It’s really fun.
Granted, it’s from the perspective of a slow lowbie or a noob’s eye view, but as a representative of the beginner player subset, I think the latest update for Path of Exile goes a long way towards making the game more interesting when you simply play through the game.
(As opposed to more ‘endgame’ or ‘alternate’ gameplay modes where one speedruns through everything, racing though maps or levels, or sit around repeating instances and farming for loot – though it probably does make life more interesting there as well.)
First off, the UI has changed:
The most obvious addition is that of an MMO-like ‘quest tracker’ to the right side of the screen, that probably makes things a lot clearer for newbies as to where they’re supposed to go and what’s optional and what’s not.
Even though I’ve played through the Acts enough times by now to have memorized the sequence, it’s still nice to have a quick reminder of what quest stage one is at, without having to bring up the entire quest objectives menu.
(Now, if only I can figure out how to stop the damn square exclamation mark from popping up every time I fulfill a quest objective. Any Path of Exile pros have any tips on this front? It’s driving my OCD nuts to have to press U to clear it every time.)
It would be a little better if it were more customizable, but small steps forward, I guess.
The strange rune-like icons on the left have been replaced with a single pop-up menu button that expands out to show all the options in detail. Again, a more newbie-friendly change. Experts will already have memorized the keyboard shortcut by now.
The cryptic dollar sign has been replaced with a more clearly labeled “SHOP” button for the microtransaction shop.
And the flasks have had a little pretty visual upgrade, complete with recessed shadows that conform to their shapes.
Anyhow, I logged in with barely contained glee onto my level 65 Shadow, full of confidence that Forsaken Masters would make everything better.
Then reality struck.
They’d literally reset ALL of my points, since duh, I’m a Shadow, and that part of the tree got completely rearranged.
That’s 81 skill points to reallocate.
As if that were not intimidating enough, going into the passive tree warns you that the patch gave your character a full one-use skill tree reset, except that if you allocate any passives before using it, it will be lost.
(Not that the Shadow really needs it, they already reset the whole thing for me!)
Finally, one looks at the whole relevant part of the skill tree, trying to take in all the changes, while still trying to figure out if my previous playstyle can still be built for, without totally gimping myself again…
I am perfectly aware that there are skill builders on websites that I can use.
Those rather assume a bit more knowledge and familiarity with the tree than I start out with, nor do I have the interest in staring at and reading each node online, then spending three hours tinkering with it without playing the game.
(Those kinds of things are fun -later- after you’ve mastered the basic game. I spent plenty of time playing with City of Heroes’ offline build creators, slotting IOs to eke out that last percent of optimal, but that was -after- leveling a bunch of alts and being familiar enough with the powersets to pick the arrangement I wanted without thinking about it.)
Granted, the new layout does feel a lot better.
Just going through the Shadow-related nodes, you can see more distinct paths where you can be more an elemental spellcaster, or a melee user – and pick up more survival-focused nodes at the beginning.
There’s a very clear Trap focus, to give the Shadow a more distinct specialization, as well as damage-over-time through poison/chaos damage, and daggers / claws, etc.
It gives some promising ideas for new Shadow characters later, but trying to find the right nodes for my rather quirky design vision was a little more challenging.
All in all, I wussed out.
I decided that the best way to explore the newly rearranged part of the tree was to make a NEW character, checking out each node organically as he leveled, with the express purpose of trying to recreate the same playstyle.
If the new character did well enough through the levels, then I could copy the bulk of that tree over to my 65 Shadow, with any extra improvement tweaks from playing and feeling out the weaknesses on the new character.
It was also a good opportunity to check out the new Rampage league.
Rampage is the standard not-hardcore league, with the twist of having a killstreak mechanic for chaining multiple mob deaths.
The more kills you increment on a counter, the more things happen around you.
Hit 15, and a handy dandy projectile stun spins out in all directions – it’s very nice for my lowbie Shadow, since all the mobs obligingly hold still to be stabbed.
Other stuff that happens include animated weapons showing up, and some kind of corpse explosion, but I tend to lose track of anything happening on screen at that point, besides trying to stab things with red health bars until there aren’t any left.
There’s a nice synergy to this with the Loremaster Elreon minigame.
You see, each master apparently has a miniquest activity associated with it.
I’ve only met three so far, because I r a slowbie.
This is Elreon, and he seems to be the Templar class representative.
He has little ‘defend the relics’ miniquests, that can be as simple as one relic and one small circle:
Or something like this:
Yep, 4 relics.
The 4 circles above crashed my game, by the way. I assume there were just too many mobs generated for it to cope at that point, as the servers were a little jittery at the time with concurrent users – there was a queue of several thousands when I tried logging back in, something I’d never seen before – though granted, it only took a few tens of seconds for hundreds to enter at once.
Couple minutes wait, at most.
All in all, a fun minigame, which rather reminds me of the Mythbusters’ zombie special:
Haku the Armourmaster, on the hand, opens up a separate mini-area when you talk to him.
Here, you’re supposed to retrieve a Karui spirit for him, in what is possibly the most streamlined version of an escort quest yet.
There is no slow-moving NPC to lose your temper with.
The spirit is essentially an object you pick up.
Except that it’s like frickin’ dynamite when you DO pick it up.
Most of the time, you can choose to fight through or run your way to the spirit as you desire. Sometimes, you’ll have to kill a mob to free the spirit.
Once you do grab the spirit, MORE mobs will spawn and chase you, while a ‘self-destruct’ mechanic will trail you like a most persistent hound. Fire falls out of the sky, blood explosions gout out of the ground where you’re standing, and they all HURT.
Moral of the story: Don’t stand still.
I ran around being on fire and trying to kill an endless stream of mobs, draining health flasks like water, for all of the first instance before I figured it out – you’re not supposed to stay there and kill everything until it stops moving. You won’t, you’ll just die instead.
Instead, it’s like a little training tutorial in introducing newbies to the concept that yes, you can run away from trash packs of mobs, and juke around them (and hope you don’t get stuck and die from desync.)
NPCs have never made it back to the quest-giver so quickly, when the player can pick them up and carry them, and then is promptly given a sizeable inducement to GTFO as fast as possible.
There may still be a few tweaks needed. The Path of Exile Reddit is all busy talking about the “Rocks fall, everybody dies” Haku miniquest which seems to be near-certain death. Me, I’m just glad I haven’t seen that variant yet.
Tora, the Mistress of the Hunt will request you to track a series of appearing footprints (or green blood pools, in my one specific case) back to a miniquest entrance, to which you enter and do a short kill quest.
It was a bit of a dead giveaway when I stumbled on the miniquest entrance before even finding the master. It was like, “hmm, this is odd… guess I better run around and check the map to see if there’s a master here…”
Doing these quests for the masters nets you faction reputation for them, and places them in town, where they become vendors that sell armor for the class they represent.
That’s kind of nice, in a way, since that’s another source of gear where RNG -may- possibly favor you.
Eventually, as you build rep with them, they can offer to create a hideout for you with a specific tileset, and then provide crafting stations in those hideouts if you invite them to it, or some such.
Wouldn’t know yet, I only have enough rep with Haku and am waiting to find all the masters and get them into town first before deciding on a hideout.
(Preferably -after- all the PoE veterans have put the info on a wiki so that I can make a decision I don’t regret. The whole thing is apparently shared by all the characters in the league. The good news is that this is the Rampage league, so it’s sort of a four-month trial run. Faction rep will combine down with the standard league when the Rampage league ends, apparently, so it’s not wasted time either.)
The last interesting change is that some of the early bosses seem to have gotten more of an upgrade in combat skills.
Merveil, if you let her get away from you, starts calling up a bunch of adds and whirlpool tornado things.
Brutus, in the Prison area, also summons up adds and has a few more interesting attacks.
I rather like it, since it seems to balance out a bit more of the prior slightly weird difficulty spikes, where everything seemed like a cakewalk until BANG, you run into mobs that start using high-damage elemental attacks and here you are, with no clue that resistances are a priority… or BANG, here’s the Piety or Dominus fight where the bosses suddenly have multiple phases and understanding the specific attack mechanics of the fight is suddenly important.
I’d already been learning this through rather painful trial and error on the higher Cruel and Merciless difficulties with my alts, but it’s nice to know that newbies won’t have to go through the same experience.
Now, from the start, you expect that boss mobs will have a whole bunch of weird attacks, and that reading animations and dodging these (hey, just like GW2!) is important to avoid damage, rather than just running up to the mob and killing it… until you suddenly can’t, one day out of the blue and explode into little perplexed gibs.
All in all, a very nice patch.
Knowing there may be different masters in an area encourages an interesting tension between being thorough in exploring versus being speedy and just rushing through to the next zone.
Encountering the different masters also changes things up in that procedural generation manner. Prior concepts from various leagues are also in – so you may encounter Strongboxes of loot, Corrupted Areas for vaal gems, Ambushes from various rogue exiles (aka sort of elites or mini-bosses).
Altogether, it becomes more varied an experience.
Though farming may now be more of a pain. I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a consistent way to get a corrupted area to try and find a Vaal Summon Skeletons to make my new character more resemble the old one, and it doesn’t look very promising on the RNG front. Since I’m neither willing to manual trade, nor do I even -own- a chaos orb’s worth of currency, it’s a bit of a moot point to get it via other players.
The good news is that for the other kind of playstyle that I normally prefer – ie. not building and matching a character to a specific design spec, but working with what RNG doles out to you and creating a unique playing character from it, this sort of varied roguelike map layout matches pretty well.
For example, I picked up Cold Snap and tried it out, and discovered that it actually synergizes quite well. Freezing enemies in place for a short time gives more room to a) survive damage, and b) stab things.
I still miss my Vaal Summon Skeletons ‘elite’ or ‘ultimate skill’ but well, one makes do with what one has, for the time being.