Sunday, September 7, 2008

On Expanding Opportunity

For my first series of posts, I'll be looking into how Blizzard is attempting to expand the use of all talent trees.

Take any given tree (there's thirty of 'em), and you can pick out two things: how it's useful in a group environment, and if it's more useful for PVE or PVP. For hybrid classes, you have your melee DPS tree, your ranged DPS tree, your healing tree, and your tanking tree. For straight damage classes, the question is which tree is best for PVE and which tree is best for PVP.

For example, in general, the Mage Fire tree is considered the best tree for PVE DPS, and the Frost tree is best for PVP. Yes, I know you can do either as any spec you want and still potentially be good, but in general there's always a best tree for everything.


First let's talk trees in terms of group utility. With the new Death Knight hero class, Blizzard is trying something new with talent trees: they want to make them all-encompassing. When we first heard about Death Knights back at Blizzcon, it was said that Blood would be the PVE DPS tree (and also the leveling tree), Forst would be for tanking, and Unholy would be for PVP. When Blizz showed more of Wrath back in April or so, the Death Knight prescenses were shown, which work a lot like Warrior stances. They all also fall in line with the initial intent of each tree: Blood Presence increases damage and helps with solo grinding by healing you as you do damage; Frost Presence increases your armor value and threat, and Unholy Presence increases your attack and movement speed. So there you have it: a talent tree for each job and a stance for each tree.

But what people found as they played the beta more and more was that Frost wasn't really shaping up to be much of a tanking tree. The post "Talent Coherency and Death Knight Tanking" was started on the beta forums by Death Knight Necromancy. From the first part of the post:

"Despite what has been said before, I am not enjoying this scattered approach to tanking talents. This game is populated by theorycrafters and min/maxers. A scattered talent approach is just asking to disappoint.

Talent trees should be on the whole coherent and have a focus. Death Knight Talents really seem to lack focus."

None other than Ghostcrawler made the first response to the thread, explaining why the Death Knight trees don't each seem to each fit some niche:

"...So we thought maybe it's time to try a different approach: Let a tank choose what kind of abilities they want access to, while still giving them access to enough tanking talents to do their job. While every tanking warrior worth her salt has Shield Slam, Imp Shield Block and Last Stand, none of them has Mortal Strike (at least not since MC and BWL), or Imp Execute or Flurry.

A death knight can be a tank, yet some death knight tanks will have Howling Blast and some will have Heart Strike. A death knight tank that gets a little bored with his spec can try a completely different one and still tank. A warrior tank trying a different spec gets very limited options, like whether he wants Improved Revenge or how many points to put into Imp Defensive Stance."

Basically, the idea that any Death Knight could tank as any spec; they all just do it differently. It also solves the problem of finding tanks for your 5-mans, especially while leveling. Everyone knows you don't spec to tank or heal as you level (unless your a dang AOE-grinding Paladin), so your pickup group ends up "lf2m tank/healz pst!"

I actually really like the idea. I plan on playing a Death Knight (whether I play one before Wrath actually comes out remains to be seen :P), and if they can make three styles of tanking that are all different, I think that's really cool.

It remains to be seen if they can apply this hybrid philosiphy to other classes. Blizz is making sure they tune the leveling 5-mans assuming your tank isn't specced to do so. However, are they going to make Retadins or Arms Warriors viable raid tanks? Probably not. With the Death Knight they had a chance to make three trees that can be slightly ambiguous in design; when you have talent trees called "Protection" or "Restoration" there's not a lot of room to branch out. So while Death Knights could potentially have three tanking trees, Paladins and Warriors will probably stay in the Protection tree when it comes to tanking.


The second way Blizzard is trying to "hybridize" talent trees is in terms of PVE and PVP. Basically, they want any tree to be good for either, even the Protection trees for Warriors and Paladins (that's something I'll talk about in a later post). Let's go back to the Mage. If the great prophet Alamo had rolled a Mage, he would have said something along the lines of "Frie is 4 PVE, Froaust is 4 PVP LOL."

...possibly. So how is Blizzard making Frost viable in PVE? For starters, with all the changes to raid stacking, Fire's Improved Scorch and Frost's Winter's Chill are being condensed into the same type of debuff, so you can bring a Fire Mage or a Frost Mage to your raid and they'll both be able to bring the same group utility.

Frost Mages rely on Shatter above all else for damage; that's easy in PVP, not so much in PVE. You can't Frost Nova or Frostbite a dang boss. Thus, the talent Fingers of Frost was added to the Frost tree; this talent allows you to proc an artificial "Frozen" effect on your target (they aren't actually stuck in place, but treated as if they're Frozen), thus giving the Frost Mage the ability to "Shatter combo" and such.

Also, the Water Elemental is being given use as a mana battery, serving a similar function to Shadow Priests with Vampiric Touch. Actually, Survival Hunters are being given a similar skill as well, in the form of Hunting Party. I thought there was one other class getting mana battery features, but I can't remember which it was.

Thus, Frost Mages could turn out pretty good in PVE content. But what about Fire in PVP? On my Mage, I PVP'd in the 29 and 39 brackets as full Fire (I'm currently full Frost, but I'll spec back into Fire again before I hit 70). I'm not sure which I like more for PVP. With skills like Blast Wave and Dragon's Breath, Fire seems to be a lot more in-your-face kinda fighting, while Frost is obviously all about snares. When I hit 70 and get into Arenas, I'll definetly try all three trees out, and whatever weird specs you can devise that aren't 41 in one tree (ie the Elementalist builds).

Some talents that will make Fire better in PVP: Impact has been revised to work on all your spells, which probably more means that all PVP builds are going to want it. The cast time of Pyroblast has been lowered to 5 seconds from 6, and the talent Fiery Payback will reduce the cast time of Pyroblast to 1.5 seconds while you're under 35% health. Blast Wave now has a knockback effect, giving them Fire Mages an easy way to get range, and quickly disrupt a group of enemies. Finally, the disorient duration on Dragon's Breath has been upped to 5 seconds from 3, giving you time to throw in a Fireball spell while your opponent is temporarily out of commission, or gain some more distance.


Well, that wasn't a long post at all. Something else about me: when I have something I want to ramble about, you had better believe I'm rambling about it.

For future posts about Blizzard's new design philosiphy, I'll be talking about:
1. Protection Warriors and Paladins being viable in PVP
2. Reducing the amount of neccessity in talent trees
3. Making talents more "fun"
4. Talent bloat
5. How I would change the Balance tree
6. Raid stackin'

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