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Choices in Cataclysm trees

2010/07/21
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One of the stated design goals for Cataclysm is to give players more choice. I have seen posts on forums claiming that the 31 point talent trees present us with less choice, something extensively commented on by Ghostcrawler. While we may have fewer talent points to spend in fewer talents altogether, this means we have less options, which is not the same as having less choice.

Options versus choices

In the current trees there are simply bad talents. Sure, you can choose these, but doing so is a bad thing. Since you generally do not want bad things, this is not really a choice, just the illusion of choice. You have the option of picking them, but you should not. There is something to be said for filtering out good players by their talent spec, but on the other hand, the skills involved with this are not so much playing WoW, as using spreadsheets and reading forums. I can understand why Blizzard wants to move away from this.

For those of us who do not fall into the trap of bad talents, we might be left with a choice between “functional” talents (dps/healing) and utility talents. Again this is not really a choice, as you will always want the best spec for your role, so the one that does the most dps or provides the most healing. Tanks may be able to shift between threat and survivability, but that is it.

Choice in Cataclysm

In order for there to be real choice, not just options, there have to be multiple right answers. Not bad ones versus good ones, or optimal ones versus sub-optimal ones. In those cases one will always win out. There are two ways this might be achieved: either make it so there are truly multiple optimal solutions, or by ensuring there are is no optimal solution.

Creating multiple optimal solutions within one tree would be very difficult. Ghostcrawler has claimed that balancing this would be hard, and theorycrafters would always be able to find a single “best” spec, meaning it just boils down to there being one optimal solution, and thus no choice.

With a tree that contains no optimal solutions means there are fewer “functional” talents than required to fill out the tree. This is the design Blizzard is shooting for in Cataclysm. It is actually achieved by doing two things: having fewer than 31 possible talent points that make you stronger in your role, and forcing you to spend 31 talent points in one tree. This means that the functional talent points are a given, and grabbing half of two trees is out (fewer options), but it also mean that every optimal build has points remaining to be spent on utility talents. Talents you can choose to customize your playstyle preferences.

So if the question is do the Cataclysm trees give us choices to make while speccing, the answer is they should. But they do so not by giving us multiple optimal builds within a tree, but by making a limited optimal build that is required to be fleshed out with utility talents. These utility talents are the choices we can make. Or at least that is what the design seems to be.

Having fewer options is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as there are still enough choices. Real choices that allow us to personalize our characters. It will be difficult for the Dev team to get this right, but it is nice to see they are trying.

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