I’ve been playing the Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls closed beta for about the past month. There’s been a lot of interesting developments in this expansion and there’s still three months until it is released. There’s a lot of time for D3 to evolve even more, and I think there is something in particular this game could really use…
There should be a seventh skill slot
Just like the Auction House, Blizzard is way off on this. Players really need an additional active skill slot in this expansion. I’ve always felt six was limiting, especially when you have such an amazing selection of skills to choose from. Limiting the skills to six may have been in consideration for consoles, or too convoluted for skill loadout selection, but I think these factors were incorrect in their consideration.
So much of Diablo 3’s story felt like Call of Duty. You were getting command barked at you a lot, you have no sense of self-agency. I half-expected Tyrael to say “Would you kindly?” because of the lack of freewill this story infuses into you. Call of Duty is also kind of famous for assuming its audiences aren’t smart enough to handle a bit more depth. I feel like Blizzard is assuming that most the playerbase can’t handle how much complexity another skill slot would bring.
Simply put, it would be really fun to have another button to hit once in awhile to do cool stuff in combat. Diablo 3 needs to avoid stagnation, I don’t feel like ROS is going to deliver everything that D3 needs. ROS is more like a reboot, which does a lot of things it needs to, but still problematic. The implementation of the original Auction House not only hurt gameplay in terms of the treasure hunt, it also kept features like “smart drops” from having been developed much earlier. If there was no AH from the start, imagine what Blizzard could have already developed in the past couple of years?
A seventh skill slot would make ALLLLLLLLLLLLL of this melt by the wayside, because that is something that will make players salivate. Gimme gimme gimme.
With my Monk, I would equip Ascension or Mystic Ally in a seventh skill slot. The changes to Mystic Ally are freaking amazing, but I still can’t bring myself to replace my Mantra. Mystic Ally is a visually varied skill that, even if every Monk equipped it in this seventh skill slot there would still be plenty of difference between players. Ascension is also pretty cool, but I have a problem with big cooldown skills eating up my action bar when I want to maximize my second-to-second combat options. I also often wish I could have another spirit generator, because Fists of Thunder feels kind of essential. Teleporting to enemies and dealing area damage is just too damn handy. If I could just use Fists of Thunder to close in the distance, I could switch to a different spirit generator skill when I’m within range. I could even equip Tempest Rush in the additional skill slot, giving me the additional mobility needed to free me up to pick Crippling Wave or Deadly Reach instead of Fists of Thunder.
The fourth passive skill slot was out of necessity
ROS needed that fourth passive skill slot because too many of them felt absolutely essential or you were playing the game wrong. Now, even if some of the broken essential passive skills exist, you still get a lot of room to have fun and choose passive skills you actually want and not just need.
The fact that there are six active skill slots helps keep any one skill from feeling like it completely outweighs all of the others, but there are still a lot of active skills that players can’t get away from. Wizards always use Archon, Monks always use Fists of Thunder and Sweeping Wind, etc. Blizzard likes to throw around numbers, stating “there are a trillion, squillion different factors that make every character different!” but that’s very inaccurate. There is a difference between Effective Customization and Actual Customization. Effective Customization is the things that you feel when you make changes in your character, like a skill rune, a legendary, or a particular combination of stacked equipment effects. There may be a squillion-billion factors to make each character different, but I really feel like there are a few dozen or so different end game builds with very subtle differences.
Long Cooldowns often feel like a limitation to your toolset
The problem I’ve always had with only six skill slots is that it creates far too much of a value discrepancy with large cooldown skills. Two minutes in Diablo 3 is a really long time, and during a long cooldown it feels like you’ve got a much more limited toolset. Sure you can get a cool 20 second buff, but a lot of skills can grant buffs and be used most of the time. If you accidently use a skill with a long cooldown, it’s not only frustrating because you’re stuck not being able to use it for a really large amount of game time, you are also stuck not being able to replace it with another skill you would prefer out of frustration. ROS has taken some really good steps to make long cooldown skills more appealing, with lots of cooldown reduction found on equipment, in diamonds, and as a part of Paragon traits.
Long Cooldowns are usually the best kind of ridiculous
If you reduce Cooldowns too much, then some of the novelty of these skills wears off, and after 100 hours of gameplay, having a really cool skill to break up the rhythm of combat every minute or two can really help keep things more interesting. The long cooldown abilities are the most over-the-top and satisfying skills in the game. The appeal of these skills is when you see a champion mob, you feel a surge of excitement because that means its time to bust out the big guns. It’s like having a giant “GO TO HELL!” button to the enemies.
Buff skills are just passive skills that go on the action bar
It also is limiting in what skills slots makes a lot of buff skills create a far less actively engaging build. Your toolbox will feel bigger if you have more skills that you use more often. If half your action bar just sits there with the exception of being clicked on every two minutes, you feel like you only have three skills. You’ll click to pick up gold more often than use some of these skills. I think what has been done with Mantra (applying a passive buff with a powerful, short term buff you can spam) was brilliant and should be the basis of all “buff” skills, at least in concept. There shouldn’t be a single buff skill that only has the application of being used every 2 to 10 minutes. Magic Weapon is embarrassingly dull because it is pretty much just another passive skill (I really, really hate Magic Weapon, because it’s been handy to have a lot but the most BORGING skill in the game).
Many players have grown accustomed to the skills they have
When players buy the expansion pack, it isn’t going to feel that cool when they reach level 70 and their character plays the exact same way they did the past 150 hours. Maybe that’s their prerogative to not change because they’ve gotten so used to it, but also ROS doesn’t really add much incentive to experiment (unless it involves one of the many skills that has been altered, which for the Wizard may apply but not so much for many other classes). With another skill slot, most people would probably just slap in the cool new expansion active skill at first, giving them a chance to experiment with it (and making all that work Blizz put into these new skills more worth their time) and then possibly changing their builds around that. Heck, just gaining access to a new active skill slot may be enough to encourage players to try completely new builds. A new active skill slot would really freshen up the game, make it feel really new again. And, as is the state of ROS currently, it doesn’t feel that cool to gain nothing but runes for a single skill over ten levels. That fourth passive skill slot is the cherry on top. Unfortunately, the fourth passive skill slot is what is going to really appeal to most players actual, not the new active skills.
But new Legendaries encourage new builds
The acquisition rate of legendaries that will truly change a player’s build will always be too slow at maximum level to really motivate a player. Legendaries can’t drop too often or they no longer feel special, but if you don’t get enough legendaries after putting in some time, ROS may leave players feeling like they’re just playing the exact same character. If you turn off all the numbers floating around, you really have a hard time seeing the difference ROS equipment makes for your character. It just feels like the usual level curve equipment replacement that I feel every time I play a WoW expansion, but way more tragic. Loot is the soul of Diablo 3, so having to ditch your coolest stuff for the new expansion makes it less appealing to buy.
Hook the player and they will keep coming back for more
Someone who has put in hundreds hours in Diablo 3 already isn’t going to be super happy to have to replace all their hard earned equipment with what feels like crappier equipment. There’s a sense of dread reaching 70 again and starting endgame over, and your still using the same skills you have in the past. How different is the game going to feel with that character once you put in another 60 hours? You’ll replace one skill maybe because of a legendary you found? Is that worth the time and effort? What is worth the time and effort is if you got a seventh skill slot in addition to the new skill and the new passive skill slot for playing, what, maybe twenty hours to get from level 60 to 70? That is where you HOOK the player in. Once you give them those super sexy incentives that really change the game and make your character feel new again, then legendaries will be incredibly exciting. Not only will legendary items have a chance of moving you away from your old skill loadout, it can effect what you do with that new and exciting seventh skill slot.
I really think if you gave a seventh skill slot, it would triple the enjoyment I have of this game. The best thing about Diablo 3 are the active skills. It is ingenious and the best skill customization system I have ever seen. Adding another active skill slot helps emphasis what makes Diablo 3 fun: using your character’s powerful spells and abilities to annihilate hordes of monsters.