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BlizzCon 2011: World of Warcraft Class Talent System Panel

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Tom Chilton led the World of Warcraft Class Talent System Panel after the official announcement of the upcoming World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria expansion.

In a nutshell, basically, the current talent system will be thrown out of the window. Poof! It’s gone. The Talent System will be revamped from the ground up. We won’t see the same vertical talent system we have been used to in the past seven years.

The new talent system is horizontal. Every 15 levels you will have to choose one out of three talents. As you progress down to the next 15 levels, and so on, you are building a unique and different character than the player next to you — and while you only have those three choices per tier, you are in fact having more customization power and differentiation than you have ever had in the lifespan of World of Warcraft.

Here is a transcript of Tom Chilton’s Talent System Panel: (apologies for inaccuracies. Feel free to provide corrections)

Tom Chilton (WoW Game Director): What is World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria? Our prime objective here is we want to combine new gameplay with the most fun parts of the past.

I think it is a fair criticism that some people that have leveled up through Cataclysm are saying that there weren’t a whole lot of new things to do at the end game.

You do a lot of new stuff or reroll and go through the very much changed world but at the end game it is the same kind of stuff that you’ve been doing for years and years — hopefully, at least — so we want to make sure that we introduce some really fun new things for you guys to do to kind of keep things exciting at the end game.

So there we are: “New things to do”. That’s a core part of blending exciting things of the past with new things of the future.

Another core philosophy that we have is getting people back into the world. I dont know about you guys but I’m getting a little bit tired of seeing the inside of Stormwind all the time. Granted these are all lovely places, but that can get a lit bit old.

We want to get you back into the world at max level and experiencing the world and that means a lot of different things. Getting out there and doing stuff like in the picture here (Azurego’s outdoor raiding).

We’ve got a little shot of one of the things we plan to do is reintroduce the concept of these outdoor world raid bosses players have played, of course, where there are outdoor world people there fighting on PvP servers, that meaning people will be there trying to grief the people doing the outdoor world raid fighting.

So another core philosophy that we want to be able to do is “Do what you want to do to progress your character.

Over time, World of Warcraft has kind of blossomed with all these different things to do and we are going to add more things to do, and we’re really want the game to feel like there’s a menu of content and that you can pick and choose what kind of content you want to do and you aren’t necessarily pigeonhole-ing the content that you feel like you have to do in order to be able to progress your character.

What we’re trying to say here is that we want you to be able to progress your character whether you’re waiting, doing dungeons or daily plus. For example, that’s what that little plus is there. You’re getting power points out of it. That way you can actually get valor points (30 VP via quests) and progress your character even if you just want to go out there and smash, it would be faster if you want to do raids, of course, but you’ll still be able to make progress all the time.

Next, we really want you to be able to geek out with more interesting character builds than ever before.

I was there back in 2004 when we created the talent system — in fact that was kinda my job to create the talent system that you guys have experienced over the last many, many years. We have this vision. Back then it was in the friends and family alpha that we were getting constant feedback. This is before we had a talent system or at least one that you know of today.

We would get constant feedback about players wanting to be able to customize their character more, they wanted to stand next to another character of the same class and feel like they were a little bit different that made some choices and that those choices were meaningful and that led to their gameplay experience feeling a little bit different, and that their character was special. With that in mind, we went out and created a different talent system.

We drew a lot from the original Diablo II talent system, that sort of thing. But at the end of the day, I don’t actually feel like it’s aged as well as I wish it had. I feel like we’ve been plagued over the years with cookie cutter builds.

How much space do you really have when you step into your raid, and your raid leader tells you those’s four points you spent right there are going to cost you 4% DPS and we really can’t have that so you’re going to take a hike,that sort of thing. So we want to try to make sure that we refine what we call the talent system to get to the point where we don’t have the cookie cutter builds that we have today and that the choices you are making are significant choices for your character but that you actually have a lot of flexibility about how to set up your character and how to play.

Tom Chilton: As you already probably know, we’re here to talk about the talent system, and all the new stuff that we’ve done with with it and to give you guys a sneak peek at what we’ve done with your class.

So let’s open this vault of knowledge.

(Tom Chilton clicks the remote control and a massive panda paw fingerprint on a round mural glyph rotates clockwise and an animation as if it was a slide door pops open to show the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria logo)

Talents 2.0

We spent some time talking about this in the World of Warcraft: Intro to Mists of Pandaria preview panel, but now we’d like to go into a little bit more depth, and recap some of our philosophies and some stuff, and then make our way through the different classes.

As you may realize by now, this represents a mayor change to the class talent trees, and it’s really kind of a new phase of development for our talent system.

Still similar in a lot of ways to the original talent system, but we had these ideas in the back of our minds, kind of squeaking around that were telling us that we had bigger and better things to do with it.

Goal

So the goal here is that you’re standing next to another combat Rogue, for example, and this kind of rogue, she has different talents than you do … wow, wouldn’t that be something?

Holy crap! And they’re not just an idiot, right?

So as I said before, character customization was the original point of talents in the first place. That’s what we set up to do back in — somewhere around April or May of 2004, when we were talking about this, and that’s what we kind of thought we were going to accomplish, but over time we’ve really seen that cookie-cutter builds have dominated the scene and players have told us: “We want more talent customization!”

We did the Cataclysm talent revamp with that kind of idea in mind, hoping to give players more meaningful choices than they had before, but while we made improvements to how clean the system is and that sort of thing, we didn’t really feel like we delivered it on a level that players would really be happy with. Time to do it all over.

So this new model is all about customization. Making choices that are interesting and difficult choices. When you look at a class now, the class will be comprised of three things:

New Model

Class Abilities: The first is your core of possibilities and these are abilities available to everybody of that character class, whether or not you’re Arms or Protection or Fury. To take a warrior for example, All Warriors, obviously, learned Heroic Strike.

Spec Abilities: This is something we’re doing a lot more with this than we did before. Spec Abilities in Cataclysm is that one ability you get like Mortal Strike for picking Arms spec.

But now it translates into quite a few new things, and that can include abilities that are core abilities if they only make sense to work out for, for example, for a certain spec or they could be old talents or existing abilities that we have now. In this case, for the Arms Warrior can now learn Slam.

Finally, we have talents, and any warrior can pick from the same sets of talents. What’s very important to us is that players are making apples to apples comparisons about their talent choices.

One thing we learned over time is that if you put, let’s say, a survivability ability up next to a DPS ability, and you’re playing a DPS role, let’s say you are an Arms warrior — which one are you more likely to pick? Hmm, I wonder … You’d take the DPS ability, and that sacks the actual reality of choice from the decision.

However, what we feel like is if we present you with three different options that are comparisons that are right, like three different survivability abilities, and say: “Here they are, here are three of them. They are cool in different ways. Pick one.”

Then there’s only so wrong you can go with that, right? It becomes more of a choice of your style of play, what abilities appeal to you more as a player, and those choices can really actually add up to being very creative and different characters once you look at your character overall.

If we had DPS abilities in there, they’ll be compared against other DPS abilities, so you pick one of three different DPS abilities, or utility abilities, or mobility abilities, or survivability — all that kind of stuff.

Talents: Every warrior can choose Throwdown. So in this case, it’s crowd control. Throwdown will be put up against two other crowd-control abilities so you have to pick which crowd control suits you best.

Warrior Core Abilities

Here’s a bunch of different warrior core abilities, maybe you are probably very familiar with these.

Of note, enrage is in there as a passive, and so an example of a really significant talent for warriors that we don’t want to go away with, it’s a cool mechanic and all that, but now all warriors will have passive enrage.

At level 10, warriors can choose a spec, and here’s the example, warrior’s going to choose between arms or protection, and that’s going to have a whole bunch of implications at different levels.

If you’re the fury warrior, here are the abilities you’d get at the different levels, and so that implies these aren’t necessarily abilities you would get as Arms, Fury, or Protection. There may be a little overlap where it is necessary or makes sense, but for the most part, these are very distinct.

Like Fury, for example. Before, you didn’t want to be that warrior that didn’t pick Fury, right? — that wasn’t really a choice, not if you were sane. So at level 15, you’ll pick your first talent.

In this particular example, you’re looking at a warrior and you’re comparing three different mobility abilities against each other. Do I want Juggernaut, do I want Double Time, or do I want the Warbringer ability?

You pick which makes most sense for your character, your style of play, and the things you do.

We’ll continue to go through all these different examples with the different character process in a moment.

Talent Philosophy

Some of the philosophies that go along with this is that it gives you access to stuff you couldn’t access before in terms of the combinations, right?

In the past, let’s say you’re a rogue and you’ve chosen subtlety — so you know — I’m going to get Shadow Step as Subtlety rogue, and I’ll have Preparation and I’m going to have that sort of thing, but you were never able to combine an ability like that with an ability — let’s say, like Killing Spree.

And because these different talents are now going to be able to play against each other in the same tree, you’ll be able to create all kinds of new combinations of the cool talents that are already in the game that are really meaningful in ways you could never before.

And really, that’s at the crux of giving you guys a lot more control over your character and and a lot more flexibility, and a lot more customization.

We’ll also be adding several new overpowered feeling talents, so there will be new stuff in the trees that you have never seen before.

Talent Philosophy

Bear in mind as we go through the trees, as Greg said, don’t make assumptions about the talents that you see in there in terms of how they operate today.

A lot of these talents, once they’re in this kind of system, they will change in terms of their cooldown or their duration, or some of the details of their effects.

That’s because they aren’t necessarily all layered on top of each other. In the past we’ve had to essentially give some abilities because we had to worry about — well, first you can Gauge the guy, and then you can Kidney Punch him, and then Blind him, and then you can do this, that, and the other — and when you layer all those mechanics on top of each other we’re in the situation to marginalize those more and more.

So in a lot of cases, this opens up a lot more flexibility that we didn’t have before. As we go through these, if you don’t see a beloved talent, don’t worry. It’s probably something that’s a core ability or something like that.

There’s not an intent here to take away a whole bunch of awesome stuff. We’re just moving things around and putting them in places where they actually make for some interesting choices.

An example, all holy priests now have Circled Healing, and hopefully, you’ll come away with this not feeling like they’re mandatory talents, and every choice should be hard, but fun.

Talent Philosophy

So, Screenshot time. Rather than disappointing everyone, I’m walking off the stage, and Greg will just be going to go through every freaking talent. So, Greg Street (Ghostcrawler), take it away.

Classes Talents In-Depth Preview

Ghostcrawler: We’re going to reiterate a lot on these individual talents. They’re not set in stone. You haven’t played them yet. Don’t get too obsessed about the numbers, or “OMG! Too many cooldowns, that’s OP (overpowered)” — we can get to all of that.

Look at the spirit of the talent, and what we’re trying to do. We have ten classes and their talents, and buckle up. We’re going to go in alphabetical order.

If you’re a Warrior, go get a beer. and come back later.

Note: Before continuing to read the transcript of this Talents Panel, choose which class you wish to preview. Due to the massive amount of info shown by Ghostcrawler at this point of the panel, I decided to split all classes into separate pages. Otherwise this page would be very crowded with too much info and over 100 images. Basically, they showed every single freaking talent choice, and tooltips per every 15 levels (7 Tiers) per class. That was an awesome preview. Choose your class:

Change is Scary!!!

Change is Scary!!! And we know one of the initial reactions to hear about this talent thing is: “Wow, I used to get talents like every level and now I’m getting talents every 15 levels. There’s so fewer choices, only six talents instead of the 70 back in Burning Crusade, or something.”

We really want the quality of the choice to be more interesting than the quantity of the choice.

We want to focus on very cool talents that make you feel like you’re playing differently, you’re doing things you could never do before and less about well someone math out that this talent over here was a 2% DPS upgrade so I’m about only going to pick two out of three ranks here.

And honestly I think that what most of us did was we tried to find someone with a good build rather than having fun experimenting it ourselves.

We think about your current talents trees. Just think about the class you play a lot for a minute, and there’s cool talents in that tree.

Most of those we’re going to give to you for free now. If you pick the right spec you will get all that stuff anyway and some we’re going to elevate to the core class level.

Then there’s the really boring talents. The things that either no one took or the small DPS increases. You’re glad to have them. More DPS or Healing is nice. Not super compelling, like WoW I’m so glad I finally got this thing that made me have more armor.

And then there are the fun talents, talents that felt like game changers. That’s what we want this new system to be about.

None of these are set in stone. I would be surprised if these are what the talent trees look like when we ship.

You can see the philosophy and ideas we’re going for. We’re going to be super excited to get feedback.

I’m sure it’s going to be coming once we step off the stage. What’s overpowered. What’s a terrible idea. What we do to ruin the game or something.

Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003 posting news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Next-Gen MMO, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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