Brainstorming to make the skill/module system better

I think it'd be an understatement to say that the current skill system is very straightforward and doesn't allow much for customization. You buy a 'Mech in a very gimped form and keep grinding it to unlock its true potential. There's no choice, trade-off or customization; you just make sure every single box in the skill tree is unlocked. It's the same for every single 'Mech.

Last week I was also arguing on Reddit how the current module system (not the weapon modules) is one-dimensional and lacks actually useful modules. The Radar Deprivation is a really good module and is always useful, so it's pretty much mandatory. The other ones? They go from absolutely useless to being useful in only certain situations.

On top of this, I have been also playing similar F2P games and I saw how they deal with the skill and customization part. So when that module discussion on Reddit came up, everything suddenly clicked with me and I started thinking about this new "skill customization revamp". Keep in mind this is not a solid proposal, I'm just thinking and building upon my initial ideas as I go. It's a kind of a brainstorming post. Feel free to modify and bring your own ideas!

Not everyone gets the same benefit

In my opinion, the current skill tree needs to go. The buffs you get are too good and it benefits different classes unfairly. The cooling bonuses benefit heavies and assaults more than the lights and mediums, who tend to run with fever heatsinks and perhaps not even with true DHS. The torso mobility skills take away the feeling of weight and inertia from the heavies and offset their only supposed weakness compared to the lights and mediums; their sluggishness. Even with an XL375 you can definitely feel this inertia in a non-basic'd TBR. Though as soon as you elite it and get double basic bonuses, it suddenly starts responding like a medium with that oversized engine. Indeed, why should people bother with mediums if they can get the same benefits in a heavy but with much more tonnage to play with? The same thing goes for the Assaults as well; an unbasic'd Dire Wolf is a hulking piece of metal that is mostly frustrating to play, but as soon as you elite it then it becomes pretty responsive even with its tiny engine.

What we need is a skill system that will still let you get these bonuses, but not all of them. Something that will actually force you to make difficult decisions when you're customizing your 'Mech. Something that will also offer special skills for each class not found on other classes.

Tough decisions

One thing to note is we just can't get rid of basic skills easily. We might survive the removal of double basic bonuses, but not the basics themselves. I think it would change the feeling and responsiveness you get from many 'Mechs just too much. People have been playing with the current system for the past three years now and if the 'Mechs suddenly feel weird, there'd be a lot of resistance. So I think they should stay.

What about the modules?

As I said before, the non-weapon modules are also in dire need of attention. They lack variety and usefulness and are in need of a change just like the skill system.

Initially, I was thinking of getting rid of the skill tree completely and then replacing it with kind of a module system of sorts. Every class of 'Mech would have different amount of "skill module" slots. So for example if you wanted better torso twist speed for your Jenner, you'd unlock the specific torso speed module for that Jenner with experience, buy it (pretty cheap) and mount it in one of the skill module slots. Let's say there would be only 6 slots for a light too. This would force you to make choices and specialize.

Though I see that this is also not very ideal. It'd complicate the 'Mech building process by quite a bit (we have enough trouble switching modules already) and it wouldn't exactly be intuitive for new players. So perhaps this is not the way to go.

The second route we can take is making the 'Mech modules into useful unlockable skills. As it is, my 'Mech module slots are filled with Radar Deprivation only. The rest? Absolutely useless. Why not take these and move them to the skill tree as unlocks instead?

I can see this second option working better, but if we make modules skills this can potentially limit the amount of customization in this game as we want to emphasize choice and specialization when leveling 'Mechs. Let's say you make your AWS-8R an LRM boat and unlock the advanced target decay skill to help keep locks. Then you decide to switch to SRMs, but now your advanced target decay is useless. How do we deal with this? Do we allow the redistribution of skill points somehow, perhaps for a C-Bill fee? Or do we still keep a 'Mech module slot for upgrades like these?

I think allowing redistribution would be a better choice. You can specialize your 'Mech to be an LRM boat with your elite/master skills, but when you get bored of this role and want to try something else, you can pay a C-Bill/GXP fee to change your skills. World of Warships do this for captain skills, but they ask for real money (MC equivalent) to do this. I find asking for premium currency in MWO would be very greedy (as this game is all about customization) so a C-Bill penalty is a better way to do it. Since we'll be getting rid of modules that cost 6M-3M, asking for 200k C-Bills to redistribute your skill points wouldn't be greedy in my opinion.

Let's cut to the chase — The new hybrid skill-module system

Alright, so here's roughly what I have in my mind now.
  • Keep the basic skill tree
  • Remove elite skills and the double basic skill bonus for getting them all.
  • Replace elite skills with general skills. You can unlock all of them, but only a limited number can be in use at the same time. 
  • Distribute the current Mech modules into the elite skills category as skills.
  • Replace master skill with a "specialization" skill tree. These master skills change the way your 'Mech plays dramatically by providing significant boosts.
As for the elite tree which make up for the first level of specialization, I'm thinking of having sub-skill trees. You will only be able to select 1-2 skills from these sub-trees and they only offer limited bonuses. They can be unlocked for Mech XP and will cost a tiny amount of C-Bills to mount.
  • Mobility: Hill climb, Enhanced JJ exhaust (more fuel), Improved joints (+5% speed, acceleration and deceleration), Torso twist (5% torso twist speed and range) . . . (halp!)
  • Sensors: Target Decay, Advanced Sensor Range, Target info gathering . . . 
  • Endurance: Shock absorbance, Improved gyros, Improved limping speed . . . 
  • Weaponry: Fast fire (+5% weapon ROF), Improved firing solution (+5% range), Improved laser capacitors (-5% laser duration) . . . (basically these are tiny non-specific weapon modules)
The master skills are not numerous and you can only pick one of them. However, they give you a great deal of bonuses (some may have negative ones) that let you further specialize your 'Mech. However unlike elite skills, they can be swapped at any time provided you have them. Examples from the top of my head:
  • Enhanced Sensor Suite: Radar Deprivation+seismic sensor, take it or leave it.
  • Extra armor: +15% torso armor, but -10% speed.
  • Enhanced Myomer: Double basics (does not include heat containment+cool run)
  • Rerouted Coolant Piping: +10% heat capacity and cooling rate. Because of rerouting -20% internal structure. Basically a negative that will make you think twice.
  • . . . basically a selection of very attractive skills, but you can only pick one.
I'm also thinking about class-specific master skills but at this point I'm worried about too many bonuses. Perhaps a class specific skill tree can be included in the elite tier instead.

Some Concerns

I think the introduction of choice and consequences in the skill tree will make leveling 'Mechs a more fun experience. You will be able to choose a specialization path for your 'Mech, but you'll also have the option to reverse these changes and go the other way.

There's one thing lacking in this proposal, and that is the emphasis on role warfare. This can be remedied by perhaps creating class-exclusive skill trees to promote roles.

Another concern is the balance nightmare these little boosts bring along with them. When stacked with quirks, they might create some truly game-breaking combinations. Therefore the bonuses you get from each skill must be kept as mild as possible.

Lastly, it might get complicated for the new players. Since there'll be a new layer of choice and customization, it might take a while before they can work out the ways to efficiently optimize their skills for their 'Mech and build. Perhaps the skill tree can be simplified to make it easier and the amount of skills can be reduced.


The skill tree has been neglected for far too long. Now that PGI is getting serious about implementing features and balance, I think it's time we get some skill changes too. This post is only meant to be a brainstorming exercise and hopefully to encourage more people to talk about this.

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About Rak

I'm an engineer who likes to write extremely long articles about games that border simulation and mainstream.
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