Talents are an interesting aspect of WoW. In theory they allow players to customize their characters, focusing on a specific role or playstyle to become more powerful in that area. However talents fail to be as fun as might be expected. The two main problems are cookie-cutters and gimping of the baseline class.
Cookie Cutter Specs:
These are not much fun, but with the way WoW works, they are inevitable. Some talents are just better than others. Very simple theorycraft will lead a PvE ret paladin to choose crusade over eye for an eye or imp ret aura. The circumstances do not exist to justify the other talents in PvE. Similarly, arms warriors almost never get imp MS. For 5 points in does not give a significant DPS increase, the only possible gain is the ability to keep MS up on two targets, given sufficient rage and the targets being close enough together.
What’s the solution? I don’t have any good ones. Most easily, talents could all just be gimmicks, irrelevant in most situations. We could have plenty of customization when raid leaders don’t care if you pick vindication over eye for an eye. WoW could be changed to use gimmick talents more, but I don’t want to see the fight that makes the cheaper cleanse from Purifying Power into a requirement.
Gimping Baseline Classes:
All talents must suit the class they are given to. It would be absurd to have a warlock get earth shield. On the other hand, it would be absurd to have a class lacking what defines it. Imagine a warlock without the ability to summon demons
Unfortunately there are times when a class needs another talent, so what might otherwise be a baseline ability is instead a talent. The baseline class is gimped because of talents. Without talents, they’d just have the ability, rather than having to spec for it. This happens in the case of a melee class with no direct melee attacks and not even any melee-based spells. I’m referring to ret paladins, crusader strike, and seal of command. It is a mercy that blood elves get a baseline melee seal. Without CS, ret is pretty silly, just waiting around for auto-attack and judging.
There is an alternative though. A baseline class can be complete, with talents improving them, emphasizing a playstyle, rather than completely defining their role. I don’t like healing much, but I have to admit that the shaman, paladin, and druid healing trees are excellent. I am not including priests because I am ignorant of them, not because I think less of their healing tree. Holy adds almost nothing new, it does not significantly alter the way a paladin heals, it only makes healing paladins better at what they do anyway. The playstyle is chosen before the tree rather than the reverse. Similarly a healing shaman is using similar heals and styles before speccing resto, the addition of earth shield enhances the role rather than defining it.
However trees should not be too weak either. In the case of warlocks, the trees attempt to fit a playstyle, but they fail miserably. Affliction should use a lot of DoTs and be mobile, demonology should be reliant and gaining power from minions, destruction should use a variety of direct damage spells. Instead they all just throw up some DoTs, send in a minion, and then spam shadowbolt. Maybe a destruction warlock will use incinerate. Either way, the specs are too weak, they don’t encourage the use of fully different playstyles.
There should be a middle group. Talent trees should enhance a playstyle and help to encourage variation, but they should not define it. If a style is not supported by the baseline class, then either the style is not a part of the class’ role (imagine a ranged warrior) or some talents need to be made baseline (crusader strike or holy shield).
This post is already too long, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I would like to see the distinctions between classes removed or at least greatly reduced. Rather than a warlock and an affliction tree, have a generic caster with a generic shadow focus and them through gear and gemming choices, the player can then focus on damage over time spells. Paladins would not exist, instead they would be a combination of the holy magic trees and the melee trees with the ability to wear plate. This would make classes fit better with lore; making paladins, priests, and warriors not so distinct, mages and warlocks would be variations of each other as explained in lore, druids and shamans would have some more overlap. While this sounds as if it would simply everything and remove creativity, it would actually give more. We could make new classes of our own. Deathknights would be a shadow-based melee class. Monks could be lightly armored holy and melee, with some overlap with rogues. But it can go further. Imagine a plate-wearing character with an affinity for fire spells or someone who summons demons, only to learn how to better destroy them with holy magic.