Skill System Explained

October 17, 2013|

As promised some time ago, in this post we’ll talk about the new skill system designed for Legend of Grimrock 2 and how it will improve the game.

Goals of the new skill system

When we started throwing around ideas about the new skill system, a few things came up often in the discussions. Firstly, every character level gained should feel special. Essentially this means that every skillpoint spent should improve the character in some way. In contrast the skill system of Grimrock 1 was designed so that you get a benefit every time you crossed a threshold in a skill. If you spent points in multiple skills, or otherwise didn’t reach the threshold, the character did not really advance at that character level. Combined with the fact that skills were very deep (maxed out at level 50), this resulted in a situation where optimal strategy is to pump all skill points into very few skills. Especially with magic skills, this resulted in mages specializing in one or two schools of spells, which resulted in fewer spells to be available to mage. Fewer spells = less fun to the player. Also at higher levels, spending skillpoints became almost automatic and there was less decision making involved.

With LoG2 skill system we want to have more diversity and every level up should present an important choice to the player. After talking about this for a while, we realized that a minor tweak to the system is not enough. A major redesign was required.

Shorter skill trees

In LoG2 when you gain a level, you are rewarded with only one skillpoint. To counterbalance this the skill trees are much shorter. This way, every skillpoint spent matters now and there aren’t any intermediate skill levels. In fact, most skills are only 1-3 levels deep and there are many on/off kind of perks that you can buy. Some skills have other skills as prerequisites. For example, the Shield Expert skill requires that you have spent at least one point in Armors.

Technically speaking, the skills available to your character form “a forest of short skill trees”. Shorter skill trees mean that you can max out a skill with a few level ups (assuming that you meet the prerequisites), so this should encourage spreading points in multiple skills.

The skill system is also connected to the secondary actions of items described in an earlier post: some secondary actions are only available if you have enough points in a skill. For example, all characters can wield any axe found in the game, but only Fighters that have at least 1 point in Axes, can use the Devastating Cleave secondary attack of the Great Axe.

The skills available to your character are based on your character’s class. Every class has its own skill tree, but some skills are also shared by multiple classes. But there’s more to this! We have folded races into this same system, so that every race has a mini skill tree with unique race specific skills and perks! Some racial skills are automatic (e.g. all Ratling’s automatically get the Plagued skill), other skills you can choose how and when to advance. Insectoids can develop a thicker shell by spending points in the Chitin Armor skill and so on.

A nice feature of this is that it unifies traditional skills, perks and racial traits under the same system. So adding a new skill or trait is exactly the same and we have to maintain only one system.

That’s all! Please tell us what do you think. You can either post comments to this blog or write in the forums as usual. We’ll be reading through all the feedback.

Fighter Skills: Grayed out skills are locked because the character does not meet the prerequisites for those skills yet. Human Skills: Every race has some unique skills specific to that race.

Ogre’s Grip: A skill that only Fighter’s can buy, but they have to have at least one point spent in Two-Handed skill. Armors: You can spend up to three points in the Armors skills. Athletics: Even if you fill the entire fighter skill tree (unlikely) you can still keep spending points in the Athletics skill. Leadership: This is a special kind of skill which designates the leader role to one of the party members. Naturally, only a single party member can be the leader and this role is a keeper!

20 Responses to “Skill System Explained”

  1. Jack Dandy says:

    Great stuff! I was hoping you guys would make character development a more interesting feature in the sequel.

  2. Stranger says:

    Can you guys do a post on the level design of Grimrock 2? The most interesting thing to me in the first game was the atmosphere created through certain design decisions. In fact, that is why I bought the game, and I was not disappointed. It remains one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. I’d love to hear about the atmosphere/design you are going for in Grimrock 2.

  3. Isaac says:

    Reminds me a little bit of Throne of Darkness, Lionheart, and King’s Bounty skill systems.

    (And those systems worked well.)

  4. thomson7 says:

    The big question here is: will the skills be moddable? Can modders add new skills, tweak or even block existing ones?

  5. evilskillit says:

    Looks like an improvement over the Grimrock 1 skill system. I agree the first one felt a bit inflexible and like you were penalized for wanting to try to use more than 1 skill tree.

    One thing I really liked was how Dungeon Master handled levels and skills. I know you guys want to do your own thing but would you ever consider in a future game going the Dungeon Master route where swinging weapons gets you fighter levels and you are awarded corresponding skills in those levels, where as punching awards ninja levels and gives you corresponding ninja skills, and so on? That’s a lot of fun because characters can have multiple classes and it feels like it makes sense because you get better at what you want to do by doing that thing.

    • petri says:

      One problem with DM’s skill system is that you can only have skills that you can directly use. For example, how would you learn the Leadership skill?

      • Isaac says:

        Convoluted and artificial inter-party dialog ~settling disputes and coercing NPCs,

        Like a stripped down version of Planescape, but a bit out of place in a dungeoncrawler.

      • Dejay Clayton says:

        You probably don’t want to rework too much of your skill tree approach at this point, but I have an interesting idea that seems like it could be incredibly fun.

        The player can choose which skills his or her characters will try to increase as part of future gameplay interactions, instead of retroactively assigning already-gained skill points to an arbitrary skill tree.

        Skills could be broken down into “active” and “passive” skills. Active skills represent character actions, such as combat or disarming traps. Passive skills represent gains resulting from experience in related activities.

        For example, melee combat might have skill trees for “pummel” melee and “grapple” melee. The player would choose ahead of time whether the character should advance in pummel or grapple whenever a melee action is performed during combat. After enough pummel moves, for example, the character would gain a skill within the pummel melee combat skill tree.

        Consequently, players could switch between pummel and grapple skill preferences at any point, which might actually be necessary if some creatures within a level were particularly immune to pummel melee, for example.

        Passive skills could be broken down into several categories, such as “combat”, “strategy”, etc. In each category, such as “combat”, players would have to choose a preferred skill, such as “anticipate attacks” or “detect weaknesses”. Automatically throughout battle, as a benefit and side effect of engaging in combat, the character would advance along the selected skill, additionally offering bonuses as a result of the selected skill. For example, “anticipate attacks” might improve a character’s ability to dodge attacks, while “detect weaknesses” might improve the character’s offense. “Strategy” skills, such as “leadership” or “protect allies”, could similarly enable a character to improve the ability of the group as a whole.

  6. Diarmuid says:

    Thanks for the explanation! It definitely looks interesting… I think that forcing players to specialize isn’t inherently a bad thing, if the different skills offer different playing experiences: it increases replay value. In LoG1, I think the problem wasn’t that much that you had to go with one skill, but that different skill were too close to each other in gameplay, for example the 4 elemental schools, or the swords/axes/maces skills. The changes were more cosmetic than influencing the core of the gameplay. Only the Rogue, with the assassination/throwing weapons/missile weapons options, had more radically different playing styles.

    One downside with shorter skill trees like that is that you get less satisfaction from becoming a very advanced “something”, and classes feel more like generalists. (My first impression, at least).

    But it already looks way more dynamic and interesting that before, that’s for sure! :)

    • Isaac says:

      I recall in Baldur’s Gate 2, getting the five star grand master’s rank in swords.

      (I also remember encountering monsters that could only be harmed with clubs.) :)

  7. Stebe says:

    Sounds ok to me.

    I would like:
    -‘random skillpoint assignment’ mode, where the assignments define your character/race for you :)
    -‘no food bar’ option/mode (food can still be used to heal) – I hate feeling rushed
    -Toorum/special solo mode available from the start, and some kind of super magic/guns as an unlockable :D
    -‘Skirmish/Battle Chamber’ room, where you can try out all races and abilities in a special non-campaign area (with friends in multiplayer Battle :D )

  8. Wertas says:

    Actually, I like the new system. Seems to be a great improvement compared to LoG1!

  9. strav says:

    The way I see it, a skill system has two main purposes: grant abilities to the player in order to progress into parts of the game that would otherwise be too difficult/intractable and tailor the player’s progression according to one’s specific combat style.

    Concerning that last purpose, I think that having diverse and meaningful skills is interesting as it offers a unique gaming experience – so I’m all for this new system: the more different the gaming experience can be, given the choice to pursue one skill over another, the better (for instance it would be interesting if the skill choice would intervene in the resolution of some puzzles – that could be solved in one way if you have fire spells and in another if you have something like ice)

    Now as for the first main purpose of a skill system, this is something that the first LOG really hit the spot: never a newly acquired skill trivialized the rest of game – too many a game become absolutely boring once you get too powerful. To me, constant vulnerability is key to a good and poignant experience (for that matter, I really enjoyed the need to eat and sleep for it contributed to that sense of vulnerability) . But then, I would appreciate if a newly acquired skill would mean something more subtle than: I can now bash 3x times harder (and in a perhaps more spectacular way) so I can defeat those hard-to-beat monsters and make my way through. To some extent, this has been done in the first LOG: spells for poison resistance gave you some kind of an easy way through the spiders… I feel that skill choice not only motivated by mere preference but by careful observation of the level’s difficulties and devising a clever way to defeat them by acquiring new abilities.

    Just my two cents.
    Keep up the excellent work!!

  10. Telcontar says:

    Great idea! When I played LOG for the first time, I anticipated being able to reach a far higher level, and thus branched out too much when allocating my skills. This resulted in many choices that were not optimal. It seems LOG2 is much better for experimenting with skills.

    In the second playthrough (with Toorum), OTOH, I knew the system and then decided on an “optimal build” in advance. After that, all the choices were already made, and getting a new level just meant clicking button X a couple of times.

    I’m really looking forward to the new system, which is clearer and also more diverse.

    Btw, is the layout definite? I find the choice of having many small trees (and some independent skills), all somewhat scattered on the screen, a bit confusing. Some trees start on the top, others in the middle. Also, the link from the first skill to the axe skill is about one pixel high and hard to see. Maybe a wider/taller window/pane lets you show the skills in a much easier-to-grasp way.

    • Telcontar says:

      Also, it may be better to have a single dot below a one-off skill than no dot at all. That way, any type of skill has N dots, whereas now, “no dot” means “one or zero skill points allocated”, depending on the color of the icon. (Maybe colorblind people will also benefit from changing this to one or more dots in any case.)

  11. Isaac says:

    I didn’t see that anyone commented (or even noticed) that the background is the Ocean waves… I can’t imagine them making the artwork for that on a whim. So… One might wonder if there is a boat travel system in LoG2.