Multi-Spec Specialisation: If we but dream…

Greetings from analysis central!
The current lull in information disclosure up till the WoD Alpha becomes publicly available (cough!), means that most of us in the community find ourselves with a surfeit of time to discuss existing or proposed featured in Warlords of Draenor. Most recently, I began a discussion on a topic that I found pertinent: Multi-talent specialisation, and whether it can or indeed should be a future feature.
In the post, I hope to reflect and build upon some of that discussion.

Specialisation as a concept: A quick overview

It’s ironic that I refer to “Multi-talent” specialisation, given that MoP talents are no longer innately tied to specs. While it’s true that some classes currently have talents with effects that differ vastly according to spec (and hence may as well be “spec specific”), the majority of talents still seem to follow a loose goal of attempting to have at least some appeal for any spec played by a class. There are, of course, notable exceptions to this such as Roiling Blood for Frost Death Knights!

Prior to MoP however, “talents” denoted a series of both passive and active abilities that were ostensibly presented as choices a player committed too. Once enough talents in a particular tree had been selected, the player’s character “became” that spec- Restoration Druid, Enhancement Shaman, etc.
There has been a great deal of debate amongst the playerbase concerning the role that specialisation plays in defining character identity. For instance, my friend Lhivera believes this to be a matter of tantamount importance that should take precedence over other matters of convenience in the game: A Frost Mage should be defined as a Frost Mage, and the option to “respec” into Fire or Arcane should either be a difficult choice, arduous to accomplish or even impossible.

To be fair, such a view represents a line of thought that Blizzard has not seemed to share even in the early stages of the game. The ability to switch from one specialisation to another has always been present in-game, and I’d argue that it’s never been one with overly strong restrictions attached to it. The biggest downside/turn-away for me would likely have been a limitation based on the number of times one can respec over a given period of time- a limitation that has never existed.
So what has acted as a roadblock (or series of roadblocks) for spec switching in the past?

The Limiting Factor: From Vanilla till WoD

A number of factors have tied together to form limitations for characters wishing to respec. My friend and fellow theorycrafter, Hamlet identified three which I’m further expanding upon here:

  1. Money. Each respecialization costs a certain amount of gold when visiting a trainer. Over time this gold cost increases, but caps out before it gets out of hand.
  2. The UI: Respeccing usually means having to reevaluate a number of UI elements such as action bar settings, macros and even raid frame/indicator placement. This can be quite taxing for the unprepared.
  3. Inconveniences other than the UI. Respeccing also costs time. It requires having to journey to a capital city or location where a class trainer might be present, and spend time there. It can also require completely separate sets of gear if the player intends to play a spec or role that differs greatly from what they previously played. Separate gear can also mean needing to Gem, Enchant and Reforge that gear differently than the character’s previous spec.

For a Vanilla WoW player, I can see why these shortcomings represented a significant obstacle towards respeccing. There were a myriad of reasons that aided in this being a reality:

  • Gold (particularly in high amounts) was much more difficult to attain.
  • Travelling wasn’t nearly as easy with no flying mounts, and even ground mounts being a difficult goal for many to attain.
  • New sets of gear, particularly for high-end gaming, were difficult to attain given that raiding was largely monolithic and at one “standard” difficulty per instance.

Now let’s fast-forward to the present situation in MoP. We’ve had a significant talent system revamp, whereby changing talents is no longer tied to specialisation, and largely ignores most of the above limiting factors- some UI issues aside. More importantly however, the circumstances surrounding the original limiting factors have changed greatly. For instance:

  • Gold is no longer difficult to attain. This can’t be emphasised enough- the amount of gold generated via 3-4 daily quests alone is sufficient to cover the base cost of respeccing.
  • Traveling back and forth form capital cities is much easier in a world where 310% Flying Mounts are the norm, and Hearthstones are on a 15-minute cooldown. Let’s not forget class/profession perks like Death Gate and Wormhole Generators too!
  • UI complexities are able to be greatly mitigated (if not entirely overcome) with addons such as Action Bar Saver, ReforgeLite and Bartender.

The fact of the matter is: Respeccing, when required, is no longer nearly as inconvenient as it once was. This is not to say that it is not inconvenient to some extent, but that the ceiling on its attainment has been greatly lowered.
You’ll also note that up until this point, my blog post has solely referred to respeccing under the lens of a character only being able to hold one specialisation at a time.
That brings me right to my next point.

Enter: Dual-Talent Specialisation

Making respeccing less difficult has been part of the natural progression of the game. While its limiting factors could probably have been enforced, it’s likely that they were allowed to ease in the hopes of encouraging more versatile play amongst an increasingly growing population. Still, up until Patch 3.1, a character was only ever capable of holding one specialisation at a time. You were either a Blood or a Frost Death Knight, assuming you knew how to select talents properly!

The introduction of a feature that allowed players to simultaneously hold two, unique specialisations and corresponding glyphs that could be switched around outside of combat with nothing but a simple button push changed that paradigm forever.
What I find particularly interesting about how the feature was implemented, was the way in which it was introduced to us: One of the points put forward by Blizzard at the time was that Dual-Talent Specialisation allowed hybrid classes to utilise alternative roles more easily. I do not say that it was the only justification they used for adding the feature, but that it was definitely a major line of reasoning at the time.

Why do I find this interesting? Well, mostly because the subsequent implementation of the feature gave it much more versatility than simply fulfilling the aforementioned goal. The developers could have made Dual-Talent Specialisation only available to Hybrid classes that could actually utilise different roles. They could also have potentially placed restrictions on these classes to ensure that their second spec had to differ in role from their original one, although I admit that I imagine this would have been exceedingly difficult to guarantee with how the WoTLK talent system was coded; not to mention the fact that all 3 Death Knight specs and 1 Druid spec had both Tanking and DPS capabilities.
In the end, such a move would likely have made the feature a lot less popular and seem unfair to pure DPS specs. Indeed, one of the benefits (as I see them) of the way in which Dual-Talent Specialisation was introduced was that it allowed more stubborn “purists” to maintain two versions of the same specialisation with minor adjustments to talents/glyphs for versatility. I myself recall maintaining two variants of my Unholy DPS specs (one optimal for AoE, the other single-target) for such purposes.

Of course, the introduction of such a feature wasn’t without its controversies. Some, such as Lhivera, argued that a “fourth wall” of immersion in an RPG world had been broken with the introduction of such a feature. They argued (and still do) that character identity as defined by a specialisation was important to maintain and that the option to change such an identity (should it even exist in the first place) should never be a trivial matter.
While I myself do not agree with such a sentiment, I can respect where it comes from. Regardless: Dual-Talent Specialisation was implemented, and has been a feature of the game for quite some time.
The only question now becomes: Does it stop there?

Present Imperfect?

So, here we are in Mists of Pandaria.
Swapping talents, specialisations and gear-sets has never been easier for players, and WoD promises to make it even more so with some of the announced gear changes. In short order:

  1. Every secondary stat now brings mitigative value to tanks, while Hit/Expertise are gone.
  2. Tier pieces now “morph” to grant appropriate bonuses to correct specialisations.
  3. Reforging is gone (one less step of customisation), and Gemming/Enchanting will become much rarer on different pieces of gear.
  4. The only gear that currently promises to be Tank/Healer only are pieces of Jewellery, and possibly trinkets.

Combine these facts with my earlier points about how easy it is to already switch talents, and one thing becomes clear: If there were ever an opportune time to introduce multi-speccing specialisations, this would be it. Thus, I’ll rephrase my earlier question: Should Dual-Talent Specialisation continue to represent the end of the line for speccing options?

You’ll also note that my original question on Twitter asked people to come up with theoretical reasoning behind why Tri-Specialisation was a bad thing. However, my guildie Esoth brought up a valid point: Why stop at Tri-specs? Imagine a system whereby it were possible to not only maintain three specialisation profiles, but also “sub-profiles” within each spec with different talents/glyphs.
For instance, I could not only switch between Blood, Frost and Unholy freely, but also switch around saved variants of each spec.
If Dual-Talent Specialisation did indeed kill off some individuals conception of specs defining character identity, then it’s fair to see that further enhancing that concept won’t do any further damage in that specific regard.

There is, however, a major difference between implementing the option for Tri-Specs (or Quad-Specs in the case of Druids), and the full “Multi-Spec” system I mention early. While the former would remove one of the last remaining inconveniences of having to visit a trainer occasionally, the latter would remove any need to switch glyphs/talents point blank.
Individual acts such as paying for Tomes of the Clear Mind, having to manually switch talents and glyphs, and the subsequent time they require may seem trivial (and thus, removable) on their own, but collectively form some of the last vestiges of continuously interacting with specialisations. Would this necessarily be a positive for gameplay?

Changing Tides… Hopefully?

As I hope I’ve illustrated in the post, there is a strong case behind why implementing Tri-spec, were it a goal, would make sense in WoD. This, however, doesn’t mean much unless it is a goal for the future.
As it currently stands, the majority of limiting factors behind spec switching outside of Dual-Talent Specialisation are trivial to get around. My friend Hamlet, whom I mentioned earlier, stated that he felt the significance of some of these costs (specifically, monetary-wise) should be increased if the developers wish to retain them. This is an understandable sentiment- why keep barriers that aren’t really perceived as barriers, but rather as nuisances?

Other costs, such as action bar/keybind setups likely need addressing as they present the wrong kind of barrier- a player should never feel hesitant to switch specs simply because they cannot stomach the thought of having to redo their UI. While add-ons such as ABS do address this issue for some players, it is my hope that their functionality is incorporated into the game’s core UI, making it universally accessible.

Realistically, there would probably be a much less enthusiastic response to the notion of full multi-spec switch capability (i.e. allowing more than 3 set spec profiles to be saved) than to Tri-speccing due to how much gameplay it would remove. Even now, I acknowledge that the implementation of Tri-spec capabilities in the game would essentially invalidate the need to ever visit a class trainer for someone who did not maintain two variants of the same spec, and also eliminate a potential gold-sink (not that it’s one right now!).

Perhaps it’s fitting to conclude this post with a followup to the original question that inspired it: Do current respec requirements add meaningful gameplay, and will they continue to do so in WoD?
I think that I’ve made my thoughts on the topic clear- how about you?


One thought on “Multi-Spec Specialisation: If we but dream…

  1. Rodalpho

    I’m gonna call the current saved specializations “slots” in this post to try to avoid ambiguity.

    As noted above, it’s very quick and easy to change your talent and glyphs inside a slot. You can do it any time outside of combat for a small fee. This means that it’s no longer necessary to designate multiple slots per spec for different gameplay scenarios, like PvE vs. PvP, or solo/dailies vs. group play. You don’t _need_ two Unholy slots for AE vs. single-targets these days.

    Since there’s no particular reason to preserve multiple slots of the same specialization, it becomes very easy to envision how multiple saved slots _should_ work.

    Super simple–

    Make each spec’s name clickable in the specialization tab of the talent UI. You click the spec name; your spec switches.

    Druids have 4 specs, so they get 4 buttons. Everybody else has 3. Switching your spec also switches your action bars, your talent choices, and your glyphs, same as now.

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