Diablo 4’s skill tree is no longer that ancient, sick-ass hell tree

Diablo 4’s skill tree, through which players allocate skill points to learn new talents and abilities, was once a totally sick, evil-looking, gnarled and blackened tree with, like, hellfire inside, and veins and blood pouring out the bottom. It looked badass. Playing the game’s beta this weekend, I was deeply conflicted to discover that the game’s skill tree is no longer that sick-ass literal tree.

Instead, Diablo 4 players can expect a more traditional video game menu interface when the action-RPG launches sometime next year. The skill tree is now a figurative tree, with nodes, straight connective lines, and branches overflowing with skills and modifiers. It now looks like a diagram carved into stone. Players will navigate the big board of skills with a mouse or analog stick, spending skill points earned by leveling up.

Here’s a peek the current look of Diablo 4’s skill tree for the Barbarian class:

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

The change from sick-ass ancient hell tree to lines and icons is totally OK. The earlier incarnation of the skill tree, unveiled during a quarterly update back in September 2020, looked extremely sick, but did not seem all that practical. The tree shown two years ago was clearly described as “pre-alpha,” “in development content,” and “NOT FINAL.”

It was also at least the second version of the skill tree designed for Diablo 4; Blizzard showed an earlier incarnation back in 2019, when the game was revealed at BlizzCon.

An early version of Diablo 4’s skill tree for the sorceress
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Despite the aesthetic change, a more easily readable skill tree is what a game like Diablo 4 needs. There is a huge number of skills and abilities that players can acquire over the course of the first 50 levels, all of which players can try out — either by acquiring the skill itself and respeccing, or by acquiring a piece of gear that has a skill attached to it.

Blizzard’s approach to speccing out your character in Diablo 4 is a blend of the studio’s approach to Diablo 2 and Diablo 3. As executive producer and head of the Diablo franchise Rod Fergusson put it, “Diablo 2 felt like you were locking in; you had the ability to respec once per difficulty. But with D3 you kind of changed your build like you were changing your clothes. Everything was gear-based as opposed to skill-based.”

Fergusson added, “I think the fact that we have skills on the equipment [in Diablo 4] is really nice for experimentation — as a sorceress I [might] get Blizzard [on a pair of boots] three levels before I should and I can try Blizzard to see if I actually want it.”

Game director Joe Shely told Polygon in a roundtable interview that “having your character feel like a compilation of choices that you made leads to really interesting decisions, at least interesting opportunities.”

The sorcerer classes unleashes a trail of fire and calls down a flaming fireball showing fire-based skills in Diablo 4 Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Shely said that the Diablo team is aware that players, especially early on, won’t have a full understanding of each class’ set of skills. Players will want to experiment.

“When you look at our respec systems,” Shely said, “which apply to both the skill tree and to Paragon for later levels, which is our endgame progression system, we’ve really tried to approach it in a way that has the sense that making a choice matters, and your character is not the same as everyone else’s character, but that you have a lot of flexibility to try things out.

“You’ve got the ability to respec point by point. […] You can just click to unspend a point and spend it on the other thing, but as you get later into levels that cost goes up to make those choices [feel] a little bit more considered. Of course, you can also respec your whole tree at once if you want to rebuild from the ground up.”

Fergusson noted that as players go deeper and deeper into their character “the in-game currency cost to respect becomes higher and higher — eventually you’ll get to the point where you have a level 90 Barbarian and instead of completely changing my build it’s better to just roll a new Barbarian and start again.”