Blizzard have released a sneak peek at some of the Hero Talents from World of Warcraft’s upcoming expansion: The War Within. Hero Talents are meant to be evergreen dashes of spice to the game’s existing talent system—ones which mainly add “class utility [and] defensive bonuses.”
The devs maintain that the differences in these trees is meant to be flavour: “We are aiming for all trees to be about equal in the amount of utility and defensiveness they provide.” While that’s an admirable goal, I feel like the reality will be far more complicated. Still, these trees are bite-sized. It’s also intended that players will have access to every node, so they will (in theory) be easier to balance.
Another thing that could help is that the trees themselves are meant to add twists to existing specs, rather than replacing them entirely or adding new buttons: “Most Hero Talent trees do not add new buttons that players will need to add to their action bar or find a new keybind for … we’re trying not to add things like complex maintenance buffs that increase the cognitive load.”
Blizzard has also shared four of the 30-something Hero Talent trees for the community to chew on. These are the San’layn Death Knight (Blood/Unholy specs), the Chronowarden Evoker (Augmentation/Preservation specs), the Lightsmith Paladin (Holy/Protection specs), and the Mountain Thane Warrior (Fury/Protection specs). You can read them all in the preview post itself.
What interests me about these trees (more than the nitty-gritty details of balance) is the big whiff of Augmentation Evoker I’m getting from some of them—which has some pretty big implications for WoW’s design going forward.
For context: WoW Dragonflight added a new spec to the Evoker called Augmentation, and it’s pretty weird. It’s an entirely new brand of DPS, and its damage comes largely from buffing other players, similar to the Dancer job from FF14. Its entrance has been chaotic, with memes about Augmentation Evokers getting punted from groups being widespread.
It’s also caused a lot of problems for the game’s culture and UI modding community. Arguments abound on whether DPS meters are properly tracking an Aug Evoker’s contribution, despite Blizzard’s best efforts to make the numbers available to modders.
There’s also the fact that an Aug Evoker’s performance is (by necessity) related to the skill of the players they’re buffing. If you’re just looking at the numbers, the same Aug Evoker could look like they’re a pro raider one day and absolute garbage the next—all based on what their team’s doing. In a game with a culture of rugged individualism and raw number-flexing, that’s a problem.
Despite that, a lot of these Hero Talents are looking like they’ll let players contribute much like an Augmentation Evoker does, just in smaller doses. For example, the Lightsmith Paladin allows both healers and tanks to create armaments, giving allies who grab them a chance to deal extra holy damage or healing.
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)
Similarly, the San’layn tree allows a defensive passive to give 100% Lifesteal (called ‘Leech’ in WoW) to 4 nearby players. Chronowarden also lets healing Evokers get in on the buffing action as well.
There are still dozens of trees to look at, but if this design philosophy carries on into The War Within, then it’ll have big ripples for the expansion’s metagame. It seems like Blizzard’s answer to the problem of the Augmentation Evoker is to gradually add more support options to every other class, which is a bold move.
But I’m kind of here for it. The game’s been such an individualistic dog-eat-dog world (of Warcraft) for years. But if players are a force multiplier just by existing, it might help to repair that slowly, over time. Maybe that Lightwarden’s a bit undergeared, but hey—it’s cool that you’re getting extra holy damage on every swing, right? Still, if you want to pump numbers by your lonesome it looks like there’ll be Hero trees for you—like the Mountain Thane, which looks to be all about lightning strikes and triggering your Avatar self-buff a bunch.