World of Warcraft Dev Explains Talent System Revamp

Back in October, during Blizzcon, Blizzard announced yet another overhaul in World of Warcraft's talent system coming in the next expansion Mists of Pandaria.  The new system rids players of the complex talent trees which players would invest talent points into various abilitities to improve their character.  The changes, which can be found here, now have hte player choosing one of three very different talents every 15 levels.  The decision behind the change was to get rid of "cookie cutter" builds.

In a blog posted today, WoW's lead systems designer Greg Street, aka Ghostcrawler, addressed the most common concerns and complaints about the drastic simplification of talents.  In the post Street explains the philosphy behind the talent system revamp to "provide a better framework" for player feedback.

Street first addressed player's main concern over lack of choice with talents.

"This is the big one, and the truth is it is ultimately correct. You will have fewer choices. But you will have more choices that *matter*." 

If you are interested in creating MMOs one day, I'd follow his advice very carefully. "One of the important philosophies of game design is that interesting choices are fun. The word ‘interesting’ is key."

"In the case of the old trees, choosing the talent you want from among the talents that don’t interest you isn’t an interesting decision — it's a multiple choice test, and an easy one at that. Are you Ret? You probably want the damage option. But what if the Ret player had to choose from three healing talents and couldn't sacrifice healing for damage? Now it gets interesting."

As for the argument that the past talent system didn't contain "cookie cutter" builds, Street had this to say:

"Look, we tried the talent tree model for seven years. We think it’s fundamentally flawed and unfixable. We know some of you have faith in us that someday we’ll eventually replace all of the boring +5% crit talents with interesting talents and give you 80 talent points that you can spend wherever, and that the game will still remain relatively balanced and fun. We greatly appreciate your faith, but we fear it is misplaced."

"It’s not a matter of coming up with enough fun mechanics, which is challenging but ultimately doable. The problem is the extreme number of combinations. When you have such a gigantic matrix, the chances of having unbeatable synergies, or combinations of talents that just don’t work together is really high. That’s not lazy design. That is recognizing how math works."

The ultimate goal with the change was to eliminate the bloating that came along with having 40-50 talents in a tree.  They want each talent to be meaningful, but when you have so many talents some become "inconsequential" before you actually get to the "fun stuff".

Despite less talents, Street did emphasize that there will be "some utility in the various specs", but admitted it will be "less" than what they have today.

"You should pick a spec because you like the rotation or the kit. Fire is about crit, Hot Streak, and Ignite. Frost is about Shatter combos and the Water Elemental. Arcane is about mana management and clearing Arcane Blast stacks."

He also defended Blizzard's decision to revamp the system once more, something which has frustrated many players.

"This is another tricky issue, because neither extreme (stagnation versus constant design churn) is appealing, and every individual player (and designer!) has a different definition of where those extremes lie.  We changed talent trees in Cataclysm to try and fix some of the underlying problems the talent design had since its inception."

While he acknowledged that the recent change "didn't fix the underlying problems", that he hopes "this new design solves them once and for all."

Whether or not this new talent system is successful or not remains to be seen.  Not even Street is 100% certain it is the right route for them to go. 

"That isn’t a promise to not change talents for 6.0, 7.0, and beyond. But we hope that an overhaul this drastic isn’t necessary again for a long time to come."

I'm sure the World of Warcraft players agree.  Street promised they were pushing for alpha as soon as possible so that players will give some more "concrete feedback" on the talents.