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The next major content update for Grinding Gear Games' Path of Exile will be arriving this June, and apart from the usual bits of new gameplay and challenges, it will focus on revamping a significant number of the action-RPG's skills. Underused skills will get a makeover, new Ascendancy-themed skills will be added, some old ones retuned and reworked, all in order to enable a bevy of fresh new playstyles. Some additional details:
Improvements to Underused Skills
The game has many old skills that have since been outclassed by other newer skills that perform their role better. Some skills excel in a specific situation (like destroying stationary bosses or dealing significantly more damage with a specific unique item) but fall behind when taking on the majority of end-game encounters. As an example, Ice Spear performs somewhat adequately in crit-based builds against stationary mid-range bosses, but the large number of support gems required to let it hit multiple targets make it underwhelming against groups of enemies, which contributes to it being one of the least popular skills in recent leagues. We've given skills like Ice Spear numeric increases in the past but they still lack the features that their alternatives offer.
Over time we will be trying to breathe new life into underused older skills with additional mechanics or significant mechanical reworks to make them feel like brand new skills. These will usually include an update to their visual effects to bring them up to the quality of modern skills.
Cold Snap is one such skill on our hit-list. We're currently trying out a version of the skill that still does the instant, large damage hit in a small area (with values increased to bring it closer to the scaling of other cold damage skills), while also releasing a larger pulse that chills and applies a cold damage-over-time effect to nearby enemies. This lets it keep its high damage hit output for those that enjoyed finding ways around the cooldown but also provides notable area damage in a way that makes getting around the cooldown less of a necessity.
It should fit into a cold damage build as a quick way to dispatch large weak packs while also working well when used alongside other skills when fighting a single tough enemy. We're still in the early stage of testing this skill out in real end-game builds, so we may still see further changes to Cold Snap as we try to make sure it has a place on some builds in the later stages of the game.
Fleshing-out Skill Themes
Our future skill development will involve working on skill themes that can give players a flavourful character style by picking skills that fit the theme. Often these themes will stick closer to the feel of a character or their Ascendancy classes. A good example of this is the new set of Corpse-based skills.
We'll also be reworking and improving older skills that already share mechanics and weapon types to have a more consistent theme. For example, the goal is to eventually offer the Marauder a full complement of Volcanic attack skills that deal fire damage, creating a fiery Chieftain-themed set of skills to try out as a player progresses through the story. Infernal Blow is one skill that we are planning to improve to make it a much more well-rounded skill choice for a Volcanic attack type character.
Enabling New Playstyles
One of the core goals of future skill development will be enabling new styles of gameplay. Similar to how Essence Drain and Contagion introduced an entirely new style of play, we want more skills to feel like a whole new playstyle. This will include taking existing skills that don't see much use and giving them unique twists or mechanics that separate them from the rest.
Charged Dash was a skill intended to fill a primary attack role that has built in movement. Path of Exile only has a few skills in this category and only Cyclone and Flicker Strike see much use later in the game. Charged Dash was intended to fill a similar role for Elemental conversion attacks with a unique twist on the gameplay. The skill was balanced toward having an enemy in a position of maximum overlap, while rapidly moving back and forth across them. Complex end-game boss encounters and the rapid precision targeting required in this situation made the skill a sub-par choice for many major boss fights. The damage output just didn't feel worth the effort and risk.
We're trying out a new setup for this skill where the areas of damage don't overlap so you don't need to worry about getting enemies in the zone of greatest overlap. We can then also turn up the skill's hit damage. We're experimenting with having the skill pulse damage repeatedly when fully charged so that having a higher movement speed doesn't result in you having to click repeatedly against enemies. This will come with major changes to how the damage output is modified by attack speed and movement speed, which we're still working on fine-tuning.
These significant changes to the skill keep the fast-paced movement style when fighting regular enemies, while creating a combat style on bosses that lets you focus on avoiding boss abilities and making a few carefully timed moves rather than rapidly clicking and re-targeting. It's a good example of how we're trying to push interesting new ways to play Path of Exile.
It's hard to estimate exactly how many skill revamps will be released in Content Update 3.3.0, but our goal is to revamp around nine skills in this update. It could be more if other prototypes pan out earlier than expected, or less if we run into difficulties. Over the coming weeks, we will talk more specifically about changes we're experimenting with in these new skill prototypes and how the progress is going.