Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 09, 2011
Diablo III has no talent tree

Gaming journalism these days is easy. The large majority of games coming out is either a sequel or belongs to a well-defined type and genre of game. Thus you only need to take the feature list of the new game and tick the boxes in comparison with the feature lists of similar games. Using that approach you will find that Diablo III has no talent trees. I'm sure you already have read that statement somewhere if you looked at previews of the game.

But as I promised a more responsible game journalism, I'd like to look at this issue less superficially. What exactly ARE talent trees, what is their function, and does Diablo III provide the same functionality in a different way?

Talent trees in a RPG provide an element of choice between combats. At any given level you can chose X out of Y possible talents, with each talent giving you a different skill, or ability, or stat boost. The advantage of the system is that two players of the same character class and level can be different by having chosen different talents. The disadvantages of talent trees are that to fill up the tree there are frequently talents which don't get anybody excited, providing a simple stat boost like "+2% armor", and that by sorting talents in trees players are often forced to take talents they don't want as prerequisites for the talents they do want.

Diablo III doesn't have talent trees, but it has a skill system which provides the same advantage of choice without having the disadvantage of boring talents and prerequisites. At any given level you still have X choices out of Y possible skills. For example my current character, a level 9 barbarian, has 3 active skills out of 10 possible skills. I get a new possible skill every level, but the next active skill only at level 12, and a passive skill at level 10. So right now I have the bash skill that causes damage and creates "fury" (like WoW warrior rage) bound to my left mouse button. I have an area-of-effect thunder strike which consumes fury bound to my right mouse button. And I have a skill that allows me to leap into (or out of) combat quickly bound to the first hotkey. But that is my choice, I could as well have chosen a cleave attack to create fury, a shout to consume the fury, and some damage reduction skill for the hotkey bar. Or one of many other possible different combinations. And because these choices aren't in a tree, I never have to choose one skill only to get another I really want. I can combine skills freely, and whenever I want between fights.

So personally I am not missing talent trees at all. Talent trees are just one possible solution to provide a certain functionality, and Diablo III provides the same functionality in a different way. You could even say that Diablo III has extremely flat talent trees with unlimited instant respecs if you absolutely want to fit the game into that drawer. Think Guild Wars, not World of Warcraft. And while such a system works will a smaller number of possibilities, that can ultimately be more fun, because you skip the boring stat bonuses and prerequisite talents. I'd even say that for an action RPG the Diablo III system is superior to a talent tree system.
Insofar as a game is a series of interesting decisions the role of talent trees has changed as the genre has matured.

Early in my MMO career I pored for hours over my builds in SWG and Vanilla WoW and saved every silver for my frequent respecs as I experimented.

As the genre aged even new systems provided less entertainment. I got through Rift's highly complex talent options in a few months, despite there being much more to experiment with.

And the rise of EJ and similar sites has removed some of the decisions for many players.

So their original purpose of adding complexity and choice has been diluted, simply by time as much as anything else.
Blizzard hate talent trees. You can see it every time they post something about talent re-designs. Talent trees are supposed to add choice and customise characters, but in reality there is a best option and everything else is wrong. Blizz struggle very hard to remove compulsory talents and add more optional flavours but it doesn't work. Even after years of rebuilding trees, most viable specs have just one or 2 options available. I expect Blizzard would remove talent trees from WoW if it was viable. Titan will use a new method for character differentiation.
The skill system in Guild Wars is the best I have ever seen in a mmo like game. The fact that you have to pick eight active skills out of hundreds available makes for some really great theory crafting and Arena-net were quick to nerf builds that became too popular. Hope it works as well in Diablo III.
Another benefit of doing things this way is that you don't end up with the problem of needing so many buttons either on screen, or hidden with an addon, or hotkeyed in some way to use all of the abilities you might need at some time or another. I would much rather have 3 abilities that each do different things, than 10 abilities, most of which do nearly the same thing, and all of which have some random cooldown.
Not to detract from your point but there are also 5 colored runes that drop (not in beta) each of which change every skill in a different way and in some cases makes it almost a completely different skill.

Eg Alabaster Rune on Bash -
Cause a shockwave that inflicts X% weapon damage to enemies in a Y yard line behind the targeted enemy.

But bottom line, I agree with you, not missing the talent trees and anticipating the wealth of choices coming our way.
I completely agree regarding "boring talents." If there's not a significantly noticeable difference between having +5% attack speed and +0% attack speed, it does not feel like it's worth it. Even worse when it's 5 levels of +1% attack speed. Talents like that shouldn't be amortized over levels; just give me a big one at the end and I'll be happier.
This could be a good indicator of the way character progression will work in Blizz's new MMO Titan. Just like how Diablo II talent trees preceded WoW's talent trees.

I'd be willing to wager that its going to be an extremely similar in style at the very least.
The biggest difference between Diablo II and III in this regard is not that talents have changed to skills. It is that you have infinite respeccing out of combat.

That's a valid choice for a game, and it certainly has advantages. But tactically it shifts it strongly away from an RPG and towards a card game.

That's okay - I like both, and Diablo was never really an RPG anyway. But I would like to see some MMORPGs out there too...
I think this take away from the game in so many ways. But it seems that the future of gaming is to be easy. Days of challenging games that require knowledge and skill are over. One of the perks of diablo 2 was that if you messed your tree up you had to reroll and learn from your mistakes. This is why you could play the game endless times. No you get all your moves maxed out. What's the point in leveling? Once you find out the best combination of skills and runes. Everyone else will be sure to have the same. Is dueling even worth it? It all comes down to gear. And for once some idiot who has no thought or knowledge of the game can just google a build. Farm armor and be just as good as everyone else. Easy games are a curse. Complexity helps strengthen the mind and keeps you coming for more. My excitement for this game has died knowing this. I think it will be a major set back. Daiblo is not an mmo. It was an action adventure rpg....And now it's simply easy.....
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