Blizzard should bring back World of Warcraft’s talent trees

What historically has frustrated me the absolute most about Blizzard is how the World of Warcraft design team can’t seem to ever stick to a dedicated approach to its classes and character progression. It spends an awful lot of time creating one thing and then instead of carefully iterating and refining that, one day it just upends everything and starts over. And over. And over again.

Classes have been redone so many times under all sorts of pretenses. Major systems are here one day and gone the next. Things like “class fantasy” come to call and then we all have to relearn everything from scratch. It gives off the impression that nobody on the WoW team is ever satisfied with what they’ve done and have to re-invent the wheel every so often.

Perhaps one of the greatest sins the team ever did was in scrapping talent trees altogether for a much more simplified and streamlined talent window. The thinking was to make a smaller number of more significant choices (and in so doing lighten up the burden on the design team having to keep these talent trees balanced). Yet we haven’t seen any new tiers on that talent screen for a couple of expansions now, instead diverting our attention to temporary progression systems like artifact weapons and the heart of azeroth.

As I’ve been playing WoW Classic, I’ve been reminded just how powerful and effective talent trees are — and deeply convinced that Blizzard really should bring them back into the retail version. Yes, they’re a headache to balance. Yes, you’d have to keep growing them as levels increased. Yes, people will min/max builds.

However…

However, what Blizzard’s really forgotten is the psychological effect of the talent tree upon players. Right now with talent windows, I don’t think any of us really think about them after level 90 when we place our last choice. They cease to exist, and even before then, they only became relevant every 15 levels or so. But with the Classic talent trees, they’re relevant and important EACH and EVERY level. You ding, you know that immediately you have a new point to spend on your trees. It’s immediate and fun gratification!

Plus, it’s a hoot to be able to pour over the talent trees as you’re out questing and leveling, deciding which route you want to go. Mapping out your character’s growth is one of the most fulfilling parts of RPGs (at least for me), and this system provides a visible means for those plans. We’re given lots of choices. We’re given the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from others. We can specialize or hybrid ourselves as much as we like.

And talent trees are expandable. We saw that in the first few expansions of the game before Blizzard simplified and then eliminated them entirely. New rows can be added and paths opened up. RIFT showed us how high-level characters could even channel into more specialized paths once the number of talent points got to be too much for balance teams to handle.

I hope that Blizzard is taking a long, hard look at what worked well with the original game and takes that into consideration for the future. I know that getting talent trees back is probably never going to happen, but it should. It would matter more to players than getting another heart level or grinding a few more island expeditions.

9 thoughts on “Blizzard should bring back World of Warcraft’s talent trees

  1. Stargrace September 5, 2019 / 9:03 am

    I would absolutely love it if they brought back talent trees. Choosing where to spend points, and having fun with never having enough points to do everything you want is just part of the game.

  2. Tyler F.M. Edwards September 5, 2019 / 11:44 am

    The current talent system is far from perfect, and I can understand not being entirely happy with it. What I will never understand is thinking the old system was better.

    There was no choice to be made. None. There were only two specs: the right one, and the wrong one. Do you know how many fire mages other than myself I encountered during my entire time in Wrath of Lich King? One. If you were doing PvE content, you were arcane or you were a baddie. I got so much grief all the time for playing the wrong way.

    The current system might also have its FotM builds, but the difference between the “right” build and the “wrong” build is so small that no one really cares. You can actually just play how you want now.

    Yes, waiting fifteen levels between talents kind of sucks for leveling, and the choices are perhaps not as rich as they could be, but at least there actually is choice now. The only thing the old talent trees were good for was providing the illusion of choice, but more buttons to push doesn’t actually equal more depth.

  3. Mailvaltar September 5, 2019 / 12:31 pm

    @Tyler – I think that’s a cop-out. So the devs have now managed to devise a system where there’s actual choice, but achieving that with proper talent trees was/is impossible? I don’t think so.

    Such systems need to be iterated upon until they’re really good and balanced, but they just scrapped it instead. I agree with Justin, they shouldn’t have, just as they shouldn’t overhaul classes in such drastic ways all the time.

  4. bhagpuss September 5, 2019 / 1:10 pm

    I never remember to look at my Talent tree. I’d guess I dosoemthing with it about once every five levels at most. I also have no plan or direction. I just read what’s available right now and put a point ot two into everything that looks useful. I also always save four or five points “just in case”.

    If I ever do get to the cap I’ll clear the lot and work out a final selection then. I’ll also do the same with gear. Then I’ll leave it like that and never look at it again until an update or level cap increase increases forces me to.

    I liked the talent trees in RIft to begin with but they very quicly became way too fiddly. As soon as Trion added preset templates I just used those. That said, I’d strongly disagree with Tyler. I’ve played whatever I wanted to play in every MMORPG since 1999. Stuff other peoples’ demands. If they want to control your choices they are absolutely people you don’t want to be playing with in the first place. I take comments like that as a welcome opportunity to fill my Ignore list.

  5. paeroka September 5, 2019 / 2:26 pm

    I think the “gratification” part is very important here. My low level warlock on Classic curses every time she casts Corruption because of its cast time. But when she hit level 10, she could put her first point towards instant cast. Every level now, the cast time gets shorter until it’s finally an instant cast. Yeah, one could say: Choose the affliction talent tree and you get the instant corruption immediately. The result will be the same. But earning this level by level is some kind of progression for my character. I like having something to look forward to when I earn a level. 🙂

  6. Rowan September 5, 2019 / 9:28 pm

    I agree that the biggest reason to have talents trees was always to differentiate and feel a bit unique. The current (well, as of Legion, when last I played) system of change-on-the-fly “specializations” was great for experimentation, but left my characters feeling distinctly generic. By the same token, I always hated the mentality that there was One True Spec and all the rest were garbage. I once literally dropped group and left a dungeon because some jerk bagged on me for using Frostfire in my Arcane rotation. Whatever, it looked cool and was instant cast. We were hardly an elite squad in a pick-up group running whatever that Troll dungeon in Northrend was called.

  7. Chordian September 6, 2019 / 5:31 am

    Totally agree, talent trees were much more fun. Also, as a paladin, I miss my judgments and auras. And I want to throw my hammer at fleeing monsters again!

  8. Telwyn September 6, 2019 / 7:27 am

    Build experimentation is part of the game to me (or was), I rarely bother in retail as the choices are few and rather obvious. I prefer the subtleties of the stat buffs mixed in with abilities and ability modifiers. I really do like the system in Rift to this day. I think WoW could do with moving back towards embracing the weird and wonderful in its character system, or even surpassing it. If they were to introduce (finally) some proper support classes or specs (not just healers) even then we might see a move beyond DPS as the only effective measure of contribution to groups…

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