Path of Exile’s next league kicks off early next month, giving players of the popular action-RPG a series of all new challenges to tackle and systems to master during its three-month cycle. There’s a lot to look forward to when Bestiary goes live, including some fundamental changes to the core game’s ascendancy system as well as a new monster-hunting crafting loop. Chris Wilson, producer and lead designer at Grinding Gear Games, walked me through what players will be seeing soon – either firsthand or by watching the hardest of the hardcore players streaming on Twitch.
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We Built A Zoo
The upcoming league is called Bestiary, so it should come as no surprise that monsters are a focus of the limited-time event. In short, the name of the game is weakening and trapping monsters with nets, holding them in a new zoo-like section of your hideout, and then using their materials in powerful new crafting recipes. It’s not as easy as it sounds, however. To craft these new recipes, you have to perform a sacrificial ritual – reuniting with the creatures you trapped and battling them to the death inside of an arena. For example, to make a fairly basic staff, you might need to sacrifice a pair of arachnids and a couple of other beasts that you found (and successfully captured alive) while out in the wild. Once they’re dead, the item is yours.
In addition to your run-of-the-mill monsters, the world has been populated with 41 legendary beasts. These are tougher variants of existing enemies, with more complicated attacks. During one battle I saw, an emu-like monster summoned a spectral stampede, which filled the screen with ghostly apparitions. If you’re careless, it would be easy to get trampled by such an attack.
There are also four completely reskinned spirit beast monsters, which serve as the league’s boss encounters. To fight them, you first have to craft a portal to their realm. Once you enter and defeat these bosses, you can get unique items or materials that can be used to craft the best items and recipes in the league. “Basically, we’ve tried to come up with wacky stuff that’s possible in Path of Exile,” Wilson says. Some examples are recipes that instantly generate five prophecies for the player, reroll numeric values on an item, or create mirrored copies of a flash or map.
“When we release a challenge league, we want that league to be powerful during the three months that it’s on Path of Exile,” Wilson says. “We may keep it afterward in some form, or we may just put it to one side and not roll it into the game. But we want those mechanics to be something the people love doing. Because of that, this crafting stuff is quite generous People ideally will look at this and say, ‘Oh, I’m doing a lot of that. This is how I’m getting my power for the next three months.’ It’s pretty much guaranteed that if we’re keeping the bestiary into the project in the future, which would be nice because it’s a lot of work, the crafting will be in a different form that’s much less powerful. It’s intentional here that the crafting is a big carrot to make people collect all of the monsters.”
Set Piece Moments
The Bestiary league is adding set items, which can drop from spirit beasts. Grinding Gear has been reluctant to add that type of armor system to the game, but Wilson says they’ve found a way they think works within the game’s overall design philosophy.
“Armor sets are tricky, because Path of Exile traditionally doesn’t have set items,” he says. “If you remember in the Diablo series, you could accumulate set items, and when you got them all you got a big bonus. Those kind of games have a tricky balance, because on one hand they want to incentivize you into completing the set and having escalating bonuses, but on the other hand they don’t want to create a situation where the player feels obliged to complete the set as though there’s no other choice.
“Our main goal here was when we asked our developers how many pieces of the crab armor set would you wear if you were playing as a marauder who is defensive, that everyone would have a different answer. Some of our developers say, ‘None,’ and then get back to work. Others say, ‘The whole thing, obviously.” Wilson says other team members would have spirited discussions about whether you would only wear the gloves and boots, reserving the chest piece for another piece of gear, or find any number of other alternatives. “That’s good, because it means we’ve hit the rough point where it doesn’t feel mandatory to have the entire set on.”
He showed one such set, which drops from the previously mentioned crab spirit beast. The Craiceann’s set has a special crab barrier property, in which the armor grows special plates that add defensive and offensive capabilities, breaking off when players take damage. Players don’t have to wear the armor to get the ability, once they find the armor, however. Players will be able to graft it onto existing armor, if they like the functionality but don’t want to wear a specific piece for whatever reason.
You (Probably) Shall Not Pass
Since leagues only last for a few months, Grinding Gear wanted to ensure that experiencing its content wouldn’t be a full-time job. “We’ve balanced it so that the average path of exile player will get to see this content,” Wilson says. “The really hardcore path of exile player will want to do it a lot, and they’re going to use it to measure their progress. It’s in contrast to some content, which is balanced so nobody will see it, because it’s aspirationally difficult for Twitch players.”
The league introduces new end-game content, which builds off the previous War for the Atlas. Players who retrieve all 15 of the Shaper’s memory fragments will receive a special key that opens a door in the hub world. Inside the Shaper’s room is a new item, the Elder’s Orb. This allows players to upgrade any map on the Atlas to tier 16.
The Elder and Shaper can now overlap on the Atlas map, which wasn’t possible before. If you go to that location, you have to fight the game’s two most difficult bosses simultaneously.
“This is only affecting very, very dedicated players,” Wilson says. “The kind who have no job and do 16 hours a day on Path of Exile and probably have a Twitch channel and make income from that and so on. I have to stress the fact that the bestiary stuff is designed to enjoy it, and this is designed so you look forward to seeing some of it and enjoying it on Twitch, or if you lose your job for a while, you can enjoy it.”
In addition to having a starting class, Path of Exile characters can eventually pick a second specialization class. These are called ascendancies, and they’re getting a major overhaul with the release of the Bestiary update. Wilson says that since their introduction, they’ve stagnated. Players started to figure out which ones were optimal, which goes against the flexibility that the studio strives for.
“Some of the classes became much better than the others, and some became worse. When you draw a line of acceptability through the middle, it meant that some of the classes just weren’t being played; 19 choices became 17 became 15 became 12, you get the idea. There were a few right answers for ascendancy, then a few that were just a little bit off the mark and people felt bad when they picked them.
“We did two things. The first was a full balance pass to make sure that all of these were equivalently powerful and they feel good when you get them, and they’d increase the power levels of the bad ones without disturbing the power levels of the good ones. From the players’ point of view, we’ve buffed the ascendancies and they’ll be pleased with that. We’ve basically revamped and retrofitted all of the ascendancy classes to do new stuff, and it’s going to feel like a big difference to the players. As an example, the berserker is a marauder specialization that likes to do a lot of damage to monsters, but it does it by being completely fine with sacrificing its own life. The berserker is totally cool with giving 10 percent of its life to do a big hit, and so on. It’s not necessarily a hardcore playstyle, but it’s one that’s very popular. Now we’ve introduced a new mechanic called rage.
“The way rage works is that whenever you kill a monster or do damage to a boss, it accumulates rage. Rage makes you attack faster, move faster, do more damage, but it also gradually hurts you for each rage charge that you have. Once you’re fully enraged, you’re like a killing machine, cutting through huge swaths of enemies, but you’re losing quite a bit of life per second, which is cool because the player is regenerating life per second and drinking flasks and doing all the combat tricks to get life back. He’s not in imminent danger, but it does force him to keep managing his life. The rage mechanic has only been added to the berserker, and it only will be added to the berserker. Our intention is for each of these new mechanics to not go elsewhere in the game for someone else to get. That way, if you want to be enraged and do this, you have to be a berserker to do it. It’s bringing back the class identity as a strong thing that no one else has.”
Get Ready This March
In addition to the big changes I mentioned before, there are some smaller additions that are worth mentioning.
First, there’s a new skill called spectral shield throw, which allows players to chuck a spectral version of your shield at enemies. Once it hits, it shatters into shards. Its damage is based on the armor of the shield you’re using which pushes back against a player trend of ignoring that stat in favor of a shield’s other magical properties.
“I feel like it’s one of the more Path of Exile Path of Exile skills that we’ve released recently, because there are things for players to discover about it,” Wilson says. “I’m pleased with that one. It also makes you feel like a spellcaster while still hitting guys technically with a physical shield.”
Wilson says that 20 percent of new Path of Exile players want to be a necromancer when they start out. A new support gem will make that build more accessible, while giving players who enjoy minions more options. Summon phantasm on kill does what it says. When an enemy is killed with a linked skill, a phantasm is summoned. “In addition to being a minion, it also inherits all of the properties of the supported skill,” Wilson says. “For example, if you’re using multiple projectiles on the skill, it means the phantasms have multiple projectiles.”
There's also a slew of new items to acquire – of course. Keep an eye out for 40 new fated uniques, as well as 16 all-new uniques from the Bestiary league.
The Bestiary update is coming to PC on March 2, with the Xbox One version planned for a few days after.