Monday, January 2, 2012

Talents In Depth? No Need.

No more of this it seems.
I sat down to do an "In Depth Analysis" of the new NEW NEW!! talent tree unveiled at Blizzcon for Shamans, and somewhere around 2000 words, I realized that there was just no need for anything like that.

I thought for a bit that it might be ennui causing me to think this way, but once I examined things further, boredom is definitely not a problem. In fact, I think Blizzard may have jumped forth and put together a masterstroke in shaking up the game. It is still somewhat flawed, but all this analysis the WoW community has traditionally put into talent analysis is at an end.

It occurred to me that chosing talents is about to become far less important than it used to be. I'm not sure about it yet, but talents may be less fun as well. They will certainly be something we think about a lot less than we do now.

Do you remember how there's somebody you know who didn't understand about talents the first few months they were playing WoW? (No one ever admits to actually doing this themselves). They complained about everything being so hard and taking so long to kill things. And then you would ask them what specc they chose and they'd go, "Huh? Specc what?" And once you explained it to them, they would have a much better time of things and kill stuff quickly.

The new talent system isn't going to do that. There are no inherent gains in this new system to the major three roles of tanking, healing or damage dealing, or anything else that will really make or break your ability to play your character for keeps.  I suspect that one would be able to ignore this new talent system and though you'd probably have less fun, you wouldn't really suffer very much in PvE.

And therein lies a catch:  It seems to me that new talent system will affect PvP infinitely more than it does PvE. And it troubles me that the developers seem to be in denial about this.
Not long ago, Ghostcrawler posted a blog suggesting talents were going to be exciting and important because you get to choose things like which kind of snare talent you get, y'know, for all those CC opportunities you get in a raid.

The comment section of the blog (rightfully, I think) exploded with accusations that he must not be playing the same game we are. CC is almost 100% absent from any PvE encounter in the game and GC should know that. Blizzard tried valiantly to make CC matter in PvE and it did for the first month and a half of the expansion. But given the amount of QQ that happened over "how hard!" the heroic dungeons were at first, I'm not convinced we'll see that again.

Ghostcrawler went on to say how there will be fewer choices, but that there will be more "choices that matter." I see where he is coming from: the talent choices each represent a fairly heavy ability. But will they "matter?"  I dunno. I don't see a lot more analysis on things besides, "Hey, That Repulsion Totem is pretty cool."  "Yeah, I like it better than the Earthgrab Totem and it rocks in BG."

This is what may be good about the talent system in some respect, but also what makes it less interesting overall to me:  one should be able to choose talents that they like and want with no bias thrown in for whatever the best raid build is At long last, we are free of the tyranny of math!

On the other hand, if the only criteria for choosing what talent to take is how much I like it, that's a slightly boring choice and one that's not really worth analysis.

Maybe I'm just being elitist and getting misty-eyed about theorycrafting but it seems like the game is losing depth here.  One of WoW's long-time strengths has been how it's reasonably easy to learn and comparatively difficult to master. That's the hallmark of a brilliant, long-lasting game.

On a personal level: my play time has been reduced to such an extent because of work. But still, sometimes at lunch, I can pull up some analysis articles and at least vicariously carry on my game. What am I supposed to read about how?  "Why Nature's Swiftness beats Elemental Mastery?" Bleah.

But still, I suppose that if only I could give a tinkus cuss about PvP I might be more excited about this.

On a totally tangential note: I read an article somewhere (seriously, I can't remember where. I just went back to a bunch of my favorite sites and couldn't find it) suggesting that the game industry needs to take a better look at how it develops games. Right now, they are trying to be everything to everybody all at once and this is resulting in poor product among even the best games.

Before I get this back to WoW, let me point at a few examples: One of the best PvP shooter games of all times was Unreal Tournament. It was startlingly well-balanced, challenging and that was because the people who made it didn't futz around with a long story in single-player mode. That wasn't the goal of what they were trying to build, so they just didn't even go there.

Valve released Half-Life 2 in an era when online PvP was becoming de rigeur. But did they futz up their product with a slapped on set of dynamics? Nope. They just took the same game engine and designed Team Fortress instead.

Halo, for all its greatness, spoiled all that, releasing its Story and PvP modes together. And though they did it quite successfully, they were the exception. Today we get release after release of games that throw all these dynamics together into the same package, and while many of them are pretty enjoyable and playable, none of them are as truly great as some of the separately-standing products preceding them.

I believe the problem is that game companies can develop and market their all-in-one games more effectively than if they were separated. But make no mistake: this is watering-down and debasing our games.

Word of Warcraft fits squarely in that description. If they spun off the PvP elements of WoW to a separate product, only a fraction of the current playerbase would go.  PvP was an afterthought for development in this game and pretty much every debasement of the PvE experience can be chalked up to the need for balancing the poor PvP experience. Meanwhile, developers constantly search for new ways to compel us to PvP. No, they are not forcing us into it, but I wish they would realize that no amount of incentive overcomes a player's active dislike of a particular style of play.

The way I see it, it's not that winning arenas and getting new gear isn't cool. It is. It's just playing against (or with) so many douchebags drains the life from my very soul. If I play PvE, I have a lot more control over the people I come in contact with. In PvP (where douchebags seem to congregate) it's impossible to do so. Just step inside a BG if you've forgotten what the experience of being cussed at and ridiculed by a hyperactive 12-year-old is like.

Blizzard, I know you really can't change this reality of what the PvP experience is like, but you need to stop urging me towards it, OK?

I reserve judgement on what the talent system is going to finally look like (until beta comes out, at least) but I have my worries.


  1. Quite a thoughtful piece. I'll withhold my opinions on the new Talent system till beta, then all bets are off, lol. Meanwhile back to Diablo 3 Beta for me!

  2. HaHa. Diablo 3 for me as well. I actually broke out the old IBM laptop & had a go at Diablo 2 the other day. Still fun collecting skulls & gems.