In Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard is planning on making sweeping changes to abilities, the talent system and how specs function. This includes an entire overhaul of the talent system, with the separation of specs and talents been centre stage. This will be much more impactful than the overhaul in Cataclysm, with Blizzard even dubbing it “Talents 2.0”. These sweeping changes also include a number of adjustments to baseline abilities, including limiting certain abilities to particular specs and outright removing other “junk” abilities. Furthermore, certain abilities will morph into different abilities depending on both spec and talent selection.
Today we’ll be taking a look at how these changes will work and discussing their potential impact on the game.
By the way this is a four part series and the following issues will be covered over the next week or two:
Anyway without further ado, let’s get this underway and discuss Spec, Talent and Ability Design in Mists of Pandaria.
At level 10 you’ll be able to select a specialisation similar to the way you do now. This will give you a spec defining ability such as Penance for Discipline, Chastise for Holy and Mind Flay for Shadow. However, rather than this selection locking you to particular talent tree as it does now, it’ll instead determine what abilities you learn as you level. For example, you might learn Vampiric Touch at level 30 as a Shadow Priest and Pain Suppression as a Discipline Priest. As a level 45 Rogue, you might learn Cold Blood as Assassination and Premeditation as Subtlety.
They’ve also made it clear that passive effects will be learnt along the way as well:
Q: What will happen to passive abilities like trueshot aura, arcane tactics, improved icy talons and unleashed rage? Where will they go in the new talent system?
A: Many of those become passive abilities you get for your spec. We are removing some of the less interesting buffs and debuffs (+bleed damage, armor, 3% damage, resists are all on the chopping block at the moment).
A: In most cases, if it’s a fun mechanic, we give it to your spec. All Fire mages get Hot Streak at a certain level. Feral druids (but not Guardian druids – the new bear spec) learn Infected Wounds.
This will include other abilities such as Shadowy Apparitions, Borrowed Time, Brain Freeze and similar mechanics. Other talents such as +haste or cooldown reductions will likely be done away with completely and, if the cooldown reductions are necessary, base cooldowns will likely be reduced to compensate.
Blizzard also wants to get the ball rolling and make your spec selection feel meaningful from the offset:
We are completely reflowing when you get spec abilities to make the gameplay the most fun we can make it. We want to spread the abilities out over as many levels as possible, but core mechanics should be learned early, and more situation or raid-oriented abilities come later.
This is a great decision because while receiving Holy Shock at level 10 had the desired effect of creating the aura of being a Holy Paladin, it didn’t go far enough. Indeed, after receiving your spec defining ability, you were placing talent points in boring +% type talents the next level.
Now on top of learning different abilities depending on your spec choice, you’ll also continue to learn baseline abilities regardless of your spec. For example, all Rogues will still learn Slice and Dice and all Shamans will learn Grounding Totem.
Although, Blizzard has, unfortunately, stated certain baseline abilities will become spec only in MoP. For example, Slam will become an Arms only ability and Fury and Protection will lose access to it. Furthermore, Mages will learn Arcane Blast, Fireball or Frost Bolt depending on their specialisation choice at level 10. An Arcane Mage will not have access to Frost Bolt and vice versa for a Frost Mage. We can also be quite certain that Discipline and Holy Priests will lose access to Mind Blast, which will cost Shadow Orbs and, therefore, most likely only be available to Shadow.
We’ll get to why the term ‘unfortunately’ was used shortly.
Other abilities will be available to two of three specs. For example, both Retribution and Protection Paladins will learn Hammer of the Righteous at level 20 and Holy will not have access to it. This mechanic certainly makes sense in regard to certain abilities. Indeed, Combat Rogues don’t utilise Backstab while both Assassination and Subtlety do. If Backstab is never necessary for Combat, then it’s pointless giving the spec access to it.
Blizzard has also stated:
Spell books cleaned up, got rid of more junk, the goal is to clean up action bars a little more without removing the fun things.
We need a campaign to save Mind Soothe. Someone get that going!
Finally, as always, there’ll be a number of new baseline abilities added for each class to make our journey to level 90 that much more exciting. The plan so far is to hand out two new abilities per class at levels 87 and 90.
Another point worth noting is the fact you’ll automatically learn new abilities as you level. There will be no need to make that annoying journey from Eastern Plaguelands to Ironforge to pick up that new ability you’ve been dying to get. Instead, it’ll automatically be added to your spell book. While this certainly isn’t the greatest change ever (that title belongs to Stomstrike’s new icon), it’s a great quality of life change, especially considering all the additional abilities.
It’s best to think of talents and specs as two entirely different concepts here. Indeed, they’ll be completely independent from one another in MoP. Rather than going down the Balance, Feral or Restoration tree, Druids and all other classes will have a single six tier talent tree.
Here’s an example of a talent tree in MoP:
You’ll no longer accumulate talent points as you level. Instead, every 15th level, you’ll be able to select one talent from the respective tier. This is regardless of your chosen specialisation. For example, all Priests at level 30 will able to select Body and Soul, Path of the Devout or Phantasm.
Blizzard has also stated that switching talents will be as easy as switching glyphs:
The current idea is that Dust of Disapperance becomes a “Training Manual” or something and that the same consumable can be used to blank out a glyph or a talent. The cost of the consumable means that players can change when they think it’s important but won’t do it for trivial gains. Remember it only needs to compete against the inconvenience of visiting a class trainer.
No doubt dual spec will be removed. Indeed, the simple talent tree makes it unnecessary in terms of talents. In terms of specs, it could still be a possibility. However, Blizzard should certainly consider introducing “triple spec” and allow us to quickly change between our different specialisations for a nominal cost.
They’ve describe the design of the talent trees as comparing “apples to apples”. Rather than have a DPS talent compete with a survivability talent, they’re attempting to have each tier contain the same type of talents. The first tier of the Priest tree is all about CC, while tier two is about movement and tier three is about increasing damage and healing. While they haven’t quite met this design goal as yet, it’s a great idea to make these talents more of a choice. Indeed, Blizzard noted that where they placed a survivability talent next to a DPS talent in the past, DPS players would always select the DPS talent. This “apples to apples” selection should alleviate that.
Mighty Morphin Shadow Bolt!
One of the new mechanics is the addition of abilities morphing or changing into different abilities depending on both spec and talent selection.
Let’s take a look:
All Warlocks get Shadow Bolt at level 1. Then Shadow Bolt will transform around level 40 based on your spec. Affliction: Malefic Grasp, Demonology: (in Meta) Demonic Slash, Destruction: Incinerate.
In terms of talent examples, Fists of Justice replaces Hammer of Justice for Paladins, providing the same stun on a 30 second cooldown. The Death Knight talent Asphyxiate replaces Strangulate. It’s best to think of this mechanic as upgrading abilities. For example, the druid talent Faerie Swarm replaces Faerie Fire, but upgrades it by providing a snare.
It’s certainly an interesting mechanic and will surely be applied to every single class.
Discipline would like Improved Smite – “transforms Smite from a friendly tickle to a DPS nuke”.
Actually Smite raises an interesting question. It’s currently a Priests primary levelling nuke. With Shadow Bolt transforming into a different ability for Affliction Warlocks, it does bring up the question of whether Smite will morph into Mind Spike for Shadow Priests. If so, this and limiting certain baseline abilities to specific specs, could have grave implications for the game.
Let’s discuss Discipline Priests:
If Smite isn’t significantly buffed in MoP, the removal of Mind Spike for Discipline would be the final nail in the coffin. Disc is already dull as it is and removing the last remnants of its offensive play style would kill the spec from an enjoyability stand point. This is further exemplified when the possibility of Shadow Word: Death becoming a Shadow only ability is thrown into the mix. Indeed, Shadow Word: Death is easily one of the most fun aspects of playing a Priest in PvP and removing it would yet be another slap in the face.
This was pure speculation on my part of course, but these types of issues need mentioning just in case.
Fortunately, in regard to a talent and abilities calculator, Blizzard has stated:
We are working to get one up soon (TM). We want to include all of the core class and spec spells, because the main concern from players (especially those not at Blizzcon) is what happens to various spec spells. The talent calculator will also help alleviate concerns about leveling up, because you’ll be able to see that you get new spells about as often as you do today. Just remember that the individual talents and spells will change a lot before we ship 5.0.
This is great to hear and means we’ll be able to give them feedback before the beta even goes live.
Blizzard’s design goal here is to avoid cookie cutter specs and add a new level of customisation. They provided the example of two combat Rogues standing next to each other with completely different specs. Whether or not they’ll achieve their goal remains to be seen. However, while they had similar aims in Cataclysm, their design for MoP is far superior. Indeed, the “apples to apples” mentality should at least create a modicum of choice.
The separation of specs from talents does come across as catering to idiots. Indeed, they noted the risk of a Fury warrior missing out Raging Blow in their BlizzCon presentation. However, if it’s always been the goal of talents to provide choice and customisation, then the old model was an abysmal failure. There was little to no choice to be had. So while catering to idiots is a valid point, the new model is likely to be much more successful at achieving their customisation goal.
Finally, Blizzard needs to ensure they release details of which abilities are becoming spec only, sooner rather than later. They also need to listen to player feedback because the room for error in this department is staggering. It’s a decent goal to clear up action bar space, but it’s not worth the cost of erasing more class utility and making the game that much more dull.