Recently Blizzard announced some big changes for D3's skill system. They are twofold, one of which is cosmetic and doesn't really affect the hardcore gamer and one of which is a big deal. The first is that all skills will be grouped into sections like Primary attack, Secondary attack, Defensive, Utility, etc. and the base UI will have a slot for one skill from each group. This is done as a guide for casual players so they will have more balanced characters and not get frustrated, presumably, but there is a simply checkbox to get rid of this restriction so you can take any skills you want. I think this is a great idea since it gives people a good guide for how to build their characters initially but lets the experienced player go nuts and do anything. Easy to learn, hard to master.
The second change is a lot bigger. Prior to this each skill could be augmented by runes, which were items you picked up as loot. There were 5 ranks of runes and 5 types of runes so juggling them all in inventory was going to be a big undertaking and each skill needed 5 different ranks for each type of rune augmentation. Now runes are a skill you unlock with level and they have a single rank. When you use a skill you will be able to apply any rune you have learned to it and gain that rune benefit. There are, predictably, a lot of people complaining. As usual most of the complaints are pure garbage but there is one that has some real merit. The major things that are changing here are as follows:
1. More things to learn as you level. Instead of getting your last skill at level 30 and getting nothing from there forward we now can look forward to at least 1 new skill or rune each level. We won't necessarily use a new rune when we learn it but there will be a constant stream of new options as we level up to the cap of 60. This is excellent.
2. There will be no management of runes. I don't know that this is good or bad particularly. With a properly designed rune UI it could have been no problem but without one it would have been a lot like D2 where managing multiple levels of gems was a gigantic hassle. This eliminates a small part of the economy but I hardly think that matters. It also removes a major source of wealth grinding from the game since trading and hunting for runes will no longer be a thing. It really means that endgame characters will be farming gear and not farming runes... which doesn't seem much different overall to me!
3. Characters will be more fluid. This is the part where I think the complainers have a legitimate beef. Since we won't need consumables or resources to change our characters to new skills anyone can become any spec they want without cost. This in theory could lead to real cookie cutter builds where everybody uses the same loadout and it certainly means that there is no sense of permanent specialization. There will be no frost mages, cleave barians or indeed anything aside from the five classes (and two genders I guess?). The thing is though, even in D2 where the skills had a *vast* gulf in power between them there were plenty of people playing suboptimal builds. We won't be forced to stick to a build but people will do it anyway.
Overall I think that the new system is great in that you learn new things all the time and otherwise fairly neutral. I still am frothing at the mouth to get to play D3 and eagerly hoping for a beta key - that must be a good sign.