Talent Point Battle: Mandatory vs Optional vs Cookie-cutter
Blizzard’s goal to give players flexibility in choosing talent points in Cataclysm came under fire on the official World of Warcraft Forums recently. After reading through all of the posts, both by players and by Blizzard’s own Ghostcrawler, I started thinking about how and why we make talent choices, and the repercussions of those decisions.
First off, let me start by saying that I am for the post part a “cookie-cutter” talent build guy. I do examine talents and try to adjust according to my play style, but less than I used to. When I was healing as a Shaman in dungeons in Burning Crusade and early Wrath of the Lich King, I really examined how I liked to heal and adjusted stats and talents accordingly. Since then, I’ve become a raiding Paladin tank, and I stick much more closely to cookie-cutter talent builds with much less deviation.
Does that mean that I think cookie-cutter builds are the only way to go? No, it doesn’t. I would love for the day to come where players can make choices about their talents, customizing them to their own personal style, and be happy and successful in whatever aspect of the game they choose to participate.
Unfortunately, it really isn’t quite that easy to deviate from cookie-cutter builds for a number of reasons. One big reason is player perceptions of other players based on their talent build.
First to step into the ring are the mandatory talents. A mandatory talent is one that your primary spec must have, no question about it. For example, as a Protection Paladin, it is a no-brainer that I take Toughness. No question about that one.
Mandatory talents are closely related to the cookie-cutter talent builds because a cookie-cutter build basically says: all talent points in this build are mandatory.
But what Blizzard is going for, and what players should have the ability to choose, are a number of optional talents that you can put into your personal talent spec. Using the Protection Paladin example again, a talent like Wrath of the Lightbringer might be something that some players want and some don’t. Based on your play style or your preference you might choose this talent and there may be another talent that you leave out in the process.
Doesn’t the concept of free-choice and free-thinking sound great?
The problems arise however, when players designate a particular talent spec to be the cookie-cutter build from which all great players are made, and if you choose to deviate from that build, you fail–game over–don’t even think about getting an invite to my raid until you respec.
There is a stigma that is place on players who deviate from the cookie-cutter builds by those who live and die by the smallest increases in potential dps, healing, and effective health. If you deviate, then clearly you are a bad player. Right?
No, of course not. We can’t judge a player solely by their ability to copy what others have done before them. But this argument falls in line with gearscore arguments. When you need to invite someone you don’t know to your raid, how do you judge what they can do? Talent spec, gear, gearscore, and achievements are a few ways. All of those quantifiable values give us a way to make a decision. We can’t put a number on skill, therefore players get judged unfairly on things like which optional talents they chose.
When it comes to choosing talents make sure you have your mandatory talents. If you see someone without a talent that is mandatory, don’t berate them, offer advice. If someone has some optional talent that you don’t prefer, don’t berate them, see how they perform. If someone is under-performing, then it might be time to have a talk about moving closer to a cookie-cutter to see if that fixes the problem. More likely however, rotation, gear, latency and other issues are probably a bigger issue than the placement of 1 or 2 talent points.
Who wins the talent point battle in the end? Ultimately I’d like to see mandatory powerful talents team up with optional less powerful talents that fit a certain play style and certain players the best, defeat the cookie-cutter builds, and bring originality and customization back to talent trees.