"Talents should be meaningful game-changers" says WoW's lead systems designer, Greg Street. He's been dissecting the successes and failures of Cataclysm in a frank post mortem on Battle.Net . Talent trees are one of the thorniest problems the World of Warcraft team has had to deal with over the last few years, but Street insists that the major overhaul Blizzard are planning for WoW's talent trees will fix the problems players have been having with the system "once and for all."
Cataclysm made important changes, bringing in a class specialisation choice at level 10 and pruning passive skills that players felt they had to take to maintain the most efficient character build. While Street says that the addition of a level 10 spec choice was "as close to universally acclaimed by players as anything we've ever done," he admits that there are still big problems with the current system that Blizzard are determined to resolve in the next expansion.
"We weren't very happy with the rest of the talent tree overhaul," Street said. "We definitely pruned some dead wood from the trees and got rid of some talents that weren't a lot of fun, but players felt like they weren't getting anything out of the bargain." The problem, he went on to explain, is that the changes to the talent trees were a compromise that "didn't solve the original problems it was intended to solve."
WoW's designers had come to realise that the entire original design idea for the talent system was flawed. "The talent tree model where you pick up tiny performance increases here and there (and where there's, mathematically, nearly always a 'right' answer and a 'wrong' answer) is not a great model," he said. "The Mists talent design is a major revamp that should fix this problem once and for all."
At Blizzcon last year, Blizzard revealed their plans for the new structure. Once it's implemented players will get to pick one of three talents every 15 levels, which can then be swapped around at any time. Blizzard are hoping that this will make for more meaningful build choices and less cookie-cutter class building. "The fact that you'll have more flexibility to change your talents should help keep gameplay fresh, even with that character that you play most often," says Street. "At absolute worst a given talent may be the right one only situationally, and at best, players will have a lot more customization to make their play-style stand out."
Mists of Pandaria was revealed at Blizzcon last year. It'll add a new race of Pandas, a new continent and "Talents 2.0." Find out more in our Mists of Pandaria preview . If you're considering getting back into WoW, or want to encourage a friend to join your questing, check out the revamped Scrolls of Ressurection, which will give a returning player the opportunity to instantly level one of their characters to 80.