Letting players select their own skills vs. having multiple classes / characters?

Why is it game designers often go with having multiple classes or characters (Diablo / League of Legends) vs. letting the player choose ANY skill they want (no classes)?

I think a lot of the design decision leads back to D&D. More than that though (and probably the reas D&D did it that way) is by creating different classes with certain skills available unique to that class they can refine that class. A barbarian seems powerful, a wizard seems frail yet godly at times. And so forth. The skills match their class (or profession). Also from a dev point of view it makes things simpler. If they had to create the animations for every player having every skill that is a lot of extra work. From the player's perspective the it simply may be too much. It would probably appeal only to the diehard gamers. Imagine each character now has access to all skills... it would be overwhelming to many people.

That all being said... I prefer a system where the player customizes their character by putting points into what is important for them with no other limits. I have played one or two games that my character had great sword skills and also good magic.

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Well, not all designers do. Oblivion uses a skill-based system, for example.

As for why would you use a class-based system, I think it's a little easier for the designer, and possibly it's easier for players to understand and talk about, too. Instead of saying "I'm a reasonably decent fighter with an especially high skill in bow, though I'm good with a sword too, and I know some healing skills, and just a little bit of basic magic," you can say, "I'm a 9th-level Ranger."


For a singleplayer game it's not going to cause many issues, but balancing them for multiplayer might be a problem. Fully freeform games could easily end up making useless builds too easy. Games aren't supposed to be like real life, where you gimp yourself with an arts degree that gets you no work ;)

Having a few good skill trees/bushes tends to work well though. Titan Quest had a nice system where you picked trees and got a class name based on them. ArcheAge sort of copies that, but goes way overboard by having 120 combinations, over half of them somewhat to seriously useless.

Then there are whacky games that went with non-combat skillsets ;)

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Why is it game designers often go with having multiple classes or characters (Diablo / League of Legends) vs. letting the player choose ANY skill they want (no classes)?

There's many reasons someone would do this. Off the top of my head I can think of two: theming, and game balance.

Theming is a thing, because you can create a 'logical' character (e.g. a Ranger is a fighter who wears leather armor, uses a bow, but may use some subset of all possible melee weapons in the game) that plays on defined tropes and expectations. In other words, this character conforms to certain conventions for the genre in question (think of how disconcerting it would be for a Star Wars stormtrooper to be using Force Healing!)

Balance is another part of the equation. Of all of the valid combinations of skills in a game, as the game evolves, players will find a 'right' answer. To make a compelling game, players can't have a 'right' answer! We need to encourage players to make decisions based on clear problems, with clear knowledge of what they can do, and clear knowledge of the consequences, particularly if said decision is a snap decision, because those are fun. The player is overcoming a challenge.

If players can access every skill in the game, either everything has to be made slightly less useful than it can be (which, leads to a bad game because every tool sucks), synergies have to be nerfed (again, same problem, part of the fun of learning a character is figuring out cool combinations), and as a result all those cool snap decisions get taken out of the game, because every skill turns into a bald-faced variant of 'deal damage/mitigate damage/heal health'...as opposed to a slyly-disguised 'deal damage/mitigate damage/heal health.'

Now, can players have theoretical access to every ability, and still have a compelling game? I think so, but it needs to A) be carefully designed, and B) have a limiting factor built in. The Elder Scrolls: Online has Skill Points, of which a finite amount are obtainable in a playthrough. Every activated ability and ultimate ability has two more powerful/useful morphs, but those skills, passives, and their morphs require the player to invest a Skill Point. Thus, it's not remotely possible to get everything; you have to think carefully about what your build is going to be.

Further, there's a limiting factor in the control interface itself; you can only actually use five activated abilities and an Ultimate at a given time (though, you can swap to a second command bar starting at Lv.15.) So, it doesn't matter if you pick up every skill for your chosen character class and favored weapon; you can't really use them all at the same time. This causes the player to choose which abilities they're going to take into combat.


The short answer is that classes make play more interesting, because typically classes have pro's and con's. On the other hand, more free form systems tend toward just adding more pro's to the character.

The biggest benefit to classes is that it is much easier to understand a class's strengths and weaknesses. You develop much more concrete strategies because you are given a solid understanding of what the character can and cannot do.

Free form systems' only real benefit is that they make jack of all trades characters easily, which may or may not actually be good. The catch here is that in a party situation jack of all trades aren't that useful. It's usually much more beneficial to have characters who are specialized, so you will basically be creating your own classes regardless. At some point you going to pray to the unholy alter of tank, dps, healer, regardless.


Atk: |
Eva: |
Dex: |
Def: ||||||||||||||||||
Int: ||||||||||||||||||

Heavy Armor Specialization Rank 5
Fireball Rank 12

Do you think this could be fixed by slightly nerfing def / int as well as the skills learned?
I remember how in hardcore mode in D2 everyone just pumped points into vit and dex. I think this could have been fixed by buffing int and str.

Do you think this could be fixed by slightly nerfing def / int as well as the skills learned?
I remember how in hardcore mode in D2 everyone just pumped points into vit and dex. I think this could have been fixed by buffing int and str.

Magic casting is supposed to be powerful. It's the idea of an old wizard, as @GarBenjamin said "frail yet godly". Nerfing anything is powering up everything else, also. So once you make int useless, you may as well remove wizards and make everyone warriors. Once you nerf defense, you're telling everyone to be a thief, etc.

What I'm saying is there's an inherent imbalance in having classes, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. This is a good thing.

I think this is a good joke, I made it up but some may disagree:

What do you call a character with high HP, high attack power, high defense and high magic power?

Give up? [spoiler]Stage Boss.[/spoiler]


Do you think this could be fixed by slightly nerfing def / int as well as the skills learned?
I remember how in hardcore mode in D2 everyone just pumped points into vit and dex. I think this could have been fixed by buffing int and str.

@ - You are onto something, but I'd like for you to take that thought all the way to its logical conclusion. Start with this: why do stats exist? Well, they're variables in various formulae enshrined in the game rules. That means, things are using these stats.

Diablo, Torchlight, and the hack-n-slash RPG genre as a whole are dependent on abilities. Sure, specific special moves count, but for grins and giggles, go ahead and take the default weapon attack into account as an ability too, it has calculations just like those specials.

There's a few reasons Strength/Agility might be the most valuable stats of all. Either A) most abilites prioritize them (ESO actually has the opposite problem, where Magicka builds are prioritized by the game's overall design, due to an overwhelming majority of moves being magicka-based) Another problem may be how the formulae factor strength or agility into the final effect calculation - maybe strength and agility have a unilaterally stronger effect than intelligence or the other stats?

While we're moving away from the original topic in one sense, we're moving closer in another. A lot of games have a class with a 'key stat' - in WoW, the Rogue was based on Agility, in SWTOR, the Trooper is based on Aim (in fact, every class in SWTOR has a key stat.) Is this desirable? At what point do we want our stats to be homogeneous across classes - e.g. Int has the same effect for a Warrior that it does for a Mage - and at what point do we want stats to be different - e.g. Int has no combat use for a warrior, but instead helps them learn other abilities more quickly?

The answer isn't one I believe should be determined after the fact. These are up-front questions that if you're not asking in your RPG's design, are going to be your doom later.


Why is it game designers often go with having multiple classes or characters (Diablo / League of Legends) vs. letting the player choose ANY skill they want (no classes)?

Skyrim took this one step further. If you use the actions, you gain skill.

I'm reminded of the Paradox of Choice (see Barry Schwartz)? Which is the problem that: a) players want choice, and yet b) decisions are hard. Anything past 3-4 options causes us to postpone the decision, grossly over simply the choices, and have regret. It's why multiple choice tests have 4 options and why League of Legends has 4 primary abilities. Less is more.



That's interesting.

One game had this system, where the stats were laid out like this. 6 clear choices, yet you could only max two even at the level cap.

I always wished I could have picked different stats (you choose them when you level), which caused me to create new characters many times. Even the same class, just different stats builds.

One idea I had was a Knight/Warrior with high intelligence. My skill points regenerate very fast with that character, so I was able to spam stronger skills and beat big monsters quickly.

Another game you could learn all abilities, but class determined stat growth. So you could be a melee character with machine guns, and use equipment to boost your mental power to use magic.

I see both sides.

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Skyrim is a great example here. Your skills level up as you use them, and every level up you can choose to increase your health, stamina, or magic points. The best compliment I can give it is that it just works and feels fun, even more so than Oblivion.

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It's already almost overwhelming in Diablo to choose from the large number of active skills for just a single class (and there are plenty of other choices you make on gear, paragon point allocation, passive skills, legendary gems, etc). If you had to pour through fives times as many skills, I think that would just be too much. Plus, the skills are tightly tied to the theme of a particular class.

Games like Skyrim don't have as many skills and other character-specific choices; the simpler approach is better for the "do whatever I want" style, which also kind of matches up with the overall open world / free form mentality. It's worth noting that if you max out the right skills in Skyrim, it allows you to do things that can essentially "break" the game, making it incredibly easy. It's cool that that's possible, but it also can drain the fun out of it once your are all-powerful.

Diablo is the opposite extreme, with Blizzard constantly balancing everything.

There are pros and cons to each approach I'd say.


I've always wondered why there's a level cap in games.

I feel like if I want to spend three years of my life leveling so I can get everything, max everything...why can't I?

Some games let you do exactly that and then they get boring. Which isn't necessarily a terrible thing. I suppose the deeper question is: "Is it a good idea to design a single player game so that it can become boring?"

With more open world type of games, that's almost inevitable anyway (regardless of capping). If you just keep going after you've burned through the hand-crafted content, you're eventually going to get bored. If you're over-powered and can take any enemy down so easily that it's like "god mode", that gets old fast.

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I was think you look more like a PvP game where you could be a warrior who can do just as good with healing as a priest because he's like 50 levels higher
Make the level curves are ridiculous toward the end that to get from level 98 to level 99 takes just as long as getting from level 1 to 98 and maybe that would explain more what I'm thinking of... You wouldn't get that high level unless you were just playing anyway because you love the game

The down side is that for certain types of OCD players, then it gets very "grindy." Some people unfortunately play out of a sense of compulsion rather than a pure love of the game. I almost got sucked into that with Diablo (of all things). I realized I was doing rifts to try to get "that one last item" and had to throttle myself way back. You see people with 750+ paragon levels, which means they were doing some serious grindage.

Nothing wrong with grinding... if a game can make you grind, they did something right.

Yeah... gonna have to disagree with you there. :)