Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dual Spec News and Impact

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:

Replenishment Duty
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.

Social Issues
There are two major points that could be a topic of social strife, especially in PUG's.

Loot Everything!
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.


DeftyJames said...

I have been dreading this moment because if there is one thing that is likely to make me drop WoW permanently it's dual specs.

I quite agree with you that it's a major change. So much so that I no longer can think of it as the same game. Beyond the affect of the spec itself, which I think is horrible for the game as I play it, it's the logic of the developer's thinking that leaves me befuddled.

GC says, "We really felt like this was a great way to increase the flexibility available to players and encourage them to take part in more aspects of the game. To use just one example, some players like to participate in both raids and Arenas, which is awesome behavior that we want to promote."

The problem with this logic is that it's a zero sum game. By promoting what GC is calling "flexibility" you remove identity. There is a famous Buddhist classic called, "Zen flesh, Zen bones" and the problem with WoW is that it has ceased, with dual specs, to have any bones whatsoever. It is all flesh that is malleable into whatever it wants to be whenever it wants to be without restraint by the developers.

I don't want to play a game where the past is constantly gobbled up by the future. The developers vision of WoW is just one huge Gelatinous Ooze. And why would any sane person what to play in that?

Magrovsky said...

About dual specs and healer shortage, you forgot to consider the possibility of the second spec being a PVP one. I play a PVE Ret pally, and my second spec will surely be PVP Ret. Healing? No way.

Argon said...

Actually, the article does mention that: "triple for players who have a PVP variant of their DPS spec in the second slot"

Klepsacovic said...

@DJ I won't argue against identity and flexibility being zero sum, but the pool is bigger than you're giving it credit. Warriors and paladins are different classes, and yet both can tank or DPS with two-handed weapons. Druids also tank and DPS with two-handed weapons, and yet they're very different. My point is that there is a lot of identity around, so trading a bit for flexibility does not mean a significant 'percentage' (in quotes because there's no numeric value) loss of identity.

Besides, much of identity is in the player itself, not the current character. My character has been prot, ret, and holy at various times. Even when I'm holy, I'm really still prot, because regardless of my spec, I still think of myself as a tank. My identity is that of a tank. If anything, dual specs reinforce that because I'll be able to go holy or ret and it won't be at the expense of being prot. New players will have the opportunity to develop identities as well, since dual specs are currently unavailable below 80, and even though I expect that to eventually drop to 60 or 70, it will still be late enough that people will have their identities formed.

niconorsk said...

@Klepsacovic: I really do hope you're not coming across to many paladins and warriors tanking with two-handers

I really doubt dual specs will have much impact on the healer shortage. People that didn't want to heal before aren't suddenly going to want to now. However, one impact it will have is on people that respec for soloing but heal for raids. These people might be more tempted to interrupt their farming for a quick instance if they won't have to dish out a 100g, which probably cancels out quite a bit of farming time

Green Armadillo said...

@DJ and Klep: I think both perspectives do have merit. Personally, I almost always have one spec for each class out there that best suits some combination of my personality, what I'd like to be doing with that character, etc. That part of my identity isn't going to go away even if I do carry around a different spec for situational use. However, I will also agree that not being able to do everything is part of what defines that classes in the first place.

@Nico: I hadn't thought about the crowd that respecs on a daily basis for farming vs group content, but I guess that actually does make a certain amount of sense. As I said in my post, I really think that respec costs should scale by level - 50g was a lot at level 60 and is getting to be trivial now, while even the 15G minimum for characters who've been respecced a few times is a ton of money for lower level characters. Having this option in the game would let Blizzard raise the cost to a number that's actually significant to level 80's without screwing lowbies and people who need a second spec.

Anonymous said...

@niconorsk - re-read Kelp's comments. You are snarkily correcting something he DIDN'T say, which reflects poorly on you. Big pet peeve of mine.

Yes it can be read either way, but that's because of ambiguity inherent in the English language. When it can go either way, you can and should interpret it with the assumption that the writer is halfway intelligent.

@Green and the actual blog post: Dual spec has been a dream come true since I first heard about it. Really, it seemed like it was too good to be true. As a Pally, I'll be Ret and Prot. I've historically been Prot, but I went Ret about a month ago and I've been really enjoying it.

I hope this brings us more healers. In my case, it will bring another possible tank, but there is an absolute glut of tanks at the moment, at least on my server. Now, there may not be tons of them for 5-man PUGs, but there are tons of them for raids (and they don't scale as well for raids as for 5-mans; 3:25 for 25s vs 1:5 for a heroic - this contributes to the glut once you enter raiding).

Loot rules will be a big issue with dual-specs. My thought has been and still is that intelligent Raid Leaders, both of guild runs and PUGs, will have intelligent rules, and there will be little drama. I expect that everyone will have priority on loot for one spec, whether that is what they are currently running as or not, which will be subject to the RL's approval.

For instance, I'd be happy to tank for a Naxx25 group that needed another tank to make the run happen, but I'd still prefer to roll on DPS gear.


ByStander said...

before Duel Spec, We need 1 tank , 3 DD and 1 healer

after Duel Spec , we need 2 Tank/DD , 3DD/healers