[Cataclysm] Specialise or die

Blizzard have spoken before about plans for the classes and talent trees in Cataclysm, but now with a new beta patch, we have some actual talent trees to study.

So the way this will work is that at level 10, you will pick one of your class talent trees in which to specialise. The other two will be locked out to you until you have either spent 31 talent points in your primary tree or bought dual spec. When you pick your primary talent tree, you will also get some extra abilities which are associated with that tree.

For example, Protection Warriors get Shield Slam, Vitality (improved stamina) and Vengeance (the stacking damage ability which is common to all tank specs). That means that no non-Protection warriors can ever have Shield Slam, as opposed to now where it’s a baseline skill. Similarly, only Fury warriors can dual wield and only Arms warriors get 2H weapon specialization. So if you want to dps as a protection warrior, you’ll need to do it via sword and shield.

So none of this is finalised yet but I think it’s the clearest picture that we’ve had yet of where the devs plan to go. And it’s somewhere that, “An Arms warrior can throw on a shield and tank an instance,” has no place. It’s also somewhere that you’ll get some of the most iconic abilities for your talent tree as soon as you pick it, rather than at much much higher level.

That at least is a boon. But less so when it means the other specs lose a baseline ability to make it happen.

This mostly affects levelling. It has been fairly common up until now for players to level in a dps spec and still find themselves well able to tank/heal levelling instances. I remember healing a lot of instances while levelling my druid as feral, for example.

That may change. It’s difficult to know yet if there is still the intention to let players heal/tank as offspecs while levelling. But if not, expect longer waits on the LFG. Although many players who intend to play healers will happily accept slower levelling speeds in order to have their healing spec, far far more will decide to just learn to heal later on and go for the fast levelling instead.

And alternatively, there may also be plans to bring down the cost of dual spec (a long long overdue change) and make it available at a lower level.

[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.