Monday, May 23, 2016

Thoughts on Talent-Swap Restrictions

Legion beta enhancement shaman talents. 
If you haven't already digested the info Watcher shared the other day, you can read his two posts here and here, though I'll be quoting the meatiest of sections below. I also highly recommend posts by Sunnier and Alternative Chat for further reading and perspectives. For those who may not be familiar, in Legion players will only be able switch their character's talents if they are in a designated rest area or by using a new scribe-crafted item, Wartome of the Sharpened Mind---a departure from the ability switch talents whenever out of combat with the use of a low-cost reagent sold by a vendor.

I'm not angry. I'm not quitting the game, and won't be signing any petitions aimed at changing the developers' minds. I'm fully capable of adapting to change without having to like it. My feathers are ruffled, that's all. And I'll try to explain why, from my perspective as an "Ahead of the Curve" raider.

Let's begin with a look at some of Watcher's words:

Especially with no reagent cost at all now, it can be all too easy to activate AoE talents before larger packs of enemies in a dungeon, and then switch back to single-target talents before a lieutenant or a boss. Or someone might switch to a passive movement-speed talent when traversing an area, and then back to something functional before entering combat. At that point, we're often hardly talking about a meaningful choice at all, but rather a nuisance of extra button-presses or UI navigation before you can use your desired talents.

Prior to this change, talent-swapping on the Legion Beta costed absolutely nothing. Talent-swapping on live throughout the last several years costed next to nothing, whether it was dust, powder, or tomes. Buy a stack of 200 and forget about them until you ran out. I will admit that just because it costed nothing, or next to nothing before doesn't mean it should remain that way forever. That's kind of what change or evolution of the game is all about. 

But I found Watcher's example above odd: people switching out talents between trash packs in dungeons? To gain 10-20% movement speed just to cross an area? The thought never occurred to me. I checked in with one of my friends in Beta and he confirmed that indeed, he had witnessed players swapping talents between trash packs in a dungeon. But that made me wonder, was the lack of a 50 silver cost to switch enough to entice players to switch talents at every chance they could? 

The idea of choosing to play that way really didn't resonate with me at first; I view it as one way to approach the game, but far from mandatory. Then I saw a mirror of it in my own play: if I'm out in the world and I have to travel more than 20 or so yards, I will hop on my flying mount 100% of the time before moving. Basically, if it takes any less time to summon a mount and fly to a location than it would if I simply ran, I'm mounting up. It's not a total parallel as likely the mount button has been hot-keyed and on your bars for some time, but it does demonstrate one way a player can choose to play the game to their style. This mount example, for me, is more about maximizing my active time more than anything. And of course Blizzard has never thought about putting restrictions on flying mount use.

I'd argue that the ability to swap talents outside of combat whenever a players feel like doing so only becomes a nuisance if players feel like it was required in order to play the game. Personally, I'd be more annoyed by the player in my dungeon who's late to each pull because they're changing talents every chance they can. It boggles my mind to think that the devs saw enough of this happening in Alpha/Beta that they've moved to curtail the practice. 
We currently plan to give Scribes a recipe to craft a consumable Tome that can be dropped in order to allow all nearby players to retalent freely for a time - particularly useful for group play...But, in terms of the materials required, we're thinking of something that's more aimed at groups, and probably not the sort of thing an individual is likely to carry a stack of and use freely.
The Wartome of the Sharpened Mind, which I linked earlier, looks to be the item Watcher referenced here. It functions similarly to the flask cauldrons from yesteryear: they'll benefit the entire group, but at a significantly higher material cost. What Watcher's really saying in the paragraph above: level your scribe.

While it might not be likely that the average player carries around a stack of these to use freely, the "not-so-average" player still makes up for a good chunk of the overall game population from a numbers standpoint. Perhaps by Blizzard metrics the average player likely won't see Heroic Archimonde die in current content, but you can still bet on seeing thousands and thousands of moose mounts out there.

I will be one of those not-so-average players who, along with a good number of my raiding guildmates, will be making millionaires out of Azeroth's scribes, ensuring that we have enough Wartomes to cover the week's raid and then some. So to me, it feels like we're simply trading one reagent for another, albeit Legion's version will be much more costly.

Granted, this may also spur a guild-wide material acquisition spree, which is all right by me.
Ultimately, for a choice to be meaningful there has to be some associated cost or trade-off in the process. Do you want to eat your cake, or do you want to save it for another time? If you could do both, that wouldn't be much of a choice. 
I just don't like this line of reasoning here, looking through my raiding lens. It doesn't really resonate with how I approach talent-swapping on live. I'm probably just getting hung up on the cake. But at the same time I think the notion that in order for a choice to have meaning there must be an associated cost is something we accept blindly, and I don't think it is something that's 100% applicable. Granted, psychologists and designers will likely take me to school on this one, but hear me out. 

As a raider, above all I want my guild to be successful in its endeavors. Aside from working to understand my rotations, stat priorities, and boss mechanics, I also look to my talent toolkit as it pertains to each fight in order to identify if certain talents will be more beneficial to the encounter, then adjust accordingly. My motivation is personal. It's not to be the best, or top the charts, but to approach each boss as if it is a puzzle and to use the abilities at my character's disposal to counter the boss as best as I can. 

Of course under the changes in Legion, I can and will continue to do this, just at a higher cost. And with the change to talent swaps, Inscription should be highly profitable (for the better part of the expansion, at least) and players will likely be discouraged to swap talents as often as in between every trash pack.
Raiding for us, on the other hand, won't look too different other than we'll be dropping a Wartome with the Feast before a boss pull. And of course, if for some uncanny reason the raid is Wartomeless, players can always hearth home for the talent-swap. However, we likely won't allow that in raids, as it's really not the best use our limited time together.
First, what if you could switch talents freely, at any time, including while in combat? Second, what if you could literally never switch talents, short of making a brand new character?
The former question is something that I haven't heard many people asking for and something they are undoubtedly not considering given the ability pruning we had last time around; the latter is close to what it looked like in the early days of the game, since respec costs were so high and gold reserves for most players quite low back then. While the talent trees we currently have may not be super exciting to everyone, they do at least offer some situational variance that allows players to respond to some combat environments more effectively. Things may be changing towards utility in Legion on the talent end of things, which is why it makes more sense to me to maintain the sense of freedom we have in talent-swapping currently, and look to other ways to fix the perceived problems with too-frequent swapping or Inscription having not much to offer. 

I'm not sure making it more difficult to change talents all of a sudden adds more meaning to the choice itself; previously, it was meaningful to me because I understood which aspects of my kit worked better and when, the result being the personal satisfaction of playing my character to its full potential. I'm not going to think about making that choice in Legion any more or less than I have up to date. It's still going to be made; I'll just scoff a bit until I get used to the imposed cost.
But most other content, whether it's a single quest boss out in the world, or a dungeon that breaks down to a series of sub-1-minute combats, don't offer nearly that much variety. And so you take the AoE talent for the AoE pack, and the single-target talent for the lone boss, to the point that you might as well just have both of them all the time, which might be powerful, but wouldn't be a choice.
I really don't think it's as simple of process as Watcher is implying here. Let's imagine: first trash pack in the dungeon gets dies, you go out of combat. The group is already moving towards the next pack and you want to swap some talents. Open up the talents pane; navigate to the talent(s) you want. Select new talents. Click "Learn." Swap/add any abilities to your action bar (if applicable). Rebuff (if applicable). Catch up to your group who is almost done with the pack you've just swapped for.

To me, it seems the pace of play in a dungeon naturally discourages this practice. I suspect there are probably scripts or macros out there that can make swapping nearly effortless, but it still hearkens back to my admission that I simply don't subscribe to that approach to the game, and if someone else does, so what? Where I stand, changing talents around that frequently for sub-1-minute combats is cumbersome and a waste of time. That's where the cost-benefit sits in my mind. Simply worth it in certain scenarios---like for raid bosses---not so much in others. But how worth is defined is the tricky part, since it varies on an individual level.

To strip everything away, it seems that Blizzard's ultimate goal was to discourage players from rapid-fire talent swaps. I'll admit, the Wartome and its assumed cost accomplishes this. But on a general level it doesn't make the choice to swap feel more meaningful if it's something that a player is going to do regardless. There's simply a greater, but nowhere near prohibitive extra cost. 

Personally, I would've rather seen them impose a cooldown of some sorts, like a simple 5-minute debuff that prevented talent swaps (reset upon death of course). Perhaps talent-switching could be treated sort of like trinkets: when you change to a new talent, the talent itself will incur a 1-minute cooldown before it can be activated/triggered/beneficial. Or hell, remove the restriction altogether when in a raid group, where talent-swapping will arguably be used with the most frequency.  

Oh well. Part of my annoyance with this change might be a simple shortcoming on my part: failure to grasp, accept, or understand Watcher's reasoning, or it could be something more serious like rose-colored blinders. I'll forge on a head in Legion regardless, though I wouldn't be sad to see this change reverted. That would enable me to continue approaching each boss encounter like a puzzle unimpeded, without having to be reminded how changing my character's talents is supposed to feel more meaningful now that Blizzard has assigned to it a cost they're comfortable with.

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