[Cataclysm] It’s a mystery, it’s a mastery

It’s been awhile since WoW last borrowed any design elements from Warhammer Online.  But as the information flow ramps up, it now looks as though talent trees for Warcraft characters will  share more in common with their WAR counterparts when the next expansion hits.

The 21st century is where everything changes …

- Torchwood

One of the big Cataclysm changes is a redesign of all talent trees for all classes. More than that, this involves a new definition of what a talent tree is and how it works. Nothing radical (at least at a first glance) to old players, but hopefully the streamlining will make things easier for newbies.

The team intend to separate out existing talents into two types:

  • passive stat increasing abilities (ie. x% extra heal, x% extra crit, x% extra expertise)
  • active abilities which change how the class plays (ie. Piercing Howl, Mortal Strike, Shockwave — yes I’m using warrior abilities as examples)

Under the new regime, passive ability increases will automatically accrue to a character, depending on how many talent points they sink into that tree. Each talent point that you spend will buy you a new active talent to use. This is very similar to the Warhammer scheme (i.e. my Archmage gained more +healing for every point she sunk into the healing tree but the actual talents she bought gave her new spells as well).

So each talent tree will have three passively increasing attributes attached to it, called Masteries. Two of those attributes will be generic (e.g. +heal, +crit, +haste) and one will be solely associated with that talent tree.

wow.com summarises what we know about masteries, with some examples.

I’ve never been fond of talent trees, and this change seems like a great idea to me. It is more fun to spend talent points when each one gives something you can actually use. And also, anything which makes the intended purpose of different trees more obvious will be useful for pointing newer players in the right direction.

The main questions arising from the masteries notion is how they will be defined for trees which don’t actually have a well defined role at the moment. Death Knights can tank or dps in all three trees, for example. Rogues have three different varieties of dps.

Blizzard have commented on the Death Knight issue that they have something in mind, but aren’t yet ready to share it. Whatever happens, the other tanking classes are watching with interest. Blizzard promised that in Cataclysm, an Arms warrior (or Retadin, presumably) could pick up a shield and tank an instance and they’d like to see some system support for that.

Other questions are going to be whether the tree mastery is going to quash experimentation, and how hard it will be to balance (especially for classes with three dps trees.)

For example (back to warriors), the defining trait of Fury is that it involves dual wielding, but I remember people experimenting (with some success) in TBC with two-handed Fury builds. If Fury gets a tree mastery of something related to dual wield (e.g. +offhand damage) then new players are shown very clearly what the tree is intended to do. But at the cost of penalising people who want to experiment with something else.

An interesting side note to the masteries design is that Blizzard will end up defining exactly how they see each talent tree. What is the core of it? What is it’s main purpose? Whilst this is probably obvious to more experienced players, it’s very easy for a newbie to look at a talent tree (especially for one of the pure dps classes) and think ‘huh’?

I’m not overly excited, I think warrior masteries will be very predictable, but I like the design and will be interested to see how it works out.