One of the bigger announcements about the upcoming WoW Panda-pack was a total overhaul to the Talents system. These worked a lot like skills do in Diablo III, and they used to be very important, character-defining decisions that were essential not to screw up (lest people refuse to raid with you). The number of talents increased from the original game in each expansion (51 to 61 to 71) until Cataclysm scaled them back to 41. Now? There are 6. And you can change them around any time you like, ala D3’s original freespec skill system.

    The post announcing this feature change on Blizzard’s WoW site has well over 11,000 replies, with reactions like this fairly common:

    The new talent system is retarded. Less talents and less points means less customization and less analysis… The game was best when it first came out and The Burning Crusade continued the tradition. WoW has steadily became more and more simplistic and less effort to play. I’m old school. I don’t like to be pigeon holed with how i spend my talent points and i play without add ons.

    Doesn’t that comment sound like any one of the hundreds of angry forum posts/comments we saw on this site, when the original D3 system changes (almost all of them simplifications) were revealed? Better yet, lots of the WoW commenters are blaming D3’s freespecs for watering down the strategy requirement and character build permanence they used to enjoy in WoW.

    This sort of “let the player do whatever they want, whenever they want, so long as they win” is apparently the wave of the future, with a similar ethos animating the character building in the just-released Skyrim and in upcoming RPGs as well.

    This time around, the design philosophy for Bethesda has been to wave goodbye to the pre-sets it gave you at the beginning of Oblivion, and hello to the possibility of playing any class types, simultaneously, with both hands. One hand can be used for melee weapons, one hand can spellcast. The result is a system that lets players decide how they want to play at any point in time.

    You’ll see shadows of this kind of thinking elsewhere in games due next year. The upcoming Kingdoms of Amalur, which shares the same genetic inheritance as The Elder Scrolls series thanks to a having a lead designer in common, has taken up a similar design stance. Instead of requiring the player to select a playing style they’ll be stuck with before the game even begins, Amalur gives you three talent trees, with over twenty abilities in each, to fiddle between and combine. You can also hop between Mage, Rogue, Warrior, and Ranged archer stances at any point, allowing you to mold your character even when you’re mid-way through the game.

    As we know, Diablo III initially had unlimited respecs as well, until the recent patch added the DiabloWikiNephalem Altar. The game still allows unlimited respecs; they just make you go to town first so you can’t actually hot patch mid-battle. I couldn’t help but think of these features, all of which seem designed to be very casual-friendly, while I was testing Torchlight 2 this week. I’ll go into more details on Friday when the NDA lifts, but rest assured; you won’t see TL2 fans complaining that Runic has ruined the game so that any Facebook gamer can just hop on and kick ass without so much as assigning their attribute points.

    We’ve been debating this all through D3’s development as well, though there are (at least) two definitions of “easy.” 1) Easy in terms of “no skill required to win” and 2) easy in terms of “no consequences to your actions.”

    The #2 type of easy has been a big talking point all during Diablo 3’s development. Just to list a few conveniences of that nature: manual attributes have been removed, skill points were removed, passive skills were scaled way back, freespecs were introduced, etc… Then the beta started and easy #1 blew up. Blizzard hasn’t denied it, and they’ve said that, “you will not die unless you are very careless” is a feature in Normal difficulty, and especially in Act One.

    On a past DiabloWikiDiablo Podcast, Elly said she’d like to start Diablo 3 on Nightmare difficulty. Maybe that wouldn’t literally work, her point was one that many of you guys share. A lot of Diablo 3 fans want a challenge, right from the start. They (we) do not want all of Normal (and maybe Nightmare too) to function as a dress rehearsal for the real game. Many players have argued for Hardcore right from the start, but what about the Torchlight style Easy/Normal/Hard/Very Hard difficulty selection, right from the start of the game? I can’t imagine Blizzard would incorporate something like that at this point in the development process, but for at least some small % of the player base, it would be a very welcome feature.

    You can comment on that, or on the general (perceived) casual-friendly nature of game development these days. Is easier gaming better? Will Blizzard pull casual players into D3 with the training wheels approach, and then turn them into hardcore gamers as they move up the difficulty progression? Or are they just watering down the product to the point that those of us who want a challenge aren’t going to find it?

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