As far as basic skills go, every character of a given class in WoW is the same (assuming they bothered to train all their skills; I've certainly left Feedback on my Priest and Wound Poison on my Rogue well alone). Where character customization comes in is with talents and gear. Gear is relatively easily switched -- many classes carry multiple sets routinely, and mods like ItemRack or Outfitter are great at helping you switch between them. Talents, on the other hand, are not quite so easy to switch up. Not only do you have to trek back into Azeroth to a major city to find a trainer, but you also have to pay, and of course the more you respec the more it costs. Granted, even the 50g maximum cost is a lot less now than it used to be, due to inflation, but it certainly adds up, and it's not really attractive to pay 100g (respec away, then respec back) just for one night of instances, PvP, grinding, or what have you. Blizz have said that the respec cost is not going away, as they want talents to have some kind of lasting implications, to be a somewhat weighty choice, but it does get somewhat frustrating to have to gimp yourself in one part of the game to be great at another part.
Tobold's MMORPG Blog is always a good read, and today he debuts a new column about "single features that I think are easy enough to implement and which could make World of Warcraft a much better game." This being WoW, I'm sure the idea has arisen before, but this week Tobold has come up with the idea of letting everyone have two specs and be able to switch between them for free. You could still charge to change either spec, on the same plan as before. To avoid on-the-fly spec switching abuse, you could make people go to a trainer to switch. If this were implemented, I'd also want to see a spec switcher NPC in Shattrath, because that's where the party is these days.
I absolutely agree that this would be a great feature, and I don't think it would weaken the talent system very much. We would still be motivated to think hard about each of our two specs, it would just let us do one thing while we can't do another. I think two specs is the right number, too. There are basically three environments in this game: solo PvE, group PvE, and (group) PvP (group PvE and PvP further differentiate into Raid/5-man and BG/Arena, but I don't think that's important for these purposes). Making people choose two out of them makes sense to me for some reason (of course, that could always be because I don't PvP very much). It seems that most people pick either PvP or group PvE as their endgame challenge, and everyone needs to solo from time to time, so giving us two specs would let us solo and do our group thing of choice.
There are two concerns that arose in the comments on Tobold's post that I would like to address here. One commenter worries that this will cause cookie-cutter speccing: everyone will pick what eventually emerges as the best pair of specs. To this I simply reply that cookie-cutterism is already rampant. Today, people pick a role and tend to spec cookie cutter for it. This wouldn't be any different in that respect, you'd just use whatever standard spec applied to the job you were trying to do. The other concern is that it would require people to collect two sets of gear, one for each of their specs. Once again, this is already happening. As a Priest I carry two sets, healing and DPS; they only share one piece right now. Druids routinely carry three sets, as do Paladins; Warriors often carry two; etc. There's a certain extent, in fact, to which a dual spec system would merely be an extension of carrying multiple sets of gear.
What do you guys think? Is this a good idea, or would it give us too much power? What ideas for simple, game-improving features have you come up with?