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Developer Diary: Trait Trees in Helm's Deep

Hey all. Let’s take some time to understand the class trait changes coming with Helm’s Deep. The biggest question I get about the class changes is… Why? It’s a pretty big question so I’ll try to break down a few of the reasons here.

Variety at the Cost of Potency

Over the years and expansions, we’ve layered on a bevy of skills to each class. It’s cool to get a new skill to play with or see something old get a new improved version. That said, over time, it forced us into a corner. With all of the added utility we’ve had to keep the strength of individual skills in check. Every skill cannot be crazy good if every class can do just about everything. The buffet approach to putting together class builds was at odds with making different builds strong in their own right.

We also had really just been making lots and lots of skills. Quick bars for each class were chock full of different skills, brimming up to 4-plus quick bars in some cases. Many of those skills were redundant, unexciting and worst of all, not really getting used. Something had to give. Things were just unsustainable.

We needed to clean up if we wanted to make impactful skills.

Homogeneity of Roles

What happens when you keep mixing different paint colors? You get an underwhelming sort of brown color. The same could be said of too much mix and match for class roles within a class.

We really want you to feel the effects of how you decide to spec out our character. If you go for DPS, you should really be doing significantly more damage than someone else who is choosing to spec as a tank in the same class. Likewise, that tank should be able to take much more punishment and be able to defend their fellows much better.

The new tree format gives us the tools to allow players choices that have stronger costs than the old trait slotting system. Furthermore, if you go for a hybrid build you are getting much more versatility than someone who goes down one branch… at a cost.

Moment to Moment Play

We want skills to pop. Each skill play should have a strong impact on a fight, save your fellow from peril or hamper your foe at just the right time. Along with reducing skill bloat and creating/modifying skills with potency in mind, we’ve also been looking at ways to make the tempo of combat more exciting.

We’ve added some ground targeted skills to enhance your options in combat. Control builds will find more precision in how they dictate the flow of battle. Damage dealers have more clear and useful AoE tools at their disposal. Ground target heals can hit just the right number of fellows if your formation is tight.


Along with tweaking numbers and changing skills, it was important to also look at animation times. There were some really (really, really) long animations for some of the coolest skills. As a result, players were pulling these skills out of their rotations because they just took too long to execute. In response, we’ve created a bunch of brand spankin’ new animations and effects to speed things up. While this isn’t really a direct part of the trait work, I mention it because it is part of the whole holistic approach we have taken.

The Cost of Doing Business

Having a zillion skills carries a lot of overhead. Adding more over time makes it even worse. I’m not talking about dollar cost. Really, whenever we add new skills (without getting rid of old ones) we have to balance them in accordance with everything else that exists… on all classes. That weight just keeps going up over the years. Every debate gets longer and more complicated. The design space just gets smaller and smaller. Our ability to deliver on cool new skills just becomes an increasingly complicated task. Over time, we can devote less and less time to each skill as a result. This is manifest in the number of sub-par skills we had.

I want designers to have the freedom to focus on making really cool skills, even if that means we have to keep the count down. Feedback is crucial to our process. The more pieces there are to play with, the less time, effort and care is taken with each individual piece.

In Sum

These are big changes. They take some getting used to. We know this. We also know that for the good of the game and its longevity, we sometimes need to make big changes.

The new trait system that comes in u12 is really just the start of a conversation about how our classes work and how we can continue to make them better. As always, we look forward to your feedback.


See you on the wall,



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