MMO-Champion - Dev Watercooler - Cataclysm Talent Tree Post-Mortem
Dev Watercooler - Cataclysm Talent Tree Post-Mortem
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
You may have noticed we changed class talent trees for Cataclysm. We changed not just the trees themselves, as you might expect for an expansion, but the entire structure of the trees and the way you choose talents. Now that the Cataclysm model has been in play for several months, the team has been discussing what we like and don’t like about it, and I thought that might be of interest to some of you. As always with this series, this is design rumination, not a list of upcoming changes.

What Worked Well


  • The talent trees are simpler now, but without losing a lot of depth. Most of what we cut were passive talents that everyone took anyway, or really lame talents that did nothing.
  • Choosing your specialization at level 10 and not having to delay playing your character the way you want feels great. You can play your shaman as Elemental or Enhancement with the tools and bonuses to make either work.
  • Specs within a class feel different. This was a big challenge for the DPS warriors, warlocks, hunters, and rogues in particular. Nowadays those specs have different rotations, different strengths and utility, and a different flavor overall.
  • Mastery integrates into the trees well. We can delay the complexity until higher level, and we’re at the point now where it’s a competitive stat for many specs (though to be fair, not all yet).
  • There are some legitimate 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.
  • At the risk of catching flak for this statement, I feel that the game is as balanced as it’s ever been. When you look back at the vanilla or Burning Crusade days there were many specs that were just jokes and the difference between the highest performing and worst performing specs was on the order of 30-50% or more. Nowadays, players worry about 5-10% differences. Those are differences we still want to fix, absolutely, but we’ve come a long way. The talent trees have helped us do that.

What Didn’t Work


  • I’ll admit there are still a few clunker talents -- those that are undertuned or just not interesting enough. There aren’t many though, and they’re relatively easy to replace.
  • On the other hand, the talent trees still have traps for the unwary. For example, a Fury build that skips over Raging Blow is making a serious mistake. That may seem obvious to current players but it’s the kind of thing someone returning to the game after a hiatus might not understand immediately. (After all, you didn’t robotically take Ghostly Strike just because it was a gold medal ability.) While there is something to be said for safe choices, it would also be nice if the talents we expected players to have were talents they always had.
  • Some players miss true hybrid builds. (Hybrid in this context means spending near evenly in two trees -- I’m not talking about the more common use of “hybrid” as a tank or healing class.) To be fair, these builds were either not very competitive or were just cherry picking a few powerful talents in order to create something that was likely overpowered, especially in PvP. In other words, the reality of the hybrid build never lived up to the myth. But it’s fair to say that it’s impossible now to have a hybrid build, and we understand some players want them back.
  • I said above that there are tough choices within the trees of many specs, but there aren’t very many of them within each spec. Often it can come down to where to spend those last 1-3 talent points. While that was our goal, it would be even more exciting if there were more of those hard decisions. Hard decisions can be painful when you’re faced with excluding an ability or mechanic that’s fun to have. But overall we think hard, exclusive decisions are a good thing. They encourage experimentation and discussion and give players a chance to try out different things, all of which can help keep them engaged.
  • Even worse, one potential place to spend those points is in the first two tiers of the other trees of your class, yet those talents are extremely design-constrained. First, they have to be attractive to the main spec using that tree, so chances are you’re not going to find much interest in the healing tree if you’re a damage dealer (unless you want to improve your limited healing). Second, those top-tier talents can’t affect higher level abilities since the talents are available at level 10. Finally, because those talents are available early, they should really be relatively simple to understand for new or returning players. You don’t want to put complex procs with lots of exceptions and internal cooldowns that high in the tree. All of those reasons mean that it’s rare that there’s a true game-changing talent available in those first two tiers. This would be totally broken, but imagine you could spend those last 10 points anywhere in another tree. Much more exciting, huh?
  • This is a personal pet peeve, but I don’t like the talents that have a 33/66/100% chance to do what you want them to do. That’s just an awkward way of making a valuable talent cost more than one point. The new Cataclysm talent tree design didn’t cause this problem, but it didn’t fix it either.

The Future

This is the part where I’d really love to share our ideas for how we could address these problems, but some discussions are still a little too rough even for the dev watercooler. When we’re a little farther along, we’ll be able to share more. In the meantime, this is a great topic for further discussion. Players like to evaluate the talents in their particular class, but it’s also useful to evaluate the talent tree system as a whole. It’s an iconic design for World of Warcraft for sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.


Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft. He once spent a summer capturing live radioactive alligators. True story.
This article was originally published in forum thread: Dev Watercooler - Cataclysm Talent Tree Post-Mortem started by Boubouille View original post
Comments 181 Comments
  1. StarbuyPWNDyou's Avatar
    Doesn't something need to be dead to have a post-mortem. Talent trees are still alive yes? BLIZZARD ARE MISLEADING BRO.

    Also first
  1. Bblubbs's Avatar
    Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft. He once spent a summer capturing live radioactive alligators.
    This explains everything.
  1. Eren Yaeger's Avatar
    They still need to fix a lot of bloat in some trees
  1. Collected's Avatar
    Nice of Greg to share his thoughts like this.
  1. Simca's Avatar
    Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment
    At the risk of catching flak for this statement, I feel that the game is as balanced as it’s ever been. When you look back at the vanilla or Burning Crusade days there were many specs that were just jokes and the difference between the highest performing and worst performing specs was on the order of 30-50% or more. Nowadays, players worry about 5-10% differences. Those are differences we still want to fix, absolutely, but we’ve come a long way. The talent trees have helped us do that.
    I'm glad somebody came out to say it. It is the truth. The difference between the worst specs and the best specs is much much much closer than it is has ever been. It is even a little bit closer than it was in Wrath (not by much).
  1. Grumit's Avatar
    change is good, imo keep it up GC!.
  1. Oldhate's Avatar
    ok why does the game still have choices in talent trees?

    If you want to be a surv hunter you choose surv tree and the talents are optimally filled
    If you want to be a marks hunter you choose mark tree and your talents are changed to the optimal mark spec
  1. Beamed's Avatar
    Them poor alligators got the nerfbat
  1. segoplout's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Dirty Wounds View Post
    They still need to fix a lot of bloat in some trees
    They said that.
  1. Nyrin's Avatar
    the shortening of the talent trees (and points every other level or so) also gives back some room for growth. I'm mean in a few years we are going to be staring at level 100 toons. I don't know about you guys but i wasn't looking forward to 90 talent points.
  1. garion55's Avatar
    wow im surprised that that dude still has a job. if i'd lost a million customers at my place of work, id be looking for other work.
  1. Shawnacee's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Oldhate View Post
    ok why does the game still have choices in talent trees?

    If you want to be a surv hunter you choose surv tree and the talents are optimally filled
    If you want to be a marks hunter you choose mark tree and your talents are changed to the optimal mark spec
    So You can mold your toon to be what you want.
  1. timelord's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by garion55 View Post
    wow im surprised that that dude still has a job. if i'd lost a million customers at my place of work, id be looking for other work.
    I find it hard to believe that Ghostcrawler is personally responsible for the lost subscribers
  1. Kungaloo's Avatar
    There are some legitimate hard choices for many of the specs.
    Stop here. No, really, no.
    The only choices appear when their's too much DPS talents in T1/T2 (ex: rogue).

    The talent trees are simpler now, but without losing a lot of depth.
    ...

    How to made your talent trees in Cata :

    - Put 31(32 sometimes) points everywhere in your primary tree, avoid PvP(or PvE) talents if you're PvE(PvP) hero.
    - Put the last points in the better talents of the other trees.
    - Still got points to spend? Congrats, you are a mage. We love you.
  1. Zka's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Oldhate View Post
    ok why does the game still have choices in talent trees?

    If you want to be a surv hunter you choose surv tree and the talents are optimally filled
    If you want to be a marks hunter you choose mark tree and your talents are changed to the optimal mark spec
    I don't know about hunters, but all 3 classes I play have plenty of options to put the last 5-10 points in all their specs I play... There is more variance in valid talents than it was in LK.
  1. tenzing21's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Nyrin View Post
    the shortening of the talent trees (and points every other level or so) also gives back some room for growth. I'm mean in a few years we are going to be staring at level 100 toons. I don't know about you guys but i wasn't looking forward to 90 talent points.
    Dude, come on, I have a bunch of friends who graduated from UT, and very many times, I have to wonder how Greg made it through. He's such a moron. "Talent trees haven't lost a lot of depth." If GC is srs about this sentence, there is simply NO hope for the future of the game.

    The game has lost all lustre, it's uncomplicated and quaint. There's no way to make the game your own, since people (cough cough) like GC have litterally zero understanding how to sandbox a game. Talent trees are worthless. You just get on EJ, do what they tell you and fire-and-forget.

    There have been some obtuse posts by rather dense devs before. This one falls to new lows, and it frightens me for the short-term viability of the franchise. I've always known Wow had (since Catas' release date) less than 24 months to go, but this new development makes me believe the game won't survive the year.

    Oh, well. Wow had to die sometime. Might as well flush Greg out of the mmo genre quicker, rather than drag it out.
  1. garion55's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by timelord View Post
    I find it hard to believe that Ghostcrawler is personally responsible for the lost subscribers
    i dont find it that hard to believe that he had the final say on many of the decisions that led people to leave the game. someone has to step up and accept responsibility for what happened to this game and the first guy that needs to go is him.
  1. Cairm's Avatar
    In their : ''Didn't work'' section, they don't really explain what didnt work with the new system, all they do is say : yeah we're sorry for hybrid, blablabla.

    They don't really highlight ANY bad point of their new system.
  1. Exorbitant Rage's Avatar
    He needs to stop saying the game is as balanced as it's ever been, it's bad enough that he just said it about PvE where it isn't true but when he said it about PvP a while ago it was downright ignorant. Other than that, he praises the hell out of their new system and the only downsides he chooses to bring up are ones that existed before the new trees, when he could have easily brought up some actual valid issues with the new system. But hey, WoW's perfect, I guess.
  1. Vasz's Avatar
    "There are some legitimate hard choices for many of the specs."

    Erm, they are actually more linear than they were before Cataclysm.

Site Navigation