Monday, May 20, 2013

Levelling and Talent Trees

For background, please read Talent Trees.

Leveling in Mists of Pandaria is definitely missing something. There are too many dead levels, levels where nothing interesting happens. As well, there is a distinct lack of choice, of the feeling that you are crafting your character as you level. In previous expansions, the mechanic that accomplished this were the talent trees. Every level or so, you got a talent point, you had a choice where to place that talent point, and you slowly improved your character.

Now, from a endgame point of view, the talent tree system wasn't very good. There was no real choice, and all comparisons being implicit made it hard to offer meaningful options. The current explicit choice system is much more interesting at endgame.

But the current system is much less interesting while leveling. You only get a choice every 15 levels, which is an eternity. Often, the choice isn't really relevant to leveling gameplay. For the purposes of leveling alone, talent trees were a superior mechanic.

Here's my proposal: Bring back talent trees, but have them only be used for leveling.

Have one tree structure for each spec. Each spec tree contains all the active and passive abilities that a class would get while leveling. But each tree consists of exactly 81 points. With a point per level after 10, that means a max level character has filled out the tree entirely.

Thus talent trees become a leveling mechanic only. It becomes the way abilities are delivered while leveling, rather than automatically gaining those abilities. Players can choose the path through the trees, making a difference in how you choose to level. Maybe you'll get Holy Radiance early, maybe you'll make a run at the cooldowns, or go for important passives first.  While leveling, the order in which you gain abilities is important. But it's still a temporary choice, because leveling is a temporary state.

Since all talents will eventually be taken, the design of the tree can be as intricate as you desire. You can have lots of prerequisites, multiple paths, even arrange the tree to form a pretty picture.

At max level, you can just assume the tree is filled in. Switch specs, and the new tree is already filled in. A max level character has all the abilities she requires for endgame, just like the current system for Mists.

Talent trees would make leveling a little more interesting. It would add some more choice back into the early game, and allow you some agency over how your character developed.


  1. Interesting concept. I just wonder how much Blizzard cares about the leveling experience since much of the game seems focused on getting you to maximum level as quickly as possible. Which is sad... Azeroth is still one of the most interesting virtual worlds out there, for a themepark at least.

  2. I like this idea. A lot. I completely agree that leveling is super boring these days, a lot of that bore stemming from lack of rewards we used to get. Rare items in every slot is an expected feat now instead of the gasp-worthy spectacle it used to be, and without the apply-it-yourself style of old talents and spells, leveling is just something that happens in the background and isn't even worth noticing.

  3. Great idea. Since Blizz remade 1-60 during Cataclysm, it's sure they care about leveling. This way people could learn their class more as they get one spell at a time.

  4. Here's a better idea: bring back going to the trainers for more training. Right now, the trainers are completely superfluous; it's only when you need to respec do you show up at one. Either remove class trainers from the game entirely, or bring back the need to haul yourself back to a trainer to actually, you know, train.

  5. An interesting idea, I like it. It could add numerous paths to the same 'optimal' end-game goal of unlocking everything.

  6. This is the best compromise between old and new talents I've seen suggested. I'm totally with you on the point that leveling is relatively uninteresting now, in terms of character crafting, and I'll also point out this applies to gear as well once a player has heirlooms. Though most players may be on board with skipping over that aspect of the game, I enjoy getting upgrades as I level. I still use the occasional dropped weapon over heirlooms, since they are often better for a few levels.

    It seems to me that hardly anyone cares about gear while leveling, much less stats. Leveling is notionally a way to learn the class, but heirlooms have the negative effect of leaving fresh 90's relatively clueless on how to gem/enchant/reforge unless they go on noxxic or icyveins. Stats just don't matter while leveling.

    I also think that leveling content should be re-tuned to be more difficult and heirlooms nerfed (in stats, not xp bonus). I hate it when fistweaving monks pull extra packs and solo them while never bothering to cast a real heal, or when DK's grip with abandon and never die. I do mostly dungeons to level, and my takeaway from the experience over the last 3 years is that leveling that way has become more and more of a faceroll, resulting in bad players being rewarded with faster results and good players being kicked repeatedly for such simple things as waiting for the healer to get mana, or doing an LOS pull. I feel a rant coming.

  7. Sounds like a potentially interesting system. There could be some snags though. The first is that there really wouldn't be a way to tune the leveling difficulty. Maybe that sort of thing doesn't matter anymore, between all the new abilities and heirlooms and such, but it would be a concern in some hypothetical new game. Are the mobs tuned so low that someone intentionally gimping themselves could still beat it? Or tuned to the optimizer's level? If it is inbetween, you end up frustrating both extremes.

    The second snag is a similar problem: who would choose group-centric abilities while leveling solo? If there was any chance I could boost my leveling speed, I would likely delay learning a Resurrection spell as long as possible... but that would hurt any dungeon party that I might want to get into.

    The last concern is that it doesn't really change much in the scheme of things. The "dead levels" are still there, they are simply pushed to the end of the leveling curve. You know, right as things slow down and get extra boring as you approach the cap.

    It's an interesting take though, and I could see it working if the designers really concentrated on it.

  8. @Azuriel, I wonder how many group-centric abilities are strictly necessary? Resurrection is probably the only one that is absolutely needed. It could always be given out normally.

    As for the last few levels, consider that its pretty much the same as the current system. So I see talent trees as strictly better. Plus, at that point, endgame is in sight. Finally, I do think there is some satisfaction in placing the last few points and "finishing" your work.

    It's like a jigsaw puzzle. The last piece is a foregone conclusion, but its still satisfying to place it and look upon the completed work.

  9. What you're describing is basically the GW2 system. In GW2 you earn a skill point whenever you level up. At the level cap you have more than enough skill points to buy every spell but you can only use 5 of them at any one time (like the MoP talent system).

    The interesting point of GW2 is that you continue to gain XP even at the level cap and whenever you would level up you just get another skill point. And skill points are not only used to buy skills but also to buy items from vendors. Experience at the level cap can be thought of as valor points. A legendary weapon costs, besides a ton of other material, 200 skill points.

    Blizzard tries to lure you to play a lot of things in WoW and they do that by adding valor point onto most activities (daily, killing rares, pet daily, raiding, heroics, scenario). I think it would be awesome if Blizzard would remove valor points and just let you continue to gain XP at the level cap. Whenever you would level up at level 90 you would gain one "skill point" which could be used to buy items. A pair of pants from the IoT would e.g. cost 5 "skill points". The nice thing is that you could play the game the way you want and you would get XP, and therefore skill points, from it. Everything in the game rewards XP, everything in the game would be an endgame activity.