Raising the complexity of the ARPG layer
Shadow, I think it's worth studying the design of Path of Exile. It's a beautiful design that I don't think is *that* hard to match. I'm not sure how much you can apply to DL, but it's important to appreciate their design elements, even if it's mostly for future games.
1. There's a massive passive skill tree. Each class starts in a different part of the tree and can make its way to any other part, but it costs skill points. You get around 120 skill points, and each step/passive skill node costs just 1.
If you look at the actual passive skills, none of them are that complex. There are some interesting ones, like blocking some damage percentage with mana, or getting some bonus when you use a staff, but most of them are quite simple to implement and design. The beauty of this system is that
a) You don't get runaway percentages since you can only take one of each node. Things repeat themselves in the tree, but you fully control how many times they can repeat.
b) At every point, the player is strategically planning their next step through the tree.
2. Their active skills all come from skill gems put in slots in items. This means that spells and skills alike are acquired within the game, and are therefore scaled for damage. You also get a constant choice of what you can use based on your current items and what you can put in the slots. This is a cool interaction.
The automatic level scaling (from finding items) here solves a lot of scaling issues for them. Gems can go up in levels so you can keep your skills for a while if you like them, but after a certain point, they stop going up and you have to replace them with new ones.
3. Skills can also be modified by support skill gems that they link to. This system is basically lifted from Final Fantasy 7. Different weapons have different slot/link patterns, and those create a mini-game of combining active skills and support slots.
This controlled modification of skills is really cool, and adds a lot of depth to the system. There are also gem qualities, adding to the loot potential, but that's not important.
The interesting points are that
a. They have a planning-based system in the passive tree that prevents runaway percentages while giving significant bonuses and interesting decisions, as well as providing predictability and long-term planning ('I want to get to that skill node')
** One way to come to something close in DL is to (sometimes?) give a player a choice when getting a small mutation, especially if it's a positive one. Don't just hit them with the mutation -- open a UI and give them a choice out of 3 or 4! You could probably mine many of these passives for mutation ideas.
b. They have an active skill system entirely based on items (gems), which allows swapping skills over time and keeping skills at the right damage levels for the player level.
** This is far closer to the Drox model than the DC skill-tree model. The Drox model works well, as we know.
c. They have a skill modifier system, also based on items (other kinds of gems), allowing for a lot of interesting combos.
** This is something that the mutation system currently does. It would be nice perhaps if there were some items (necklaces? rings?) that allow for another way to add modifications to skills. I don't know how you'd select the specific skill target though. Not sure.
Out of the above, the thing I'd like the most, and which would be the easiest to implement, is more choice in positive mutations. If I get a negative mutation, just hit me with it. If it's a positive one, occasionally let me choose which one I want out of 3 choices.
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