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, 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.