Saturday, November 5, 2011

Advocating the New Talent System: Necessary Conditions for its Success

At Blizzcon, Blizzard announced their changes to the new talent system and their hopes that it would be the end of cookie cutter specs. Smart people realized that this wouldn't be so, that as long as there were choices, people would sim/calculate out which choices would produce optimal DPS. Smarter people realized/made mention that this would just mean we'd have to come up with a cookie cutter spec for each fight. The particular article that I read was Mists of Pandaria: The Myth of the talent tree choice by my personal superhero Fox Van Allen (who has the best name ever).

Let me just say first that I agree with most of what he says in the article. I just don't necessarily agree with the doom-saying. I feel that there is more to be said on the topic. There is a theorem in mathematics that is relevant to this situation. It doesn't have a special name, but it goes like this:
Given any finite set of numbers, that set has a maximum value and attains that value.
In calculus this is true given any function and a closed set on which that function is continuous (or piecewise continuous), but that's not important. Here, a maximum value is one that is greater than or equal to each value in the set. In our case, these numbers are the DPS (or HPS, or relate to damage mitigated) produced on a particular fight by a particular set of talent choices. So on any fight, there will be some spec that is optimal. And since these talent choices are so different, it's unlikely that any two of them will be equal, except in rare cases, so there will almost always be a single optimal spec for any given fight.

Is this okay? Yes it is, under certain conditions. Blizzard has said that they want talent choices to be simpler, more understandable, and more meaningful. They've certainly achieved the meaningful aspect. The choices you make now are actually fairly significant from one another, but how can they make it simpler and more understandable?

I said that this system will be fine under certain conditions, what do I mean by that? What are those conditions? As I see it this system will be a success if
  1. It is clear when (for what bosses/situations) one talent choice is better than another. For example, Divine Star (priest tier 3) would be very good for a movement heavy fight with AOE damage and possibly adds.
  2. If there isn't an obviously superior talent for a particular fight, the talents should produce roughly equal results. The results should be equal enough that your familiarity with a play style should be more important than the simulated results.
  3. Talent choices should not have a significant effect on gearing. I should be able to change talents without feeling like I need to change my gear. I'm worried about enhancement shaman in their tier 4 talents in this regard.
  4. For DPS and tanks, the choices shouldn't change your rotation. You shouldn't have to relearn your class.
With this new system I want to be able to go into a heroic with whatever talent set I want to use and perform well. I shouldn't feel the need to change my spec from fight to fight unless I'm undergeared for the dungeon. During progression raiding, I fully expect for me and my fellow raiders to change their talent set from fight to fight. However, if we overgear the raid, I expect my talent choices to not matter nearly as much.

In the end, I'd argue that the cookie cutter spec IS gone. Cookie cutter, while it actually refers to the homogeneity between characters, seems to imply to me that the spec is optimal for every fight. We have now created a situation where the optimal spec changes from fight to fight. We've eliminated cookie cutter specs, just not optimal specs, and that's okay, because that's impossible.

Picky Math Word Nerd Side Note: These aren't talent trees anymore. They're talent sets. Truthfully, mathematically, they weren't technically trees before. The difference between the old system and the new system is that you have fewer choices, the choices aren't dependent upon one another (no talent requires another talent), they are more exclusive, and they are shared between specs. Diablo II's talent system was more tree-like, though it was really more like a forest (a collection of trees). Even then, it doesn't perfectly fit the description of a forest. I'd say it was more of a set of directed graphs.