The source all attendees of last year’s BlizzCon played around with in the Diablo III demo was merely a prototype or placeholder. According to Bashiok, the current Diablo III allows you to see all trees at once side-by-side in the same window. You can distribute points of Tier 1 seamlessly across any of the three skill trees. Once you reach the set limit, you will unlock Tier 2. It is a very different way to what we are used to in Diablo II and even World of Warcraft.
Bashiok is confident to confirm that this system allows more variety. What fans do not account for is that there are ways to customize your characters with the new rune system, and there is yet other unrevealed ways to improve your character. Hopefully these will be revealed in August at Blizzcon 2009. At the moment it remains a mystery.—source
(The image below is the old skill tree style, from last month. All changed now!)
Bashiok: As you mentioned and I had said in that rather lengthy post, we?re under heavy iteration. The version shown off with BlizzCast was a prototype in many ways, and a jumping off point in others.
We?re working with a modified skill tree system now of what we showed, under heavy testing and scrutiny. It?s of course not final, the ideas it proposes are something we?re happy with in their direction but they could very well change. In fact I would bet on them continuing to evolve.
So, the system we have now? you?ll have to just picture it without any visual representation, sorry. They?re not radically different visually except that the trees are all viewable at the same time. Taking the barbarian trees for instance (berserker, battlemaster, juggernaut) they?re not tabbed now, but instead all viewable at the same time. Side by side.
This is important due to how they are now a unified tier progression. Instead of spending 5 points in the berserker tree to then begin spending points in the second tier of the berserker tree, the new design allows you to spend wherever you like. As long as your points in the first tier of skills adds up to five, the next tier for all trees is unlocked.
So, I could spend 2 points in Heightened Senses which is a berserker skill, and 3 points in Bash which is a Juggernaut skill, thus adding up to 5 points and granting me access to the second tier of skills for all of the trees. With this amount of freedom you can see how easy it is then to diversify yourself and your build. You?re no longer gaining abilities through investment, but instead more through choice and personal preference.
It certainly diversifies the types and amounts of builds available to players, that?s obvious. This style of a unified tier approach also helps in a few other areas though. Since all of the trees are open we can clean up the trees a lot more, removing redundant abilities. We don?t have to throw in skills that are important, such as damage mitigation, all over the place. You will always have access to those skills no matter where you?re spending, so they can instead be focused into a few key skills. Another way it helps is by allowing players access to the skills they want, and the skills we want them to have. 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.
One important addition to this is the skill caps themselves. Currently we?re envisioning the majority of skills to be capped at 5 points, to begin with. As a form of progression we?re planning for players to be able to increase the point caps of skills. More than likely to a maximum of 15. It?s a system that?s still under heavy design, but the fact of choosing and increasing key skills beyond their initial cap is important to this new unified tier system.
So, once again these are things that are still under heavy design and iteration. They?re changes we?re testing, and while we like how they play there are certainly issues or flaws that could cause an entire switch to something else.
Update: Bashiok added some more details in a reply:
if you make it that way then what’s the point in skill trees at all, you could’ve just made one tree with more tiers…
Bashiok: Essentially it is a single tree. The separation does a couple things though. It groups similarly themed abilities, and it provides a nice separation. You can also quickly describe your build to someone else. “Oh I’m a jugger barb with 10/10 WW”
and this only encourages cookie cutter builds, cause players will eventually find out what the best skills are (mathematical approach), and exploit it, since they can freely choose the best skills i just don’t see this working, and frankly don’t like it at all…
Bashiok: There will always be cookie cutter builds. There will always be the builds that when coupled with specific items put out the most damage, and players will find them. That’s just a fact. The best we can do is balance to a point where there are as many viable builds as possible. That there isn’t a single end-all-be-all. Or, that there isn’t a build that is required to play the game. That all comes down to balance more than anything.
Regardless, this setup doesn’t make the possibility of cookie cutters existence more or less possible. What it does is potentially makes them more varied though. There’s a much larger possibility for variety here.
Also you’re going to want to still focus on a relatively small amount of abilities as you’re not going to be able to raise, or more importantly spend enough points, to raise all skills to a potential 15 point cap. (remember when I said that was an important part?)
So if you want to be the barbarian that spreads his points all over the place and is sort of jack of all trades, that’s fine. And it should still work. I’ll have my focus-fire barb where I’ve raised the caps on two or three specific skills, and built my entire set of gear, runes, etc. to feed those skills. Someone else may have done something similar but in different trees. Someone else may go the jack of all trades route for variety and survivability. Someone else may want to try a build that doesn’t leave the berserker tree. etc. etc.