Skill Trees

I recently came across skill trees and was intrigued by the idea of them and liked the way they could be used in teaching and learning. It would be interesting to use this concept when doing lesson plans (sequencing, pre-requisites, etc.).

I think this would be a great tool to allow students to customise their journey (what skills to upgrade), as well as allowing them to visualise areas that they are strong in and areas that need improving. It would also be great to make connections between certain “nodes” (or branches) on the skill tree and specific careers, showing them where certain skills can take them.

Skill Trees

Skill Trees (also known as talent trees) are a component that can add depth, fulfilment, and replayability to most any game. They are also great for easing in new gameplay dynamics by starting players with scaled-down versions that can be fully unlocked over time, or by delaying their acquisition so players are not overwhelmed at the start.

Legends of Aethereus Skill Tree
Legends of Aethereus Skill Tree

What is a Skill Tree?

Skill trees are an array of skills that start small, but that grow and branch out into a more robust organism. They are populated by “nodes”, which are tied to various components of the game (max health, regen, bonuses to income, movement speed, etc.).

Everything that the player is or does can be tied to nodes in skill trees. The nodes are unlocked as the player progresses in the game until a node is “maxed”. The base value of these nodes and their tiered bonuses are key ways for a designer to balance gameplay.

They can be unlocking mechanics that ‘gate’ the player from picking whatever they want, whenever they want. A certain number of low tier talents, or player levels, may be required to reach higher tiers. If a player is able to choose any talent at any time—the progression dynamics, and the “flavor of play” each tree brings will be lost.

Path of Exile Skill Tree
Path of Exile Skill Tree

Why use Skill Trees?

They are fun little puzzles that empower the player to personalise the game into something they enjoy. This personalisation also feeds a common need for self expression. Though simple and isolated from play, the impact skills have on your game can be very meaningful.

There’s no better way to educate your player in what they can (eventually) do in your game than by having a talent tree that they’ll be looking over time and time again thinking about where they want to advance their character.

Talent trees can make your player feel empowered and surprise them. They can also be the carrot on the stick that keeps them playing so they can get that one talent that defines their build and items.

How to Use Skill Trees?

Pacing the progression of a talent tree is vital to making it a positive aspect of your game. Lower tier talents should be simple but potent, hooking the player immediately. Conversely, it’s best to add more complex aspects of the tree at higher tiers, to ensure the player is ready for these more complex dynamics.

Berry, J. (2013). Let’s Spec Into Talent Trees: A Primer for Game Designers. Retrieved 22 June, 2015 from–gamedev-6691

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