Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to choose

I think enough time has gone by now that we can focus a bit on one of the big technical changes coming in MoP and how it affects us. Namely, the massive changes in the new talent system.

First of all, a LOT of stuff has been taken out of the talent trees.  Things that are signature talents now are becoming spec-bound abilities that you automatically get as you progress.  So that cuts down on clutter.

Then there’s a bunch of stuff that just came out because it was stupid, or unloved, or it was just added to learnable abilities because everybody uses it anyway.

What is left are eighteen talents, out of which you can choose six.  Each tier gives you three choices, of which you can choose one. Each of the three choices is biased towards one spec or another. For example, Grimoire of Supremacy is obviously playing to the desires of the Demonology warlock (and, might I add it looks pretty spiffy).

So here’s how it pans out for MoP.

  • Abilities that go with your spec that you were going to pick up anyway.
  • Abilities that go with all specs that you would want anyway.
  • Talents that may have a bias to one spec or another, but you have a choice.

Compare that to today (Cata).

  • Talents that go with your spec that you have to have.
  • Talents that are not of your spec but which you will choose once you are able.
  • Filler talents in your specs that you use to get to the next tier.

The Illusion of Freedom

The lament has been “But this removes my essential FREEDOM to choose!” I disagree. Your freedom is illusory.

The fact that you can choose a spec that makes absolutely no sense does not mean that you will or should. This was especially true before Cata hit, when we had seventy-ish talents to choose from and no spec restrictions in place. You had total freedom to go with a 20/20/21 spec but only if you didn’t care about being competitive or competent in your class. If you were raiding, you had roughly three to nine templates to choose from, and that was it. So much for “freedom”.

Your freedom was an illusion. You were either going to choose what Elitist Bastards told you to choose, or you just didn’t care about talents at all, in which case your essential freedom was not to choose at all.


The talent system WAS broken, then less broken, now even less broken – and yet, still broken.

The problem is that any talent that affects performance significantly will either be required – in order to meet performance needs – or it will cause an imbalance if everybody else doesn’t have access to that talent.

All other talents are more flavor or filler talents than anything else.  The fact that you shoot green fire instead of red fire doesn’t affect the fact that you’re shooting fire, and green fire has no more damage potential than red.

You can call that freedom, but I don’t.

Paladins have complete freedom to wear cloth. They don’t. Why? The illusion of that freedom is that it’s actually a CHOICE. It is not, if that paladin is going to be serious about doing Pally stuff. Freedom is an illusion for this pally, because she’s going to put on Plate, and she’s gonna use a shield, and she’s gonna go tank stuff with her faith and nice, solid armor. She has the “freedom” to wear a dress instead. Her raid leader has the “freedom” to replace her.

The fact that the game doesn’t stop you from doing something stupid is perceived as “freedom” but the realities associated with why you wear certain things negate that pretty effectively.

Bottom line is, that paladin never had any freedom at all if she wanted to raid. There’s a list of BiS equipment, of best enchants, reforges, and gem configurations, and she will BY GAWD adhere to those or suffer the consequences.

That’s how Talent System 1.0 was. Oh, sure, as Destro you could be either shadow or fire spec. But we all knew which spec worked better, and you wanted your epeen, yes you did, so you went with the spec that put you on top of the charts.

You had absolute and total freedom … to do exactly what you were told to do – or not to raid.

The Choice is Yours

So what’s different about the MoP talent system isn’t that it removes choices, but that it removes the choices you never had. It is doing away with the silly concept that you ever had a choice on your spec configuration, once the spec was chosen.

You still get to choose. You get to choose what spec you want to run. You get to choose which minor talents to use – which is the only real choice you had in the first place. And, mind you, you can choose from ANY school for these minor talents, which you can’t do right now in Cata.

Another thing about these minor talents is that I am seeing a lot of new stuff to play with. These may be minor talents, but they have game-changing significance. Oh, some of the choices are non-choices, as the talents range from “that’s nice” to “OMG MUST HAEV NAOW”.

BUT – what I am seeing is that they are acknowledging that where a talent makes a huge difference there is probably a lesson to be learned; that the real choices should be significant but not unbalancing. That the real choices should define style but not performance.

You mad bro?

I don’t think that the people that hate this new system have thought the matter through on these terms. They perceive a loss of flexibility without acknowledging that they never used it anyway. Sure, there are outliers. There always are. But those outliers are either out on the edge to prove a point, or landed there by accident and don’t really care otherwise.

No, you should not be concerned about the fella that doesn’t even have his talent tree filled in right now. He won’t care about these changes, either, even if he notices them.

The ones that care – the ones that PvP and raid and do other endgame activities – have already surrendered the freedom to choose out of the wider pool anyway. From here on out, they can focus on stuff that they always had a choice on – red, or green?


Posted on November 1, 2011, in Expansions, Meta. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. You’re absolutely right, and it will take a key complaint away from people that didn’t want to have to do research outside of the game just to be able to play the game the best they could. Without talent points and with all the gear simplification they have done everybody should be on equal ground in those regards and all that would be left is skill or the lack of a life outside the game. Unfortunately I loved doing that sort of thing, researching the best talents made for some of the best blog posts and any of the discussions in the blogosphere that were about talent specs and the debates over them were awesome. Now there’s nothing to talk about it, everything is cookie cutter. It reminds me of when they standardized pet talents so you didn’t have to catch different versions of your same pet to train it up in skill levels. This made being a hunter a lot easier but also took a lot of the fun out of the game for me, I spent a lot of time at Mania’s Arcania researching where to go to find the pets with the skills I wanted and had some of the best all around pets you could have with multiple skills. Then they dumped all of that and made all pets generic. Part of me never got over that Just another reason I say its not the same game anymore. But I did have a ton of playing it for a long time and if you are still having fun that’s all that should matter 🙂 just my two cent rant. Hi Grimm!
    K Out!


  2. Well, I think to excel we will still need to do research. But the knife’s edge will be thinner between one choice and another. Have a look at the first tier warlock talents, as an example. All are healy-type spells, but go from a spell you can use on demand to heal, to a passive side-effect of damage, to an offensive AoE spell that also heals from all victims at once. So what if we find that healing is more or less the same for all three, DPS is unaffected, and it really depends on playstyle as to which is better? More time logged in, at the training dummy? Okay, bad example, but imagine that DPS was affected.

    I do miss the pets thing. That was a lot more fun than the portable buff machines we haul around in a sack now. On the other hand, pets have talents now, and you can spec them differently. I read that BRK had four different Spirit Beast configurations that he used for different fights. Now that’s a matter of study, dedication, and skill, right there.

    That DOES beg the question of what they are doing with pet talents, does it not? 🙂


  3. This is basically everything that’s been tumbling around in my head since I first read about this change, only coherent and stuff! Totally agree RE the illusion of choice and the brokenness of the current trees. One of the major frustrations I’ve been having while leveling alts is that you’re often forced into choosing talents that modify abilities that YOU HAVEN’T LEARNED YET, just to get deeper into the tree. It’s a small thing, but….urrgh.

    I’m really liking the whole idea of customization based on style, not power. I hope that design goal remains, and it isn’t just a choice between the red fire and the green fire. Specifically – I want Ursol’s Vortex for my moonkin NAO so I can yoink all the things on top of my mushrooms and kill them in the face! Rawr.


    • I think that what most people want from talent trees is to distinguish themselves from others dressed in exactly the same gear with exactly the same model. A little pizazz. Most people realize that if a talent build gives you ultimate power, everyone will copy it anyway, so we’re back to style over substance anyway.

      And, yeah, I like the idea of leeching health from everyone within ten yards even as I DPS all the things. There are some neat things in there!


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