One of the hallmarks of a great RPG is a well-designed system for acquiring new skills and powering up a character. In most games, this is represented as a skill tree, which allows the player to allocate points to increasingly potent abilities and upgrades as they progress through the game. It’s a simple way to help players enjoy a sense of progression, getting stronger as they improve their stats and unlock new abilities.
Some games have very intuitive skill trees, such as the lengthy but easy-to-understand leveling system in the Borderlands games. Some skill trees, on the other hand, are mind-bogglingly massive, and although they may be simple enough to understand, getting the most out of them is a different story. While these systems may seem needlessly complex, players who go through these expanded grids and slots will help their character evolve. In the end, they’ll be satisfied with the freedom to pursue any skill that suits their fancy.
Updated February 8, 2024, by Ritwik Mitra: Skill trees have become prevalent in modern gaming, serving as a clever way to reward players for investing hours in these games and unlocking new moves and passive abilities as they progress through these titles. While the skill trees in most video games can be maxed out in no time, the same can’t be said for other titles. Several games use skill trees as a way to help players personalize their protagonist’s build and make them proficient in certain avenues at the cost of others.
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A Wide Array Of Circuits With Active And Passive Benefits
- Radical Fish Games
- Action RPG
Players who want to experience an isekai story will find CrossCode to be right up their alley. Taking place in an MMORPG called CrossWorlds, players control a silent protagonist named Lea who has lost her memories and must play the game to overcome her amnesia.
Featuring a charming story, memorable characters, and excellent combat, CrossCode is an underrated indie gem that more people need to check out. Since the game takes place in an MMO, certain aspects of this title try to emulate this grind, which works both for and against this title. Still, gamers who don’t mind these tasks can invest in Lea’s Circuits to enhance a wealth of abilities and make her more capable in combat.
Skills Are Arranged In A Grid With Tons Of Tiles
- April 18, 2019
The last place where anyone would expect a skill tree is a cozy title that involves crafting and puzzle-solving. For what it’s worth, Forager makes this mechanic work in its favor, which is pretty impressive.
It seems like a rudimentary skill tree, but hides a ton of depth that players must discover as they slowly but steadily make progress. Players who want to relax in a video game instead of stressing themselves out will love what Forager brings to the table.
20 Nioh 2
Skill Trees For Every Weapon Type, Plus Other Abilities
- March 13, 2020
- Action RPG
Given that Nioh 2 was a brilliant sequel in every department, it’s only a given that the skill tree from the first game also saw a notable upgrade. The sheer number of skills that players can upgrade is massive, forcing players to specialize instead of letting them be a jack of all trades.
Not only are there skill trees for each weapon type in the game, but there are also other avenues of combat like ninjustu, onmyo magic, samurai abilities, shifting skills, and more. The game offers a wealth of avenues that can be improved by investing skill points in the proper trees.
19 Cyberpunk 2077
Update 2.0 Makes Perks More Meaningful And Encourages Specialization
- December 10, 2020
The 2.0 update for Cyberpunk 2077 has been a godsend for players who felt like the game’s progression systems could use serious work. It’s been a game-changing update, with notable improvements including weapons not being leveled anymore and armor being tied to cyberware instead of clothing.
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Another aspect of the game that has been improved is the perks and attribute system. Both these trees feel more meaningful to invest in. With the overhauled system, players can focus on being an all-out warrior or an expert netrunner without worrying about their effectiveness in combat being adversely affected.
Multiple Weapon Types And Skill Trees
- February 7, 2017
- Action RPG
Nioh Team Ninja’s attempt to make a Soulsborne game by Team Ninja. The game’s unique Ki Pulse mechanic coupled with a wealth of unique weapons makes it a blast to play through, and fans of hard action games will gain a ton of mileage out of playing Nioh.
There are a total of seven weapon types that William can equip and wield. Each of these weapons has unique skills that players can unlock over the course of the game. There’s also another section with general weapons that players can check out with little to no issues.
17 Grim Dawn
Each Player Can Be Unique Because Of The Game’s Skill Trees
- February 25, 2016
- Crate Entertainment
- Action RPG
Grim Dawn is the perfect game for those who miss the classic gameplay of the older Diablo games and want something in the same vein. This action RPG throws players into the action from the get-go. The unique world enhances the quality of this title even more.
One of the most notable things about Grim Dawn is how personalized a player’s build is. There are several Masteries that players can specialize in, with the player being able to create a powerful dual-class character further down the line. This great execution of familiar concepts makes Grim Dawn an engaging title in every way.
16 Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age
The License Boards Are Unique And Expansive
Final Fantasy 12
- October 31, 2006
Final Fantasy 12served as a breath of fresh air for the franchise. It was clear that Square Enix’s work on Final Fantasy 11 had influenced the developers quite a bit. The game’s creators decided to replace the traditional turn-based battles with a real-time combat system that functioned a lot like an MMORPG, with many twists to help it fit the single-player playstyle.
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While the original game wasn’t all that expansive when it came to the job system, this changed with The Zodiac Age. The game now had a total of twelve jobs with their own unique job License Boards that players could invest in to make the playable characters as powerful and effective in combat as possible.
15 Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning
Might, Finesse, And Sorcery Are The Three Detailed Skill Trees
Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning
- February 7, 2012
- 38 Studios , Big Huge Games
- Action RPG
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of the most underrated fantasy role-playing titles around. It’s a shame that the game didn’t interest many people because of its generic premise. The game’s combat system was engaging despite having its fair share of caveats.
There are three trees that players can invest in: Might, Finesse, and Sorcery. These branches of the skill tree have wildly different abilities that make them worth investing in.
Maintain Balance Between The Large List Of Human And Typhon Powers
The reboot of Prey as an immersive sim ended up being a great decision that allowed players to get hooked on this sci-fi horror masterpiece. Controlling Morgan Yu and slowly expanding their suite of abilities across the series made for a great time.
What made Prey such a blast was that it allowed players to use both human and Typhon powers. The outcome of the ending and their morality changed based on how much they used their alien powers. There are three branches each for both human and Typhon abilities, which made for a complex and engaging skill tree that players could interact with however they wished.
13 Final Fantasy 10
The Sphere Grid Can Seem Overwhelming
Final Fantasy 10
- December 17, 2001
Final Fantasy 10 was a brilliant debut for the series on the PlayStation 2. The graphical overhaul, coupled with the fast-paced combat system, made for a stellar JRPG that is playable to this day.
The game marked a massive departure from the leveling system of past games. Traditional levels were forsaken in favor of the Sphere Grid, which gave players a bit more control when it came to a path a certain character could take to get stronger. Most characters were placed on pre-selected paths, but special Spheres could be used to skip a few slots or jump to a different spot on the Sphere Grid altogether.
Massive Tech Tree
- August 14, 2020
- Wube Software
- Simulation , Real-Time Strategy
Factorio is one of the most engaging simulation games around. The simple act of running a factory becomes deceptively complex as players come to grips with the game’s systems. If the gameplay loop itself wasn’t challenging in its own right, Factorio also has a massive tech tree that players need to invest in to make their factories efficient.
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This tech tree is stupendously massive. Players need to do a bit of research or follow a trial-and-error method to realize how useful certain technological advancements are. Without investing properly in this skill tree, players will either be overwhelmed by alien lifeforms or see their factories become overloaded and fail due to a lack of sustainability.
11 Yakuza 0
Use Money To Invest In Eight Fighting Styles
- January 24, 2017
Yakuza 0 is the perfect game to get into the series. This prequel serves as a perfect introduction to the characters of both Kiryu and Majima. This game also features massive skill trees for both characters where players have to invest actual money to improve their skills.
The three fighting styles of both Kiryu and Majima could be improved with this technique. If that wasn’t enough, players will be elated to know that there’s actually a fourth skill tree to unlock. This tree requires incredible levels of investment to increase health, damage, and Heat to ridiculous levels.
10 Diablo 2
Varied Playstyles And Builds Enabled By A Massive Skill Tree
- June 28, 2000
- Action RPG
The skill tree in Diablo 2 is definitely on the unintuitive side. For the time, perhaps, players would have been able to make perfect sense of it, but something about the washed-out colors and dated organization makes it a bit of an eyesore in 2021.
That’s not to say that the game’s skill tree system is bad, though. In fact, Diablo 2‘s success can be partially attributed to the sheer variety of playstyles and builds available thanks to the game’s in-depth approach to skills, offering a breadth of smaller choices rather than only a few powerful ones.
9 Diablo 3
Continues The Trend Of Diablo’s Massive Skill Trees
- September 3, 2013
- Action RPG
While fans of the series didn’t take too kindly to Diablo 3 on launch, the game has become a bit more accepted with time. It’s no Diablo 2, but it’s better than many gave it credit for on release. One aspect of the game that’s worth celebrating is its approach to skills and passives.
There is a huge number of passive skills available to each class and an equally huge number of active spells and abilities that each can take advantage of. While builds aren’t nearly as complex and require as much micromanagement as Diablo 2, there’s enough diversity to give everyone a little of what they want from a Diablo title.
Each Skill Can Be Leveled Up To Unlock A Wealth Of Perks
- November 11, 2011
While each individual skill tree in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim is relatively short, confined to around 10 options apiece, there are a lot of choices available from the system as a whole. The three main stat focuses (Health, Stamina, and Magicka) each have their own sections with a number of separate skill trees dedicated to specific aspects of gameplay.
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Skyrim has been praised for its open-ended approach to character progression. While Oblivion and Morrowind locked players into a class from the get-go, players in Skyrim can take on anything at any time, making all the choices viable options for the particularly dedicated.
7 Path Of Exile
Infamous Perhaps The Biggest Skill Tree In Gaming History
Path of Exile
- October 23, 2013
- Action RPG
Path of Exile has perhaps the most notoriously large skill tree of all time. Players new to the game will level up on the beach quickly enough, at which point they get their first skill point. Then, they are brought to their class’s default starting position on the labyrinthian skill tree. It looks small enough until players zoom out.
The skill tree in Path of Exile is so comically massive because of the game’s focus on being able to do anything with any character. Even if players start out in the Ranger’s area of the skill tree, they can eventually take on other class’ talents too, as long as they take a path that leads them there.
6 The Witcher 3
A Wealth Of Abilities To Choose From
The Witcher 3 is lauded as one of the most engaging RPGs to come out in recent years, and its skill tree is just as complex as the game’s multi-faceted storylines. There are five skill trees to level up: Combat Skills, Signs, Alchemy Skills, Mutagens, and General Skills.
The skill tree in The Witcher 3 is unique, as it encourages the player to take on a variety of skills and equip them as necessary for different encounters. Each skill can then be improved with enough investment, but the player doesn’t need to go all-in on one path to get the most out of this tree.
5 Borderlands Series
Each Playable Character Has A Unique Skill Tree
- September 13, 2019
The Borderlands series features separate skill trees for each playable character, each of which is then separated into different sub-trees for further specialization. While each individual tree tends to be no more than 10 lines long, the sheer number of available options in the game is staggering.
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In Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, for example, there are more than four main playable characters. Considering that each playable character has three separate skill trees in each game, and those trees each contain a dozen or more options, each game features hundreds and hundreds of skill tree options in total.
4 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
The RPG-Lite Approach Led To Sizable Skill Trees
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
- November 10, 2020
The Assassin’s Creed games have long been associated with long skill trees that offer a multitude of upgrades. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla takes this to a whole new level, with a skill tree rivaling that of even Path of Exile.
However, the skill tree in this Assassin’s Creed entry has been criticized for not offering enough viable options, leading many players to consistently take the same skills instead of trying new ones. The game’s skill tree is daunting, but at least the star signs are nice to look at.
3 World Of Warcraft Classic
Most MMOs Have Huge Skill Trees, And World Of Warcraft Is No Exception
World of Warcraft
- November 23, 2004
The skill tree — or rather the talent system — in World of Warcraft has gone through many changes over the years. In the retail version of the game, talents are very simple, with a choice offered every few milestone levels. In World of Warcraft Classic, though, it’s a different story.
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The skill tree in the vanilla version of the MMO was…sprawling, in a word. Each class had a huge number of talents to choose from as they progressed to level 60, and had the option to choose talents from multiple trees. The number of classes in the game, and the number of specs in each class, make it one of the largest skill tree systems in any MMO to date.