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Mists of Pandaria says bye-bye to cookie-cutter builds

Anne Stickney

I had no idea that talents existed in vanilla WoW. I wasn't really stupid -- I just didn't know what talents were or that they were something I should be getting. I expect they were detailed somewhere in the instruction booklet that I didn't bother reading before I started running around Azeroth. I was finally clued in to their existence around level 40 or so on my first character, when a friend asked what spec I was putting points into. My blank "... points?" response garnered an immediate lesson on talent trees.

Talents received a massive overhaul between Wrath and Cataclysm, one that saw a vast majority of talents culled and the trees themselves shortened considerably. It took a little time to get used to the changes, but in the end, the changing of talents wasn't really as huge a deal as I thought it'd be. Choosing talents on a character is still just as easy as it used to be. Don't worry so much about what you pick while you're leveling, and when you reach 85, you'll find plenty of sites online that will tell you the best stuff to grab at max level and why.

Which is sort of the problem, isn't it?

Mushan, Etc. asked a terribly good question about the talents as sit now in Mists of Pandaria: Just exactly how are we going to describe a talent build in Mists, anyway? How are you going to tell another player what trees you've delved into? As it stands today, you simply tell another player your spec and how many points you have assigned into each tree, and they know exactly what you're talking about (or at least, a general idea). Mushan pondered this problem and came up with a few good solutions; it's an entertaining read and an even better question, really.

Mushan also pointed out that of course, there's a possibility we won't need the shorthand reference to specs at all. And that leads me back to the point in the intro of this article. As it stands in Cataclysm and in every expansion before, once a player hits max level, the common thing to do is to check out websites full of very smart people who've crunched all this talent information and spat out the best talent tree specs for whatever it is you happen to be doing in the game. Once you've found said website and said spec, you can go into the game and plunk your points into your trees, satisfied that your talents are settled.

That's -- well, that's more than a little counterproductive, isn't it? The last thing I want to do while I am playing a game is to be drawn out of it. The last thing I want to do is alt-tab out or check a game guide. I would much rather continue happily playing as long as I'd like to keep playing. The old talent tree system was pretty much set up with a list of abilities that boosted your DPS, healing, or other skills. Not taking those talents was tantamount to failure, plain and simple. If you didn't pick the right things, you weren't pulling optimal DPS or healing effectively or tanking correctly.

I know one of the things my guild looks for when recruiting would-be raiders is how exactly applicants have mapped out their talent trees. Did they make the logical choices and go for a spec that everyone says is optimal, or did they haphazardly plunk points wherever they wanted? And if they didn't go cookie-cutter, why not? In Mists, this method of looking at raid applicants or other players is simply ceasing to exist.

Most talents in Mists are centered around thematic ideas for each tier of the tree. So with rogues, for example, the first tier of talents revolves around the idea of stealth and being stealthy. Each of the three choices has its advantages and disadvantages, but none of the choices really affects how much DPS I pump out in a raid. The third tier of rogue talents involves avoiding or mitigating damage -- again, nothing that really effects how much DPS I do.

I love this. I can't really express how much I love this, but I can try to explain why it's a wonderful thing. For the first time since vanilla, players won't be able to point at talent tree choices and judge whether a player is good or bad based solely on the merits of whatever talents he's happened to pick. The talents a player chooses, by and large, have no influence at all on how well that player happens to play.

Do you see what this means? It means, for the first time since vanilla, that players will have to be judged on how well they actually play the game rather than whether or not they know to go to an obscure website, look at cookie-cutter talent trees, and mechanically plunk points in. It means that this particular weapon that players use to sometimes unfairly and viciously criticize players will no longer be available. It means we get to concentrate less on knowing where to alt-tab to and more on actually playing our characters and playing them effectively.

And as someone who thoroughly enjoys playing a game and not so much the endless alt-tabbing, that's a fantastic thing.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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