Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 13, 2009
Too many skills and talents?

In the open Sunday thread Dillon asked "Do you think WoW is reaching a point where it has too many skills and talents?". Good question! When recently we were discussing why warlocks were so unpopular in World of Warcraft, some readers suggested that it was because a warlock needed a more complicated spell rotation to reach the same level of dps than other classes. And personally I gave up on playing a shaman at level 43, because for me there were simply too many buttons with various totems for that class to be enjoyable to me.

On the other hand I leveled a mage from 1 to 70 using basically just a single spell, frostbolt, having avoided the need to use other spells by overgearing myself on spellpower. And that wasn't much fun either. When I play that mage now, I'm quite happy about recent additions like "Frozen Fingers" or "Fireball!", which at random times make it advantageous to cast other spells, like Ice Lance or Fireball.

So I guess there is some sweet point where you have a variety of skills, but not too many. And I'd think that this sweet point is different for different players, some enjoy playing with more buttons, some with less. Of course the speed at which you need to press those buttons also plays a role, some players enjoy slow and big spells, other like furious buttonmashing.

The problem Dillon mentions is that with every expansion, and sometimes even with content patches, Blizzard is adding new spells and abilities to all classes. If in 4 years we are all level 100, due to two more expansions adding 10 levels each, isn't there a risk that most of us become overwhelmed with the number of abilities at our disposal? The original WoW only had a single hotkey bar, now most of my characters already have 5 bars completely filled with various skills or useable items. Finding a less used ability in the thick of a fight can be a challenge among all these buttons.

In any case I would like to see more talents that have a chance to trigger a short timer in which you can cast certain otherwise less used spells to some advantage. The number of existing skills isn't all that relevant unless there is a reason to use more of them, and not just stick to the optimum one.
I had that problem with shaman too. The first two classes I leveled were druid and warrior, which I found to be much more manageable because their abilities are all organized into stances. You never have to stare at them all at once.

I really wouldn't mind playing a game where every class was organized into stances. They also combat the bloat to some extent, because you could always add an unlockable high level stance rather than just packing the bars more and more.

The other solution I'd propose is introducing high level abilities that "consume" other abilities. So to get your new level 90 abilities, you might have to give up 3 of your low level spells, resulting in something that combined the powers of all of them. It could be some form of spellweaving, inscription, etc.

Neither of these can really solve the problem though, just slow it down some.

During Lich King beta this topic came up a lot and don't worry. Blizzard is watching closely how many buttons a class has to push to work. If there should be too much spam, they'll reduce it. This is a major factor for any game, trying to be fun and it is a very hard to find the sweet spot.

What they already try to do is force players into branching their talents. One of the recent retribution topics dealt with this topic. Instead of spending all talent points into one tree, specs will go more and more hybrid. With having almost 100% passive skills in the lower talent tiers, this keeps the actual button presses almost steady.

Blizzard is way to experienced to fall into such a design trap.

I'm playing my shaman for 2 years now. My totems are macroed (1 key) and the normal DPS rotation is 3 steady presses with one more random one sliped in between, but i admit it's scratching even my limit for a comfort zone. That's a lot of button presses within a 3 hour raid for sure.
Same with druid healers. Do they really need regrowth (2s), nourish (1.5s) and glyphed healing touch (1.5s)? All heal for the same for the same amount of mana. :-)
I found that a mod called Totem Timers helped me micro manage my totems very well. That being said, my shaman, who was enhancement from the day I made her, went resto for the Lich King expansion. I found enchancement had become very much about micromanaging your cooldowns and pushing the right buttons at exactly the right time. Some people love that type of play, but I mostly found it cumbersome and tedious. Oddly enough though, I am throughly enjoying my DK, whose play is all about cooldown usage, and the using the right spells at the right time. I wonder if the difference is because I am tanking with her instead of trying to DPS.
Blizzard knows this problem. I play an affliction warlock, and in the new patch we're having Siphon Life merged with Corruption and Curse of Weakness merged with Curse of Recklessness. With some new and changed talents, Immolate will no longer be an optimal source of affliction DPS, and will no longer be part of the usual rotation. From a practical standpoint, I'm going to be able to take three spells off of my bars. This is on top of a half dozen demonology and destruction spells I've never used in the first place.

More spells will be added, but expect to see more streamlining at the same time. For any given spec, there seem to be about a half dozen spells and abilities used in very heavy rotation, a dozen or so more used more occasionally, and the rest not at all. No matter how much new stuff is thrown at us, I don't expect these numbers to change significantly.
I don't have a problem with too many buttons, it's more the out of game work required that bugs me.

I recently resubscribed after a long absence, I quit about a month after BC game out. Once I had leveled a Dranei mage out of the new areas, I couldn't take grinding through all of the same content again. So I'm coming back to the game with a very blank slate. Despite that, I didn't have too much trouble picking up either my mage or my hunter. I like gaining new abilities/buttons, it gives me something to do during combat.

What I find most confusing is the amount of out of game work required. Researching talent builds, catching up on pet changes, and most of all addons. The vanilla interface really needs an overhaul. It's ridiculous to have to spend hours looking at forums and community sites to try an pickup a good set of addons to bring the interface up to date with some of the more recent MMO releases.
I have a level 75 Affliction warlock and I've played with the other specs throughout his lifetime and found that for a warlock it's all about button-mashing craziness even when soloing. Since Affliction requires a series of dots for effective DPS I've macro'ed them all into a single button. That works well for now, but lacks flexibility and will require me to keep the actual spells on my action bar(s) when I start raiding so there goes the benefit of the macro. While I don't like homoginization of classes, I'm all for simplifying spells by combining one or two into something greater. It adds a level of complexity to the game and makes the class more enjoyable and effective in groups.
@Brian, unless you are joining a hard-core raiding guild the amount of time required to read-up and plan a working talent spec should not take over an hour, tops. Hunter pet changes are even easier.

As for addons, I would rather have more options than less, even if a new interface requires a few hours of work... :) Ideally this will be work that you only need to do once per (major) patch.
Another thing. They have to keep coming up with names for all these talents. It's already getting ridiculous. Take shamans for example. There near the bottom of the elemental tree they have dun duh duh.....Shamanism

WTF? Are resto shamans not shaman-y enough?
Are we going to take this farther? Pallyism? Hunterism? Mageism?
Add 10 more talents in the next patch and what are we going to be calling things?

All I know is I'm going to be the shamaniest shaman I can be.
I actually like complexity, because it requires me to think a little. As a hunter my rotation became more complex in Wrath, and I loved it because I was finally done spamming that silly macro... Of course having more skills to deal with might not be everybody's cup of tea, but I don't want to play a game where I basically have to spam the I WIN button to get stuff done. I got an affliction warlock as well actually (lvl 71) and I liked it much better than before because there's always something to click on so I don't get bored waiting for my DoTs to finish.

But yeah, I do see the need to balance it out, everybody has their limits. Too many skills to watch isn't good either.
@sdevet: But Curse of Recklessness isn't being merged properly. They're just adding armor reduction to Curse of Weakness. You lose the ability to stop enemies from fleeing.

I can't stand how everything is being homogenized. I preferred having a dozen situational abilities that weren't of questionable value. Everyone's slowly being restricted to slightly different variations of holy trinity spell rotations and losing utility spells that were once really handy in the right circumstances. Now these abilities are so rarely used that newer players often don't have them on a bar and have to be told how to use them before relevant fights (ex: tranquility shot).

Worst is trash, these days. Spam AoE until 1-2 targets left, then spam single-target nuke because there's no time for a proper rotation to be efficient.
The trouble with complexity in terms of button pushing is that it takes away from situational awareness. If you're watching your cooldowns or trying to manage some complex 18 step rotation, that's effort you aren't putting into looking around you. I'd rather see fights getting harder in those latter terms, rather than just needing a bigger action bar.
It also occurs to me that this is one of the reasons downranking was removed.

I quit my warlock because I only had to push one button: shadowbolt, same reason I quit my mage: fireball/frostbolt. Now there are too many buttons to push? Playing a deathknight now which is giving me the much needed stimuli I wanted. Goes something like this:
-> Check if two diseases are up, it not: put them on
-> Check if gargoyle is off cooldown. And if it is, any trinket procs?
-> Check if unholy blight is up, if not: clickie!
-> Check if your rune power > 70, if so: deathcoil
-> Check your runes, can I scrouge strike?
-> Do I have blood runes? If not, blood strike x2
Lots of things to keep track of which makes it a lot of fun. Also more then enough challenge to differantiate between a good and bad player. Spamming one button just doesn't feel rewarding, a monkey can do it.

And yeah, each expansion the problem becomes "which spells will I dump of my spellbars?"
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