The complaints about the passive skill training have been made numerous times, but short of a complete overhaul, I don’t see how they can effectively be addressed. It makes sense to me to accept that some sort of progression is necessary in skill development in order to make it possible to learn or develop more complex skills. No one starts off knowing how to repair a car without some basic understanding of the car’s systems and some time spent learning how those systems interact as well as time spent taking them apart and putting them together. While I think players would accept the idea of progression, they appear to reject gates as impediments, and pathing as overly restrictive.
One way to avoid pathing, gates and inability to specialize would be to build a system around effort rather than following a tree. In actuality, a tree structure might still exist, but it would not restrict a player’s choices as it does in the current system. As an example, instead of having Int, or Sprint Speed, or Movement Control Intensity, etc. show up in several places, why not just put all the points necessary to be spent on any one of these items to master it in one basket, and let the player commit those points by how much effort he or she is willing to devote to it?
If a player wants to devote 100% of his training effort to one major area (profession, race, or class), he should be able to do that. If he wants to split it 60-20-20, that should also be possible. As an example, a new player who doesn’t know anything about the game decides that he wants to run around and learn the map, fight some pve creatures and pick up some resources as he can. Maybe do some scouting to contribute to the campaign. He may decide that he needs some basic combat skills, some improvement to his sprinting and movement and stealth to provide some survivability. Right now, he would have to start at the first bubble of Combat and work his way through three complete trees to be able to train in his chosen weapon. That seems unnecessary. He should be able to begin training with his axe, sword or staff at the same time as he is training in things like Critical Hit Damage and Attack Control Intensity. Since Combat is within Profession and he wants to devote 60% of his total effort to Combat, he could then choose to put 30% into his weapon training and 15% each into Crit Damage and Attack. Likewise, since all movement related skill have been consolidated under Race, he would devote 20% of total effort to whichever of those skills he wanted, and if stealth skills are consolidated under Class, that’s where the final 20% would get broken up. This effort distribution would remain in place until changed by the player, or until he maxed out a particular skill area.
With the large number of skills found in the current trees, the choices available to the player would be myriad. It would be possible to very narrowly tailor a special purpose character who could be developed relatively quickly while a well-rounded character serving a different function or player desire would take decidedly longer. However, in both cases, the player would decide what skills were important and how quickly any given skill needed to be mastered. This kind of system accommodates, single craft crafters, harvesters, main siege tanks, solo players who want more self-sufficiency and guild players who may have more focused roles.
Even with a percentage of effort system, there is still progression in that the devs could structure the training payoff so that the farther toward a skill mastery you moved, the higher the reward. Now it is basically, earn a pip, get a reward point. There has been some discussion of including an active training component, and I tend to think that would be useful without generating a grind mentality. I would provide some benefit in terms of skill advancement for using a skill currently being trained. How much or how little would be up to the devs, but “practice” ought to count for something.
I can think of several ways to provide the graphical representation of the skills, and how percentage of effort is represented, but that’s the easy part. The numbers behind each skill development are all available as they were developed to put together the current trees, so much of the effort to overhaul skill training would not be new, but rather consolidating items currently distributed over several trees, deciding under which major heading they belonged and how the “rewards” for training advancement would be distributed.
I would welcome further discussion and critique of this approach as I think the current system is not as flexible as it needs to be, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do it differently.