I remember a time, back in sunny 2013, wen the world of action RPGs was in a strange turmoil. The wound that was Diablo III had yet to be satiated, and the numerous Diablo clones had yet to really cement a foothold into a more modern direction of both functional play and visual stimuli. I also remember a time, shortly after it’s October release, that a good friend introduced me to Path of Exile.
The backbone here was near limitless freedom of customization. Whereas the selection of a character’s ‘class’ in mainstream RPGs often results in a specific collection of passive and active abilities, as well as being often forced to use a certain type of weapon, Path of Exile was willing to offer an alternative. And a massive alternative, at that.
The game boasts an enormous web of passive skills that any character can acquire, and your class only determines where in this maze you start from. Your active abilities are gathered and progressed in the form of collectible gems, and their modification and application to your own play style lend to you what feels like a near endless creative outlet to exercise your inner death-machine.
One of the harder parts to believe is that Path of Exile is, and has been since before it’s release, supported on a free-to-play model. The developers stress their commitment to never encouraging a pay-to-win environment, and the proof is in the delightfully aesthetic pudding. It still fascinates me that a game of any amount of quality beyond the average phone app can continue to be supported by the sale of in game items that only carry visual effects, but the pet chicken following me throughout is evidence to the fact that it works.
Just yesterday I was given the opportunity to meet with Jonathan Rogers, Producer and Lead Programmer at the New Zealand based Grinding Gear Games to get a look at the immediate future of Path of Exile.
After the initial release of the game nearly two years ago, the development team was split into two efforts. One group was in charge of the expansions that have been released to this point, including massive improvements to the inherent PvP systems and multi-month Challenge Leagues. The other group focused on actualizing additional story content that was not included in the original release. This, coupled with a few major reworkings of core play elements, has culminated in the release of the forthcoming expansion: The Awakening.
The Awakening introduces a fourth act to the blood-soaked continent of Wraeclast. While most chapters are confined to a specific geographical location, this continuation allows the exiled to enter manifestations of the minds of several key characters in the mythos. This distinct change is open for a new level of diversity in the landscape. Existing acts contain roughly 16 base enemy types and a single climactic fight to serve as finale; the fourth act adds more than 30 base enemies, and 9 individual cinematic conflicts to top off each individual setting.
For the gear heads, over 70 new unique items are to be added to the drop pool. Not only does this include things to adorn yourself with and things to stab others with, but it also features additional active and passive skill gems. A few notable categories of these are the accession of War Cries and Golems, in case you really can’t let go of Diablo II.
Next comes my absolute favorite part, and I know my fellow number-junkies will get a kick out of this. Remember the skill tree? To make things more delightfully complicated and open to player ingenuity, open slots are to be added. These will be filled with collectable gems of their own design, with random properties and unique variants; the qualities of the gems will have effects to a player’s statistics that may have been normally unreachable in a certain part of the tree, or they may even effect the nature of the tree itself. Certain gems will come with auras that appear on the skill selection screen, and surrounding skills that fall in the aura will be under its influence.
Alongside these changes comes a host of other game balances to prepare for these major changes, and further details on those will be more readily available in the near future.
What This Means For YOU
As mentioned before, Path of Exile is a free-to-play title, so anyone with an existing account will have access to The Awakening upon release. Later this month, there will be a closed beta for the new content, and random keys will be distributed through the official website.
I know I’m blowing a lot of smoke here, but I personally do see great potential here. In an industry wracked with controversy over economic practice and an ungodly amount of day-1 DLC, it is a relief to see an indie title surviving on the support of the people who believe in it. So as we march forward, let’s be open minded. If you’re not involved, I encourage you to give it a shot. If you are, remember that change is good.
And if they try to nerf my chicken, I’ll sue.