Runestones are one of the most exciting elements of Diablo 3's skill system. Plugging one into an ability can dramatically transform what it does. Slot the right rune into your plague of toads ability, for example, and your standard spell instead summons a "Toad of Hugeness" that'll hop around eating enemies whole, a different rune will change your plague of toads into a rain of frogs. There are five different runestones for every active skill, opening up a pretty staggering number of possible builds. With the release of beta patch 13, the runestone system will change dramatically.
Runestones are no longer items. Formerly you could find them in the world and combine them to create stronger versions. Each of the five different types of rune would have five ranks which would convey increasingly impressive damage boosts to the skill they're slotted into. That's all gone. Runestones are now "Skill runes." Instead of picking them out of chests, you'll unlock them alongside your combat abilities as you level up.
That's not all, as game director Jay Wilson explains in the latest Diablo 3 blog post . "The new skill rune system does not have ranks, and we've instead made each around the equivalent to what the rank 4 or 5 rune was previously," he says. "One click, you make your rune choice, and you get an explosive benefit to that skill. That feels a lot cooler."
New rune skills will be added regularly as your character grows stronger. "With each level you'll unlock at least one new skill or rune, and in most cases you'll be unlocking three or four," Wilson says. "The most immediately exciting part of that system is that skill runes begin unlocking at level 6, which means that players in the beta test will finally be able to play around with some rune variants."
The main problem with the old system, Wilson explains, was the sheer number of runestone variants involved. "With around 120 base skills, that meant there were around 600 rune variants; on top of that, each variant had five quality levels each, meaning ultimately there would be something like 3,000 different runes in the game… and we knew we were heading toward a problem." The number of runestones needed to support the system was leading to a "serious and tedious" case of 'inventory tetris,' in which runes would have to be shuffled and rearranged to make room for other items. Blizzard hope the new system will be more intuitive.
The revamped system will still offer a huge amount of skill customisation, but the changes alter the way that rune alterations are delivered and dictate the pace at which you'll acquire them. The Diablo 3 skill calculator shows off the splendid variety of changes runes can make to each classes standard selection of abilities. It'll let you poke around Diablo 3's entire skill tree, too.
Diablo 3's release date is set for sometime between April and June. This runestone overhaul is just the latest in a series of big changes to Diablo 3 over the past few months, including a redesign of the core character stats system and the removal of companion pets .