but I don’t feel that there will be only 31 points available in each tree. I think that we will see the trees with something like 40-45 points available in each, maybe 4-5 tiers deep (looks like most right now are 74+ points with 10 tiers). While I agree that some of the talents from other trees were nice to mess around with while leveling, I think that those talents will no longer be available.

    For example, I think about priest talents. I’m leveling my priest as holy, but my first three points were dropped in Spirit tap, a mana regenerating talent. While it’s not a straight increase to mana regen (requires a kill to activate), I have always felt it to be pretty bland. I do agree that losing some abilities like Omen of Clarity will be a bummer, but hopefully, the changes fix the reasons why you would want to take those talents anyhow.

    It should be interesting what they do with this.

  26. Tesh says:

    “I dislike being FORCED to reach the bottom level of a tree before taking anything in another tree.”

    Seconding this. I probably won’t mind the pacing issues, but the way I play, I highly value flexibility. Being stuck in a single tree makes me unhappy.

  27. Tesh says:

    …though, on second thought, if they give me free respecs from any town like Guild Wars, I can live with it…

  28. For the Pie says:

    I have to agree with Dechion. It probably was rushed to get folks to focus on it.

    Sadly, it didn’t work on me, and my account is now canceled. Of course I pay 3 months at a time and I have until August 20 to play….

  29. Ceph says:

    Oh man, another stat? I thought an aim in Cata was to simplify stats? I think it will get horrible when we get to dual talent specs (if they still will exist). Let’s say the ele mastery skill is worthwhile maxxing mastery points, but the resto one is crap? that could potentially mean I have a bunch of high-mastery gear that sucks and need to re-gear.

    I can currently share a proportion of gear. I know that other classes have this worse, often much worse (looking at you druids), but I would have liked them to move towards consolidation, not division. Obviously there is a huge divide between physical and caster, but inside those two camps would be nice to keep things simpler.

  30. Paona says:

    Mmm, claymores.

    Fawning over explosives aside, something tells me they put this out right quick to takes some of the fire off of Real ID.

    Too bad, since y’know, I’ve lost all motivation to play WoW anymore.

  31. UTDewd says:

    @Ceph – the design is such that your mastery stat will ALWAYS be beneficial. Everyone gets one new stat, named Mastery, but it does 30 different things. It’s not like (for example) the Feral Mastery is going to be Agility. Ferals will stack Agi/Sta/Crit like before. Except now we’ll stack Mastery, too, just like everyone else.

    Instead of having to change a bunch of coefficients every time one class winds up OP because someone at Elitist Jerks thinks outside the box, they can tweak a single class’s single tree’s Mastery bonuses. Your Mastery bonuses will be tied to your primary tree and therefore designed to benefit your chosen spec’s role. If it’s not “good enough” they’ll probably just up the coefficient.

    This means that they remove a bunch of confusing or annoying stats (mp5/armor pen/etc) from items and just throw Mastery onto a bunch of high-end gear. Sure, it’s a bit of a cop-out from a design perspective but they can throw a ring at you, with, say, a single gem socket and +stamina/+mastery and *everyone* can use it. Tanks can gem for stamina/dodge/whatever. DPS can gem for strength or agility and the Casters can gem for int or spirit or whatever they want. One item that everyone can use.

    I’m really really looking forward to seeing what the new trees actually look like. I’m hoping that they’ll either make things like OOC a base ability for the class or something similar. I’m guessing a lot of talents will either be combined or made passive in the tree (or rolled into Mastery). And I’m betting that new players will find it’s much easier to learn the chosen spec, especially if, upon dinging level 10, the differences between the trees are made very obvious.

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