There were a few things that didn’t work in Age of Conan, but the number one thing that caused me to dump the game was the talent tree. Coming as I did from WoW, I knew that the talent tree was very important and that I should make sure to put my points exactly where they were needed. The problem with AoC was that it seemed that the developers had put most of their efforts into the starter area, and kind of rushed through the talent trees at the last moment. The tree didn’t make any sense, it was poorly designed and laid out, and there was very little information on the internet which I could use to help me make an informed decision.
So by level 17 or so I knew that my toon was flawed, but there was nothing that I could do about it. This falls squarely under the category of unfun, (I know that unfun isn’t a word but I’m using it, okay?) WoW’s talent tree system is not poorly designed, and information about it can quite easily be found on the internet, but it too is unfun. The only choice that you have in the system is choosing which of the three talent trees you want to specialise in. Once you have chosen that, however, you are required to dutifully fill your points in where they are most needed. You can decide to do your own quirky tree, but only if your intention is to play alone. So we have a system which allows you choice if you decide to be a solo player, and the illusion of choice if you want to play with other people. On top of that, if you don’t do your homework and find out exactly where to put your points, people will call you a moron and actively make fun of you.
Your class abilities however, are set. You gain abilities as you gain levels after being trained by your class trainer. Every rogue, for example, gets the same abilities. We all get smoke bomb at level 85. So here there most certainly is no choice. So what if we swapped this around? What if the talent tree was set in stone, and that as you gained levels your points were placed automatically in the tree? The tree was there solely as a diagram to guide you. That would mean that your skills could be chosen. There would be more skills than could be used at any one time. For example, lets say that in total there were 30 skills but a level 85 rogue could only choose 18 of them in total. You could choose only damage dealing skills, thus making your rogue great at dealing out the dps but leaving him with no utility. Crowd control abilities, raid buffs, stealth, AoE, self heals, all of these could be listed under abilities. You could also have the option to choose two builds; one for PvE and one for PvP, but not two in the same category.
A system like this would go some way to giving players some choice and avoid the cookie cutter builds that have been the case since the beginning of WoW. I suppose that EvE is an example of this system, now that I think about it. Balancing would be tricky on the devs part, so long as they didn’t fall into the trap of designing bosses with maximum dps builds required, (thus restricting players to only taking dps promoting abilities). Obviously the talent tree would have to be designed in a different way, as you couldn’t base it around abilities which players might not necessarily choose. But this is just a crazy idea that I’m throwing out there. Throw it back in my face if you so desire.