Bringing Choice To Talent Specs

As far as Cataclysm beta test goes, talents seem to be the most discussed aspect of it. What works and what doesn’t, design philosophies, utility vs pve vs pvp talents etc etc. Arguably the most important thing about the whole talent system redesign is whether Blizzard will achieve its goal of making talents that aren’t taken by 0 or 100% of players and making talent trees that don’t follow a clear Cookie Cutter template. I’d very much like to see talent specs that are diverse, where talent choices aren’t obvious, where talents are more than just “do” or “don’t”. In that regard I’d like to present a few ideas on how to make talents that would diversify each individual spec.

One of the most creative talent choices so far in Cataclysm

One of the most obvious ways to make different players of comparable skill level choose different talents would to be to introduce talents that don’t necessarily improve abilities, only alter them in some way that may or may not be beneficial. For example, on 4th tier of priest shadow tree there would be a talent called Rapid Flay.

Rapid Flay – Reduces the channel time, mana cost and damage of Mind Flay by 16/33/50%.

Because Mind Flay would do the same damage per second irregardless of how many points you have invested into Rapid Flay, this can not be viewed as a mandatory talent. However it does pose a choice between the slower but more reliable Mind Flay or the Faster Mind Flay that can potentially fit better into the rotation (or priority system, as the case may be). If the player is confident he can keep up with the 1.5s channel time, that his reflexes or latency won’t bog him down then he could invest all 3 points. If the player feels that having to recast Mind Flay twice as rarely is a more reliable way to deal damage or if his haste would put Mind Flay below 1s cast time then he would take 2, 1 or none points.
However it’s important for a talent like this to be deep enough into the tree where it would not become a mandatory filler. The point is for players to have a choice in their play style and not be forced into the same thing.

Another way to vary up the talent trees of even the most dedicated min/maxers would be to introduce talents that are mutually exclusive – if you have chosen one talent, the other becomes unavailable to you. This could be done to abilities that affect the character as a whole. For example, a choice between 2 mobility talents.

Flash – Increases your speed by 100% for 5 seconds.
Dr. Manhattan – Instantly teleports you to a targeted location, 60yd range.

Both of these are utility talents that could help in movement-heavy fights in PvE and would be near-mandatory in PvP but you’d still have to make a choice. Would you rather be able to sprint farther faster or have the ability to continue casting with little interruption?  Because that is a very general example let me present something more specific which means returning to the shadow tree.

Mind Assault – Vampiric Touch causes your next Mind Blast to be instant cast.
Excoriate – Vampiric Touch causes your next Mind Flay spell to gain a 200% bonus from spell power.

This is a choice between an extra GCD (as Mind Blast is usually 1.5s cast) and extra damage. If numbers are balanced correctly (I’m just guesstimating here so they probably aren’t) this could actually be a choice in which players preference is the deciding factor – would you rather hit harder or more often? With high haste Vampiric Touch would need to be refreshed more often and scales might shift in favor of the many free GCDs provided by Mind Assault. But the higher your spell power the more potential Excoriate has. Choice here is determined not only by each individual players play style but also by their gear. And while that may cause players to respec once they reach certain stat numbers, it has a lot of potential to set 2 players of the same spec apart – as an example, currently there are shadow priests who take Improved Mind Blast and those who don’t. Those who do believe that keeping Mind Blast in rotation is preferable, those who don’t prefer spamming Mind Flay hasted by T10 4 piece bonus – gear influences talent choices. It’s these type of choices that need to be seen more often in talent trees.

The basic idea behind talents is that they improve your abilities and performance. And if they improve your abilities and performance why shouldn’t you take them, right? Well if certain talents had not only benefits but also drawbacks the obvious choice wouldn’t be so clear cut anymore.

Enraged Companion – Your Shadowfiend/Water Elemental/Spirit Wolves do X% damage but have 1 health, (X being the number where the added damage would mean a sizable boost to overall DPS).

Again, this talent presents the player with a choice – do I take the damage increase but make my pets fragile to any environmental damage or do I pass on the talent and take the safe route? No theorycrafting will provide you with a clear answer, it would all depend on any individual player.

The last suggestion I have to make talent choices matter and force people to do more than just take every talent that improves performance (without doing the mutually exclusive talent thing), is to make pairs of talents that are good individually but pointless when taken together.

Shadow Swarm – When activated you draw power from nearby shadows. Your shadow spell damage is increased by 2/4/6% for every party/raid member within 10 yards, up to 30%. Lasts 15 seconds.
Shadow Meditation – When activated you are surrounded by a veil, allowing you to concentrate your power. Your shadow spell damage in increased by 10/20/30%, reduced by 4/8/12% for every party/raid member within 10 yards. Lasts 15 seconds.

Once you have invested points into one talent, taking points into the other provides only marginal benefit if any. For min/maxers the choice here would be between benefiting in fights where people have to group up (such as Marrowgar, Sindragosa) or benefiting in fights where you have to spread out (Blood Queen, Festergut). Furthermore this would greatly differentiate 2 players of the same spec – “That shadow priest is a Swarmer, I’ll put him in the melee group”. Adding graphic effects – like making people affected by Shadow Swarm go into shadowform or creating a transparent shadowy bubble around the caster when Shadow Meditation is activated – that would only make the mechanics and differences between different players more obvious.

In the end, talent trees can’t be built on the types of talents I have suggested above alone. At the core there need to be a solid few talents that are no-brainers and will be in virtually every PvE spec. It’s what this core is wrapped with that matters. Talents that may or may not benefit you or have equally viable alternatives are what differentiate between players, they are the difference between “5/0/34 and you have 2 spare points” and “3/0/21, you got 17 spare points but you have to choose between X or Y and Z or W and decide whether you want Q”. Now thats a deviation from the cookie-cutter spec mentality if I ever saw one.

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~ by Shale on August 11, 2010.

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