WoW! Thoughts! — On Diablo III and Talent Trees

How Diablo III and Mists of Pandaria mark the end of an era in Blizzard games.

Count the number of things in this picture not making it to Mists!

So as those of you who listened to the Mashcast would know, I play Diablo III, and I play it enough that I want to talk about it.  These are my thoughts for this week in Diablo III…
… and WoW!

While leveling through Diablo III and Mists of Pandaria, I realized that by the end of 2012 neither of these Blizzard franchises will utilize the tree point system introduced in Diablo II in 2000.

With Diablo II‘s development of the three generic classes offered from the first game, player customization was allowed via the skill tree mechanic.  These trees allowed characters to progress down different paths as they leveled, so that even if you had three barbarians or three necromancers together, they would each have unique qualities.  These skill trees became talent trees and remained a staple of class advancement in World of Warcraft.

Years of fine tuning this mechanic for balance purposes have finally caused Blizzard to decide that trees are not a prudent method of character development.  Rife with choice, players would discover point allotments and create talent combinations with unexpected and powerful effects; forcing Blizzard to nerf those builds.  Also, players would determine the most efficient build for a class, and anyone allotting points differently became underpowered.

We’ve seen Blizzard remove the ability to freely allocate points into any of three trees for a class, and continue to modify the tree concept into what it is in Cataclysm — where you are forced to choose one tree and then allowed a handful of points to spend in the other two.  While talent trees were intended to allow each character to be customizable but remain in the same family, over the course of Warcraft (and in particular the last few years) we’ve seen the talent trees used to develop each spec into a class of its own.

Whereas Diablo II ended with 7 classes, World of Warcraft will effectively have 34 different classes going into Mists of Pandaria. Blizzard realized that their ability to develop a ‘perfect’ skill tree system paled in comparison to the player-bases’ ability to maximize a given tree and produce a standard leveling procedure — the exact opposite of what Blizzard wanted. The end result is that most of the choice (even if it was an illusion) has been removed for us; except for some flavor and stylistic options.

Diablo III continues that trend.  Skill trees are gone, and instead replaced with abilities and runes.  Each character has a choice of three abilities in one of six slots.  Each of those abilities then has a choice of six runes, which slightly alter how that ability works.  The end result is a much more flexible character, with more easily balanced permutations.  Furthermore, the skills can be re-allotted at any point in the game (outside of combat), so builds can be modified on the fly.  There is no longer a concern of anyone being stuck with a ‘wrong’ build.  Players are free to experiment to find the right combination of skills that complements their play style.

We see the same thing with the redone talent system in Mists.  Characters can choose from one of three talents every fifteen levels, with each tier of talents filling a need, just as each of the six slots on Diablo’s action bar do.  While every character may have a different talent kit, they will all have the same basic utility, again preventing anyone from constructing an inferior build.

The death of skill trees is a shame.  It’s fun to earn points and then decide where to spend them, and to see how a character grows.  But Blizzard is correct in that the way most people deal with skill trees is to search online for an efficient build and then to apply points as told.  Thus far, it seems that the ability-rune mechanics in Diablo III are working well, and have been well received.

Just as Diablo II and vanilla WoW were linked 10 years ago, Diablo III and Mists of Pandaria and linked today.  Not just because each of those games released near each other, but because each of those games expose Blizzard’s mindset about gameplay at the time.

WoW! Blurbs!

Pandaren mounts revealed!  Who had Dragon Turtles in the pool?

The Daily Quest limit is going away!  Great… NOW how am I gonna know when I’ve played too much each day???

More Mists beta invites to be issued.  I guess the only advantage to the annual pass was free Diablo.


Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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