January 28 2012
It's hard to say whether Blizzard has ever been, or will ever be, happy with the Talent system in World of Warcraft, but it has been relentlessly reworked and reinvented since the game's launch. While there are many reasons behind these changes, and in many ways they are expected in a MMORPG, not everyone likes the outcome. Hold onto your hats, because the most sweeping changes we've seen yet will arrive with Mists of Pandaria, the upcoming expansion, and it has already provoked heated discussion in the WoW community.
The idea behind the Talent system is to give players a way to customize their character's abilities within their class. Without Talents, the abilities your character has would be practically identical to everyone else in your class at that level. Although there are several other ways to customize your character, the actual skill sets within a class would not vary much, if at all.
For all the apparent options presented in the current system, it largely boils down to 3 choices for each class. There was a time when it was possible to distribute your Talent points across your Talent trees any way you saw fit, which allowed for many more variations. More variations inevitably also means more balance issues and more ways to mess up your build. Right now you have 41 Talent points at the level cap, but 31 of those point must go into your main tree before any can be used in the other 2 trees. Players of the same specialization are going to spend those first 31 points in very similar ways, and the remaining 10 points aren't really enough to set you apart no matter how you use them.
So, despite the desire to give players more customization, most end up using an optimized "cookie cutter" build that they find on the web. It stands to reason that if one build is measurably better than another more players are going to opt for it. Therein lies the paradox: if the choices aren't perfectly equal in terms of their impact on gameplay, they aren't real choices because the "best" choice will become obvious, and if they are equal, the choice becomes largely inconsequential.
Mists of Pandaria will dispense with Talent trees altogether, and specializations will be incorporated into the spell system. Talents will no longer be tied to specializations, and you will be able to select 1 of 3 available Talents every 15 levels, for a total of 6 Talents at level 90. You will also only be allowed 1 Talent from each tier. A Talent Calculator that shows you the new system in detail is available on Battle.net.
6 of 18 may seem like a lot fewer choices than the current system offers, but as noted earlier, that depends a lot on the nature of the choices. Blizzard has stated that they want Talent choices to be driven more by playstyle preferences than by the build of the day, and this overhaul could be a step in that direction. Of course, there's always a chance certain Talent and builds prove to be optimal in the long run, and once again become widely adopted. At any rate, it should be easier to balance and maintain, as well as offering a more gentle learning curve for new players.