Are Dragonflight’s talent trees taking too much away from baseline class abilities?
In the simplest terms, the best thing about a talent system in a video game is the customization it allows you to apply to your character’s toolkit. Looking back at the old days of World of Warcraft, for example, Warriors could use talent choices to focus on using two weapons, or focus on tanking with a sword and shield, or build a solid generalist build with utility in PVP and PVE. I had several Warriors I played at the time — a Tauren I primarily used in PVP with a 31/20/0 Arms/Fury build, a Human I raided on who switched (often at a significant gold cost) between a 3/48/0 build for DPS using Improved Slam and a 31/5/15 tanking build that gave me access to Mortal Strike for fights on bosses who could heal.
But that last bit — the access to Mortal Strike one — shows you one of the problems of a talent system.
Can a Warrior live without Mortal Strike?
There are talents so good that the player feels compelled to take them — talents you feel like you have to have access to. And that means that a lot of talent builds become cookie cutters — a lot of Warriors went 31/5/15 or 31/20/0 or 31/0/20 to reach that 31 point Mortal Strike talent back in the old days. There simply wasn’t a lot of room for you to really customize your build because you had to be sure to get certain abilities — your raid would demand it.
This was hardly unique to Warriors then, and with the return of more complex talent trees in Dragonflight, the worry is that it won’t be unique now, either. So far we’ve seen talent previews for Druids, Death Knights, Priests, Hunters, and Rogues, and in many cases these new talent trees cause a lot of abilities these classes are used to having as baseline now presented as options in the talent trees. The upside is you get to make a choice. The downside is, you may not actually get to choose — if you want to do certain kinds of content you may have to pick certain abilities you once simply had for being a member of that class.
It should be stressed that this is by design. Blizzard themselves say in the various talent previews:
- “Doesn’t this all mean that I will use some of my points to re-buy some things that were baseline in Shadowlands?”
- For all the reasons mentioned above, making a huge swath of abilities open to player decision-making requires this. We hear this feedback as primarily a concern about having much less “stuff” than you had in Shadowlands. After starting with your basic class and spending 61 points in a tree, will you feel “pruned”? Openly, our goal is that you don’t. We’ll be watching for feedback on this. Our goal is for a Dragonflight character to feel like it has a similar amount of power and complexity—which can be hard to quantify—as a Shadowlands character. The main difference is you getting to choose which active buttons and passive bonuses make up that toolset, and potentially having combinations that were previously impossible.
What abilities define a class?
For a lot of players, this means that they’re losing something that is currently integral to their playstyle and they’ll need to spend talent points to get it back — and that some abilities will be impossible to get. For example, Misdirection is now a rank 4 talent on the Hunter class tree — deep enough that you’ll have to invest a little to snap it up, but not so deep that it’s prohibitively expensive. To a degree, that’s the cost of a in depth talent system. If you want to have a system that provides meaningful choices, you have to have a system where choices are meaningful — where you might end up with a build that’s less effective for what you want to do.
Now, I think Misdirection is going to be almost a must have — almost any Hunter interested in five player content is going to pick it. It’s fairly low on the Hunter class talent tree and in five player situations where you are likely to be the only Hunter on a run, it will likely be vital for pulls to help establish threat on a tank. But for raids, especially raids with more than one Hunter, it might well be bypassed by some.
As another example, Serpent Sting is currently available to all Hunters, but in Dragonflight it will be a row 8 Class talent. That’s a fairly deep investment, and it’s one I’m pretty sure some Hunters will feel isn’t worth it. For me that’s kind of sad, as it’s one of my favorite abilities on my Hunter. I can understand why some players wouldn’t enjoy having to make that choice.
Customization means choices — and choices sometimes hurt
Not all the classes have previews out yet, so it’s hard to judge the state of all classes and how many are losing base abilities that will feel very odd to choice not to have or which will be so integral to how people play those classes that they’ll feel forced to take them or be hobbled. It should be pointed out that picking a specialization means that certain abilities native to that specialization are given to you simply for choosing it — there are abilities that are no longer baseline to the entire class but which are baseline to individual specs, for example. For example, Kill Command is automatically granted to Beast Mastery and Survival Hunters while Kill Shot is an automatic Marksmanship ability, rewarded simply for choosing that spec.
Ultimately, it’s still a bit early to panic. There will be 31 points available at level 70 for your class talents and 30 points for your spec, which limits a bit of the cross-speccing Mortal Strike issues, so hopefully you’ll be able to pick up things you find necessary without too painful of an investment. But it is fair to look at how many baseline abilities are being moved into talent choices and ask if that feels right to us — should a Hunter just have Misdirection? I know that if they’d chosen to make Feign Death or Tame Pet a talent choice, then a lot of Hunters would be very rightly up in arms.
Put another way, I expect Mortal Strike and Colossus Smash to be talents and fairly high row ones. I don’t think they need to be baseline — but Charge absolutely does. That balancing act between what every character of a class should be able to do, and specific abilities granted through specialization choice and talent selection, needs to be carefully maintained.
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