Everything you need to know about WoW's talents and specializations

We're going back to basics today to talk about talents and specializations in World of Warcraft. If you're pretty new to the game, you might not know what these are at all, but anyone over level 10 has at least seen the terms thrown around. We're going to explain just what talents and specializatons mean for your character and well as how to get the most out of your talent choices.

What are specializations?
At level 10, every character (save death knights, who start at level 55) is prompted to choose a talent specialization. While many spells and abilities are core to the class -- meaning you'll get them no matter which specialization you choose -- there are also abilities that you only get if you've chosen a particular specialization. Each specialization focuses on a slightly different playstyle, so you should pick the one that most appeals to you.

Here are your options:

  • Death Knight: Blood (tank), frost (melee DPS), and unholy (melee DPS)

  • Druid: Balance (magic DPS), feral (melee DPS), guardian (tank), restoration (healer)

  • Hunter: Beast mastery (ranged DPS), marksmanship (ranged DPS), survival (ranged DPS)

  • Mage: Arcane (magic DPS), fire (magic DPS), frost (magic DPS)

  • Monk: Brewmaster (tank), mistweaver (healer), windwalker (melee DPS)

  • Paladin: Holy (healer), protection (tank), retribution (melee DPS)

  • Priest: Discipline (healer), holy (healer), shadow (magic DPS)

  • Rogue: Assassination (melee DPS), combat (melee DPS), subtlety (melee DPS)

  • Shaman: Elemental (magic DPS), enhancement (magic DPS), restoration (healer)

  • Warlock: Affliction (magic DPS), demonology (magic DPS), destruction (magic DPS)

  • Warrior: Arms (melee DPS), fury (melee DPS), protection (tank)

If you're just leveling, pick the specialization that sounds most interesting to you -- though anything with a DPSfocus is probably your best bet. As you approach end-game, though, and start doing more dungeons and raids, you'll have to think carefully about what you want your role in a group to be: if you want to tank or heal, you'll need to pick the right specialization.

What are talents?
After you've picked a specialization at level 10, your next hurdle is picking your first talent at level 15 (or level 56 if you're a death knight). A talent is a specific ability or bonus you select every 15 levels, so you get a new talent option at levels 15, 30, 45, 60, 75, and 90 (or 56, 57, 58, 60, 75, and 90 for death knights). At each of these levels, you have the choice of one of three abilities which can help your gameplay. Typically, the three options on each tier will have a similar function, like being different ways to regain health or different ways to boost your movement speed.

Like with specializations, we think the best way to deal with talents while leveling is to pick the ones that sound most useful. If you change your mind later -- or want to change your talents for more functionality in groups or raids -- you can swap one talent for another. But as you're leveling, have fun, play around, and try new things.

Do I have to stick to just one specialization?
At level 30, you can learn dual talent specialization from any class trainer for 10 gold. This will let you pick two specializations, each with different talents, different glyphs, and even different hotbar layouts. So if having one spec works better for PvP but another spec works better for grouping, it's easy to set up by talking to your class trainer.

Once you've set up dual specs, switching from one to the other is as easy as pressing a button. Just open the talent pane (the default hotkey is "N"), select your inactive specialization and click "Activate." It takes 5 seconds to swap and doing so resets your mana, rage, or energy to zero -- you can't swap specs in combat or in battlegrounds, but you also really wouldn't want to.

Leveling players remember: because your hotbars and talents are unique to each spec, you could swap to find your hotbar deserted and your talents unchosen if you haven't switched specs recently. So if you're switching in order to PvP or run a dungeon, make sure you leave enough time to sort out these issues beforehand!

I made a mistake! Can I change my specialization and talents?
Changing both your specialization and talents is relatively simple, but it does have a cost. Changing your specialization (for either of your available specializations) requires you to visit a class trainer and pay a fee. The fee increases each time you pay it, so when you decide to make a change, be sure you're really decided. (And if you're below level 30, you might just consider waiting until you hit level 30 to pick up a second specialization.)

If you want to switch out your talents, you can reset them all for a fee at your class trainer or swap just one talent for another using Vanishing Powder (for players up to level 80), Dust of Disappearance (for players up to level 85), or Tome of the Clear Mind (for players up to level 90). All of these can be purchased from inscription vendors, though Tome of the Clear Mind can also be crafted by scribes.

Which talent specializations are best for me?
The conventional wisdom on the best specializations and talents can change from patch to patch and is beyond the range of this guide. However, we can recommend some great places to look for the latest talent information:

And now, good luck with whichever spec you choose!

Just because you're a newbie doesn't mean you can't bring your A-game to World of Warcraft! Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from the seven things every newbie ought to know to how to get started as a healer or as a tank.