These days, many games will try to lure you in with complicated in-depth abilities or heroes that present you with many options to decide from. A big problem with creating these diverse skill trees is not just the coding, but the game design within.
Abilities that tie into each other is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. That is something that really makes a game shine with in-depth skill trees. A common thing is making abilities that simply outclass it’s predecessor, but is this always the right route? Yes, and no. Dragon Quest has some good examples of making abilities that are basically just better versions of one you already have. For example, Crack and Kacrackle are both ice spells you can learn. Crack is one of the first spells you’ll be learning, so it’s essentially a basic spell. As you progress through the game and level up, you finally unlock Kacrackle, essentially a more expensive and better Crack. Typically by then, players can usually keep up with the mana costs these stronger spells provide, and so Crack becomes a skill that’s just forgotten in the dust.
Now, this works simply because Dragon Quest does not push for something it’s not. It’s goal is simplicity, and it doesn’t try to push for anything more than that. The creators of the game know their audience, and won’t try to push super complicated ability combos, because that’s not what they want. Dragon Quest’s progression will feel linear, as you get stronger, you learn stronger spells. You maybe also learn different abilities to increase your damage output. Maybe your older spells get replaced with spells that are essentially better versions of them, but that’s how Dragon Quest gets you to feel the progression.
Now let’s talk about complicated abilities, and though I haven’t played this game, I’ve tried my best to do my research for the sake of this article. Let’s use Maplestory as an example. Right off the bat, I think a game like Maplestory has more potential for combos because of play style, something that’s harder to achieve in a turn based video game like Dragon Quest. Even if one particular class or set of abilities is the “best”, a majority of players won’t really care much for that, but rather pick the class better suited for their play style. Theoretically, let’s imagine the best class is the ultimate healing build that keeps your team permanently alive. Why would people who are obsessed with playing DPS carries bother with a play style that just sits back and heals everyone? People would have more fun with the game exploring the many builds and playstyles rather than this one healer build that does the same move every 30 seconds. Sure, it might have to be nerfed if you’re making a game that constantly adds new challenging events, it’d ruin the whole point of challenging. But in terms of enjoyment an fun, if your game can push players to try something new rather than something that’s the best, your abilities have diversity.
Spellbreak is a Battle Royale where you take on other players using spell gauntlets. Depending on the element you start with, you get different abilities and passives. This is when abilities start to get a bit more difficult to balance, cause unlike Dragon Quest, it’s all about fighting different players with different skill levels. (I’m using Spellbreak instead of Maplstory’s PVP as my example because I am not knowledgeable enough on Maplestory to discuss the many classes and options it has, but just know Maplestory is still a good example for this.)
I think for starters, play style becomes prevalent in this game as well. People who want to main Stone Gauntlet like the more bruiser play style. They are capable of dealing loads of damage while being harder to kill. In exchange, they lose a lot of their mobility. Now the interesting thing about this is you can equip a secondary gauntlet that gives you access to their abilities. Let’s say you are someone who wants to stand their ground, so you’d use Stone Main and Fire Secondary, giving you access to the stability Stone has while getting the range and control Fire provides. This makes a powerful combo that can deal devastating damage to anyone who gets near them.
But what about Frost and Toxic? People consider this one of the more annoying play styles, but regardless, it’s still a completely different play style in comparison to Stone / Fire. Frost is one of the most mobile classes in the game along with Wind. This is due to the ice paths they create with their shots that they can slide across. This is also added in with the fact Ice provides the best sniper ability in the game, Ice Lance, having absurdly high range and damage, but being insanely hard to hit. Now using the zone control Toxic provides, by placing a bunch of toxic gasses and toxic pools everywhere. It is like a hit and run play style, where you drain your opponents slowly as they try to catch you. This means you have to keep yourself close to them and play aggressively, but will find difficulty due to Toxic’s nature.
Abilities are a complex thing to create. There’s a lot of factors you have to think about, and trying your best to keep clear of what your goal is will be a great start in developing your game. If you want to keep it simple, go ahead. If you want a diverse complex ability system, then your choice. Just keep in mind who your audience is and take time and thought what your vision is, then your game will be a step closer to being something great.