I went through the post many, many times (and I am sure I still missed some things). However, I wanted to capture what this system would be like for new players, veteran players playing a Death Knight for the first time, and the average Death Knight players. So, I will not be giving feedback as someone who plays in a min-maxing style, since that is not my personal focus.
Some of our biggest goals in a class and talent revamp are to increase player agency over your character’s progression and build, provide meaningful rewards while leveling, and reinforce your character’s connection to both their class and their spec. In addition, we felt we had to retain many features of modern World of Warcraft specializations. Specializations have many unique abilities, some of which might be central to the identity of the spec.
So, a lot of my comments in this section will center around the goal of “provide meaningful rewards while leveling, and reinforce your character’s connection to both their class and their spec… Specializations have many unique abilities…”
Since the days of our original talent trees in Vanilla, I think that WoW as well as the gaming community in general has evolved and changed over the nearly two decades. And, in this regard, I think a lot of your feeling of ‘progression’ and character power comes from visually based imagery. For example, as of now, the moment that you place your talent point into your tree, that feels good (especially, once you unluck your 8-point and 20-point thresholds). However, once the panel is closed, its back to the same thing.
Maybe to give a little more detailed of an example, let’s take the Anti-Magic Shell talents. For Row 2: Anti-Magic Shell and Row 6: Anti-Magic Barrier, is there a visual difference between the two such as increasing the size of the bubble, increasing the intensity of the color, or modifying the color of the bubble to the specialization of the DK? So, maybe it’s OK to have your typical Unholy green Anti-Magic Shell for Row 2: Anti-Magic Shell, but once you are more specialize as Frost and you select Row 6: Anti-Magic Barrier, the spell looks larger with white / blue runes instead of green. It’s one thing to flip a switch and someone point to a chart and tell you that something is better, but it is entirely different to literally see that your choice made a change to your character.
Another example would be the difference between Row 2: Obliterate and Row 5: Improved Obliterate. Earlier, I referenced closing the talent tree panel, and you simply go back to the reality of the same thing. So, let’s say visually, when I use Obliterate as a low level DK, my weapons have slight blue glow around them for that attack. If I level up a few levels and choose Row 5: Improved Obliterate and the attack looks exactly the same, then that is going to be a little ho-hum. However, if a player chooses (1/2) Row 5: Improved Obliterate and their entire weapons turn a lighter blue for that attack, then the change will resonate so much more with the user (that their character is growing more powerful). If a player chooses (2/2) Row 5: Improved Obliterate then their weapons turn an icy blue with an ever-so slightly larger glow, then that just reinforces that feeling of growth and power!
Also, it is worth noting, that each class and character shouldn’t be a spectacle of neon lights with every improved spell and ability. However, there definitely some middle ground for incremental visual enhancements representing the character’s growth in power.
Now, let’s move to specialization and growth. As fledging DKs, we are popping out of the box brand new with all of our basic spells and abilities. So, our Death and Decay should be the same from one Death Knight to the next (with its little unholy arms assisting the DK within the red runes). However, at a certain point in time, we become specialized. We become Blood Death Knights, Frost Death Knights, and Unholy Death Knights, and visually these spells should be able to represent this change, growth, and specialization.
For example, if I spend 20 points into my Frost specialization, then I should also see my DK’s Death and Decay do more than just call from a common graveyard. It should call for the assistance of the fallen from the frozen wastelands of Northrend! If I am an Unholy DK, then I should be able to call upon greater fallen foes and see larger arms like that from Necrolords or Stitches from Naxxramas. Maybe blood-red tendrils coming from the ground would be a good representation of the Death and Decay of a Blood Death Knight. This is what illustrates the specialization of a character – the same ability, but it is from a different class specialization.
Also, this unlocking of general spells should be visually represented in your general talent tree as well, even if it is a simple changing the color of the spell icon itself. Again, a quick, little 2-3 second animation transitioning the spell icon in the general talent tree, indicating your specialization. Your specialization is who you are as a DK, Warrior, Shaman, or any other class. Therefore, your depth into your specialization should be reflected in your general spells and abilities where possible.
Another fundamental change is that much more of your class is represented in the tree, instead of being awarded automatically while leveling up. Other than the starting abilities you obtain before you access the system at level 10, the vast majority of abilities are obtained via the tree.
I would like to put this into perspective a bit. If someone joins an MMA group or a dojo, then you would expect the speed, form, and power of their abilities to be pretty average. However, if you look at an experienced fighter who has 10+ years of training, then there will be a notable difference in everything they do compared to the novice. So, in this case, it would seem really weird if a novice had the same level of intensity as a professional (like level 14 Obliterate looking the same as a level 60 Improved Obliterate). Likewise, it would be weird if a professional demonstrated the same level of intensity as they did 10+ years ago. So, when Row 2: Obliterate, (1/2) Row 5: Improved Obliterate, and (2/2) Row 5: Improved Obliterate all look the same, it comes across as a little lackluster.
As our characters specialize while they are leveling, this is a representation of them becoming stronger – without gear. Not only are they gaining new abilities to fight, they are also improving the abilities they already know. So, when we have talents that represent us getting better with our abilities, but there is no visual representation to that strength, then the excitement is really only surface level and fleeting. I believe this presents a risk of undermining most of the time, passion, thought, and creativity placed into these talent trees.
In short, my biggest concern is that tons of time and effort will be placed into an amazing talent tree, and all of effort will then be completely negated by simplistic, static, and over-shared spell visualizations. Similarly, if half the DK spells from a Frost DK and a Blood DK look exactly the same, despite the power difference or specialization of that spell, then it doesn’t matter to most players how specialize their talent tree says they are. Players are looking at their character all day, not their talent trees. Talent trees should explain what they see in their character.
I will be honest, there was a lot to review and process, but overall, I do like the idea of the dual talent trees. Generally speaking, it would be nice to see some raw secondary stat control. Due to the RNG of gear and the lack of reforging, perhaps the ability to sacrifice a spell that I do not use often in exchange for raw Critical Strike or Haste would be a neat option to have to the side.
I really like that some of the Covenant abilities survived! Seeing Abomination Limb is pretty exciting in and of itself. To tie what I mentioned before, it would be neat to see a little class and spec identity here as well. For example, rather than a copy and paste of an ability whose visual appearance is based off of a Covenant, it would be nice if some visuals specifically tailored to the spec.
For example, maybe once you spend all 30 points in your specialization tree, as a Frost DK, Abomination Limb become the arm of Sindragosa as it swipes all nearby enemies. Blood DKs could have red / black variation of Abomination Limb, and Unholy DKs could have what is available now or an arm from Stitch in Naxxramas.
To me, without consideration for raw numbers and potential imbalances, it looks like the Frost DK will play similarly to how it does now, but it looks like there are avenues to change it up a bit if the player wanted to – which I think is my favorite part about the new design! Also, I like the number of talent points in combination to the available talents. This will be something we can deep dive into later, but on the surface it looks like you can pick up quite a bit.