It baffles me that the developers apparently consider having to look up boss strategies a no brainer, but having to look up speccs worth revamping the talents every other expansion.
Please read the post below first to be able to understand this one.
The conclusion of the earlier post was that if you want to have meaningful choices of equal efficiency in a game, they need to be about style. Examples show that differences in style need to be very strong if the choice between equally efficient options is to be considered meaningful.
If we try to use this insight to design WoW talents, we run into several problems.
On the one hand side we would like to start the iteration during development with radically different options. On the other hand, we need to consider that having six choices of three options each, creates three to the power of six possible combinations. That is 729 combinations. But since we have 33 speccs in World of Warcraft that makes 24,057 combinations that the designers need to think through if they want to make sure that no unbalanced combination emerges later on.
Of course, the designers don't want to think through every one of these combinations - especially not when considering possible combinations with racial abilities or any content they offer later on. That's why they want the options to be similar! That's why e.g. the first choice in the feral talents at level 15 is all about movement. This way it is easier to think it through. Situations in which movement doesn't matter, for example, can be ignored while balancing this choice.
Another reason to create choices between similar options, instead of radically different ones, is to make sure that every druid has some 'movement changing ability'. Otherwise the player might feel like he missed out on some of the 'content'.
To keep the balancing manageable it is also useful to homogenize the endgame. I think this is a fallacy, but hear me out. If every boss has an autohit every two seconds and at most one special hit every 3 seconds, some number crunching can be done. For example, the devs can offer the tank the choice to either gain X armor or Y more block chance. Next, they tweak X and Y to be equally efficient while tanking. Of course this only works if encounters are similar enough.
We see that having a very homogenous endgame allows the devs to add more style choices that are equally efficient. If you ever wondered, why the PvE endgame is better balanced than the PvP endgame, that's the reason.
Unfortunately homogenizing the endgame is a fallacy. What you gain via the more interesting talent choices, you lose threefold by having a more boring endgame.
I recently played a rogue in dramatically unbalanced battlegrounds; and I had fun. And since the waiting times were lower than at max level, I'm apparently not the only person who found this to be fun. How is that possible?
Well, the PvP game consists of a lot of very different situations that appear unpredictably in front of the player. The priest may be instantly dead when jumped by two rogues, but he can also make a fear bomb in the flag room and save the day. That's why the game is fun for him. As long as we don't make a competitive sport out of it, these battlegrounds are perfect fun.
And turning an activity into a competitive sport may not always be the best idea. If it has to be done, the game either requires a lot of unpredictability (Poker) or perfect symmetry (Chess). Unfortunately Blizzard was trying to make the WoW PvE endgame perfectly predictable, not symmetrical (it's PvE) and still competitive. We've seen the boring result of this: the endgame becomes all about execution, “Simon Says”, without any real choices for 90% of the players.
A solution would be to make the endgame less predictable. But that would be a dramatic change that's probably impossible to make. On the other hand .. they just added Panda Kung Fu and Pokemon; nothing's impossible, I guess.
Looking at the preliminary Druid talents, for example, you can see that they are mostly completely irrelevant for the raiding endgame. And where they are not irrelevant, they are mandatory. If “cenarion ward” increases healing output, it is mandatory. If it doesn't take Nature's Swiftness.
It is extremely difficult to create style choices in the raiding endgame, because endgame players, especially hardcore raiders, just don't care about style. Just recently someone told me that he could care less whether the tank is a Panda or a Pink Gnome. To introduce a meaningful choice about style in that environment is all but impossible. And if a choice is not about style and not about efficiency it is meaningless.
Remember, the act of choosing is a journey towards a goal. That goal can either be more efficiency or better style. There just aren't any other goals concerning character development that I am aware of.
So, what would I do if I a were a dev? Two things.
First I would differentiate between two kinds of choices: The ones that are meant to make the player ponder for a long time whether he has made the right choice, and those which do not. Next, the choices that are meant to make the player ponder for a long time, need to be very high level choices, like choice of class or specc. They need to change dramatically how a player plays the game. They need to change the style dramatically. They can either lock the player in (e.g. class) or allow a frequent repeat of the choice (e.g. specc).
The choices that have a final answer would still be left in the game. They are fun for new players to figure out and if new players are unable to figure them out, they will receive help from other players and online resources. It baffles me that the developers apparently consider having to look up boss strategies a no brainer, but having to look up speccs worth revamping the talents every other expansion. The devs create an entire leveling game that is wasted once the players reach the endgame. But if the talents become uninteresting for players in the endgame, they somehow think that's a big problem.
Finally, I would add more unpredictable content that makes all kinds of absurd decisions valuable every now and then. This situation already exists in the casual PvP content. In the long term, there's no reason to not evolve the PvE content in this direction, too.