Skillwheel: The design Philosophy 04/27/2015 | 1705 comments

Hello Councillors,

Since its introduction on this platform, many concerns and questions arose on the topic of the skillwheel. As previously mentioned, we decided to maintain current mechanism for Heroes VII but also wanted to share a statement regarding this feature to give you more visibility on this decision.  

We had the opportunity to gather more information from the team and ask them to answer some of your feedback. 

The concept:

The first big idea with this skillwheel is to provide players the possibility to plan the development of his heroes on the long term, while offering ways to specialize in certain areas of the gameplay. This is why the primary system does not involve randomness, since it would force the player to deal with random constraints in the balancing of his hero.

The other main idea is to allow the player to grasp the possibilities of a hero by looking at a single screen. Major and Minor skills are visible at a glance to measure the strengths of the hero class.

We have a feeling that some people truly believe that more complexity and constraints in a system makes it better, however, we don’t share this belief.  

Now to answer a few questions from you:

1. On the system being too restrictive to let you build a hero from a pool of possible skills:

First of all, our reference games (HIII, HV) never provided such freedom. This is not a RPG, hero classes are provided with each their selection of skills, which define what a class is. We don’t want freeform heroes and spellcasting barbarians.


2. On randomness within the skillwheel system:

It’s very simple and similar to Heroes V. Each time a level is acquired, the player is proposed to choose an upgrade between two skill ranks and two abilities, within the available ones at this moment. Like in HV, once 5 (to be confirmed) skills are used, the remaining choices will always be part of those 5 skills, to ensure that no skill is left with too few points to be useful. Players have the freedom to make a choice within a range of random choices. For those who doubt that this will make a difference in the game experience, we can assure it definitely does.


3. On prerequisites:

To acquire a skill rank (except for Novice), you need to have unlocked the previous one and at least one ability of the previous one. This forbids to reach the most powerful ability of a skill without investing anything in lower ranks. It’s a system like any other. We discussed forcing to unlock ALL abilities of a skill rank to reach the next one and discarded it, since you would have needed too many points to reach top rank. We also discussed linking abilities together like in HV but decided this was a too strong restriction that led to strongly similar ability setups to reach certain abilities, and therefore restricted the player’s freedom too much.


4. On so-called ultimates:

We call them grandmaster abilities, because they’re not ultimates. Please remember that all numbers are subject to balancing. Grandmaster abilities are supposed to be desirable and great but shouldn’t be game-winners. Of course, it’s logical that players would set themselves as an objective to unlock these, as they are the most powerful abilities, but this should not make all other decision secondary. So, the only restriction is to reach them using the regular rules, which means 6 to 8 levels investing only on that skill, depending on the starting rank of the hero.


5. On hero classes and skills:

Yes, a hero class is defined by a fixed skillwheel. It’s a set of possible skills, which is a logical design. A Knight can always have offense, he can never have dark magic, that’s what defines a knight in Ashan. Each faction has 6 classes, half of them magic heroes, the other half might heroes. In all non-story driven game mode, you can choose your faction and your class, according to the skills you want to play with.


6. On Major and Minor skills:

It’s very simple. Major means you have access to Master rank. Minor means you are limited to Expert rank. Among Major skills, only 3 have a Grandmaster ability. For all hero classes, the faction skill (necromancy for Necropolis) is a Major skill with Grandmaster ability. There are no other faction specific perk.


7. On starting skills:

Yes, each hero has a starting skill rank (no ability), and possibly another if that is his specialization provides.


8. On the comparison with Heroes V:

First of all let’s remember that in Heroes V, originally (before modding), there was no skillwheel and players had to post-rationalize everything to get a clue of how it was working, otherwise you blindly chose skills and abilities according to the moment’s judgment. Also, you could unlock skills by visiting buildings, which could occasionally ruin your plans. Save/Load strategies to avoid that are not unheard of. We believe that means that the design is flawed.

On the same topic, providing the possibility to reset the whole hero by paying gold in a special building is also a dirty fix to a flawed system. Cross skill restriction and cross ability restrictions are just more constraints to the player’s control over his hero’s development, it’s arguably a design quality per se. Some advocate that they like more constraints and difficulty, less control, that’s a purely subjective opinion and we know there is no consensus here, we prefer to give players control over their hero’s development.


9. On the comparison with Heroes VI:

It’s definitely not the same. Yes, the magic schools are the same. Yes, it’s a player-controlled system. Heroes VI had ability tiers, limited by level, which allowed to stack points to unlock multiple high-tier abilities without spending in low tier. Heroes VI have ability “lines” within the same skills, some being constrainted by linear unlock, some not, some tier were not populated, so it was much less systemic than Heroes VII.


10. On the number of skills and abilities:

This is an endless debate. Every player can come up with their own perfect number, we don’t believe there is a perfect answer to please anyone. Each game has different number of skills and abilities and we don’t believe that affect quality directly.


11. On the naming of some abilities:

Some names in the skillwheel still are work in progress and will be modified before the release of the game. For instance, Air Magic abilities such as Master of Air I, II & will be renamed to ensure they will not be confused with linked or pre-requisite.
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