Path of Exile Stories from Development - The Map System

Path of Exile's Map system is one of the more robust examples of endgame content in an action-RPG that pretty much offers a new campaign on top of the game's main storyline. And if you're curious to know how this system came to be, you can check out this “story from development” where you can read about some of the early Path of Exile endgame ideas that didn't work as well. A few paragraphs to get you started:

If you joined Path of Exile in the last half-decade, you're likely familiar with its end-game Map System. This system didn't always exist though, and came about as an effort to fix the various problems with the previous end-games that Path of Exile had during early development. In today's news post, Chris explains the history of Path of Exile's end-games and what led to the Map system being developed.

There are two key philosophies that guided our end-game design:

Random levels are critical

I doubt anyone in our community would disagree, but some Action RPG developers don't realise this and launch with a static world. Having random level layouts, random monsters and random events that occur within those levels means that players can repeat the same content over and over without feeling the same level of repetition that they would if the area was exactly the same each time.

Anywhere can be a functional end-game

This sounds crazy, but it's surprisingly true for Action RPGs. You can experimentally cut off progression at any arbitrary level, and players are still able to experience the end-game grind for better and better items and marginally higher experience as they play the last area or two of the game. We had a build of Path of Exile during the internal Alpha that went up to Brutus, and the Alpha community at the time (mostly friends of the developers) spent weeks doing Brutus runs looking for coveted level 12 rares (as Brutus was level 10 then) and trying to be the first to reach level 20. Every time we expanded the end of the game by adding content, a new end-game evolved that was just as entertaining as the last, but in a different place. This has also been seen in the various betas and stress tests of other Action RPGs in the past - players will compete to get the most out of whatever content is available.

Having said that, even though anywhere can be a functional end-game, it's still desirable to have as much content as possible at the end-game. If it's just one best area that players have to repeat over and over, then the game is relying entirely on the power of random level generation. It's certainly better to have more content available.

A standard trope of Action RPGs in the 2000s was that you were able to complete the game three times on the same character, each time harder than the last. These difficulty levels tapered upwards in area level until you hit some final end-game areas, which were typically the hardest content in the game. Path of Exile initially had four difficulty levels while it only had two acts during Beta. To try to avoid the repetition of playing just one highest area over and over, we made our final difficulty level completely flat in terms of area level, so you could play anywhere you wanted in the game. It was also very challenging in terms of monster difficulty. The goal was that players would have immense variety in where to farm, so they wouldn't become bored as quickly as if they were just repeating the end of Act Two over and over.

Unfortunately, with a completely flat final difficulty, we encountered two problems:
  • In order to be an end-game that you slowly improve your ability to play, it was very challenging and felt like a wall of difficulty to many players. They were concerned that they weren't able to kill monsters in it and they died repeatedly.
  • Those players that could kill monsters quickly worked out the best farming areas that had a combination of weak monster AI and linear layouts. The Ledge was a great example of this.