A couple of weeks ago, right after Beta Patch 13 went live our DiabloNut Diablo 3 Database datamined a huge list of new item modifiers, which seemed to show +skill type bonuses to every skill in the game. It wasn’t clear if those were an old feature just added to the beta build or a new feature being tested out, and there was no telling if they’d actually be active in the game at any point. Queries to Bashiok and the other US CMs went in vain, but now, thanks to the Italian B.net forums, we know that these items are in the game, and should be a huge feature on higher difficulty levels.
Thanks to Lomion for sending the news and the translations of the forum replies by GM Xarishflar. Quotes:
…Yeah, they are somewhat replacing the old runes. Developers wanted to give players an additional chance to customize character skills, as an alternative to the recently removed rune quality levels.
…Yes, they are probably going to be equitable items. At the moment we can’t share more precise information with you; the game is still in beta, some things could be revised and modified before release.
This is awesome news, for those of us concerned by the repeated removals of character individualization/customization over the course of Diablo III’s development. It also seems like a great news for the whole “creating an identity for each character” issue; freespecs are easily done, but if you’ve got some gear that boosts skills X and Y, you’re more likely to find ways to use those powered up skills in all situations, rather than switching to different skills for every new encounter.
I do wonder how the item bonuses actually work, though. After all… there aren’t any skill points anymore, so it’s not like an axe can just have +2 to Frenzy. It’s not clear from the syntax of the item mods as seen via the datamining. Lots of skills don’t do damage, after all, so how can the same modifiers add to damage, or duration, or the amount of buff or debuffs, etc?
Did the developers leave something akin skill levels in the game code, invisible to the player, but there to be modified by +skill gear or by say, skill shrines, should those return to the game at some point? As several people have suggested in comments, likely these item bonuses will add to the level of your rune effect, hence we might get the visual and the effect of higher level rune bonuses; even the much-lamented “more than 3 shots” with Poison Dart or Magic Missile.