Last week, Blizzard finally released some solid information on the long-awaited dual spec feature in the form of this interview with infamous Senior Game Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street.
The interview is a good read and pretty thorough, but the main points can be boiled down to the following:
Okay, okay, it wasn't boiled down that much. More like slightly simmered. It saved you clicking on a link and reduced your chances of RSI, so don't complain. What does all this mean to us, the players? The most obvious benefit is that hybrid classes will be able to switch between DPS, tanking or healing specs with ease. If you've ever had to fork out hard-earned gold on respeccing to meet the needs of your raid group and then spent even more to go back again afterwards, you'll appreciate this feature. Getting instant action bar, glyph and gear changes at the same time is a much-appreciated bonus.
Hopefully, it will encourage players to try out roles that they wouldn't have otherwise looked at. I'm a raiding retadin and I love bringing the holy smack down to Kel'Thuzad and his cronies, but I can't wait to flex my healing muscles. I don't have the gold spare to be able to respec at will, so I'm really looking forward to this aspect of the dual spec feature.
Even if you're dead set on staying with your current spec, there are many times that a quick change is welcome, especially if you're a tank. The number of tanks required for each boss in a raid varies and being able to switch to a DPS spec if you're not up on a one tank fight like Heigan is a valuable boost to your raid's damage output and stops you feeling like a bit of a pansy compared to your DPSing brethren.
An alternative use will be having a solo spec to go alongside your raiding or grouping spec. Many specs, though this mainly applies to healers, perform poorly on their own. I know plenty of people who spend a fortune switching between a DPS spec for daily quests and a healing one for their evening raid. Again, lots of gold saved and added convenience.
Now you can go from this...
Another group that will benefit massively from this change are those who enjoy PvE and PvP. Specs can varywidelyy between the two aspects of the game, even for the same role (try comparing a PvE healing priest spec and a PvP healing priest spec) and pure DPS classes usually have one talent tree that favours PvP while the others are better for PvE.
Unfortunately, it's not all fluffy clouds and phat lewt. Many players were anticipating being able to switch between a levelling spec and an instance spec, which is clearly impossible if the feature is restricted to level 80 characters. At least half of the healers on my friend list respecced for levelling in Wrath, which made finding a healer for instances a pain and reports from the early days of the expansion confirmed that it was a wide-spread problem. In the interview, Ghostcrawler stated that the restriction was in place to avoid confusing lower-level players, but critics of this move argue that it's too difficult to learn an entirely new play style at level 80 (bear in mind that's a full twenty levels higher than the original cap) and that it would be more beneficial for people to be able to experiment with different roles as they level.
I tend to agree with the latter viewpoint. Even experienced players may not have a clue how to play a different role effectively. Someone who knows their way around the game is likely to pick a good levelling spec, race to 80 and then switch to a raiding spec. Not having any experience tanking or healing could be disastrous when combined with many players feeling that they're entitled to raid or run heroics the moment they ding 80. Imagine going in for a major heart op and finding out that, up until yesterday, your surgeon had been a dentist.
...to this in a flash (of light).
Thankfully, Ghostcrawler states that it isn't set in stone and they may consider expanding the feature. If I was to bet my Jawbone on it, I'd say that it will be made available to lower level characters by the time it hits the live realms. The other problem with dual specs, the one that will cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth and guild drama for years to come is the issue of loot. Historically, loot priority has gone to a character's main spec. You may be healing tonight, but if you usually tank, you get a shot a tank gear. As soon as dual specs come in, most hybrid characters will have two specs that they could equally refer to as their main spec. I can see more casual guild and raiding groups having all kinds of problems as people frequently switch specs to grab as much gear as they can.
Guilds which use DKP systems may also run into trouble. Hybrid classes that are frequently asked to switch will want to build up two sets of gear, spreading their DKP thinly, while players who stay in a single role will be able to build up DKP rapidly, leading to a gear imbalance. A player may be able to switch between healing and DPS with ease, but if neither of their gear sets are up to the standard of the single role players, they may find themselves left behind as the guild progresses through content. New raiders may find it harder to get gear as existing guild members build up two sets of gear instead of one.
Although there are problems with the dual spec system as it has been proposed, I have yet to hear anyone complaining about the feature itself. WoW has become an incredibly varied game, even at the endgame stages, and it's good that Blizzard are taking steps to encourage players to experience as much of their world as possible.