Skills are In — Attributes are Out

An article on Joystiq surveys a number of recent RPGs and notes that the once universal system of player-customized character stats is fading away. The characters in recent titles like Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 had no DiabloWikiattributes at all, and as we know, while Diablo III retains attributes, they are auto-assigned with level ups and can only be boosted with equipment.

How are games compensating for the removal or minimizing of what was once an indispensible core element of character improvement? By increasing the importance of skills, at least in the case of Diablo III.

As skills became more and more important, attributes decline, at least in Diablo 2. Each level up grants you five attribute points, yes, but go to virtually any FAQ and it’ll tell you that once you reach the bare minimum for wearing your gear, you should dump all your points into one stat, usually Vitality for health. It offers the illusion of choice and customizability, but primarily offers the ability to mess up more than to successfully build a different kind of character. This is also a problem with skills in Diablo 2, but most skill-based games are less punishing. Diablo 3 seems to be built on a model of giving the player fewer choices, but making those choices more interesting and relevant than the cookie-cutter builds of Diablo 2.

This is part of the appeal, and why I don’t think we’re going to move away from games with robust skill systems. Unlike core attributes, skill systems allow for consistent player adaptation and character growth. The player can take an active role in how their character grows stronger, instead of simply watching. Attributes are still used and important in games like Dragon Age, Fallout, and Legend Of Grimrock, but skills are as or more important. That is the way of modern role-playing games: skills are the focus of character growth, and attributes are flavor, if they exist at all.

The DiabloWikiskill system is probably the biggest change from D2 to D3, and pretty much everyone seems to love the idea of DiabloWikirunestones granting so many different versions of every skill. On the other hand, with full respecs and auto-stats, every “naked” level 60 Wizard is 100% identical, or can be made that way in several seconds of skill clicking. (This system differs hugely from Diablo 2, where naked chars of the same level were generally no more than 98% identical.)

Will Diablo 3 allow us the same sense of ownership and customization of our characters that classic RPGs and past titles in the series did? Time will tell.

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53 thoughts on “Skills are In — Attributes are Out

  1. I wonder why show attribute values at all? There’s no point since players cannot change them. A better approach is to show only attribute bonuses from items as they are what matters.

    • Well,  attributes are still there, they still exist. The mere fact that we cannot change them manually doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They still give all their bonuses, they are still the core of the builds, etc. Personally, I think that all this talk about great attribute changes between D2 and D3 is somewhat overblown. What changed was the way we increase our stats, in D2 we did it with manual allocation, in D3 we do it through gear. Ultimately, I don’t think that the mathematical complexity that exists behind every RPG is diminished in any way in D3.

      • Key point is essentially:
        You still can customize your stats, but not strictly by level up, and not by clicking a button. Instead it’s by equipping appropriate gear.

        • Well, it’s still the same thing, is it not. Before, (I’m making up these numbers if that isn’t obvious), your chars stats came 35% from manual allocation, and 65% frim gear. Now, they’ve reduced the stats you get by automatic allocation, so your stats come 5% from allocation, 95% from gear. It is kind of similiar to WoW, (yeah, I know, the forbidden word), where if you take max chars gear, he has something like 1/20th of his stats. Overall, I find that attributes through gear are actually better, because they give a more varied choice of building your char. There are more stats and more combinations of them

          • Sorry for any confusion, I was agreeing with what you wrote. It is absolutely the same, just from a different source.
            And I agree with your sentiment as well, I think this is superior as it does not require attribute respecing, only finding new gear.

  2. “The skill system is probably the biggest change from D2 to D3, and pretty much everyone seems to love the idea of runestones granting so many different versions of every skill.”

    nope, I don’t. I want my skill tree back. 

    • Well, I for one would like to know your reasons for wanting skill trees back. Your arguments as to how did you come to the conclusion that skill trees are a  better custimization option then our current system. Or is this pure nostalgia talking?

      • I totally agree that skill tree system is far more inferior than the current system. Instead of limiting you from your own choices – getting every skill at max level and then choose what you want is much better. Not to mention the headache you get from picking and choosing up/down the tree as you progress through levels.

        Who said that simple automatically means bad ^^ 

    • Pretty much everyone… reading is hard.

      And yes I love  the new skillsystem. Not a full substitute in my eyes for a skiltree perse but it works.

      • just by looking at the comment and rating, I can see that you saying “pretty much everyone” means just you and the loud nostalgic minority who thinks they’re superior over all other ‘new’ gamers….

  3. Stats can be fine but they need to be usuable regardless in what you put them and not limit your character when you don’t visit FAQ’s.

    Str was just for gear, if you wanted to properly hit stuff as a fighting hero you needed like 2.5 dex every single lvlup or it was near/completely useless if you were a mage, vital well is usefull and makes sence and energy was something you could/should skip for the perfect build.

    • You have to see it from the developers view. lets say you came across a good breastplate for your sorceress (D2) but it might need a few levels of stat points in order to use it. wouldn’t you think like “damn, now i got to waste a few levels of stat points just to be able to use this”. and isn’t that a negative thing? doing something that will benefit you, but at the same time doing something that you don’t like? 

      All i can say to Blizzard is, everything they do, almost every time, they are right. They know what’s best for them.

      • But isn’t it better to give the player the choice?
        That’s what made D2 interesting.  In D3, your example is either;
        1. I cannot wear this breastplate yet
        2. Keep it in your stash and wait until you can, or
        3. Go to RMAH and buy something else that boosts STR, allowing me to equip it
        Wouldn’t manual stats be more fun and simpler?

        • Your scenario is irrelevant. There are no attribute requirements for gear, only level requirements. The “waiting” is level based only, so you have definite knowledge of exactly when you can equip the item. It is also unlikely you will find items above your level at any point (except perhaps the very beginning areas), unless you are somehow getting rushed through the game.

          The only reason to boost STR is to increase damage (barbarian only) or armor. Any item with more strength would probably be a better item (ignoring other mods). Therefore, if you find an item with more strength, why wouldn’t you equip it? If it is on the RMAH, and you don’t want to spend real money, you’ll never know it exists because you won’t be looking on the RMAH.

          • Using level requirements to wear gear is one of the lamest game mechanics I have ever seen. I remember first seeing it about 25-30 years ago in Japanese RPGs. It sucked then and it still does. Using an attribute system to wearing gear is much superior. It can even create a mini game of figuring out how to use that gear. An attribute system is much better for creating a sense of immersion in the game. My level 7 warrior with a 100 strength is much more likely to wield that cool new sunsword than my level 10 wizard with a 30 strength. 😈

  4. While I was hesitant at first, after playing the beta for several months I do believe the change was for the better. However, I’m still curious if there will be enough variation between the players, other than different color armor.

    • Because of the scaling from weapon damage, most skills will be viable in some degree – the mix you find super exciting, I may find dull and vice versa. Different colour? I’ll be using a lot of different colours – black, black, black and a bit more black just to add some colour 😛 

    • After playing the beta, I too have faith in their design. However, I feel builds will devolve to “what build is best for this area?”

      Viable build diversity comes from hot-swappble skills and the fact they balanced the game so any one build doesn’t just absolutely steamroll everything in everywhere like in D2. Of course it took years for players to discover the current D2 steamrollers.

      So, it’s not a bad thing that D3 will come down to the right build for the right place; it may take years for us to find the right build for just one area!

      • And you’re still allowed to think for yourself. I have pre-planned 2 setups for each class, one for each gender, and I’m going to stick to those setups even if it means I’ll be suffering horribly trying to get anywhere. Then I can delete and start from scratch, building on the knowledge I gained.

        • i kind of lol @ these type of posts every time HerlockS. im just gunna play the game the right way (it’s meant to be played, sorry this isn’t d2.) my first playthrough, with a single class. i feel that i will get the best experience this way but if your a raging d2 nostalgia type of person, what you plan on doing by locking yourself into pre planned skill sets just seems naive to me. but to each his own i suppose.

          • Naive or carefully planned (with a lot of praying added to it :P).
            Never claimed it was the right way, only that it was my way 🙂 I just find that the best way to learn the ‘true value’ of a skill is to use it in less-than-optimal scenarios, like in ‘Damn, Cleave would be really useful here instead of Bash’. Truth be told, it’s just as much because I’m getting old and lazy – the mere thought of having to re-adjust my skills every 2 mins makes me cringe 🙂
            And it’s a challenge 🙂

  5. Well in d2 towards the end they had respec tokens which were cheap and easy to get so u could change your character pretty much whenever u wanted. I like what they are doing in D3. And any real d2 player knows what matters in the end is what gear you have and it will be the same in D3. If you dont have good gear you will never be good. u can have a great build with all your stat and skill points in the right places in d2 but if you dont have good gear your gonna suck.

  6. In just about any other circumstance I wouldn’t compare the two, but in this case; WoW didn’t have user assigned attribute points, either.

    All stat point allocation came from gear. Every level you would automatically get a few stat points allocated based on class, but that was it. Everything else came from gear. As you might recall, WoW went on to be a huge hit. No one that I can remember complained about the stat system or claimed it to be broken.

    As I said, I don’t really like comparing WoW to DIII since they’re not the same kind of game, but I think in this case the subject matter is similar enough between the two to make it relevant.  

  7. I think the fault is in the lack of idea’s going into the items themselves. What was missing in D2 was items that made mana, str and dex important for more reasons than just equipping purposes. They’re just slicing off customization in exchange for a more arcadey experience of which there will always be supporters of. However 3 years from release date the only thing that’ll be keeping the game going will be dlc cause there’ll be nothing to do. It’ll just be the exact same playing experience every time cause you can do everything your previous character could do no matter what you think of. The temptation to use the tried and true method is almost being forced on players now.

    Didn’t anyone get the itch to apply a stat or skill point when playing the beta? Was there not a moment when you watched you health get slapped down and thought there’s little you could have done about it? Finally stat and skill points worked in D2 obviously since the game was a blazing success. Duh.

  8. even you claim its only a 2% difference… 98% d2 100% d3 lol. whats the big deal. 2 on a scale of 1-100 is nothing. you won’t really notice this… only few builds in d2. but it will make selling characters with loot equipped more efficient via RMAH when/if that becomes available as opposed to selling naked characters…… hope that was sarcasm at the end  :mrgreen:

  9. [quote]This system differs hugely from Diablo 2, where naked chars of the same level were generally no more than 98% identical.[/quote]
    Flux I’ll see your humor, and respectfully disagree.
    Naked 80’s level Sorcs in D2 were completely different.  There was a lot of sublety in how many point to energy shield, teleport, not to mention if you went single, double, or sometimes triple elemental spec.  Even within the elements, you had multiple main killers to choose from.  Energy vs health points was a totally valid question, as was how many into STR, depending on what kind of armor/shield you were aiming for.
    D3, as you’ve pointed out, a wizard, is a wizard, is a wizard…

    • I think you and other guys are kinda misunderstanding him. He is not trying to be funny, instead he actually points out what you did, by saying it is rare/impossible to meet anyone with the same set of skills+ attributes. 

      So he meant the two most similar barbarians  were no more than 98% similar. Where the similarity among 2 other barbarians would be equal to the similarity among a paladin and druid… (a bit on the stat side skills nothing)

  10. “On the other hand, with full respecs and auto-stats, every “naked” level 60 Wizard is 100% identical, or can be made that way in several seconds of skill clicking. (This system differs hugely from Diablo 2, where naked chars of the same level were generally no more than 98% identical.)”
    Frankly, who cares? This is an imagined problem as opposed to a perceivable one. Your character is never going to be naked, you’ll never have exactly the same gear and rarely exactly the same build as anyone else.

    • It will also be rare for even the naked char to be identical to another (unless they both found the same build on the internet or one copied the others).

      After all, people are likely going to find a specific rune or skill that they like with the build for doing X. and the others something else. So doubt it will be much trouble at all.

      That is not saying that they don’t look more like each other than they did in D2 

      • Agree with you, even now in various class forums I already seeing people saying that “This skill is OP, this is THE STAPLE of the class, everyone will and have to take this” then the rest of the thread disagree with him…

        That was such a relief 😛 

        • lol deja vu xD Think I read that before, just with the example coming from a blue and it being with, one saying this ability is op and another going like. That is so totally gimp it is this skill XD

  11. I don’t really mind the change to the D3 skill system.  Yes, the D2 system was bad, but it wasn’t the skill tree approach itself that was bad, it was everything combined that made it bad: the lack of respecs, the clearly superior skills late in the tree, the extreme weight of stacking skill points into skills, etc.  I am willing to accept the D3 skill system even if it does cut the longevity of the game but I still believe a good skill tree is far better than the current system.

    • Reasonable thinking but for now I’m willing to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt that they had experimented to great lengths on trying various skill trees balances (not only in D3 but also in WoW) then ended up on the same conclusion that no matter what the flaws are always there in some form….

      • Oh, I know they did try skill trees.  They demoed some of them early in development.  The problem is that they didn’t fix any of these flaws… of course they still found problems with it.  Their designers didn’t have the critical thinking skills to recognize the root problems with the system.  They instead tried to stick to the core of the Diablo 2 system and not fix anything as though that were a good idea ~_~

  12. Yeah, stat attribution in D2 really was the works… put in STR/DEX so you could equip gear, all the rest in VIT. Fun times! Sorceresses in ornate plates anyone? As for skill system, I said it before and will say it again: you  had tons of combinations but only two per char were used. Log in and prove me wrong.

    For the complainers and whiners out there, wait until the game comes out (which you will play, you know it) then come out here and tell us how bad it is.

    my 2c


  13. My main point against games that rely on stat-points is that they are not made with mathgeeks in mind. They are balanced around people who mostly randomly spread their stats, because it feels right. It is always very easy to find an optimum which makes nearly every stat heavy game a walk in the park. Skyrim had this too. Min-maxxers very quickly figured out the optimal strategies and in the end the so called epic bossfight was nothing more than a minor encounter because of it, even on the highest difficulty setting. Anyone who thinks stats are a good way to diversificate your character probably has no affinity with numbers. 

    • Strange, we both follow the same line of logic and come to completely different conclusion. I guess that Min-maxxers see the game as a math problem to be solved, while other people see the game as a finger twitch problem. Why not keep both? If I just wanted a twitch game, I would go back to Ghosts & Goblins on my old Sega Genesis emulator. 😈

      • I agree.  The problem is that the numbers for these systems are broken.  If they were developed by someone who kept the math in mind it would be possible to balance it so that it really is a matter of preference.  The problem is that when there is clearly a superior stat balance you’ve lost the element of choice.  The classic PnP RPGs have been using stat systems for a very long time and many of them work fine for introducing player preference and choice.

        • There is a problem with this idea and that is that you think you can make stats balanced regardless of choices made but that not really true.
          Why is this the case? It comes down to this if all stats are equal in power then the best stat build will be to have all useful stats equal.
          If you favour one over and other you just move the balance point between that stat and the rest.
          IE if two stats are equally effective (stack with each other) and each point spent in them adds 1% effectiveness then with 100 points to split between them you can go 100% X or Y for a 100% boost or you can go 50% X and 50% Y for a 125% boost in effectiveness.
          If Stat X is 2x as effective as Y in power then you end up with the balance point being 3 X to 1 Y stat pointwise.
          In D2 every stat virtually is useless past the golden numbers (for Gear equip and 75% Block) apart from the life stats (Vit and Eng for mana shield users) due to the extra effect of these stats being meaningless compared to the huge boosts on gear.

  14. I was skeptical of this mew skill system but once I played the beta I enjoyed the diversity and choice. However, I dislike the fact that runes are unlocked at specific levels. Most Diablo fans already fiddled around with the calculators and found a build they like but most of the time that ‘build’ is not available till your near level cap. I don’t think that was the case in D2. At level 30 you had your build. In D3 you don’t have your build it could be a bare skeleton of your build.
    I like the idea of hunting around for a specific rune for my specific build it’s too bad they went the route they did. Not saying the rune system is bad.  I can see the reasoning behind it though as 30-60 is that ‘dead zone’ 
    As for stats? That only thing I liked about it in D2 and perhaps torchlight is that you can have your necro sorc be melee based and wear the heavy armor. In D3 I find the when the WD has a 2 handed sword confusing. He doesn’t use it. He just has it to help out with damage of his skills

  15. The discussion has been had so many times now. I feel that this post is insincere since it neglects to cite all of the points made in regards to non-allocatable stat points and the intentions behind it — and the fact that it still exists but in other forms. “It’s different from D2, what do you think about that?” isn’t the best starting point for discussion. I suppose this is one last troll post from Flux before the misunderstood advances seen within the game when taken as a whole make people look downright silly for spending so much time running in circles flailing their arms about while screaming bloody murder.

  16. Getting 100% of your stat point customization from gear is stupid.  And it doesn’t make any sense.  “Hey, I’m gonna just slip into this enormously heavy full-plate armor and….  PRESTO!  Not only am I unencumbered by the weight, I’m actually stronger than before!”

    • Soo….. Pressing button to be stronger is not stupid? “Hey I just need to kill one more demon and….  PRESTO!  Not only am I unencumbered by the weight, I’m actually stronger than before!”

      Frankly I think you’re missing the point of playing a video GAME.

  17. That’s utter bullshit.
    In Skyrim, you assign points to attributes on level up exactly like in Diablo 1/2.

    • Not really you just pick Health Magika or Stamina to get a small boost then you spend a perk point, where do you spend a point in STR etc?

  18. Since all the stats and skill/runes are fixed, does that mean the only difference between chars will be their gear? If that’s the case, does that mean the only stat people will go for is +magic find to increase the chances of getting the best gear?

    • Unlikely, as theres the other side of it you need to balance magic find with kill speed.
      If your magic find gear gives you a 100% boost to chance of getting the best items from killing mob X but takes 3 times as long to reach and kill him as gear set Y with zero magic find then from the loot machine point of view the magic find gear set is pointless. You are 1.5 times more likely to get it with the kill speed gear in your hour of playing than you are with the magic find gear.

  19. dont care about the old attrib system gone.
    D3 BETA was the most awfull thing, im still waiting for the final game.
    By the way Blizzard are losing a lot of quality in gameplay, SCBW was brilliant demanding game that did KOREA the capital of “E-SPORTS” they change the vision of videogames….SC2 its OK too easy even for casual-noob players they still have time to fix this with HOTS or next expansion, Diablo2 was epic with his original colors,gothic STYLE, gore…D3 looks like another OK but not impressed, there are lot of games with that shinny shitty color style,….ppl need to be more demanding with blizz new games, remember one game StarCraft did in SOUTH KOREA…if your pleased with D3 Beta style you are mediocre!! who never likes scbw or d2.

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