The class panel started with Rob Pardo giving a brief history of the World of Warcraft classes, stating that they were designed with both traditional RPG roots and Warcraft III Heroes in mind. There were some classes that didn't make the final cut of the game either like the Necromancer and Blademaster.
The team's design philosophy is one of 'concentrated coolness' - a small number of classes - each as unique as possible with their own unique spells and abilities.
Their balance goals when designing a class must meet several criteria - the class must be able to solo to max level, have a role in groups and an importance in raids, be competitive in PvP, and most importantly be fun.
The class philosophy for Blizzard is one where a player can raid, solo, group, or PvP to their liking, and do it successfully. That doesn't mean that all talent specs will be strong in every aspect of the game, but the goal is to make each spec at least viable.
Blizzard has taken a stance of being very cautious when making class changes to avoid a "shock to the system" as Chilton put it; damaging a players' experience is not something they want to do. That said, balance in the game is ever-changing, and will continue to be so as long as the game is updated with live patches and expansions.
We were then given a brief overview of the talent system's design from start to finish. Initially the system was simply a stat-enhancing system in which you allocated points into statistics to improve them. From there it was moved into a hybrid statistic-passive talent system, and finally into what we have today.
The system was inspired by the Diablo II system, and was created with a limited number of points to select talents with, so that characters could become differentiated based on the talent spec they chose. Talents as they're designed are focused on mostly passive talents, with a handful of activated or "gold medal" talents - as Tom Chilton described.
Alternate talent and gear specs have been focused on more of late to make them viable in all aspects of the game. This was achieved though better itemization support for off-spec talent choices.
In the future, especially with Wrath of the Lich King, you can expect the Death Knight class to be added - further shaking up the balance of classes in all aspects of the game - as well as new spells and abilities for all classes and extended talent trees. Even the Death Knight will have unique talent trees available to them.
The Hero class vision is one where Warcraft III Heroes are made playable and have an epic feel. Blizzard had lots of ideas for implementing the Hero class into the game including a forking class or additional talent trees, multi-classing, and class morphing where the players' class would change completely from current to Hero class. This obviously presented problems in each aspect, so Blizzard decided to go the route they're taking with WotLK.
Quick overview of the classes discussed:
- Druids have been moved toward a true hybrid role.
- Hunters received in-combat traps so Feign Death could be used for its intended use - an aggro wipe.
- Mages are the AoE DPS kings.
- Paladins have some Retribution itemization fixes incoming, as well as some Ret raid DPS love in 2.3.
- Rogues are the single-target DPS kings, and there continues to be an ongoing balance between swords and daggers.
- Priests are going to be looked at to make both Holy and Discipline useful in raids, and Blizzard also wants to find a true focus for the Discipline tree.
- Shaman are going to see scaling problems addressed; the team realizes Shaman lose a lot of their "oomph" at higher levels.
- Warlocks are the best dueling class, and this really presents a challenge in 2v2 and 3v3 arenas. That said, the reliance on fear is a never-ending balance struggle.
- Warriors are the "best at what they do" class, but it comes with quite a cost(mostly in terms of respec costs). Blizzard realizes both the "rogue in plate" and rage mechanic problems and will continue to tweak.