Blizzard has revealed that it's scrapping the talent system that's been a cornerstone of World of Warcraft's character class design, in some form or other, since the game launched in 2004.
The talent trees that allow players to specialise their classes were substantially changed in the 2010 expansion Cataclysm, but systems designer Greg Street explained at BlizzCon that the team felt the changes didn't go deep enough.
Next expansion Mists of Pandaria will retain the Cataclysm system of introducing your choice of class specialisation, with a spec-specific ability, at level 10. But after that, instead of pursuing branches of a tree, players will simply choose one of three talents every 15 levels. There will be no talent points or ranks, but there will be additional spec abilities and it will be relatively easy to change your talents.
The idea is to cut even more "junk" talents and attempt to completely eradicate the primacy of certain "cookie-cutter" builds. Street is aiming for customisation to be simpler, more fun, and offer more meaningful and personal choices based on playstyle. There should be no mandatory talents for any successful character build, he said.
Street also gave more details of the Monk class that will be introduced in Mists of Pandaria. The Monk, which will start at level 1 (unlike last new class the Death Knight) and wear leather armour, can be specialised as either a tank (Brewmaster), healer (Mistweaver) or melee damage dealer (Windwalker).
The focus is firmly on martial arts combat with fists, fist weapons and staves and in order to keep a fast-paced "Street Fighter" feel, the Monk will have no auto-attack, a first for WOW. Even the healer spec will be effective in melee combat and smooth, detailed animations and stances are a focus for the art team. Any race in the game except Goblins and Worgen can be a monk.
As for changes to existing classes, the hunter will lose the ability to use melee weapons in exchange for having no minimum range for ranged attacks, while all other classes will no longer be able to equip bows, crossbows or guns (warriors and rogues will throw their melee weapons for ranged attacks). Warlock specs are being diversified with individual resource mechanics, the shaman's totems are being completely revamped and the druid will be the first class to get a fourth talent spec, with cat and bear forms split into Feral and Guardian specs respectively.
We'll have more detail on Mists of Pandaria, including a detailed look at the expansion content, in a full preview soon.