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Path of Exile, Grinding Gear Games' fast-paced action-RPG known for its unique skill gem system and its overwhelmingly massive passive skill tree, is considered by some to be a worthy successor to Diablo II, the gold standard of action-RPGs. Pair that with frequent content updates and an incredibly fair free-to-play model, and you get a recipe for success.
This ongoing success resulted in the recent announcement of Path of Exile 2, a curious sequel that aims to expand the game with a brand new campaign and numerous mechanical changes while preserving all the content it currently has to offer. In order to learn a thing or two about Path of Exile 2, we reached out to Grinding Gear Games co-founder Chris Wilson and asked him a few questions.
GameBanshee: Path of Exile 2, together with Blizzard's Overwatch 2 by the looks of it, is aiming to redefine what a sequel is, and I for one welcome some experimentation in that particular area in this age of live games. At the same time, I'm slightly confused about how your idea of "one game, two campaigns" will actually work. Can you elaborate on that?
Chris Wilson: When you create a new character in Path of Exile, you'll be able to choose between the original characters in the Path of Exile storyline or one of the new characters in the Path of Exile 2 storyline. Both stories end with a map device, letting players play the same Atlas maps endgame. We haven't yet decided whether and how players can trade between the storylines, but it's something we'd like to facilitate.
GB: You will also be introducing 19 new Ascendancy Classes while keeping all the old ones. It seems like a daunting task to balance such a staggering amount of classes. How do you intend to deal with this?
CW: It is certainly a daunting task, but one that we welcome. Ascendancy classes are a core part of a character build's identity in Path of Exile, so it's very important that there is a lot of variety. While having everything balanced is certainly a goal, part of the fun with Action RPGs is finding the rough edges in the balance and building a character around powerful interactions. So we'll make our best effort to keep things balanced and players will enjoy capitalising on the places where we have made small mistakes, until it's later adjusted and they have to find new overpowered opportunities with other classes.
GB: Path of Exile features a fairly unique currency and crafting system where instead of gold, players use crafting materials as currency. Do you plan to adjust it in any way for the sequel?
CW: Broadly speaking, we're very happy with how the currency item/crafting system works. Some small adjustments are necessary because of the new skill gem system (for example, removing Orbs of Fusing), but the broad strokes of the system will be the same. We do plan to continue to add new currency item types, and of course, vendor recipes.
GB: What about the trading system? Personally, I like the current implementation where we get to contact other players directly, visit their hideouts, maybe even haggle here and there. At the same time, some may find this a bit too cumbersome. Any plans to streamline this process?
CW: This is somewhat contentious issue within our community. On one hand, we don't want trade to be too easy, so that players can't rapidly trade their way into the best possible version of their character build in the first couple of days after an expansion launches. On the other, we know that there are frustrations with issues such as price fixers or players who are afk. We want to address these issues in smart ways without accidentally making trade too rapid.
GB: Some of Path of Exile's recent updates introduced certain quality of life improvements, namely the ability to individually toggle skills to be used without moving and the extra skill bar. Do you have anything else of this kind in the works?
CW: We generally announce and release these quality of life improvements in the next expansion after they're ready, rather than stockpiling them for the far future. So this means we don't have any new ones to announce, but that as soon as we do, we'll try to get them out and in the players' hands.
GB: Currently, high level gameplay can get quite hectic where characters zip around the map clearing entire screens in mere moments and if they don't, they can easily get one-shot. Are there any plans to adjust the game's pace for the sequel?
CW: This "clear-speed meta" as the players call it is a consequence of the game having so many ways for players to specialise their characters. While we'd prefer that the end-game were played at more methodical pace, we're very careful to not make changes that drastically reduce the power of characters, as this would remove a lot of the fun that players have with those builds.
With careful changes to the right systems in Path of Exile 2, we can hopefully keep speed-creep under control while still having scope for end-game builds that do some insane stuff.
GB: Path of Exile features a built-in loot filter now, and there are plenty of third-party ones floating around the Internet. With that in mind, are you happy with how the game handles loot at the moment?
CW: We have a plan to substantially change the way that item drops work before Path of Exile 2 is released. While we will announce this in more detail later, the broad goals are that players will find a lot fewer terrible normal items, and that the rare items they find are better. This will both reduce the extreme clutter that can accumulate in some circumstances, and will mean players are meaningfully able to find improvements to their items on the ground (without feeling that the only way forward is crafting or trading).
GB: What are your plans regarding the game's performance and optimization?
CW: We have been making big improvements to the game engine with each expansion for the past few years. Releasing on console platforms (and later, Mobile) has also helped performance on PC immensely. Many of the graphics techniques we're using in the sequel (such as new rain, new grass, etc) both look better and perform better than the techniques that we used in the original game. In addition, the sequel has been a great opportunity to create new art assets the right way, with a strong eye towards their performance.
GB: In your Path of Exile 2 announcement you briefly mention some changes you wanted to implement previously but weren't able to without breaking the existing game, and now you're finally able to work them in. Anything you can tell me about those?
CW: A good example of this is the new skill system. Moving the sockets away from items and into the gems themselves is a massive change and isn't one that we could just make in a regular expansion without causing chaos. By releasing this change in the sequel, players will expect to have to re-learn some systems and will likely be creating new characters to play through the new storyline, giving them time to both learn the new system and to build their characters around the way that it now works.
GB: Now, usually hack 'n' slash action-RPGs aren't exactly known for their intricate stories, but I feel like you guys did a great job creating Path of Exile's world and all the characters we meet along the way. So, is there anything you can share about the sequel's story at this point?
CW: Thanks! With Path of Exile 2's story, we're wanting to create a more personal, claustraphobic experience which relies less on killing gods. We're quite excited to reset the "epicness creep" that occurred over time with the original Path of Exile campaign.
Path of Exile 2 is set 20 years after the original game and is initially set in a part of Wraeclast that players will be unfamiliar with. After narrowly escaping execution for unknown reasons, players must discover what has caused the change in behaviour of the local townspeople and wildlife. Their journey will take them all across Wraeclast, to locations both new and familiar.
GB: You also seem to have a knack for finding great voice actors, and Path of Exile's early chapters feature a lot of these little story bits you get by clicking on various objects in the world. But unless I'm mistaken, the later chapters don't have any of those. Any chance we'll see more of them in the sequel?
CW: Acts 6-10 of Path of Exile's original storyline are a little sparse on "Story Glyphs" (as we call them) compared to the first five acts. Path of Exile 2's storyline contains many in each act, so players who enjoy hearing about the game's lore will have plenty to listen to.
GB: Another thing we don't see too often are non-linear quests like the Bandit Lord quest where we get to choose a side in a conflict between three bandits, with each side offering unique rewards. Will we get any more of those in Path of Exile 2?
CW: We can't confirm what surprises are present in Path of Exile 2 yet, but we enjoy this kind of quest because it lets players experience different options across different playthroughs (assuming we do a good job of balancing the rewards to be good for various different use cases).
GB: And finally, Path of Exile: Royale, an April Fools joke that ended up being surprisingly fun. I think I remember you mentioning at some point that you wanted to bring it back for some special events. With the sequel fast approaching, any chance Royale will be appearing there in some form?
CW: This is a popular request, and if we do bring it back, it's likely to be before the sequel is released (though it would be compatible with both of course).
We feel there's a set of relatively straightforward design work that would make Path of Exile: Royale quite a lot more fun. We plan to create a custom passive skill tree for Royale (which goes up to the level 12 or so that players expect to reach in a match), and to reimagine many of Path of Exile's skills and unique items as low-level versions appropriate for this mode. It's just a matter of finding time to work on it alongside all the other big projects like Path of Exile 2 and our ongoing three-month cycle of expansions for Path of Exile.