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WoW Rookie: What's new for leveling players in Cataclysm


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This week's WoW Rookie is all about leveling in Cataclysm. There's a completely overhauled talent point system that creates a more focused leveling experience. There's a new feature that blasts players with the full flavor of their chosen spec right at level 10. There are new zone and instance level ranges for all the old content you're already working your way through. Want still more? We've even got full walk-throughs of selected revamped zones. If you wish to remain completely spoiler-free, we'll see you next week; everyone else, gather 'round and let's buzz about what's coming out of the Cataclysm beta that will be affecting new and leveling players.

The biggest buzz, of course, is how different your character's development will feel now that players will be funneling down a single talent tree for all but the last 15 levels. Blizzard's complete overhaul of the talent system, which will debut to beta testers during the next round or two of beta builds, locks players into a single talent tree all the way until level 70. Join us after the break for everything we know at this point.

When we first announced our design goals for class talent trees back at BlizzCon 2009, one of our major stated focuses was to remove some of the boring and "mandatory" passive talents. We mentioned that we wanted talent choices to feel more flavorful and fun, yet more meaningful at the same time. Recently, we had our fansites release information on work-in-progress talent tree previews for druids, priests, shaman, and rogues. From those previews and via alpha test feedback, a primary response we heard was that these trees didn't incorporate the original design goals discussed at BlizzCon. This response echoes something we have been feeling internally for some time, namely that the talent tree system has not aged well since we first increased the level cap beyond level 60. In an upcoming beta build, we will unveil bold overhauls of all 30 talent trees.

Talent Tree Vision

One of the basic tenets of Blizzard game design is that of "concentrated coolness." We'd rather have a simpler design with a lot of depth, than a complicated but shallow design. The goal for Cataclysm remains to remove a lot of the passive (or lame) talents, but we don't think that's possible with the current tree size. To resolve this, we're reducing each tree to 31-point talents. With this reduction in tree size we need to make sure they're being purchased along a similar leveling curve, and therefore will also be reducing the number of total talent points and the speed at which they're awarded during the leveling process.

As a result, we can keep the unique talents in each tree, particularly those which provide new spells, abilities or mechanics. We'll still have room for extra flavorful talents and room for player customization, but we can trim a great deal of fat from each tree. The idea isn't to give players fewer choices, but to make those choices feel more meaningful. Your rotations won't change and you won't lose any cool talents. What will change are all of the filler talents you had to pick up to get to the next fun talent, as well as most talents that required 5 of your hard-earned points.

We are also taking a hard look at many of the mandatory PvP talents, such as spell pushback or mechanic duration reductions. While there will always be PvP vs. PvE builds, we'd like for the difference to be less extreme, so that players don't feel like they necessarily need to spend their second talent specialization on a PvP build.

The Rise of Specialization

We want to focus the talent trees towards your chosen style of gameplay right away. That first point you spend in a tree should be very meaningful. If you choose Enhancement, we want you to feel like an Enhancement shaman right away, not thirty talent points later. When talent trees are unlocked at level 10, you will be asked to choose your specialization (e.g. whether you want to be an Arms, Fury or Protection warrior) before spending that first point. Making this choice comes with certain benefits, including whatever passive bonuses you need to be effective in that role, and a signature ability that used to be buried deeper in the talent trees. These abilities and bonuses are only available by specializing in a specific tree. Each tree awards its own unique active ability and passives when chosen. The passive bonuses range from flat percentage increases, like a 20% increase to Fire damage for Fire mages or spell range increases for casters, to more interesting passives such as the passive rage regeneration of the former Anger Management talent for Arms warriors, Dual-Wield Specialization for Fury warriors and Combat rogues, or the ability to dual-wield itself for Enhancement shaman.

The initial talent tree selection unlocks active abilities that are core to the chosen role. Our goal is to choose abilities that let the specializations come into their own much earlier than was possible when a specialization-defining talent had to be buried deep enough that other talent trees couldn't access them. For example, having Lava Lash and Dual-Wield right away lets an Enhancement shaman feel like an Enhancement shaman. Other role-defining examples of abilities players can now get for free at level 10 include Mortal Strike, Bloodthirst, Shield Slam, Mutilate, Shadow Step, Thunderstorm, Earth Shield, Water Elemental, and Penance.

Getting Down to the Grit

Talent trees will have around 20 unique talents instead of today's (roughly) 30 talents, and aesthetically will look a bit more like the original World of Warcraft talent trees. The 31-point talents will generally be the same as the 51-point talents we already had planned for Cataclysm. A lot of the boring or extremely specialized talents have been removed, but we don't want to remove anything that's going to affect spell/ability rotations. We want to keep overall damage, healing, and survivability roughly the same while providing a lot of the passive bonuses for free based on your specialization choice.

While leveling, you will get 1 talent point about every 2 levels (41 points total at level 85). Our goal is to alternate between gaining a new class spell or ability and gaining a talent point with each level. As another significant change, you will not be able to put points into a different talent tree until you have dedicated 31 talent points to your primary specialization. While leveling, this will be possible at 70. Picking a talent specialization should feel important. To that end, we want to make sure new players understand the significance of reaching the bottom of their specialization tree before gaining the option of spending points in the other trees. We intend to make sure dual-specialization and re-talenting function exactly as they do today so players do not feel locked into their specialization choice.

A True Mastery

The original passive Mastery bonuses players were to receive according to how they spent points in each tree are being replaced by the automatic passive bonuses earned when a tree specialization is chosen. These passives are flat percentages and we no longer intend for them to scale with the number of talent points spent. The Mastery bonus that was unique to each tree will now be derived from the Mastery stat, found on high-level items, and Mastery will be a passive skill learned from class trainers around level 75. In most cases, the Mastery stats will be the same as the tree-unique bonuses we announced earlier this year. These stats can be improved by stacking Mastery Rating found on high-level items.

To Recap

When players reach level 10, they are presented with basic information on the three specializations within their class and are asked to choose one. Then they spend their talent point. The other trees darken and are unavailable until 31 points are spent in the chosen tree. The character is awarded an active ability, and one or more passive bonuses unique to the tree they've chosen. As they gain levels, they'll alternate between receiving a talent point and gaining new skills. They'll have a 31-point tree to work down, with each talent being more integral and exciting than they have been in the past. Once they spend their 31'st point in the final talent (at level 70), the other trees open up and become available to allocate points into from then on. As characters move into the level 78+ areas in Cataclysm, they'll begin seeing items with a new stat, Mastery. Once they learn the Mastery skill from their class trainer they'll receive bonuses from the stat based on the tree they've specialized in.

We understand that these are significant changes and we still have details to solidify. We feel, however, that these changes better fulfill our original class design goals for Cataclysm, and we're confident that they will make for a better gameplay experience. Your constructive feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

A few observations about how the revamped talent system may affect leveling:
  • No more weird, patchwork builds while you're leveling. The developers want you to get a strong feel for your chosen spec(s) and playstyle.
  • You can still respec or purchase dual specialization if you'd like to experiment with the other talent trees. (Here's hoping Blizzard will lower the cost -- and the level requirement for dual speccing -- to make them more friendly to new players.)
  • It remains to be seen what will happen to classes like priests that currently rely on a mix of talents from multiple trees for effective leveling. However, this next bit of news may get your tail wagging ...
And now for what may be the most exciting development yet for leveling players: In Cataclysm, you'll taste the full flavor of your class and your spec right from the start. The developers are moving one of the strongest, most defining abilities of each talent spec to that very first, 10th-level talent slot to level 10 as a bonus ability that you learn for choosing a spec. News about which specs get which abilities is still trickling out, but so far, we've gathered the following indications scattered among various official Blizzard posts:
  • Mage (Frost) Summon Water Elemental
  • Paladin (Retribution) Divine Storm
  • Priest (Discipline) Penance
  • Priest (Shadow) Mind Flay
  • Rogue (Assassination) Mutilate
  • Rogue (Subtlety) Shadowstep
  • Shaman (Elemental) Thunderstorm
  • Shaman (Enhancement) Dual Wield, Lava Lash
  • Shaman (Restoration) Earth Shield
  • Warrior (Arms) Anger Management, Mortal Strike
  • Warrior (Fury) Bloodthirst
  • Warrior (Protection) Shield Slam, Vitality

Visit this roundup thread for more talent insights and clues from Ghostcrawler (Blizzard's lead systems designer) -- and remember, this is beta. Everything is still open to change.

Where will we be leveling?

So you've prepared yourself mentally for a major shift in talents. Now, where will you be using them? Check this list for a look at beta zone level ranges and degree that each zone has geographically changed from the present content.

  • Ashenvale (20-25) Major
  • Azshara (12-20) Major
  • Darkshore (12-20) Major
  • Desolace (30-35) Major
  • Durotar (1-12) Major
  • Dustwallow Marsh (35-40) Minor
  • Felwood (50-55) Moderate
  • Feralas (35-40) Moderate
  • Mulgore (1-12) Minor
  • Northern Barrens (12-20) Major
  • Orgrimmar (NA) Major
  • Southern Barrens (30-35) Major
  • Stonetalon Mountains (25-30) Major
  • Tanaris (45-50) Major
  • Teldrassil (1-12) Minor
  • Thousand Needles (40-45) Major
  • Thunderbluff (NA) Very Minor
  • Ungoro Crater (50-55) Minor

Eastern Kingdoms
  • Alterac Mountains (35-40) Very Minor
  • Arathi Highlands (25-30) Minor
  • Badlands (35-40) Major
  • Blasted Lands (55-60) Major
  • Burning Steppes (50-55) Very Minor
  • Cape of Stranglethorn (30-35) Major
  • Dun Morogh (1-12) Moderate
  • Duskwood (20-25) Moderate
  • Eastern Plaguelands (35-40) Moderate
  • Elwynn Forest (1-12) Minor
  • Hillsbrad Foothills (25-35) Minor
  • Loch Modan (10-20) Moderate
  • Northern Stranglethorn (25-30) Major
  • Redridge Mountains (15-20) Moderate
  • Silverpine Forest (10-15) Major
  • Stormwind (NA) Major
  • Swamp of Sorrows (35-40) Major
  • The Hinterlands (30-35) Minor
  • Trisfal Glades (1-12) Moderate
  • Undercity (NA) Moderate
  • Western Plaguelands (50-55) Moderate
  • Westfall (10-15) Major
  • Wetlands (20-25) Major

New dungeons
  • Blackrock Caverns, BRM (78-83)
  • Throne of the Tides, Vashj'ir (79-81)

Want a closer look at the changing face of Azeroth? Michael Sacco walks readers through an entire series on revamped zones, starting earlier this week with Western Plaguelands. "I have STV, Westfall, Redridge and a few others that will be good to go over the next few days as well," he notes. Check back in the days to come for those zones and others!

And if it's what's happening to your favorite vanilla instances that's driving you mad ... Well, we don't have many details at this very moment, but you'll find a few tantalizing tidbits in the screenshots in this post. Taken by a beta player and showing what he sees in the dungeon finder, the screenshot (yes, it's the same screenshot twice, cropped differently) gives you some idea of how dungeon levels are being shuffled in the expansion. Scholomance at level 38? Game on!

The look of Cataclysm

Even the user interface has been spruced up for the expansion. Visit our post on Cataclysm's UI changes to see what's new with the character panel, the leveling-up animation and new ability alerts (be sure to check out the video version of your new DING!), spells and professions book, trainer interface and quest log.

We need your beta screenshots! We'd love to show you more changes -- but alas, rookie-level screenshots and details aren't as popular as the goblin and worgen newbie zones or the high-level content. Are you in the beta? Share your leveling screenshots and details with WoW Rookie readers! Email screenshots to

If all the talk of historical figures, wars, rivalries and political maneuvering leaves you scratching your head in confusion, catch up on your WoW lore with Lore 101,'s Guide to the Lore of Warcraft (now being updated -- stay tuned for fresh resources soon!) and our Know Your Lore series.

In the meantime? Another week, another level ... See you next ding, WoW rookies!

Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player. WoW Rookie walks you through all sort of new-player concerns -- from game lingo for the beginner, to joining your first guild as a mid-level player, all the way up through what to do when you finally hit level 80.

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