Mists Retrospective: Talents – What Makes an Interesting Choice

What makes a great talent tier? How much can a tier vary, and how little can a tier vary, for it to remain interesting? Is a tier that’s rarely changed okay, if all options are still viable?

Methods of Variation

  • Variations of the same thing (level 15 talents, level 45 talents, level 60 talents)
  • Choice of dps vs. healing (level 90 talents, level 30 talents)
  • Personal vs. raid survival (level 30 talents)
  • Situational+powerful vs. default+weak (level 75 talents)
  • Apples to oranges (level 100 talents)
  • Playstyle customization (level 45 talents)

We monks are pretty lucky to only have a few stagnant talents. I think the weakest we have are the level 15 movement talents, since most raiders take Tiger’s Lust. We have a few weak links, like Zen Sphere and Chi Torpedo, and a few rarely changed talents, like the level 30 tier (healing) and level 45 (chi).

The strongest set is level 75 (defense). The choice between Diffuse Magic, Dampen Harm, and Healing Elixirs is interesting and frequently changes. The level 90 talents are almost there, with two out of three offering interesting and frequent change.

What Makes Talents Engaging

Frequent opportunity to change is the most important attribute to me. It’s impossible to get all 18 talents to be equally useful in PvE, though I think we can get close. If they can’t be changed frequently, I’ll settle for occasionally very useful to change, like dropping Chi Wave for Chi Burst.

On the topic of Chi Wave and Chi Burst, what makes this an engaging choice when other classes with personal vs. raid tradeoffs (like a DK’s Lichbourne/Anti-Magic Zone/Purgator tier) unfun? I think the key here is that Chi Wave and Chi Burst share most of their functionality, but excel in opposite directions. So you’ll still get some raid healing from Chi Wave, and you’ll still get some personal healing with Chi Burst.

When talents don’t overlap with key functionality, the decision can still be interesting in theory, though I think it’s ultimately susceptible to choosing unfun talents when said unfun talent feels like it will benefit your raid more. I worry that this will happen with our level 100 talents, since those are so vastly different.

As a tank, are talents that provide a choice between raid healing and personal dps interesting? It’s another thing that seems engaging until the pressures of a real raid group come crashing down. Do you hurt your personal dps (and thus look bad on meters) to help your raid, or do you trust your raid to survive and push your dps? You feel sort of bad with each decision, because you’re losing out on some important tool just as much as you’re gaining another.

To take it further, what about talents where you sacrifice survivability for dps? I personally dislike those, since I rolled a tank to be tanky, but I can understand the allure. Balancing personal dps and survival is rarely objective, and without outside pressures it’s fun to see how far you can push one or the other. However, since survival is so binary (you either survive a fight or you don’t), while dps is linear (it just keeps getting better), dps eventually becomes the right choice. If other people of your spec have survived the fight with dps choices, why can’t you? Those survival choices start to feel like you’re admitting to lack of skill, instead of trying to do your best at being tanky.

What about talents that don’t change much for an individual, though vary between specs or even playstyles? The level 45 chi talents do this. I don’t know many people who change these regularly, and it’s quite jarring to do so anyway. Sometimes the best developers can do is create a talent tier that has one good talent for each spec, though that should be avoided if possible. The other option, playstyle, is fine. I wrote a bit about how I think gear is a better tool for playstyle modification, but I also enjoy telling people to pick whichever talent they feel most comfortable with. It’s not good if all talents are like that, but a tier is fine.

In a perfect world, all talents would have frequent uses and we’d change each one around for every difficult fight. That’s more than a game with nearly 200 unique talents can hope for, but hopefully we can get more subjectiveness as talents mature.