Saturday, 3 December 2011

The death of the hybrid

One of the things I miss most about pre-Cata WOW was the freedom to experiment with different builds, to come up with the one that suited me best. The re-vamped talent trees of Cataclysm mean that you are effectively locked into one tree for a long time and can only ever access the lower levels of the other trees. Blizzard's stated reasoning for this was that:
  • many of the old talents were "must haves" for serious raiders, so they may as well be rolled up into the underlying spells;
  • by focussing people into a single tree early, it made it easier for new players to make a decision;
  • keeping players largely in one tree made it possible to give players signature abilities early on.
If anything, things will become even more extreme in Mists of Pandaria, where talent trees are eliminated altogether and each class is effectively reduced to three sub-classes, plus a few minor "froth" options, with no substantial decisions to be made beyond that.

The problem is, I liked doing the "wrong" thing. I had great fun mixing damage and healing with my restomental shaman in BC. My build wasn't optimised for a single task, as it would be for raiding, but designed to fit in well, depending on who else was available. In the days before dual-spec and dungeon-finder, being able to fill multiple slots with a single spec was both useful and fun.

I wasn't alone; there were elementalist mages, shockadins, restokin ... flexible, but sub-optimal specs were everywhere. My panzerkin druid main-healed, tanked and DPSed most of the instances up to Nexus. I wouldn't have lasted thirty seconds as a raid tank, but that wasn't the objective.

It's that right to be "wrong" that I miss, to ignore the cookie-cutter builds and go make something of my own. I don't want all my decisions made for me, I want the freedom to experiment and try out fun things. They mostly won't work, but that's fine; experimenting is fun in its own right.


  1. It's an issue most games like these have. If you want to be competitive (or "good"), there is generally only one way to go. Being the underdog or the one with the quirky/odd spec isn't rewarded enough. I'm not sure how they could design the game to make it rewarding enough either, it feels like no matter what you do, there will be a "best" way to do things and in the end that will turn out to be the only acceptable way to do things. Which is sad.

  2. I'm not so bothered about the existence of player-generated "best" specs for particular purposes such as raiding. What bugs me is when (as in MoP), the game forces me down that route, rather than letting me optimise for what I want (e.g. running old instances for transmog gear).

    It's fine for there to be a best spec for raiding, it's not fine when you can't chose anything else.