Ghostcrawler has a Q&A on the upcoming dual talent spec feature of WoW. As I suspected, the feature is now so anticipated that they're willing to commit that it will be in the patch - I think they'll have to delay the whole patch it dual specs aren't ready.
The key details:
- You'll need to pay the trainer a one-time fee at level 80 to unlock dual specs.
- They're implenting an in-game Gear Manager to facilitate swapping out gear sets, which will incidentally help when you have to swap your healing gear out for your tanking set. (This is a potentially major announcement - this feature has been kicking around for a while now, and Blizzard at one point suggested that your secondary gearset might not take up bagspace - GC doesn't mention that either way here, other than to say that more info will be announced later.)
- You will need a Lexicon of Power, the thing that lets you scribe your glyphs, to swap specs. Inscribers will get an item that lets you summon a temporary lexicon to your location via a ritual with group members.
- Hunter pet talents will be wiped when you swap specs, and won't cost money to retrain anymore. Additionally, they're going to get an ability to summon a replacement pet from the stables for when they spec out of Beast Mastery and their exotic pet goes back to the stables.
- Glyphs and hotbars (all of them?) will swap out when you swap specs.
- The revamped system will also add some sort of a confirmation dialog to the talent spec process, so you don't start spending after a respec and realize that you misclicked.
- It's possible that none of this will be ready at the start of the 3.1 PTR (which I believe will be in the next week or two).
Some other thoughts:
This feature comes at the same time as they're implementing nerfs to mana regen and balancing even 10-man raids around the assumption that the group has replenishment. The popularity of Ret Pallies makes this a safer bet than you might think, but a 10-man raid with its Pally slot occupied with tanks or healers could run into problems.
Of the four DPS-only classes, three have a specific spec that will offer replenishment - frost mages, survival hunters, and destruction warlocks. I dunno about locks and hunters, but frost mages are the lowest DPS of the three specs. This change raises the possibility that one of those three classes will have to hotswap in a lower DPS spec to provide replenishment if there isn't a Ret Pally or Shadowpriest in the raid.
(Not sure why Subtlety Rogues were left out - they're also a non-preferred raid spec, and Rogues are now the only class that cannot bring tanking, healing, or replenishment to the table.)
Fixing the healer shortage
Your experience may vary (especially if you play a healer :P), but my experience in groups and watching the LFG channel is that groups are never stuck indefinitely looking for tanks when they already have healers. Apparently the improved DPS/solo ability for tanking specs, and/or improved tanking ability of non-dedicated specs of tank classes, and/or the new Death Knight class, have made the "tank shortage" much smaller than it used to be, or even nigh non-existent. But will dual specs help heal the healer shortage?
For instance, Shadow Priests might seem like ideal candidates to swap in their second spec. The other two priest trees focus on healing, so they're either going to spend their second slot on a second version of a shadow spec, or on one that can heal. Their main spec will require spellcasting stats anyway, so they'd just need to swap in some mana regen gear. However, players who have opted to play shadow priests, especially knowing what the relative demand is for healers vs dps, may simply not WANT to heal, or, indeed, may not be able to do so due to the learning curve involved.
Pallies and Druids face an additional challenge in that they have two slots but can, in principle, spec for tanking OR healing in addition to DPS. Experienced tanks may call me out on this, but, as someone whose paladin very occasionally had to either tank or heal, tanking seemed much more familiar to my solo playstyle than healing did. I suspect that many Ret pallies will take up Prot for their second slot, and Feral druids might actually be tempted to pick up a cat-focused DPS spec and a bear-focused tank spec without ever messing with anything that would require gear that has intellect on it.
Then there's the quirk that Druids and Shammies can both do either ranged or melee DPS, and, again, might prefer to cover the second role (which might be better for single target vs AOE, or other situational encounters) instead of taking a more unfamiliar healing assignment.
Overall, I think that the prevalence of healers WILL increase - people who are willing and able to heal will probably just swap into their healing gear and spec before they go LFG. Perhaps some of them will even join a group in their preferred role but be willing to switch to healing later. I just don't think it'll be anywhere near as effective as the tanking revamp at Wrath's launch.
There are two major points that could be a topic of social strife, especially in PUG's.
In general, the spec system may blur the lines between main spec and off-spec for everyone, at least outside of raiding. "I could use that if I respec someday" is less of a case for being allowed to roll than "I might need to fill that role for a future group, maybe even this one". You may see a lot more players who want concessions on the loot rules in exchange for tanking or healing. For example, "I'm willing to heal, but my main focus is DPS so I expect to be allowed to roll need on both types of gear". They're not wrong to ask (and groups also won't be wrong to turn them down), but it's the kind of situation that begs for drama.
Does the rest of the group tell the DPS who joined thinking he wasn't going to have competition for X rare drop that he can let the healer roll so the group can leave now, or he can find a new group? I suspect the answer, at least where PUG's are concerned, will depend on whether the DPS in question (or one of their friends) is the group leader. Again, the prospective healer isn't wrong to name those terms, but usually it's only going to be one or two members of the group that are going to be adversely affected, and they're going to be put on the spot with three other pairs of eyes watching.
Why aren't you specced for my convenience?
The other probable social issue is that healing-capable classes who spec for DPS might get a lot of grief from the PUG community. This goes double for Shammies and Shadow Priests (who don't have the excuse that Druids and Pallies have of needing the second slot for tanking), triple for players who have a PVP variant of their DPS spec in the second slot, and quadruple all of the above when the group has been looking for a healer for 30+ minutes. (Generally, I give up on the prospective group if I've been able to finish all my daily quests for the day during the time we spent looking for a healer - this happens more often than you'd think.)
This is nothing new, I remember a UBRS PUG I left promptly thereafter chewing out a balance druid for not being specced to heal. It just might get more prominent if the player in question actually COULD be healing at the touch of a button. (Then again, maybe groups won't want to trust their DPS to heal if it turns out that many of us aren't very good at it. ;))
A Very Big Change
Overall, I like what I'm hearing, though I also think that limiting dual specs to level 80 is a mistake. I realize that you don't want too much complexity for beginners, but low level players have even MORE need for spec flexibility than level 80 characters do, because their income potential is lower (the respec fee is constant regardless of what level you are - this should probably change to something scaling by level as long as they're overhauling the system) and because there are fewer characters in those level brackets available to fill the tanking and healing niches.
This feature is very rapidly shaping up to be the marquis feature of the 3.1 patch, I'd say even moreso than the new and much-needed raid dungeon. It may be difficult to overstate the effects that these changes will have on the game.
Other games, including EQ2, have done dual spec systems. However, EQ2's classes are more specialized than WoW's - I don't think there's a single class in the game where you could fill the group with different specs of just that one class and succeed. WoW has two of those in Pallies and Druids. Maybe I'm wrong and everyone will just keep on doing what they're doing. Still, it's not often that the devs take the options available to a character in game and allow them to literally double the length of that list with the push of a single button.