2012 is shaping up to be a big year for MMOs, with games like TERA, Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic all trying to make a name for themselves in a market dominated by World of Warcraft.
Blizzard aren’t going to take all this competition lying down, however. They’ve kicked into overdrive, planning to get their newest WoW expansion, Mists of Pandaria out by the end of winter.
After the dramatic world changes of Cataclysm, Pandaria represents something of a return to the oldschool for WoW. An entire new continent is available for players to explore, and there’s a new focus on the Horde vs Alliance conflict that is the heart of WoW.
In the lead-up to the launch of Pandaria, we’ll be taking a weekly look at all the different elements of the expansion, from the new talents, to the new zones, and the new class and race being added in MoP.
We’re going to kick things off by looking at some of the game mechanic changes, including spells, talents and questing.
The biggest fundamental change for most players in MoP is going to be the dramatic changes to talents. Gone are the old talent trees, replaced with a new system that Blizzard believes allows players to make much more meaningful choices, but with less frequency.
The first thing you’ll notice about the new talents is that they no longer relate to your specialisation. Talents are now specific to the class rather than the class specialisation, and you are not locked out of talents based on your specialisation choices. Because of this, the concept of “cookie cutter” talent builds is going away, allowing players to customise their character that much more. For example, a survival hunter can now take Silencing Shot, while a combat rogue can take Shadowstep.
Fundamentally, the function of talents hasn’t changed. They still provide enhancements and abilities that alter how you play. The difference is now that they do this on a class-wide basis rather than a spec-wide basis.
With the change to talents, it’s no surprise that specialisations have changed as well. It’s often been said that WoW is a game with 30 classes rather than 10, a reference to just how dramatically different each talent specialisation can be.
The new specialisation system takes over much of the old talent system. Essentially you now get asked to choose your specialisation at level 10, and, once chosen, you are granted several new passive and active abilities to work with. A lot of these abilities were formerly talents, so you aren’t missing out on anything your favourite build previously had.
In some ways, the new talent and specialisation systems build upon what was started with Cataclysm. The big difference is that, this time, the game is actually aware of your spec, and can build gameplay elements around it, for example, quests can offer spec-specific rewards, and the LFR system can now tailor boss loot to a player’s spec.
Glyphs are still very much in flux in the MoP beta right now, so it’s difficult to talk about them with any authority. The big change that has happened is the removal of the prime glyphs, returning to the major/minor glyph system of Wrath of the Lich King, but with more options.
Blizzard plans to use glyphs to fill out some of the choice and functionality lost by the talent changes. As with those changes (and the new specialisation system), it’s all about breaking down the concept of the cookie-cutter build and allowing players to have genuine customisation choices for their characters. The idea is that everyone should have a baseline performance that they can achieve, and then enhance that with glyphs and talents.
I’ll likely return to glyphs later in the beta, when they’ve stabilised a lot more.
While questing hasn’t changed too much, there is one significant difference I touched on while talking about spec. Quest rewards (at least in Pandaria) are now spec-specific, meaning you’re much more likely to receive an award you can actually use for questing and levelling. If this change is planned for the entire levelling experience, then that hasn’t been implemented yet, however it works in the new zones of Pandaria, and is quite effective at making you feel like you’ve achieved something. Unfortunately, the new rewards only have hilarious placeholder art, but that will change before the expansion’s release.
There have been several other small changes to the interface and gameplay elements that players interact with. The spellbook has been redesigned, removing the old concept of spell schools (which only really worked for caster classes anyway) and replacing them with tabs based on the spells available for each class spec. This includes passive and active skills, and a separate general tab for stuff like racial abilities and weapon skills. The new system makes a much clearer distinction about which spells you should be using in your current spec, and is overall a vast improvement.
For hunters, pet talents have gone away, and any pet can now be any of the three ‘pet classes’ (Tenacity, Ferocity and Cunning). This means that the kind of pet you have out is purely a cosmetic distinction (well, except for the pet’s animal ability), and all pets can function in all roles now. The interface for this is still in flux, however, so it’s currently difficult to fully fathom the consequences of these changes.
I’ll go deeper into class changes in the coming weeks, as they’re very much in flux right now, with changes being made on an almost daily basis. I do want to mention that demonology warlocks get a set of upgraded warlock pets that look really cool. The final forms of these pets hasn’t fully been determined, but as they are now, they look pretty great.
Next week in Pandaria, we’ll take a look at the Pandaren and their starting zone.