So the cataclysm is rapidly approaching, before then however we have the 4.0.1 patch which applies all the new system mechanics and class mechanics.
New Talent System including Mastery
All of the new 31 point talent trees are in along with Specialization and Mastery. So now at level ten when you get your first talent point you get prompted to select the tree you want to specialize in. Once you do this you are locked to that tree until you put 31 talent points in to it, but in return you get a set of abilities and bonuses to make you feel like you are really specialized in that tree. For example, Frost Mages get a 25% increase to their frost spell damage and get the permanent water elemental pet. Discipline Priests get Penance, a 15% increase to intellect and 50% mana regeneration in combat.
Think of it as a down payment, you put a deposit down and get to instantly reap the benefits. For those at level 80 you will find that when you login after the patch all of your talents will be reset. Once you start respecing you will probably notice that at some points in the tree you hit a roadblock where you have to pick Utility or Survivability talents to continue down the tree. This is intended as it lets you customise your character without gimping your DPS or Healing by choosing sub-par talents. Not all talents trees are as good as each other at achieving this however you should find that at least at one point you will have to choose between something like receiving 6% more healing or increasing the range on a utility spell. For me this really improves the fun of picking talents as it really does give you options, DPS increases talents are not options.
New Character Page
A much needed improvement was needed to the character screen. All the stats now sit on a pop out window and these have been cleared up to make the system a lot more transparent. The stats now tell you directly for example the chance you have of missing enemies and raid bosses so you no longer have to go somewhere like wow heroes to find this information out.
New Spell Book
The spell book interface has been reorganized and been given a general polish. All spells now only have one rank and adjust their power at each level. In addition all spells are visible in your spell book from the beginning for the game, they are initially greyed out but light up when they are available from your trainer.
New Glyph System
The glyph changes are two fold. Firstly when you buy a glyph and use it you learn it forever. Just like the spell book all available glyphs are listed but are grayed out unless you have learned them. As you can see all the glyphs that you don’t have i expect many people will feel like they need to complete their set and buy the lesser used glyphs.
The second change is that there are now three types of glyphs. Prime Glyphs directly increases the effect of an ability (fireball does 5% more damage. Major Glyphs change the mechanics in some way (Circle of Healing heals one more person) and Minor Glyphs change cosmetic or trivial things. You get 3 slots of each.
New Guild UI
Continuing the UI changes is the guild UI. In addition to the polish there are added functions such as profession and crafting lists for every character. Although it won’t be active in the 4.01 patch the provisions have been made for the guild XP and leveling system which will hopefully lead back to more people doing runs as guilds rather than individuals. There is now a cap of 600 guild members per guild, which doesn’t seem unreasonable.
New Raid UI
The new raid frames have been updated to be a bit more user friendly. In addition there are new tools including the ability to put smoke signals down in the world to mark areas.
All abilities are now balanced around level 85 which means classes will generally bit a bit imbalanced. Don’t worry too much, if you are a bit underpowered at the moment it should be worked out at 85. Equally there are now specs that were previously completely unviable like Rogue Subtlety and Mage Frost which are now viable.
New Spells and changes to when you get existing ones
The timing at which you get all your spells has completely changed during leveling. Generally you get either a talent point or a new spell every level whilst leveling. This should help eliminate problems with trees such as the Mage’s arcane which currently rely on spells they don’t get until much later in the game. There are additional spells for some classes however these do not include ones gain between 81-85.
Spell and Proc Notifications
There are now two new features to help you with your abilities and procs. Firstly there is now basic built in power aura like on screen graphics to tell you when your big talent procs go off. These work very well, looks great and should be very useful for those that don’t currently use power auras. However they can’t customizable in any way so current power aura users may want to stick with what they already have although it mays still be worth looking at.
Secondly action bar buttons now light up and glow when they are being buffed by something and should be used. For example Beast Mastery hunters have an ability should be used when their pets have 5 stacks of a buff, the button for this ability now lights up when their pet is at 5 stacks.
These two parts combined are wonderful additions, hopefully the button light ups will be incorporated in to bar add-ons such as dominos.
New water and light Effects
The Cataclysm water effects are coming with 4.0.1 and with them so are a few new lighting effects. The water looks extremely good on open areas of water in peticular however it does sometimes have a slightly plasticy look for small pools. There are 4 slider levels for water, the lowest being the current water. In addition to this there are also light effects such as “God Rays” which are produced by things like the sun making shafts of light through the trees.
New points system replacing emblems/badges
The old Emblem of *Inspiring Word* system is now being replaced with a system that is a little more like the current PvP system. All of your current emblems of Triumph and Frost will be converted in to points, any other older badges or tokens will be converted to goldz and posted to you. If you want to buy heirlooms do it today as the price will be going up by a LOT.
Steamlining of Raid Buffs and removal of Reagents
No more Pallypower! ALL class buffs now only have one version rather than separate single target and group version, secondly no reagents are required for them anymore. Some buffs have been consolidated together such as Mark of the Wild and Blessing of Kings. In addition paladin buffs have had an overhaul so there is now only blessing of might (which does the old wisdom effect and attack power) and blessing of kings (% stat increase and spell resistance)
Beginner Tooltips in Plain English
There are new tooltips switched on by default which explain abilities in plain english and tell you when best to use them. These can be turned off by going to Interface->Help->Disable Beginner Tooltips