Cataclysm: A Second Look at Talent Trees

One of the major game play changes that arrived with the launch of Cataclysm was Blizzard’s decision to entirely revamp class talent trees. Blizzard’s reasoning behind doing so was that in prior expansions, such as The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, developers felt talent trees had too many boring options that simply buffed passive stats and bloated the trees. The theory behind altering the trees for Cataclysm was to remove uninteresting five-point talents and to make each talent point feel significant and exciting. In moving towards this goal, Blizzard restricted the existence of hybrid roles by forcing players to dedicate 31 of their 40 talent points to a specific tree before they could place points elsewhere. By limiting the presence of hybrids, Blizzard’s hope was to lessen the occurrence where players would select “over-powered” talents from each tree, which resulted in unbalanced circumstances for PvE and PvP.

Talent Tree in Cataclysm

However, was Blizzard accurate in their assumption that altering talent trees would create more unique and exciting game play? Some players condemn the change, claiming that it homogenizes the ways in which players can experience the game. Whereas in previous expansions players could pick and choose talents that fit their play style, resulting in distinct talent tree compositions, Cataclysm talent force players to spec a specific way because there’s clear distinction between which talents are and aren’t necessary. This resigns players into assigning their talents identically, which diminishes the feeling of having a unique identity and play style within the game. While Blizzard developer Greg Streets argues that “there are some legitimately hard choices for many of the specs. Usually these come in two varieties: which talent you want before you can advance to the next tier of the tree, or where you want to spend those remaining talents after you’ve hit the bottom of the tree,” this really only holds true for a handful of spec, and even then it’s only in relation to the remaining 9 points after reaching the bottom of a tree. A good example of this occurrence is retribution paladins. In Wrath of the Lich King, retribution paladins had to make a tough decision on whether to spec into Aura Mastery or Divine Guardian, since each talent had its respective benefits in certain encounters. However, the current standard retribution PvE spec is unarguably concrete, and any variation from it simply cripples the player.

While there are exceptions to this argument, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the removal of hybrids and the trimming of talent trees results in homogenized game play.  Yet, as it is with all changes it ultimately depends on the player base to decide whether or not homogenization is a step in the right direction for the evolution of World of Warcraft.