Today’s Blizzcon announced many exciting things, including the removal of one of vanilla WoW’s crown jewels, the talent tree system. Completely gone. You now pick a “spec” and then get to pick one talent every 15 levels. No more points, no more trees.
I remember it being so damned impressive when the game started. Obviously many choices were crap. Obviously there would be a few “correct” builds and most other setups would be rendered moot. But it still made me feel invested in my character as I leveled, even after we knew the “correct” choice. Now all those choices are gone. Except every 15 levels, when you will pick the one correct choice (as soon as min-maxers figure out what it is for you). This is a total misstep and the wrong thing to be working on.
They just couldn’t get it perfect. They redid it and redid it, making the choices smaller each time, until ultimately the only way to perfect it was to remove it.
Sometimes I’ve worried that I’ve been too hard on Ghostcrawler and company. Turns out I wasn’t. Can you imagine how many cool new game mechanics WoW could have by now if they didn’t feel the need to incessantly rewrite the combat systems? How many rewrites does it take before they accept that there’s no such thing as perfect? What is this, six total rewrites now? But don’t worry, I’m sure they have it right this time.
I post this here not as commentary on WoW, which I don’t play anymore. I post this as a reminder to myself not to get caught up in trying to perfectly balance things. I am a balance-aholic, I admit it. And I don’t know how I’m going to avoid this fate on my own MMO.
I mean, nerfing stuff is one thing — especially during the first year that’s gonna happen as you try to get the game within some semblance of balance. And buffing underwhelming abilities is almost always a good thing, not a bad one.
But rewriting the entire advancement system from scratch? Okay, sometimes a design is a total flop, so maybe a rewrite is necessary one time… maybe. But at this point, it just feels like a cry for help. So if I get to that point, somebody please help me. For now, go help Ghostcrawler, because by God he actually thinks his latest efforts make the game better. No, for real, he does. That’s the saddest part.
EDIT: some more nuance:
There are two topics here. First of all, is the new design better than the old? I obviously don’t like the new advancement mechanics, but that’s not my big gripe.
The second, more important, topic is this: having just rewritten the talent system from scratch in the last expansion, and having finally worked out the major kinks over the past year, does it make sense to erase everything yet again in order to try something new yet again? The answer is no. There are better things for the systems designers to be doing. After each rewrite, the return on investment is rapidly shrinking.
Players aren’t quitting because they made bad choices in the talent tree. (Not anymore, that is.) The number of players clamoring for skill rewrites is at low ebb. And talent tree rewrites aren’t even particularly grabby anymore: Blizzard has played that card with every expansion pack, and a few times in between. This is no longer a good use of developer resources.
So the reason I say that Ghostcrawler is wrong is his priorities. They seem to be focused on making the existing game perfect instead of adding more stuff. With Blizzard’s manpower, it would be easy to add all sorts of new stuff to WoW: deeper and more interesting craft systems, new combat mechanics that require you to use your skills in different but familiar ways, new monsters with more diversity. Entire new classes designed to deal with the new monsters in new ways. You know, game design.
But they add very few new mechanics. Instead,they rewrite the core combat mechanics over and over. Their actions speak a lot louder than words: to Ghostcrawler and team, perfecting the existing game is more important than adding new stuff. The trouble is that nothing is ever perfect, so revisions will never end. And in the meantime, there’s no cool new stuff.
In short, I don’t believe Ghostcrawler’s priorities are smart for the long-term health of WoW at this time.