Thursday, October 27, 2011

Optimizing the fun away

Well, since everyone else has been going on about the talent revamp coming in World of Warcraft’s next iteration, I thought I’d chime in with my opinion too.  Of course, that was a week or two ago, so I’m late to the party (as usual), but so be it.

As someone that’s a fan of games like Rift and City of Heroes that allow a lot of options and freedom in character building (for class based games), it should come as no surprise that I find the removal of talent trees in WoW little short of abhorrent.  I’ve long complained that Blizzard has been dumbing down WoW and taking player choices away, but they’ve really gone all out for the next expansion.  Making one whole choice every level (WoW talents pre-Cata) was too much, making one whole choice every few levels (WoW talents, Cata) was also too much, so now players will have to make one choice every 15 levels.  Fifteen.  You will make exactly nine meaningfully character development choices over the course of your character’s career – race, class, role, and six “talents”.  That’s it. 

My tongue-in-cheek graph abstractly shows what I think is behind this:

Not a real graph
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it until they pry my Intel Cyber-sphere Neural Interface from my withered dead hands – good character development and investment in ownership requires making meaningful choices while advancing the character.  Allowing for meaningful choices can, in fact, mean allowing for “bad” choices.  Ideally “bad” choices are merely less optimal, but the mindset in a game like WoW is that anything below optimal is bad.  Blizzard clearly agrees, and since Wrath has been endeavoring to remove bad choices.  In other words, less optimal choices.  The end result of which is no choice at all.  Optimal, by definition, is the one best way to do something.  If there’s only one way, there aren’t any choices.

If you want to bore the living crap out of me, give me a game with no meaningful choices, where everything is predetermined.  When I first played WoW back in 2005, it’s biggest selling point for me was the talent system.  It allowed far more character customization than most MMOs out at the time.  I tried all sorts of things.  I tinkered.  I had fun.  The Burning Crusade felt like a solid improvement on it.  I played with lots of  sub-optimal specs, trying to find the one that was the most fun.  I don’t min/max for effectivity, I min/max for enjoyability.  I don’t care if spec A does 10% more damage while spamming one spell over and over than my spec B complex rotation of silly abilities and half-working synergies.  I don’t care that I hardly ever use that heal I spent talent points to get and could be doing more damage without.  But Blizzard cares, and they’ve decided spec B is stupid.  Everyone should use spec A.  So rather than risk people like me playing with spec B, they’ve removed the choice entirely. 

While Cataclysm had already built the coffin (my highest level character is 81, I just couldn’t get interested), Mists of Pandaria will be the nails.  Big, heavy, industrial strength nails built to withstand rust, pressure, cutting force, and weak-willed MMORPG bloggers.

Give it a few more expansions and all WoW characters will only have one button on their hotbar.  It’ll be a big red one called “Win”.  You press it, and you win at whatever you’re doing.  Anything less would be sub-optimal.


  1. Other choices worth considering: glyphs, professions, secondary spec and glyphs, rotations, item upgrade choice, UI modifications, manner of leveling (instances, PvP, or quests), manner of end-game play (5-man heroics, raids, quests (extra gold and rep grinds), whether to collect pets (now including whether to fight with pets), whether to collect mounts, whether to collect achievements.

    Granted, not all fall under the category of "character development," but are these other choices so insignificant that the new talent system alone can bury your interest?

  2. I played with lots of sub-optimal specs, trying to find the one that was the most fun.

    And yet every time you played with the specs, you were redundantly picking redundant talents redundantly. Even that crazy 30/0/31 Holy paladin build that went deep into Retribution was only really choosing between Beacon of Light vs Repentance + the replenishment talent.

    That's what I'm not getting about any of these sort of posts. I would be shocked - shocked! - if less than 75% of the talent builds you played around with consisted of "choosing" +X% damage/healing on your way down to picking talents that actually changed your gameplay in any fashion. Meanwhile, this talent system DOES give you a gameplay-changing choice every time. Would you have preferred the option of putting in 10 useless points in +X% or +Y% talents inbetween? Would that make any difference whatsoever?

  3. I don't play WoW but have seen this same sort of mindset in many other MMOs as well. The goal is to 'win' and to do that, you play the 'right' way.

    I can't count the number of times people have tried to talk me out of a decision to not use a particular skill because I don't find it fun. They simply can't fathom doing it 'wrong' on purpose.

    I think the more choices is usually better. Let everyone define their own 'fun' instead of assuming fun = fastest way to win.