A History of World of Warcraft Talent Trees

If you’ve been playing World of Warcraft for a long time, then you’ve seen quite the evolution in the game’s class talent system. In fact, with the release of the...

If you’ve been playing World of Warcraft for a long time, then you’ve seen quite the evolution in the game’s class talent system. In fact, with the release of the Cataclysm expansion, the talent system almost came full-circle.

That was until BlizzCon.

So with the dramatic change to talents happening in Patch 5.0, the Mists of Pandaria pre-patch, we thought it would be fun to take a little look back on the history of talents in WoW and what players experienced from Vanilla to Wrath. What better place than to start at the top?


This is the first wave of talents that came in WoW. Granted, this sample comes from Patch 1.8, so there may be a few minor variations from 1.0 to the final pre-BC patch, but here you go. Now, as you look at these talents (we’ll use Priest talents for example purposes), don’t they look a little familiar? Yeah, these are 31-point deep talent trees, just like we have today. The talents may be different, but this is the format Blizzard has used for the past seven years. Just like today, this was a pretty clean system and most of the talents were pretty powerful. During Vanilla, you got one point per level starting at level 10 (just as you did for most of the last seven years), all the way to the end. Of course, unlike Cataclysm’s 31-point trees, you could spread your points out however you wanted. Wanted to stick 20 points in one tree, 20 points in another and 11 points in another? Sure! But, like most things, that’s how it was ’til Cataclysm. And this worked well until the release of Burning Crusade when the level cap went up and Blizzard realized “Hey, we need more talents!”


Talents, version two. The first and most obvious change was the addition of two more tiers and 10 more talent points (10 more levels, afterall). This made for some pretty long, pretty deep trees. This was the first time that the trees really started to branch out and a lot of talents started to get added that weren’t QUITE a powerful but did help in customize your character. You can see it in how the trees didn’t only get longer but also branched out wider. Talent trees were a bit extensive and a tad overwhelming, but it wasn’t that bad at this point (in my opinion). BC talents, however, were a sign of things to come. As you can see, these are 41 point deep trees and still allowed you to spread your points around at will. But with Wrath.. it got a bit crazy.


OH SWEET ELUNE. Did you see how deep and extensive these trees are? Once again, the trees got two more levels (now 51-points deep) and branched out even further. During Wrath, talent trees got to a point where it was practically a wall of icons for some classes. As you can see from the Priest talents above, every class had a boatload of choices when it came to talents. There were so many talents and many of them did silly little weak things, some were powerful, but surprisingly it was still easy to find cookie-cutter builds despite all of the clutter. Wrath, in my opinion, may have been good for customization but it was bad for players. There’s no need for all these talents. In just this one class alone, the Priest trees grew from 47 available choices in Vanilla to 82 in Wrath! 82 talents! It was insane. Blizzard realized it, too, and when they dropped Cataclysm, they took us full circle.


Ah, there we go. In Cataclysm, the length of the talent trees got much shorter, back down to 31 point trees. They were still pretty involved, though, giving Priests a total of 62 available talents overall, but this was due to a change in design. Whereas before Cata when you could spread your points around at-will, Cata talents forced you to fill out a specific spec with 31 points before you could drop another single point elsewhere. The idea behind this was to make talents less confusing on new players and allow players to focus on one particular path instead of trying to pick the best talents out of three trees at once. By the time you could feed points into another tree, you were already pretty deep into your class and probably had the patience and understanding to figure that out. In addition, the rate at which you earned points was reduced as well, for obvious reasons. A 31-point tree only works if you have a limited amount of points to work with. Instead of adding 5 more points for the 5 new levels, they adjusted the rate so that players earned points once every other level or once every two levels. It varied and in conjunction with the removal of spell ranks, it made each level where you earned something new feel a bit more powerful.

But, there was a flaw in this system. The problem with forcing players into one tree for 31 points meant that cookie-cutter builds were easier and more prevalent than ever. There was very little customization and personalization involved in these trees, and despite the ridiculous amount of talents available in Wrath, that was one thing that you had open to you: choice, and lots of it. There’s very little room to move in Cata talent trees and it pretty much came down to “Are you [spec]? Will you PvE or PvP? Okay, pick these talents.” Most of the time, Wrath talent builds gave you a bit of freedom with some of your points. Not really in Cata. Blizzard’s attempt to remove the need for cookie-cutter builds had backfired. So, they did one of their most drastic things ever.


There you have it, folks. Your new talent trees for Patch 5.0 and Mists of Pandaria. This new talent system not only completely altered the system the company has used for the past 7 years, but it also removed one element of variety: one tree per class. There was no Holy tree or Disc tree or Shadow tree. This is it, regardless of the spec you choose. Characters are undergoing a fundamental change in Patch 5.0/Mists of Pandaria. While players will still choose a Specialization at level 10, this spec will only affect the spells you learn as you level. The talent system works in a drastically simple way: Every 15 levels you can choose one talent from the appropriate tier. These talents are themed in some way, generally, such as healing or crowd-control or survival. By the time you’re at max level, you’ll have six talents out of a list of 18. The funny thing is, this could be the most robust tree system Blizzard has ever had.

While this is still much a work-in-progress, I’ve taken a look at these trees so far. I looked at each tier and what the current talents offered and it stuck out to me that while many of these talents had some pretty powerful abilities, none felt REQUIRED. There was no set of six that I felt, as a raiding Druid for example, I had to have. I played with Wowhead’s MoP talent calculator and sure, I picked six, but I didn’t feel like I had to. Every tier offered some kind of choice. Also, the flexibility for these new trees was impressive, giving players the ability to swap talents around at the same rate at which they can swap out glyphs today. Choose a specific CC talent that won’t help you in whatever raid or dungeon you’re going into, but you have one that will? Swap the talent. That simple.

Many people are a bit up in arms about the new talent system, but I think if Blizzard offers the right talents and works hard to maintain balance, it could be the best system yet. Sure makes it a lot easier to explain how to spec, that’s for sure. We’ll see how practical it all is when Patch 5.0 launches.

About Steve Perry

The owner of GKick Network, co-host of the GKick and Bottom Line Live podcasts, and hero to millions worldwide.