Skill trees

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Diablo 3 had skill trees during most of the game's development, but the entire skill interface was reworked numerous times during development, and ultimately the skill trees were removed and replaced with a sort of skill menu. See the skills article for current info; this page archives the older form of the skill trees, with numerous screenshots from 2008-2011 showing how the interface evolved over time.

Important.png Archived Article [e]
Skill trees is an archived article about material previously included in Diablo 3. However, it has currently been removed or the article contains outdated facts. The information is stored in Diablo Wiki for posterity. Please note: Links in this article lead to both updated and archived material.

This article was last up to date:
    September 2010
Currently updated version of this article is:

The skill tree is an interface window in which all of the skills available to each class are displayed. When a character in Diablo III gains a level (or possibly earns a skill point from a quest reward), it can be placed into one of the skills in the skill menu, thus enabling or upgrading that ability.

The forms of the skill trees in Diablo III have evolved radically during the game's development. The current form, revealed in October 2010, has no "tree" aspects to it. Skills are listed in tiers, with no dependency or synergy connections between them, and only a minimum Clvl as a pre-req. There are no passive skills in the trees anymore, since they were all moved to the traits, leaving just active skills to spend skill points upon.

Diablo III Interface elements:

Skill Tree Evolution[edit | edit source]

Skills window with runestones, May 2011.

The skill tree format we'll see in Diablo 3 has undergone many design changes, and is still in flux. The form seen at Blizzcon 2009 (represented by images further down this page) was thought to be fairly final, but in November 2009 Blizzard let it be known that the UI had been entirely reworked, and was now quite different.

The skill interface can be viewed to the right. The skills/traits tabs can be seen on the top. This isn't the actual skill tree (list). This is what a player sees when they select the skill window. It shows the available skills; the ones that have skill points invested in them.

Skills are not all available at once; note the "locked" icons on the lower skill spot. This is because this character is level 9, and has only gained access to three skills, with the Clvl requirements of the Tiers at 2, 3, and 6. As soon as the character reaches level 10, a slot for a 4th active skill becomes available.

Clicking the large red button opens up the full skill listing (displayed alongside this current skills list), which shows all 25~ skills possessed by a character class. The skills are listed in tiers, without any prereqs other than Clvl. That interface is used to spend new skill points, and when a new skill is purchased, it is automatically added to the skills listed on the main skill window, seen to the right.

The Grand Skill Tree Makeover[edit | edit source]

The first word came on November 21st, 2009. Skill trees gone, via two Twitter posts.

  • The skill system revision is in full force. Trees begone! I think it might be a winner.
  • We’re implementing and will be testing a new system that changes how skills are acquired. That’s all I’ll say.

Much player speculation ensued, some of it was shot down, and a bit more explanation (without details) was offered on the 25th. [1]

Can you say why you guys decided to drop the skill tree? What deficiencies did it have that you felt another system could do better? --by JeffKamo
Focus. --by @Diablo
That is hard, so many games rely on skill trees. My guess would have to be... “skill” items that you find or even create for skills. -by CaptainCasey
Sounds like you’re talking about our skill rune system, which is still very much a part of the game. --by @Diablo

Jay Wilson provided some overview of the concept behind the changes in an interview in late November. [2]

Jay Wilson: This new system is still in the development stages and if it does not work, we still have plenty of options to fall back on. Right now, we're just trying different things and getting a feel for the few ideas in regards to the skill system that we have going on right now. It differs from the World of Warcraft/Diablo II type hierarchical styles and is more of a skill pool/path than a tree per se.

Monk skills, post-changeover, Blizzcon 2010.

The big changes were further hinted at on June 18, 2010[3], and then again a couple of weeks later. [4]

Bashiok: ...there’s no real trees any more. Kind of. But this is something we’re not talking about until BlizzCon. You’ll see it then. It sort of streamlines the tree system, but there’s still a skill tree there technically if you wanted to map it out... and there’s... other stuff, I’ll stop there, it’s getting confusing.

The next big change came in September 2010, when @Diablo revealed that part of the big skill tree changes were the removal of all of the passive skills from the skill trees. [5]

Correct, active skills. We don’t have passives in our skill trees. —Diablo
none at all? i thought there were passives but only the actives would get runes attached. —FingolfinGR
I’m not sure I can explain too much without announcing things I shouldn’t be. You’ll find out soon enough. —Diablo

A bit more detail was added a couple of weeks later on October 4th, as the big Blizzcon reveal drew nearer.

Bashiok The new skill system is pretty awesome. The first time I saw it I knew it fit. Of course I'll look like a fool if we change it again, but I think we found something that fits the game really well. It's actually not too far off from the tiered approach we had shown before, but a few important differences really make it something different and awesome.

Diablo 2 in Style[edit | edit source]

One thing we do know about the skill trees in Diablo 3 is that they'll be fairly similar to those of Diablo 2, in terms of how quickly characters acquire new skills to play with. [6] Another follow up on that issue. People are wondering if the skills will be like Diablo 2 or more like World of Warcraft. Will we see more skills forever, or get the top level at level 30ish?
Jay Wilson: Diablo 2. We’re following the same model. Here essentially our Nightmare and Hell difficulties are an extension of normal difficulty, not a continuation of more content. So normal difficulty ends our core game, and then nightmare and hell are replays of them on higher skills levels. So we are going to allow you to continue and develop your skills into the higher difficulty levels.

As of October 2010, the seven skill tiers were reached at Clvl 2, 3, 6, 10, 14, 20, and 26.

Skill Tree Changes During Development[edit | edit source]

Only Blizzard knows exactly how many versions of the skill tree format they've gone through, but they've alluded to dozens of different major forms, and countless smaller varieties during their development period. At the skill panel during Blizzcon 2008 numerous different skill tree mock-up forms were shown on the powerpoint presentation.

2008 Early Form[edit | edit source]

2008 Format.

The first skill tree shown to fans was revealed in the Blizzcon demo in late 2008. No official screenshots were released, though it was seen in many photos and videos taken from the event. Only the Barbarian's can be judged, since the Witch Doctor only had 11 skills spread over his three trees. Of the Barbarian's 50+ skills, they were arranged much like Diablo 2's skills, with three distinct skill trees, displayed on tabs in the same interface window. Each row had 3-4 skills, and there were no prerequisite skills linked by columns. To move down a row in the tree, 5 points had to be spent on each row.

The skills were not as discrete as those in Diablo 2, and there was considerable overlap between skills in different trees. It appeared that the D3 team intended players to specialize in one tree per character, and thus included skills with redundant basic functions, such as +damage, +defense, etc.

2009 Evolution[edit | edit source]

A new style for skill trees was revealed in early 2009, when several screenshots were released along with BlizzCast 8. This was an evolutionary change, and there were still 3 tabs/trees per character, though each tree was more open and a fair number of column-style prerequisite lines had been added.

This style changed entirely by Blizzcon 2009 in August, with the individual skill tree tabs removed. All characters now possessed one big skill tree with all 30+ skills arranged in rows. There were a few column-style prerequisites, but for the most part it was a large skill "menu," with only prerequisites of 5 points per column required to move down to the more powerful skills.

No official images of this were released, but numerous exact recreations were mocked up by talented community artists.

It's known that the skill trees were largely reworked in late 2009, but no images or further details have yet been revealed.

Development[edit | edit source]

Berserker Skill Tree. Oct 2008.

The first sighting of skill trees was in the BlizzCon 2008 build where more than 50 skills were shown for the Wizard and Barbarian and placed in three individual trees, similar to how the system worked in Diablo II and World of WarCraft. Each 5 points spent in a tree opened a new tier to put skill points in. That game design favoured specializing in one tree, and did not have any prerequisites, instead totally based on points spent in each tree.

At that point there were just 4 tiers of skills. Tier 1 was available at level 1, Tier 2 at level 5, then at 10 and 15. There was a fifth tier at level 20, but no skills were displayed in it. The image to the right is from that era.

The D3 Team mentioned that they were experimenting with allowing certain skills to have higher skill caps, but did not give details such as if it would be Clvl based, item based, points spent or something completely different.

This layout had changed a great deal by March 2009, when the next skill tree image was released. You see it to the left. The basic form remains, but the skills are staggered out over more tiers. Also note that the tiers are not labelled; they may no longer proceed at 5 point intervals. It's also possible that tiers will grow longer, with higher level skills being added as development proceeds.

Barely discernible Wizard Skill tree at PAX 2009.

Bashiok elaborated on this in a forum post in May 2009 [7] saying the trees had been unified to one single page that "allows you to spend wherever you like." This overhaul of the skill system merging the skill trees but the group of skills kept their skill tree names.

The skill requirement still opened up in tiers, but opened up to all trees at the same time, enabling a player to pick low level skills in one tree, continuing with medium level skills in another and high level skills in the third.

The general theory of skill trees is to encourage character specialization, but not force cookie cutter style character builds. The removal of individual skill trees means that every character can now pick from all the possible skills; this is great in theory, since players can all use whatever skills they want, Tier conflicts permitting. On the other hand, if the skills aren't very well balanced, every character will end up using the same few skills, since those are the best, and the cookie cutter-ism on could be insane.

Fan-made representation of how it looked at BlizzCon 2009. Made by Muldric.

Bashiok defended the design saying it "diversifies the types and amounts of builds available to players," and explaining another advantage is that the D3 Team "don't have to throw in skills that are important, such as damage mitigation, all over the place."

"Every barbarian is probably going to want whirlwind. And why not? What this tree style allows for, and one reason we’re pretty keen on it, is that we aren’t saying “You’re a ‘berserker’ barbarian, you can’t have whirlwind”. Instead, you’re a barbarian!, pick the key skills that define you and your character as you want them to be."

Exactly how the D3 Team pulls this off without making every character use the same "best" skills is something worth monitoring as the game continues its development.

The overhaul did also see the removal of many relatively redundant skills, primarily removing passive skills.

The whole skill system is being reworked, and Blizzard has said that the skill tree system is being removed completely. Bashiok mentioned Blizzard is "implementing and will be testing a new system that changes how skills are acquired." (Nov 20, Blizzard’s @Diablo channel at Twitter). Also, on an interview between and Jay Wilson, the latter explained a bit about how the new skill system might be. Removing the tree-type architecture and moving into a purely skill-based system. How the skill system will exactly work remains unknown for the time being.

Jay Wilson: ...We've decided to remove the tree-type architecture and we are moving into a purely skill-based system. This new system is still in the development stages and if it does not work, we still have plenty of options to fall back on. Right now, we're just trying different things and getting a feel for the few ideas in regards to the skill system that we have going on right now. It differs from the World of Warcraft/Diablo II type hierarchical styles and is more of a skill pool/path than a tree per se.

References[edit | edit source]