What if Diablo III Allowed More Skill Hotkeys?

During much of Diablo III’s development, the game had seven skill hotkeys. 1-5, LMB, RMB, and you could even stick another skill on the TAB key to switch it with the RMB. As development progressed the 5 key became the default button for health potions before health pots were moved to their own dedicated key, and the Tab skill switch was removed as well, dropping the total skill hotkeys down to six.

Eight skill hotkeys; PvP Arena demo movie.

Back in those days players mostly thought of that change in terms of skill point allocations, and wondered how the total skill points would be tweaked to spread across one or two fewer skills. That consideration became irrelevant not long after when skill points were removed as well (though some players still want them back), and the total number of skills was dropped to six. (This is not ancient history — check the DW Interface article — the belt had 8 skills as of Blizzcon 2010 and 7 as recently as mid-2011.)

The number of skills became an issue shortly after release, when players first hit Inferno, found how hard it was (before all the nerfs in post-release patches), and felt overwhelmed by the difficulty and underwhelmed by their build options. Inferno was a big adjustment, in those days, since most players loved the smorgasbord of offensive skill choices while they leveled up, and it was common to use 3 or 4 or 5 different offensive skills to slaughter the Normal and Nightmare and even the Hell enemies in multifaceted varieties. And then came Inferno and any build without at least 3 or 4 skills devoted to defense, escape, movement, debuff, CC, etc… was a failed build.

This provoked much fan outrage and anger (and death) and many were the complaints from players who felt “straitjacketed” by the required play style in Inferno. At that point, in a number of podcasts, we pondered the issue of more skills. I don’t recall the exact wording of my questions, but I remember asking several guests if they thought the end game builds would still feel limited in attack variety if there were 7 or 8 skills, instead of just 6… or if everyone would just add more defensive skills and still use just 1 or 2 offensive skills?

Click through for the rest of the discussion and a vote.

Putting the Toothpaste Back Into the Tube

Thanks to D3’s lack of modding options, those questions had to remain hypothetical. Furthermore, they’re largely moot at this point, since the game has moved on and grown easier (from in-game nerfs and the spread of better equipment, builds, and player skill) and we’ve all sort of grown used to playing how we have to play.

This is true even though we could vary it now, if we wanted to. Not just rerolling (hah!) and trying different builds on the lower difficulty levels, but with high level characters in easier parts of Inferno. Most players with good gear can blast through Inferno on MP0 at this point, but does anyone do that with a weird build just to test out more offensive options? Not often; mostly players use their same build and put on more Magic Find gear, or turn up the Monster Power a bit to add challenge and more key finds.

Playing in a Straitjacket

I really noticed this over the weekend while trying out a new “Bottle Rocket” Wizard build. See the thread for full details and movies and stuff, but basically it’s DiabloWikiArcane Torrent and DiabloWikiHydra for offense, DiabloWikiDiamond Skin and DiabloWikiEnergy Armor for defense, and DiabloWikiMagic Weapon and DiabloWikiFamiliar for buffs. The resulting Wizard has no mobility and not much variety, but can deal huge burst damage to chew up bosses, and does even better against packs with heaps of splash Arcane damage.

Which is fine and quite effective… but it’s boring. The play style is very repetitious since you’re doing nothing but fishing ahead with Hydra and nuking anything that gets closer with Arcane Torrent. My Wizard is basically my 4th character, and she’s entirely Ironborn so the gear isn’t overwhelming, but I had zero trouble chewing through Act One and Two on MP0. Act Three got more challenging since I couldn’t kill everything so quickly before they could hurt me, when switching Diamond Skin to DiabloWikiMirror Image wasn’t enough to keep me from dying I eventually added traded damage for mobility by swapping Magic Weapon out for DiabloWikiTeleport.

With that I stopped dying and feeling helpless against any kind of DiabloWikiJailer or DiabloWikiWaller or DiabloWikiVortex bosses, and I enjoyed the play more since I had to move around and dodge stuff rather than just standing still and winning through superior DPS… but even as I was making those changes, I kept thinking, “Imagine if I had another hotkey and could add in some big AoE like Blizzard! Or could have kept Magic Weapon’s damage buff and still had Teleport for escape! Or could have added Wave of Force or Frost Nova for close range panic button assistance!”

Ferret Companion! Sort of…

And sure, I was only thinking those thoughts since my Ironborn Wizard has 40k DPS instead of the 100k I could easily increase her to by investing 5 minutes and 500k on the GAH, but my Demon Hunter and Witch Doctor are strong enough to faceroll through Act Three… and I still wish they had more skills in their builds. I know the DH the best and I switch around offensive skills fairly often, whether I’m in the mood for DiabloWikiMultishot vs. DiabloWikiBall Lightning, or DiabloWikiGloom or DiabloWikiMarked for Death, or DiabloWikiEvasive Fire vs. DiabloWikiHungering Arrow vs. DiabloWikiBolo Shot, etc…. but I still wish I could use 2 or 3 of those at once, instead of just one or the other. Or that I could carry DiabloWikiRapid Fire or DiabloWikiCluster Arrow around for just occasional burst damage. Or that I could tack on the DiabloWikiFerret Companion for the bonus gold and retrieval.

Balance, Balance, Balance

That said, there’s one big obvious drawback to adding/allowing more skills. And no, I don’t mean that it messes up the stupid, late-game tacked-on, training wheels, arbitrary categorization system that DiabloWikiElective Mode mercifully allows all non-noobs to avoid. The problem is balance.

That there are only six skills allowed forces players to make hard decisions about which skills to enable. If you want more offensive options that means you have less defensive power. If you want two CC skills then that’s going to limit your offense. And so on.

Yes, it would be a blast to have more skill slots to tack on situational skills, and it would let us use those fun skills that just aren’t good enough to break into your real build. But it would also mean players could add two more CC or debuff skills, and we can all imagine a character using one of the powerful builds and getting to tack on two more skills to make the build just comically overpowered.

Happily, I have a solution. Skill points. Those are the traditional method to limit skill power, and we saw them leveraged to that purpose in that other popular ARPG… what was it called? Oh yeah, Diablo 2.

We had not six but sixteen hotkeys in that game, and could use damn near every single active skill at once… but not very well, since they needed multiple points invested in them, 20 in most cases, to become really kick ass. I’m not suggesting that D3 go back to that system and throw out the entire new skill design, but even a simple 1-3 point (per skill) mechanism, where players could max our 3 or 4 skills, but had to have at least one point in everything, would seem to give the devs enough knobs to twist to keep balance at least semi-balanced. (And since perfect balance is neither possible nor desired, that’s good enough.)


So, there’s the argument presented as a conversation-starter. Would you like to see more skill hotkeys in D3? Would you enjoy adding a skill or two to your build? Can you imagine all the new builds that would be invented, and changes the devs could make to add variety to rune effects, if they were freed from trying to make everything “good enough” to fit into just the handful of skills a build can now include?

I think it would be awesome, though obviously compensating changes would have to be made across the board. It’s certainly not something to stick into a patch, but as we’ve been talking about potential Expansion features lately, I’d love to think of this as one of them. New class, new act, new play modes… and a new skill slot! (Or two!)

Should Diablo III add more skill hotkeys?

  • Definitely. At least 7 or 8. (56%, 414 Votes)
  • No way. Six is a better design. (27%, 196 Votes)
  • Not sure / no opinion. (17%, 124 Votes)

Total Voters: 734

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  1. If it ever, ever happens, it will appear on the expansion along with the uber add-socket feature, a choice to name your godly stuff, and mix matching runes from yesterday.

  2. What I don’t understand is how a game as old as D2 had 16 Hot keys, and D3 only with 6? Now I never used all 16 hot keys, but I did use a few for those one point wonders like Static Field and Teleport on my Sorc. I think the idea of using TAB(or whatever) to switch between 2 mouse click skills would be really cool, and could be made to where both mouse skills could be switched for another skill. I am sure it would make the game more fun, for me anyway.

    I am still a Hydra/Blizz Wizard, and I know it’s not the best build these days, but on MP0 with 100k DPS I walk through everything about as well as a WW Barb. That being said, I really liked the Frost Nova/Wave of Force combo when I was leveling, and could put it to good use still, as I get my girl into the mess instead of keeping her back. Or I could switch out Shock Pulse for Magic Missle/Spectral Blade for certain situations.

    • 16 hotkeys gave D2 more skill diversity? Get real. Okay, maybe in the beginning you had 5 skills you’d max out at 20 skill points, plus a few one-hit wonders… then the synergy system came out, and it became more like 2-3 skills with 60 points each, plus a handful of one-point wonders, for effectively… wait for it… 6 skills for a good character.

      The only exceptions to this were runeword-base shenanigans, like getting Call to Arms on every character, and frankly I’m glad that garbage isn’t in D3. Giving every character Teleport is not what this game needs.

      • Zoomancer:

        Q – Corse exp
        E – Revive
        A – Skeleton W.
        B – Skeleton M.
        D – Clay Golem
        Y – Amplify
        X – Confuse
        C – Life Tap
        V – Decrepify
        F1 – Bone Armor
        F2 – Bone Wall

      • Even simplest build like frenzybarb needed more than 6 skills

        A – Frenzy
        S – Leap
        D – Whirlwind
        F – Berserk
        Y – B. Command
        X – Shout
        C – B. Orders

      • Funny thing about the synergies is that it was supposed to be exactly the opposite.

        By giving lesser-used skills synergies with other skills, it made them seem like less of a waste in the long-run: if you were planning a meteor sorc, then you could freely put points into firebolt as you levelled up. The other idea was that players might like to have more skills with 5-15 points in them, rather than just a few skills with 20.

  3. It’s not about the hotkeys, it’s about how many skills you are allowed to use. I believe 6 skills is a good amount, any more than that and we’d see a huge drop in build diversity.

    • How can you drop from 1?

      • I own a level 60 monk without serenity or one with everything, level 13 paragon, dealing around 80k DPS with skills and stuff. Currently farming MP2 inferno because I only have 29k life points, but as soon as I get it back up to 35k+, I’ll return to MP3, which I was farming before.

        You can see it here:


        So, at least for what concerns my experience, it’s not 1 single build per class.

        P.S.: Yeah, check out that DEX+MF+AR 😀 Am I good or am I good?
        P.P.S.: Yeah, I know it’s not uber leet, but I don’t have much time to play, and when I do, I just want to have fun.

  4. I don’t need more skills. I need more variety in the options of skills I can use. I play a monk, mostly, and if you look at typical monk builds it’s all but mandatory to use Breath of Heaven, Serenity, and Mantra of Healing or Conviction. That leaves 3 — not 6 — slots where you have some (limited) options.

    I haven’t levelled a demon hunter, but from what I’ve heard they’re the same or worse.

    That’s the problem. It’s not 6 vs. 7 skills. It’s an effective 2 vs. 3. You don’t fix that by adding more hotkeys. You fix it by adjusting skill balance.

  5. I would like to have another key bind instead of left click – left click sometimes should be just for moving and thats it – for example 1 article below this one shows a demon hunter build that makes no sense in binding the left click.
    I would bind move only to left click but then i lose a skill slot…

  6. Who was complaining about Inferno difficulty? Wasn’t the point to be so hard that no one could do it, constantly challenging the best players? I didn’t get to Inferno until after the Nerfs, and I found it to just be the next difficulty level, and not something new and nearly impossible. A better way to put it… I played Diablo 2 for 11 years and never made it past Act I of Hell difficulty. I haven’t played Diablo 3 for 11 months (hasn’t been out that long) and I’ve already beaten Inferno, have another class close to it, and even have a Hardcore character on his way. WAAAAAY too easy, Blizzard. Un-Nerf inferno, and see if you can’t find a way to get skill points back. Outside of hardcore, there is no penalty for making stupid build mistakes.

    • LOL. If only you could have seen it. Every single post on here was filled with comments complaining about how inferno was too hard. About how it was impossible to even run Act 3. Meanwhile, people had already done it, and continued to do it. Turns out most gamers hate difficulty. Most of these guys want to mindlessly run Act 3 and one shot everything. Boring.

  7. For the current game design, I would have to personally say the amount of active skills seems enough. But I find a lot of that is due to the limited resource regeneration rate of each character. Since almost all abilities drain a resource which cannot be manually replenished via something like a mana flask (like Diablo 1 & 2, and not to mention many other ARPGs), I feel limited in what skills I can actually use.

    In other words, it’s a design “feature” which prevents me from spamming many of the higher powered skills. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does seem to limit the amount of skills I can use at any one time. Thus, in my opinion, having more skills available to me really doesn’t do much since my resource is often too drained to use all of the current ones I have (all at once).

    With the current game design, it would seem that adding more active skills wouldn’t do much for me. I would just have more skills I would individually be using less. If there was a way to manually refill each characters energy resource, then I might be of a different opinion. 🙂

  8. any more word on D3 for consoles ?

    weren’t there job posting at one time ?

  9. Come on flux, surely you remember what it was like in dII? we played in some of the same groups even.

    The biggest builds everyone used..focused on a single attack spell for main…then a backup that would compliment the main attack spell if for some reason it didn’t work. Everything else was thrown into a defense skill, passive, spell..or whatever. The necromancer with his army of minions and then millions of one point wonder curses was the one to have the most ‘skills’ but even to him it didn’t matter tooo much.

    It’s pretty much what D3 is forcing…have a few powerful passives, a few powerful buff type skills, then an attack and a backup attack.

    If I had a few more buttons would I use em…I’d find some use…though honestly I really want more buttons like D2’s old skill system..where I push a button and switch my rightclick..without a cooldown to use the new rightclick (sure left click can come along for this too). I really find pushing keyboard keys for using skills (especially skills I use repetitively, like attack skills) to be far too awkward.

    Although yeah…I do sometimes feel like I have far too little buttons….but then I look over my skills and ask what i would use instead of what I currently have….and it’d just be more defensive skills…not really attack ones.

    • “I really find pushing keyboard keys for using skills (especially skills I use repetitively, like attack skills) to be far too awkward.”

      Yea, for me, that’s the main reason I rarely have active attack skills mapped to the keyboard. The attack skills that DO work as keys are pretty much all DoT/AOE abilities that are more forgiving when it comes to aim (Earthquake, Rain of Vengeance, Acid Cloud, etc…)

  10. I am betting they will add one more skill slot in the first expansion. I wish we could bind basic attack to something. Wizard and barb can generate resources from criticals, so it would basically give them 7 slots.

    I guess the overall problem is skill balance more so than skill slots. Some skills are just not good compared to everything else. The other looming question is pvp… Presumably builds optimal for pvp will be very different from pve farming builds.

  11. I think 6 is good. They convinced me well back then when they released a post with arguments about it.

  12. Probably not a good idea to add any more skill slots. Making choices should be a somewhat important aspect of the game – and D3 really can’t afford to water down any more systems to arbitrariness.

    Borders between several skills/rune combinations already are pretty blurry and that’s the case for one and the same class, not across the board. Several skills like self-buffs and armor spells should actually be passives instead of actives (they probably are actives to make them compatible with the rune mechanic, but neither blocked skill slots for one-time-activation-skills nor 2-minute-duration-buffs are fun). Moving pseudo-active-skills to passives may already be sufficient, six slots for offensive and mobility skills should be more than enough.

  13. more skills would be better obviously but that to truly work out they need to make a better job at balancing all skills.

    what is flabbergasting to me though is that you cannot customize your hot-keys and targeting the way you want.

    eg there are a bunch of skills you cannot put on LMB – you are often forced to use dumb hotkey-setup because the game has no leeway whatsoever in that regard.

    eg if it was my decision i wouldnt put a single skill on LMB and would only put “move towards that direction – and imidiatly stop moving once i let go of that mouse button”

    but no that’s no option i have to use darn special hot-keys and plan in the most unintuitive non responsive ways possible. as if this was a point and click adventure and not a hack and slay.

    what also grinds my gear is autotargeting – eg i see a 3 monster in an perfect triangle and what to hit all 3 of them by lobbing a firebomb exactly in the center of triangle the 3 mobs form. BUT NO WAY – autolock makes you target the center-point of first monster and makes you miss the other 2.

    also i hate that you can no longer evade attacks by moving out of attackrange once you are locked in.

    these 3 things – are super simple stuff – but they would increase the quality by leaps. you especially notices these things once you get used to TL2-gameplay

  14. I wouldn’t mind another skill, because…moar!1!!

    As for the vote in the middle of the article, I like it since I have a bit of time to think about it and then read your opinion rather than the other way and be more likely to be persuaded.

  15. If you really think you can reach 100k DPS by investing 5 minutes and 500k on the GAH, you are very very optimistic.
    In fact make it 100.000.000 …

    • You don’t need best-in-slot everything for those numbers. My Wizard hit 110k with a few self-found pieces and less than 8M on the GAH. 500k might be pushing it, though.

      • I’d like to see how you did that.

        My witch doctor has 80k DPS, and decent armors and HP but my resistances are a little low. To improve any of his slots, it’s minimum 3.000.000 (more like 10.000.000)on the european GAH.
        And there are 13 slots (not counting the companion).

        But maybe I made something wrong, can you explain?

        • Looking at my (US) GAH logs…
          Tal’s chestpiece: 1.5M, Tal’s ammy, 700k, Tal’s helm, 500k, Tal’s belt, 100k.

          Self-found mediocre shoulders, rings, boots, wand. Friend found and gave me a high triumvirate, but I was still doing okay before that, with a self-found socketed offhand.

          WD might be a bit different, lack of effective damage boosts other than BBV or soulharvest. I haven’t played mine in … a long time.

          Basically, don’t only look at buyouts, and don’t focus on every piece being an upgrade for every stat. I see that often; people look at gearing goals and assume that not killing optimally might as well be not killing anything at all. *shrug*

  16. I sort of wish there was more skill slots simply because of D2. I remember back in the day I’d be playing a necro with all my F keys decked out. I’d have rmb switch skills and often used things on F1 to 4. 5 and onward would be summons, 9 to 11 would be curses and 12 was always be townportal.

    Say what you will about how nice it is to see 6 actives skills on a hotbar, memorizing F keys and having many ways to approach a situation with a ton of skills will always have a special place in my heart.

  17. The biggest thing in D2 was the “second weapons” / skill switch that could take place. This allowed you, for example, to be a Javazon/Bowazon for most of the game and switch to a Pike when needed. I would love to run around with Cleave most of the time with a 2 hander, but when I run into that boss switch to frenzy with a weapon/shield combo. THAT’s what made it nice in D2. The weapon switch was more important than just more hotkeys.

    Also, I think they really short changed all the builds by not including more gems and jewels into the system. It would be nice to be able to increase block, resistances, or magic find (on anything other than a helm), etc.

    I don’t need skill points but being able to set “rune points” somehow would be good and make my character “mine”. Again, another problem with changing the rune system the way they did… ::sigh::

  18. it would still be as shitty a game as before

  19. I have a suggestions: Give each class a choice of one of, say, three “signature skills” that can go on a fifth tab. For example, DHs could have Rain of Vengeance or Sentry or Spike Traps. That skill becomes a freebie (no resources, à la the Wiz skills)–but can only be used, say, once every 45-60 seconds. [Signature skills are still available on the other tabs, so someone who chooses ROV could still have Sentry, too.]

  20. 6 skill slots seems reasonably fine.
    However, all the current “buff” active skills (wizard armors etc) should be converted to the concept of Monk mantras, that is; having a short term effect right after being used, so those buffs stop being passive skills in disguise. That would in itself open up for more active use of all 6 skills.

    I think a 4th passive skill could be interesting, if some of the crappier passives got buffed first.

    Would be nice if we could choose not to use left mouse button as one of our 6 skill buttons though.

  21. Hey Flux, you can use Illusionist as your passive & teleport-fracture to help you up big time in defense and mobility for your Wizard.
    About adding more hotkeys, i think there would be issue regarding resources, since the current resources are very little, as well as its regeneration so you can’t spam all your available skills like crazy. So if they do add more skill hotkeys, it would be a big balancing update that wont happen soon XD

  22. I would like if they added a fourth passive slot or some way to customize skills but I currently like the limit of six active skills.

  23. omg, seriously? we’re discussing things like this? If they launched the game with 5 or 6 skill slots, the same kind of article would pop-up and some ppl would find it too little, some right, some too many…

    sorry, just got worked up a bit. It’s good to discuss ideas and possibilities =)

  24. I love the 6 limit. Adding more wont improve the game unless they also add a heap of new spells.

    The system is built around you being limited in the number of slots you have available. Simply giving you an extra skill slot will just result in you wanting more anyway. The limitation itself is the point. It’s the ‘I only have x number of points to spend’ part of this build structure.

  25. It’s amazing how ppl complain about too little customization and yet want more skill slots. Adding more slots will only result in even less customization, since you would no longer need to choose between different defensive skills, active buffs and utility skills.

    There are a number of skills for every class that is basically always good for your character and build no matter what. For the wizard these are.

    Frost Nova
    Diamond Skin
    Wave of Force
    Ice Armor/Storm Armor/Energy armor
    Magic Weapon
    Slow time

    Increasing the number of skill slots to 7 or 8 would mean that every wizard could have the majority of these kind of skills in her/his arsenal without sacrificing anything. I mean, adding more and more active attack skills will only compete for your resources and cast time or add redundancy, giving you nothing.

    This problem was huge in D2 where players could basically could choose all skills that provided any boost to the character and then boost those skills with “+ to all skills” items. Every barb had every passive, every amazon had every passive, every necromancer had any … yeah you get it. The only thing that was different for every build was the 1 or 2 attack skills that you spammed over and over again just like in d3.

    D3 don’t need more slots. What D3 needs though is more balanced options to choose from. Blizzard must make sure that none of the previous mentioned skills stands out as far better choices than others. And even if skill like Diamond skin proves to be far more useful to most classes compared to ice armor, they have to make sure that the runes for Diamond skin are balanced so that there is still a choice and sacrifice to be made, and that ice armor at least is the better option for a number of specific builds.

    These are the kind of changes Blizzard must do and consider. Giving brain-dead d2 freaks another button to push adds or solves nothing.

    • I agree. The only exception is the barb, who can actually layer 3 damage skills simultabeously – sprint, ww, and overpower. An extra slot would allow more damage with rend, since the remainder of the build requires wotb, battle rage, and something for initial fury. The only customization for ww barbs is the fury generator and whether to use overpower or rend or something else (overpower is best for dual wield).

      Something similar exists for all classes, where you must choose if you want that 3rd damage skill to weave in, or go for a passive buff, mobility, or defensive skill.

  26. won’t happen until a console controller has more buttons. that’s why there is this amount of hotkeys. future console port.

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