A new, exciting build of the Cataclysm beta has been released, implementing the promised overhaul to the talent trees. It's still raw at this point, but we get a glimpse of the direction the developers want to take. The basic or starter abilities have been defined and although some of these may change, such as Divine Storm for retribution paladins (Ghostcrawler, lead systems designer, mentioned that it would probably go back into the talent tree), the changes feel solid and refreshing. One of the ideas the developers have is that "both the 31-point and the 10(-point) ability need to have more single-target use," which means we should get very good one-on-one abilities early on as well as at higher levels. As we mentioned, the trees are a long way off from being done, but that shouldn't stop us from taking a look at them and picturing the possibilities.
One of the cooler, less noticeable things to come out of this build are the one-liner descriptions about each of the talent specs, allowing players to quickly grasp the concept of each spec. Blizzard seems committed to keeping this model, complete with talent tree lock-outs to prevent players from straying into other trees early on. As you might have suspected, the real culprit (or at least the most notable one) behind this change is PvP:
I can't say I disagree with that notion, although I'm pretty sure the Shockadin spec wasn't a sneaky build intended for PvP ... To all Shockadin loyalists (yes, all three of you), I'm sorry, but the spec is now all dead and not just mostly dead. My condolences. Hybrid specs will become a thing of the past, and the devs want you to embrace the concept of having one (well, two, since you can dual spec) major spec. It's interesting how Blizzard viewed this method of speccing to be "breaking the rules" this whole time. In the expansion, players wishing to dedicate to a PvP spec will need to settle for the options provided by one tree. At best, players can invest or sub-spec up to 10 points or two tiers deep into a secondary tree at higher levels. Looking at the new talent trees, there are not a lot of options in that regard. Let's take a look at what we have so far.
Under the new scenario, players only have until the first two tiers to sub-spec for PvP talents. Narrowing the options makes it easier for players to design talent trees and reduces the instances of min-maxing. It also makes it easier for Blizzard to predict the PvP landscape instead of getting caught with their pants down when players come up with something crazy like healing builds using the tanking tree. Hybrid specs that cherry-pick from two trees generally create imbalanced situations, forcing the developers to come up with clumsy, radical solutions such as moving talents deeper into the trees (e.g., Summon Gargoyle) to prevent other specs from picking them up.
It is also almost guaranteed that players will pick up the bottom-most talent in their chosen tree or spec, given that it is a mere one-point investment, again making it easier for players and developers alike to envision the PvP environment. In fact, the developers are already planning for this, peppering the upper tiers with talents that complement abilities exclusive to other specs such as Crusade from the paladin retribution tree, which helps Hammer of the Righteous at the bottom of protection, or Holy Shock, the bonus skill for the holy spec. There's the strangely worded first-tier restoration talent Furor, which benefits feral and balance druids but has no direct benefits to restoration druids. Blizzard encourages taking talents from other trees, but it should no longer feel mandatory. Let's take a quick glance at some of the top-tier talents out in this build of the beta.
Death knight The death knight trees along with a few other classes and specs are "nowhere near done," according to Blizzard. That said, there are a few talents in the upper tiers worth looking at for PvP. There's Lichborne from the frost tree, moved up a tier to make it accessible to other specs, and Unholy Command in the unholy tree. There's also the runic power-generating Butchery in the blood tree, which becomes even more attractive because of the battlegrounds, where there are lots of killing blows to be had.
Druid The balance tree holds Lunar Justice, a new and wonderful -- not to mention visually exciting -- talent to have in the battlegrounds. The downside is that it's on the second tier of the balance tree, and there's nothing too compelling about the first tier other than Nature's Grace, which works well for restoration. In the feral tree, the developers pulled up the awesome Predatory Strikes from the fourth tier to the first tier in what seems to suspiciously be an attempt to get other specs to pick it up. Blessing of the Grove on the first tier of restoration improves abilities commonly used by the other specs but seems a bit too passive to remain in its current state. The druid trees still seem to need a lot of work, but I get the feeling that Blizzard is once again trying to push more active, in-combat shapeshifting into the druid playstyle. We'll see how well that works out in the coming weeks.
Hunter The hunter trees seem to be a little more fleshed out, and there are a lot of good talents in the upper tiers, especially for PvP. In the beast mastery tree, there's One with Nature, which improves the focus regeneration of Aspect of the Fox, a critical new ability for hunter PvP. There's also Pathfinding on the second tier, which grants mobility bonuses and should come in handy for group movement in the battlegrounds. Rapid Killing on the first tier of marksmanship has better value with the battlegrounds being on equal footing with arenas. Entrapment on the second tier of survival is extremely attractive now coupled with the Trap Launcher ability that allows hunters to fire traps at long range.