Path of Exile: Expedition - Game Balance Overview

With the Expedition expansion for Grinding Gear Games' free to play online action-RPG Path of Exile set to go live in a few days, we're treated to this here Development Manifesto focusing on the upcoming expansion's balance adjustments, and in particular the many nerfs to the game's support gems, the long-awaited rework of the flask system, and more.

Here's something to get you started and you take things from there:

The Great Support Gem Reduction

Relevant section from the livestream:

"For a while now, we have been concerned with the power gap between support gems. There are gems that grant huge multiplicative damage bonuses and there are gems that do a bunch of stuff you don't really care about. When you're building a character, by far the correct choice is just to stack on all the multiplicative damage bonuses and ignore all the interesting utility support gems because their opportunity cost is just too high.

We are reducing the damage bonuses on the support gems that are clearly just all about huge damage boosts and trying to give them impactful and appropriate downsides. For example, the Controlled Destruction support gem now penalises critical strikes multiplicatively.

Overall, this works out to a total of somewhere around 20%, potentially as high as 40% damage reduction for a character using a fully six-linked skill with entirely damage support gems. There's much less impact for characters that used utility support gems or who didn't have a six-link setup.

This achieves two goals for us. Firstly, the gap between the "good" and "bad" support gems has been narrowed, creating more interesting build opportunities. Secondly, player damage output in the end-game is reduced, which is a goal for this balance pass. As I mentioned, we want to iteratively restore challenge to Path of Exile. It's worth clarifying that we haven't buffed unused utility support gems as part of this balance pass. It's fully intentional that it's a reduction of power for the most damaging ones."

Damage multipliers between Support Gems have been standardised following these rules:
  • Gems that provide a useful benefit in addition to damage usually grant less than 25% more damage at gem level 20.
  • Those that provide only a damage bonus or have only a very mild restriction or penalty grant around 30-35% more damage.
  • Those with downsides or restrictions grant between 38% and 48% more damage, depending on how severe the cost of using the support is.
  • A couple of existing supports have had a downside added, allowing us to keep the damage multiplier relatively high. As an example Melee Physical Damage now grants supported skills 10% less Attack Speed. Certain builds, such as Earthquake Bleed are barely affected by this downside. Because the damage multiplier hasn't changed, the support is almost as strong as before. Minion Damage causes minions from Supported Skills to have 25% less Life, so you might want to consider other supports if your minions scaled damage from their Life or if they're not tough enough when supported.
This change provides more choice for builds that can be supported by a variety of support gems and lessens the relative damage loss incurred by using a support gem that doesn't provide direct damage, like Chain or Ancestral Call. There are now builds that will benefit more by using far more interesting support gem setups that were previously balanced around using only high-damage support gems.

A number of projectile and bow support gems like Barrage, Greater Multiple Projectiles and Chain haven't been changed, so builds using these more interesting projectile support effects will have lost much less damage than other builds. This has caused certain bow builds to be strong relative to other skill setups at late game. With our buffs to skills like Barrage (15% damage increase at gem level 20), Lightning Arrow (15% damage increase at gem level 20), Split Arrow (10% more Attack Speed at all levels), these add up to really help bring bows up in power relative to other builds.

Many Trap support gems haven't been adjusted, so Trap builds will not suffer much of a damage loss compared to using other skills at high levels. The Trap Support, Cluster Traps Support, Multiple Traps Support, Charged Traps Support, Advanced Trap Supports and Swift Assembly Support are unchanged. This has caused traps to be stronger relative to other skill setups at late game, and they'll have more of a reason to use the special Trap support gems instead of generic damage support gems. There are buffs to the cooldown trap skills Lightning Spire Trap (25% more damage at all levels) and Seismic Trap (40% more damage at all levels and a drastic increase in area of effect). We have made their wave and strike frequency now scale with Trap Throwing Speed instead of Cast Speed. Yes, this does mean with the Architect's Hand or Slavedriver's Hand unique items you get immense bonuses even if you're not a trapper. You can see how Trap builds are going to be very powerful.

Certain builds that were balanced around having very powerful Support Gems have lost more damage than others as a result of these changes. To counteract this, a broad selection of skills have received a notable boost in damage at high levels. This won't bring their six-linked damage back to where it was before the reduction to support gem power, it just makes sure they're not punished more than other ones by the changes. This predominantly affects skills that use Melee weapons, but there are others affected too. In general, skills that use Melee weapons have had a 25% damage increase at gem level 20, and are unchanged at gem level 1.