Let's Talk about Talent Trees

I'll start by saying I haven't been able to find much on this topic. I was able to find some information about the classes but nothing as unique talking about builds. From my understanding we have 8 classes planned. You have the option to choose a "main" class that cannot change and then a "sub-class" that you can change. Opening up the possibility of 64 classes. (Apparently you can pick a main class and then pick the same class again as your sub-class.) I'll break my post into two general sections. First I will try to plead my case for the positive values of a talent, or skill, tree system. The second will be to try to argue against counter points to this system.

With that said, I think something has been lost in some recent MMOs with the loss of Talent Trees. There is some kind of charm in the simple progression of a talent tree. A talent tree provides simple things such as a small "carrot on a stick" while leveling on to much greater things such as giving the player the true feeling of customization/uniqueness.

Some of the Pros:

1) Makes each level-up feel a bit more satisfying. (Sometimes just little stats increases while sometimes gaining those important skills)

2) Allows you to individualize your spec. (I like the idea of making your character a bit uniquely yours. Will you ever truly be entirely unique in skills? Maybe not. But why not provide players that feeling of customization? Letting them explore how combos might work out.)

3) More Player choice. (I remember back when Dragon Age 2 had come out. One of the flaws of the game was that it forced players to be Human only, rather than the options provided by it's predecessor. After this had come to be I remember a developer talking about the female dwarf. He mentioned something like less than 1% of all playthroughs used a female dwarf. However they had discovered that players enjoy being given options, even if they don't take them. Meaning that, even if not executed players enjoy knowing that they had the option to make a choice, even if they personally don't choose to take it.)

4) Nostalgia (From what I've read in the BLOG and videos released it appears that AoC is trying to "Make MMOs Great Again." Really meaning that the devs feel the genre has gone "off the tracks" and they are trying to bring it back to its roots while expanding upon the genre's strength. With that said, I think something has to be said for players coming back to some concepts they might have experienced in previous games that would be welcome.)

5. It's worked before and can work again. (Some of the most successful MMOs have utilized this feature in the past. Many of them during the "golden ages" of the game's existences. Also, when I heard about the "main class" and "secondary class" I can't help but think about another MMO called Rift that utilized a similar feature. So we have examples of where it worked in well know games, like WoW and then also some other variants with multi-class dynamics)

Now I'll attempt to counters some of the Cons I've heard attributed to Talent Tree systems.

1) Talents Trees only provide illusion of choice. (My initial response would be to refer back to point #3 of my Pros. But to face this question more directly... The answer is kind of a yes and no. In some ways classes/specs will always have a mathematically superior build for specific functions. However this game appears to be less linear in that regard. For example, what's best for a castle siege is likely not best for dueling, which is likely not best for attacking caravans which is likely not best for defending them. So why not give people the ability to specialize? I should also add that even generic things like stat boosts can add dynamics to the game if needed.)

2. Impossible to Balance. (Is this really true? Do we have any evidence that games with talents trees are balanced much worse than games without them? Unless the devs seek to homogenize all classes then intrinsically some classes/specs will perform some functions better. Also, I'd rather devs "go out on a limb" a bit and try to add uniqueness rather than play defensive and make the specs too boring.)

3. Unnecessarily Complicated. (I think some levels of complexity can be a good thing. Quite honestly I'd rather the game challenge players intellect rather than seem mindless. This is one of those areas where complexity can be added but not in a way that is so insurmountable. It should also help to build communities as players will have reason to discuss and debate choices.)

In closing, I liked our Skill/Talent Trees and would like to see them in this game. At least in some form. I don't know how much of this has already been decided on the development side but I thought I'd throw this out to see how the community feels on the topic.

What are your thoughts out there in the community?


  • Hey Glory,

    Just thought I would add my thoughts to this. I'm actually a big fan of talent trees when they are implemented well, which is often fairly rare. My favorite example of talent trees is actually Diablo II, mostly because you could pretty much make anything reasonably viable if you really put your mind to it (I remember reading about a guy who specifically did not kill anything he didn't have to through Hell difficulty as a Necro).

    However, that's really the main challenge of it: making anything viable. Too often the talent trees have abilities that are "must-have" for pretty much every spec because they have either broader applicability, a particularly amazing effect, or are just prerequisites for something else that is amazing.

    Another game that I think did a good job of "talent trees" was Final Fantasy X, where you could essentially plot any path you wanted to across the grid and make hybrids of different play styles and classes. I loved the freedom that you had even though something might make "the most sense" you could do what you wanted to.

    I think that really gets to the core of what I like about good talent trees: you can do what you want and make it viable. Thus, that would be something I would like to see tested in the alpha and beta: can you make "silly" specs viable?

  • I love talent trees for many of the same reasons already listed, so I won't beat the proverbial dead horse.

    What I'd like to expand on has been brought up that many games just give you the "illusion" of being unique. I've played so many games in the 20+ yrs I've been gaming but a few glaring examples come to my mind.

    There's always going to be that "meta" or "flavor of the week" class that the min/maxers and hardcore players latch on to, but some of the best tree systems are built around trade offs, rather than upgrades in skills.

    For example why go down the fire mage tree when a frost mage does as much damage AND can CC. Is there even a reason to have branches on the tree when you make it a "right or wrong" choice rather than a preference. Too many games put skills in talent trees that are "must haves" rather than "oh this compliments this but I need to give that up". It makes cookie cutter builds, and at that point, you could have 200 classes but people only play 10, and they play them all the same way.
  • Prefers Grim Down talent tree variant and of Devotion system also
    But i don't mind at all if we had here some kind of feats/perks/traits list like in oldschool games
  • Personally the more variation the better for talents if I see everyone doing the exact same thing due to limited options it gets stagnant and boring I am a min max player and if I can't spend hours with the math and calculating my abilities and performance I'm not overly happy with that system. That being said I think the old WoW setup had a really nice way to do talents and character advancement.
  • Phantasy Star Online 2's skill tree (or "Talent Tree"): https://arks-layer.com/skillsim/skillcalc.php

    [quote quote=5028] Also, when I heard about the “main class” and “secondary class” I can’t help but think about another MMO called Rift that utilized a similar feature.

    There was a game that did the Base Class/Sub Class system and came 9 years before Rift. It was Final Fantasy XI.
    There were also a few games that spawned after that utilized that system, before Rift came around.
    There might be other games that did it before Final Fantasy XI but I can't really recall any right now.
    Also, Phantasy Star Online 2 (which came one year after Rift) utilizes a freely-switchable Base and Sub class system, along with "Talent Trees".
  • Yep, also Runes of Magic, GW and DDO.
    Main problem in Rift(in my opinion) -it's soul system design. Soul-it's NOT full-fledget class. They havent specializations. Mostly can do only one thing pretty good (of course u can do hibryd) and some souls has some "ultraskill" on 61 points.
  • Oh yea, I wasn't meaning to say Rift was the only game with multiple classes. Or even the first.

    I was just noting that I kinda liked the Talent Tree system in that game and when I heard about the possibility of a main and sub class it came to my mind as an example where it worked, imho.
  • I think there were two problems with WoW's old talent tree (and these problems will generally persist through similar trees in other games):
    First, there's the already-mentioned illusion of choice. "Look at all those talent options!", one might say. But upon close inspection, some options are very lackluster when compared to others in the same tier, and in the end there's very little variety between players of the same class/spec.
    Secondly, there's the lack of impact of player choice, since gaining things such as a 2% hit/crit/aspd increase is not that noticeable. It doesn't really feel fun until endgame, where theorycrafting comes into play. And if there's one thing MMOs seem to have forgotten is that the journey to endgame is of utmost importance if you want your playerbase to grow.

    I get that that system seems cool, but you have to stop and think of how much of it is driven by nostalgia. And how nostalgia can be a very dangerous thing for a game.

    One non-MMO game I think got it extremely right was Path of Exile. Their passive tree is gigantic, and they basically divided it into stat-point nodes (which usually pave the way to node clusters), and node clusters with meaningful stats and changes to your character. This + their skill system allows for such diverse customization that allows players to run the craziest builds, from a generic 2H weapon warrior smashing skulls , to a tank who automatically casts half a dozen different spells as he takes damage, killing things around him.

    It's hard for me to give suggestions about AoC talent trees without knowing more about the game. Will a given archetype have a predefined set of abilities? Will players be able to pick from a roster and create a setup of their own? Will second archetypes only alter the way skill works, or also add themed skills from the archetype combo?

    What I do know is that I don't think old talent trees like Rift's or Wow's are the way to go. Rather, something PoEsque would be interesting to see. Instead of "Hey, I just got my 5% crit talents, now I can go down and get 2% chance to retaliate on block", "Hey, I just got 10 strength, which is rather useless, but now I can access these nodes over the next three levels, giving me 56% damage with melee weapons and 20% chance to infliect bleeding" seems like a more interesting choice. Or hell, just do away with the stat points and give us cool, meaningful, impactful talents.
  • Talent trees are the preferred method for me, but implementation isn't always great.

    You need to make it so that any class can realistically take 2, 3, or even 5 different skill paths and still be viable. For instance, a mage could choose to focus on skills t hat offer really high aoe damage, high single target damage, big DoT damage, or even a mixture of the above. Nerfs and buffs will always create a kind of fotm, but it doesn't need to be perfect as long as it's close.

    This balancing isn't simply done via making sure that a cold damage spell is equal to a fire damage one. It also goes into other potential stat systems that must synergize with it. I'll reference a MMO I used to play which has this. A mage could pick any one of a several primary professions (Wizard, Warlock, etc), and that profession would open up some number of skills that they could unlock over time. Those skills would be unlocked by meeting A - a prerequisite level, and B - allocating skill points that you accrue each level into both unlocking the ability and eventually master them (the more skill points you put into any 1 skill enhanced that skill's ability). In addition to this, there was also an ability point allocation system (similar to Diablo) where you would earn 5 points at each new level to allocate into your core stats (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom). This allowed a further differentiation because a Warrior allocate all of his points into strength to maximize his potential damage and then either unlock more high damage skills or he could instead focus those points into constitution making him harder to kill. All of these were effective possibilities. It was certainly a complex system, and probably not one that was easy to design. I think you need that complexity to offer true talent trees that offer anything more than an illusion of choice.
  • That reminds me a bit of Ragnarok Online :p *good memories*
    There was a good enough variety of subclasses and builds within those subclasses there, since you couldn't get all your class' skills and had to be careful with how you spent your stat points.

    I think that is a good system, even though it isnt technically a talent tree system since you're unlocking your main skillset
  • Yes talent trees are very important and the ability to customize your talents with different options gives you the feeling of being somewhat unique, which I have always loved.
  • As long as it is not a permanent choice what talent/augment/whatever I take I am okay with it.

    The greatest thing that ever happened was being able to change, maybe even on the fly. As someone who plays a lot of different aspects in a game, it was a real headache. I either had to endure leveling several times with the same class(which I never did because yeah.. no..) or constantly dump money into the respeccing keeping in mind what i need and going to a specific location.
    It's simply not fair softlocking me out of enjoying all variations, or changing to that little bit more for that other scenario.

    I can understand the feel of urgency in a choice but in my opinion, you simply can't make an educated decission upon leveling your first character and noticing later on how much you screwed up is just not a good feeling. Especially in a new game where you have to expect some changes big or small that might screw up what you saw.
  • Hey Glory,

    Firstly, I really appreciate the thought you put into this post. Your use of a PROs/CONs was really smart to include and really elucidated your point. That being said, I also have that nostalgic feeling of talent trees. I'd LOVE to see them come back with a degree of variety, balance, and robustness that has been missing.

    My concern is without enough viable varietyin talent we will run into the blasted, heavily defined metas- and this would go for PvE and PvP (though my concern honestly would be with PvP balancing). What do I mean by viable? That multiple skill unlocks are viable and would be used in PvP, not only a particular tree (for example.)

    Anyways, great post. I'm looking forward to more community and developer discussion on this.
  • Agreed on viability. Old WoW had a lot of potential combos with talents, but really only a very limited number were 'viable' in the sense that if you didn't spec them, you were doing it wrong.

    I could see each class getting a survivability, damage and utility tree. As long as the benefits of going down the tree get progressively better players should opt for different combinations, especially if s/he is optimizing for pve/pvp/farming.
  • Hello everyone,

    Personally, I'm not a big fan of 'Skill Tree' interfaces. It's an older style of interface I would like to see re-innovated. It's worked for other games, but the developers of AoC have a chance to create something new that can potentially have great feedback.

    "Level up! Choose your new skill from this list-->"

    Perhaps we can quest for Major Skills and 'learn' them rather than automatically knowing them. Progression should feel like progression instead of instant gratification. It's also a chance to get into some class lore.

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