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It's A Whole New Game
If you hadn't been keeping up on the upcoming talent, ability, and glyph overhaul that was coming in patch 4.0.1 then you were probably quite surprised last Tuesday when this pre-Cataclysm launch patch went live. At BlizzCon 2009 a lot of these new changes were previewed, but most people weren't expecting them until the actual Cataclysm expansion. Take it as a kindness that we get these couple of months before the December 7th launch date to get used to all of the changes before we're dropped into a whole new Azeroth as well.
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Talent Revisions for All Classes - Specialization and Awarded Abilities
One of the most substantial changes to talents - and most instantly apparent - is the use of a new talent tree specialization selecting process. When you first open up your Talents pane instead of seeing three talent trees you can put points in, you see an overview of each spec, with specific abilities listed along with each one.
This isn't just a superficial change - Once you select a talent tree to specialize in you are locked into it for your next 31 talent points. Yes, you can respec at your trainer as always, but until you have 31 points in a tree you are not able put points into any other. That might sound like a negative change, but in light of all the positives I think its a pretty fair trade off.
Do you see all of those abilities listed under each spec? You get all of those for free just for selecting that tree. And, unbelievably, you get them all at level 10. These abilities represent the core of every old talent tree - Meditation for healing Priests, Explosive shot for Survival Hunters, Summon Water Elemental for Frost Mages, Avenger's Shield for Protection Paladins, Mutilate for Assassination Rogues - There is something huge for everyone. This means that even at level 10 you are essentially a fully functional version of each class spec - you no longer have to wait twenty or more levels to get access to talents that you previously needed to be a viable tank, healer, or DPS.
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Talent Tree Overhauling
Before you ask: Yes, you can preview all of the tree's talents prior to selecting your specialization by clicking the "View Talent Trees" at the bottom of the Talent Pane. In doing so you'll be introduced to the next round of major changes, as every single talent tree for every single class has been completely overhauled.
First off, each tree has been reduced to 31 points, instead of the previous 41. In doing so they removed a few talents and gave them to you in the Specialization, combined multiple talents together, and got rid of "fluff" talents that were serving little purpose. So, every point you spend is actually going to give you a significant boost, as each talent is more powerful, and more valuable.
However, to counter this, you obviously couldn't possibly get a talent point at every level. If you did you'd have used all of your 36 points long before level 80. Instead, you get a point at level 10, and one at every odd-numbered level after that. At nearly every even-numbered level you learn a new class ability, so there is almost always some reward for leveling up.
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Since you're getting (usually) one new ability at every even level, it is clear that your abilities are being dolled out somewhat slower than in the past. As a result, the levels that you learn the various class abilities have been totally changed. You'll find you'll learn you core abilities for your spec at a much lower level, but many utility spells have been moved to much higher ranks. For example a Druid learns their forms much earlier, but a Shaman doesn't get a mana regeneration totem until the mid-40s, which was previously available in the 20s. All in all the levels at which you learn your class's abilities leads to a much more level appropriate set of abilities, but if you had a character you were leveling up you'll likely spend some time mourning many of your lost abilities.
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New Glyphs? Not so Much
While it is true that the glyphing system has undergone some substantial changes as well, these are not as significant as one might think. Instead of two types of glyphs, Major and Minor, there are now three: Prime, Major, and Minor. So we have a whole new type of glyph? Yes, but all most of them are are re-purposed Major glyphs. Minors are still cosmetic or convenient, majors still effect specific abilities by offering additional utilites, and Primes still look very similar to Major but instead of utility are more directed towards increased power throughput, be it tanking, damaging, or healing. They're also being dolled out at different times - One prime, major, and minor at 25, another set at 50, and the third set at 75.
Additionally, glyphs no longer have to be bought each time you want to change one of them. Much like recipes, once you learn a glyph you know it forever, and can choose to "socket" it, so to speak, at any time. The only restriction on this is that you have to purchase Vanishing Powder for each glyph socket that you want to overwrite, which can be bought from players with the Inscription trade skill, or from the Inscription Vendor.
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You probably couldn't help but notice the Mastery "spell", and note in the talent specialization pane by the same name. Mastery is a new function that isn't planned to be activated until the Cataclysm expansion launches, but here is how it is "supposed" to work.
Mastery is going to be a stat found on items similar to other secondary stats like Hit rating, Crit, etc. The difference is that what Mastery does for you is completely dependent upon your class and talent specialization. For example, Holy Priests heal spells also grant a heal over time effect, the power of which is increased by each point of Mastery they have. Frost Mages will do increased damage against frozen targets, the damage of which is increased by how many points of Mastery they have. Mastery effects each class and spec differently, allowing for gear that is shared amongst multiple classes to be much more versatile in its effects.
Please note that even though you will not gain points in your Mastery, the Mastery ability associated with your talent tree is still yours to have and love at level 80.
WoW Cataclysm Class Changes
- A Guide to the New Race/Class Combinations in WoW Cataclysm
- World of Warcraft Cataclysm - Race and Class Announcements
- WoW Cataclysm Patch 4.0.1 - All Classes Guide to Talent and Glyph Changes
- World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Revised Class and Mastery Systems
- Cataclysm Mage Changes
- What Changes Did Hunters See in Cataclysm?
- Cataclysm Shaman Changes
- Changes to Death Knights in Cataclysm
- Death Knights in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
- World of Warcraft Cataclysm Druid Changes
- Cataclysm Priest Builds in World of Warcraft