"...this isn't rocket science. There's still only 59 talents which increase your DPS, and taking all the essentials (including JotW) only requires an investment of 62"
There are effectively three things that affect character performance in an MMORPG:
- Out-of-game player skill (i.e. a world-class raider could sit down at my keyboard and get better DPS on my character with all of my other in-game choices intact)
- In-game choices that the player has limited control over (e.g. I won't have access to loot from bosses I have not killed)
- In-game choices that the player has full control over, such as talent specs
On paper, the point of talents, AA's, etc, is to allow for customization of characters. When you're done, you've created real differences between different characters of the same class. The cost of taking a specific spec is not being able to take a different spec. That cost is eliminated if there is no reason to ever use a different spec, because there is one clear winner.
Whether you've got the 9 talent points that the Zebra says Ret Pallies have to play with or the 2-3 that most mage specs get, the fact is that it's not rocket science to pare down most WoW talent trees to a core set of essentials. In fact, Blizzard has been systematically working to make this easier, by reducing "bloat" in trees over the years. I can look at the talent tree for a class that I've barely ever played and make a relatively good guess at what its raiding spec will look like. The same is somewhat true in EQ2 and LOTRO, with the caveat that those games' talent equivalents are not obtained automatically, so the player has to unlock options before being allowed to take them.
Perhaps stats that affect performance aren't a good place to put character customization. If the effects are too small, the choices won't be meaningful because they won't be noticeable. If the changes are large enough to make a real impact, there's always going to be a "best" option for the bulk of your points. In either case, it almost seems like the point of these systems have been lost.
Players technically still have the option to try off-the-wall specs (last expansion, I was using some very unusual specs on both of my high level WoW characters); occasionally, you might even find some unexpected gem that lets you solo raid bosses until the devs hotfix it. In general, though, powerful top tier class-defining options dictate how players should spend ever increasing proportions of their customization points. Without options, the choice isn't really much of a choice at all.