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The Synthesis challenge league for Path of Exile will be going live in a couple of days, and if you'd like to know what to expect from it, you may want to check out this Development Manifesto that talks about the balance changes coming to the game with the latest expansion. Most of these changes will be aimed at making the game's spellcasters more viable and fun to play. An excerpt:
Tomorrow we're releasing the full patch notes for Path of Exile: Synthesis. In the meantime, we'd like to talk about some of the major balance changes we've planned for the expansion and what our intentions are. The balance changes mostly focus on handcasting spells, though many of these changes do affect other systems in the game.
For a number of leagues, the majority of builds that use spells have used proxies like Totems, Traps or Mines to cast skills for them. There has also been a focus on skills that do their work automatically over a long duration. For this expansion, we've focussed on putting power back in the hands of casters, rewarding players who cast skills directly. In addition to a number of new support gems, we've made changes to almost every damage spell in the game.
We've reviewed and adjusted the base damage and effectiveness of almost every primary damage spell. We've also included some traps, mines and totems in these adjustments. These changes have focused on separately balancing low and high levels. Many skills have only required power increases at low or high levels, depending on where they naturally excel.
We've also reviewed Vaal Skills and skills from items. A small number of spells that we consider too powerful for their ease of use, like Brands, Winter Orb and Blade Vortex have had their damage lowered. We'll be revealing the full list of changes in the patch notes.
Mana costs of many skills have been adjusted to make the mana cost per cast time of skills much more consistent. Most skills that were adjusted have had their costs lowered. There are a few exceptions to the cast time equivalent mana cost rule; Channelled skills are slightly cheaper, while Curses are more expensive than other skills of equivalent cast time. We will include a list of specific changes in the patch notes.
Many spells that had cast times higher than 0.75 seconds have been lowered, and their damage adjusted to match. These skills were often too unwieldy to cast yourself, and their high effective hit damage made them very powerful with Traps, Mines and Triggering effects. Here are a few examples of cast times after these changes: Discharge (0.75 sec from 1 sec), Glacial Cascade (0.7 sec from 0.8 sec), Arc (0.7 sec from 0.8 sec) and Ice Nova (0.7 sec from 0.8 sec).
Some skills that had lower areas of effect than other skills without a good reason have either had their area increased, or now gain additional radius as their gems level. Combined with new options for increasing spell area of effect, this should help these skills be more enjoyable to use. You'll find new sources of increased area of effect on the passive tree for casters. (Note that we'll be giving similar bonuses to Attack skills in the future, just not in 3.6.0.)
We've made a few other changes to various spells, like lowering the cooldown on Convocation, having Spark be able to re-hit a target it has pierced after a shorter delay and having Unearth projectiles fly much faster. These are buffs. Arc also has a lower chain distance now, so it won't bounce between distant packs of enemies.
A number of support gems that have fallen behind others in power and utility are receiving some numerical and mechanical adjustments. Chain Support, Fork Support, Spell Cascade and Innervate have had values improved. Arcane Surge Support now has a damage multiplier at higher gem levels. Onslaught Support and the Summon Phantasm Support now have effects on hitting Rare and Unique Enemies.
Powerful bosses, especially the Elder and Shaper, previously had significantly less effect of curses on them, to stop Temporal Chains and Enfeeble trivialising their encounters. We've now lowered this curse effect reduction to let damage curses provide more worthwhile bonuses against bosses. Temporal Chains and Enfeeble now have a separate value of damage reduction and slow for Normal and Magic enemies compared to Rare and Unique enemies, with Rare and Unique enemies having about half as much effect. The accuracy reduction on Enfeeble has also been reduced.
Energy Shield Leech
We've added multiple sources of Energy Shield Leech to the game, both on a new Support Gem and for spells on passive skills.
Energy Shield has a lower cap on maximum restored per second than Life Leech (10% of maximum energy shield per second), but the dedicated Energy Shield Leech passives will let you increase this number. Ghost Reaver now doubles your maximum energy shield per second in addition to turning all Life Leech into Energy Shield Leech and lowering your shield recharge rate. This makes it good for pure Energy Shield casters as well as letting Attacks have easy Energy Shield Leech access.
Leech Length Nerf
Previously, there was no upper limit on how much an individual leech effect could restore. This meant that a very high damage hit with enough leech could last minutes, if not longer, if you had an effect letting your leech remain on full life. Now, there is a limit of 10% restored per leech effect, so each individual leech effect can't last more than 5 seconds. For the Ascendant's Slayer Passive Skill, this is 5% lower.