Playing Catch-up

Where did September go?!

You know it’s a busy month when you sit down and can’t even remember half of the things you were doing then. Either that, or I’m getting older and my brain cells are depleting even further.

Part of it has been real life – peak periods at work, visiting relatives, trying to cultivate more of an actual book reading habit back into my life, and part of it is too many games releasing content at around the same time.

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The primary game has been Path of Exile this season.

Blight League has a tower defense schtick going, which mostly means hordes of enemies coming in waves for you (and some towers) to kill before they reach a central point you’re guarding. The loot for succeeding is plentiful, incorporating both drops from the mobs you kill, as well as special treasure chests to open once victory is attained.

The build focus for buffing this time around are minion summoners.

This is a match made in heaven because I’ve always enjoyed the PoE summoner – a wave of plentiful minions that engulf enemies, tangling them up and giving them the death of a thousand paper cuts from multiple sources.

Except now the minions can be buffed to be faster and attack more quickly, and those paper cuts are now significant sword slashes in their own right. Plus more seems to scale based on the gems themselves, skill traits or more craftable gear, instead of requiring specific unique drops.

All in all, it makes my staunchly SSF playstyle a little more viable, pushing up the power potential of such builds, while possibly capping the more traditional “trade for perfect gear to reach insane heights” type of build. Those folks might have something to complain about, but the beauty of being SSF is that I don’t have to care – there is no competition, economic or otherwise, between them and me.

My game becomes simply about progressing further than myself in the past, as well as enjoying myself in the present.

The former is a definite. I hit level 90 the other day. This unlocked an account achievement for doing so. Progress milestone for sure.

Between spectres, zombies, vaal skeletons and carrion golems in an adapted Speaker for the Dead build, the power potential is quite off the charts in my limited experience. I did a normal Atziri at a super fast pace with no deaths – something I used to struggle with, often dying several times to flameblasts. I did a low level Shaper stronghold, I did a low level Elder fight, taking out the Elder Guardians for the first time ever. (More achievement unlocks.)

I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the Uber boss levels. The necessity of unlocking so many maps may be a stopping point, given my time constraints. We’ll see. From a build standpoint, it doesn’t seem like the limiting factor right now.

I’ve been enjoying the latest iteration on Master missions as well. It’s become less random, storing up the dailies into a sort of “banked storage” system, so that you can miss days and then crank through a bunch of them at once. You can also choose to concentrate focus on one type.

So if you feel like romping about the Omnitect’s temple, you can bank up a bunch of Alva missions and then feed maps into it, guaranteeing you Alva encounters per map, and quick progress towards a temple visit.

Or if, like me, you feel like exploring the depths of Delve, then you’re running Niko missions non-stop in between mine explorations, in order to get sufficient voltaic sulphite to go even deeper.

Presumably, if you’re an 18 hour a day streamer, you might actually run dry on all the master missions and have to go back to the randomness of whatever a map decides to offer.

As someone who can only play PoE for 1-2 hours a night, that is absolutely not a problem I’m running into – quite the opposite, the specter of “wasted” potential when a to-be-banked daily hits the storage limit is far more possible for me.

Fortunately, I’ve developed an immunity to this sort of perceived “loss” already. One has to. I play GW2 (have you seen its dailies tab these days?) I play Warframe. I play Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Pokemon Go. All of them have dailies for their more engaged, hardcore players to chase. If I attempted faithful completion of all of the dailies -daily-, I’d probably have to be a student, a streamer or unemployed. Not to mention, go nuts in short order because I’m not that innately obsessive-compulsive or to-do-list-manic.

So I’m good. I’m just chugging along, doing a couple maps nightly, aiming for short master mission goals on a whim, enjoying the present and the churn of hundreds and thousands of mobs meeting -my- personal tens of mobs and dying.

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At nigh unto the same time, GW2 released the Prologue of its newly renamed Living World Season Icebrood Saga.

It seems to have been warmly welcomed all around. (I mean, if you can evoke a cautiously optimistic response from Endgame Viable, you gotta be doing something right.)

Mind you, the GW2 subreddit is still variously on fire from a subset of the raider subset, unhappy about ‘easy mode’ strike missions, their ‘challenging content’ preference being ignored, class balance being effected with a sledgehammer… on the wrong targets entirely, being potentially forced to pay for worse functionality on in-game build templates when they’re already used to a far better free third-party option, and so on.

(Not all of their unhappiness is off base – I am personally really pissed off about my already weak-in-raids Scourge being made even weaker and clunkier to use, to the point where I don’t think I dare risk teammate unhappiness any further, while the top of the line condi option remains an unaffected outlier – but there’s a definite echo chamber effect going on.)

Before October’s skill “balance” patch though, there was Grothmar Valley. And it was good. 

The Metal Legion concert has been a spectacular example of an open world meta event that harnesses the dynamic event system to superb effect, uniting everyone – hardcore, casual, mid-core alike – in one goal and giving everyone warm, fuzzy community feelings instead of “lol, your dps is 10x less that of mine.”

The golden fields of Ascalon has always been a sight near and dear to any GW1 fan. It’s the first thing you see in the tutorial. It’s what you promptly lose post-tutorial in the Searing. It is the Shire equivalent in Tyria. It is where you begin. It is where you’d love to come back to when your journey ends. It is home.

Grothmar Valley being right smack in Ascalon gives a massive nostalgia homecoming kick to those of us with enough history to remember it.

(As an aside, I was amused by a Redditor’s comment that GW2 officially now has players with a longer tenure than the developers. Maybe not quite yet, I assume GW1 had -some- amount of development time, possibly years, before opening up beta weekends to players. But I do remember playing those beta weekends. We’re getting there.)

At the same time, Grothmar Valley being populated with charr, and a very dangerous sort of discontented charr and a Hitler-esque leader to follow (this from a charr main player) pushes us into the future, hinting at the direction of the saga’s story.

It’s…promising. (Alas, given prior track record in executing, that’s about all we can say for the moment. We’ll believe it when we next see it.)

In the meantime, I was content to mess around doing all the things in Grothmar Valley. Catching up on crowd-necessary achievements while events were still populated. Playing around with races. Wandering the open world like how GW2 used to be from lvl 1-80. Jumping in on a whim for quick and painless public strike missions. Getting caught up with Ascended cooking to 500, which I’d neglected in the off-cycle.

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As is usual, something in the games line-up had to give and the loser for the month was Warframe.

Though frankly, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

I’d finished Nightwave series 2 early, getting the outfit I wanted, so I felt happy enough to drop it for a binge in Path of Exile.

I’d heard about Saryn Prime and Valkyr Prime unsealing from the Prime Vault, but having just come off a relic grind for Wukong Prime and wanting -both- unvaulted Primes really badly with none of the time investment, I took a hard look at what was offered in the joint package.

Nothing was a repeat. I kinda needed to restock some platinum. The whole deal was “only” $60 USD, as opposed to the more premium $80 or $140 Prime Access packages for new Prime warframes.

The ending of this story is predictable.

Some rationalization later, some clever brain trickery promising myself to work hard on real life matters I’d been procrastinating on for a reward, I gave Digital Extremes $60 to not play their game for September.

Maybe in October I’ll enjoy the fruits of this. Atlas Prime is out and I’ll probably relic grind for that. But I’ll have to finish up a bunch of other things first to make time for Warframe again.

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Then there’s single-player games. I’m racking up an alarming number of “want-to-plays.” My computer is nearly out of disk space on three hard drives. I need to make myself sit down and sort through installed games and so on, but seriously, who has time for that?!

I can’t even sort through my Path of Exile stash, my GW2 inventories and my Pokemon Go critter collection.

I took a few days “vacation” in Factorio beginner land. The learning curve was prohibitive. Eventually I gave up any hope of potentially making something resemble anything close to efficiency and embraced a train of thought that ran ‘if it actually connects and makes a circuit and -runs-, it’s good enough.’

I have come to the conclusion that my brain works in convoluted ways and what one sees on the screen is a reflection of this. I am not an innately ordered or orderly sort of person.

Other assorted September snippets:

Still watching Critical Role faithfully and enjoying an additional game from a vicarious standpoint.

Re-discovered (one year late, again) a stunning Portal inspired song from Youtuber Harry101UK and TheStupendium – The Android Hell Blues. Did wonders for the couple of days I was in a blue mood to have it on repeat loop and wallow in jazzy, dark humourous, clever wordplay while nose to the grindstone.

Re-reading the Blades in the Dark tabletop RPG and pondering in sporadic intervals over interrupted days if I can actually get some solo RP gameplay going, to actually enjoy story-based gaming that video games can’t seem to get quite right yet.

Bought a bunch of Dave Graffam papercraft models at $1 each, on DriveThruRPG sale, in the hope of getting crafty again and making a mini-medieval city. Maybe in November. It’s a really hectic time at work this season.

Also recently watching CohhCarnage play through AI: Somnium Files, a visual novel-esque detective anime game with more interaction than a standard VN, and being somewhat drawn to it. The current price is a definite not-now though, so the craving has been displaced to “How about actually playing through some of the other older games of the same developer that you -actually- own but just haven’t gotten around to?”

Aka Spike Chunsoft’s Zero Escape series, Danganronpa, Steins;Gate, 428 Shibuya Scramble, et. al.

If wishes were fishes…

Bleh. Back to squeezing in productive “survive life” to-dos for a little longer and playing catch-up on everything else.

Path of Exile: Designed to Be Played Forever

Watched Chris Wilson’s GDC2019 talk the other day:

A lot of eye-opening insights in here:

  • the standard population decline of any online game when they first launched and how they got it to spike consistently and even grow over time through their league seasons
  • a quick look at their custom tool for procedurally generating interesting map levels in really short time frames
  • the importance of marketing and having enough content to market to different subsets of players to make a big enough impact to prompt returners to return
  • the importance of consistency and predictability to cultivate a customerbase (or else they will look elsewhere and get distracted and then you’ve lost them.)

A couple of his points I don’t necessary agree with, or think might work for -every- game out there, but perhaps are more game and population specific:

  1. The idea of investing time to design aspirational content for the 5-10%, knowing full well the majority of their customers will not reach it, but creating this content for the 5-10% to feel special because no one else can get there, and those 5-10% tending to be the more hardcore influencer types who stream and thus draw in hopefuls and additional player numbers
  2. Economy resets so players can start on a fresh playing field periodically
  3. Layers and layers of randomness to create interesting variability
  4. Avoiding day-night cycles so that assets can be re-used
  5. Designing spare assets to sit around in a warehouse/library so that they can be pulled out when there is a need
  6. Avoiding pipelining releases so that people aren’t distracted working on two things at once, or tempted to avoid dealing with a tough problem in favor of something easier

Point 1 always raises my hackles. My opinion is that it works for games that start out designed that way, so they attract a playerbase that accepts that premise from the get go.

Something like Warframe apparently attempted large group raids and later removed them because apparently too few of their playerbase was interested, they seem to be doing better investing effort into content that both groups and soloists can do.

As for GW2, well, their “little” u-turn and about-face during Heart of Thorns introducing aspirational raid content lost them the better part of their initial playerbase, and attracted a newer, more competitive, and hostile sort of player in lieu. Hopefully they pay more. Else it was a really really bad strategic decision, no?

Path of Exile on the other hand is built around the idea of competition, of races, of getting to level 100 and feats of getting somewhere “first” broadcast to all and sundry. It has a hardcore permadeath league mechanic for the challenge seekers. So yes, logically aspiration works for a primarily competitive, challenge-seeking, numbers-crunching playerbase that can deal with that PoE skill tree. Somehow, I don’t think playing PoE to “relax” is a majority motivation here.

The solo self-found playstyle was more of an underground subset of players who chose to remove themselves from this competitive economy and create their own fun – it’s only recently they gave a nod towards it by delineating a separate group to declare oneself that way. The stated rationale is for bragging rights, and they are very careful to assure players that you can jump back into the economy any time you want; separately I suppose it is also a way for them to keep tabs on just how large or small this hermit-like player subset is. (SSF all the way, huzzah. Fuck yo’ aspirational content.)

In theory, I really like the idea of Point 2. I was first introduced to the broad principles of resetting in MUDs that had something called ‘remort.’ You reach max level (ie. near immortality), then you ‘remort’ (become mortal once again) to level 1 and get to level up again, but with some bonuses for choosing to reset yourself that way.

For some games, this works and comes as part of the game. Kingdom of Loathing is a browser based game that uses the remort mechanic. A Tale in the Desert has an extended long reset with new Tellings. There’s that One Hour, One Life game I never tried, but the reset concept is right there in its title. You can choose to reset almost every single piece of gear in Warframe with forma and level it up again so you can cram in more and better mods to make it even stronger.

For other games, I don’t know if their playerbase would recoil in garlicky vampiric horror at the concept of being set back to square one and starting anew. I understand that World of Warcraft tries to reset gear every expansion – from an outsider’s POV, it seems to be a 50/50 mix of acceptance and frustration among its populace. GW2 resets WvW in varied intervals and it seems most players have gotten numb to the resets over time, as winning means very little. Still other games are all about the collection and character/account progress, and I doubt those players would be happy with a reset – does Monster Hunter World or Final Fantasy 14 reset anything?

Point 3 I also like on a personal level, it’s a very roguelike foundational concept, and I love me a whole bunch of roguelikes that can offer me procedurally generated layouts that allows me to have a different and strategically interesting time each playthrough. Playing through City of Heroes near identical and unvarying tilesets and fixed predictable spawn size for 4 years will do that to you.

But not every game can be a roguelike/sandbox type of game where the player is expected to react with the resources available and create their own story. Some games are more linear, more dev-created story-oriented, and handcrafted, hand-placed content still has that level of uniqueness that can break the pattern recognition of players reacting to procedurally generated stuff. It’s just that handcrafted stuff takes a lot longer time to create.

Some games do try to mix the best of both worlds. Don’t Starve has handcrafted set pieces mixed in with procedural generation, and a bunch of Minecraft mods also do the same thing, sprinkling in handcrafted stand-out pieces and allowing the general landscape to be procedurally generated.

Which I suppose point 3 also covers, this idea of mixing and overlaying random stuff atop of random stuff, so that it is harder for players to discern predictable patterns.

Point 4-6 sound very much studio-specific and game-specific decisions, so I won’t comment there.

Still, it is interesting to learn what he feels works well for Path of Exile.

And I really want to sit in on a three hour talk to hear what he thinks about loot and itemization.

Wide Screen, Narrow Focus

The biggest piece of news for me on the games front has been the upgrade of an ailing six-year old monitor to something about three times as ludicrous. Literally.

As in, super-ultra wide.

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I had the opportunity to pick up one of Samsung’s 49″ CHG90 monitors for 25% off and decided to go for it. You only live once and all that.

It’s currently being powered by my new-old PC (that is, it’s still new in my mind but objectively old by now) and putting the then-awesome GTX 980 through its paces (eh, it’s about time it gets a workout.)

Any further upgrades will have to wait a little, as the monitor, even discounted, costs about the same as an entire PC, but damn, is it glorious.

Naturally, I’ve been doing very little with it beyond playing the same old games.

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But in a whole new way.

It’s not been all smooth-sailing. One of the sticking points that are nigh immediately surfaced is the fact that very few games and developers have thought about ultrawide displays as an important consideration until recently, so UI can be a major problem.

Resizing it, moving it, not having it so far away in your peripheral vision that you can’t see any health reports and thus immediately die because you have no idea how you’re actually doing. Each game can be a whole new exercise in tweaking and customizing the UI until it becomes acceptable.

For someone who really values immersion as a motivation while playing games though, that feeling of being lost inside a wholly different world, and revels in the awe and inspiring nature of a fantastical landscape, the experience of playing on an ultrawide is something not to miss.

If VR is about wrapping a screen around your face so that you feel like you’re there in a different environment, then a super-ultrawide is about having a screen attempt to take up as much of your actual field of vision as possible, while still giving you plenty of room for air.

It is strangely sating.

I can play less, and feel completely satisfied. A couple of Warframe missions and I’m bowled over by so much visual spectacle that it’s hard to crave more.

Which is all very well because I’ve been splitting up my time into Path of Exile’s Synthesis League. Being SSF blissfully insulates me from any dissatisfaction of the general population.

The Spectral Throw claw-wielder I’ve been attempting is a bit of a slow bloomer, reliant on gear I probably don’t have, so it’s been a little more challenging than usual. Something I was quite aware of going in, so I don’t have any complaints on that front, but it’s slow going and tempting me to make a second character to try another build.

PoE is one of those games where going super-ultrawide does NOT do survival any favors, thanks to putting UI way beyond any visibility. So I’ve been playing it in a more sedate windowed “wide” view that expands my field of vision some, but not absurdly.

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It does, amusingly, provide enough room for me to have Path of Building up in another window right next to it, so that’s a nifty bonus when I want to refer easily to it.

You’d think one of the best games to be messing around with a super-ultrawide display is Guild Wars 2, and you’d be right, from a visual spectacle standpoint… except that I’m still struggling with overall veteran burnout – it all feels pretty boring doing the same old thing.

I did get a few cool screenshots while doing the same old thing:

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These are in the middle of raids, so graphics have been cranked down to middling to eke out every last drop of FPS.

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I got a WvW screenie for kicks, even though I don’t WvW much at all.

If there’s one thing I figured out right quick from the above, it’s that there can be very much hardware-related reasons as to why person A might perform differently from person B.

I felt like I had a noticeable amount of greater situational awareness just from the wider field of view, though smaller detailed nuances (like where your feet might be standing) might be harder to spot as a result.

If some WvW person seems to have a better grasp of their surroundings, it may very well be that they’re not looking through a porthole and do indeed have a broad overview of the entire field of battle, as it were.

Ah well, I suppose that’s life.

I certainly wouldn’t advise picking up an ultrawide display just to be competitive – if only because the words GW2 and competition go together laughably, if at all.

Eventually, I’ll get tired of Path of Exile and maybe that will bring enough time to broaden out to testing other games. Minecraft, Shadow of War, and others. But for the moment, slaughtering hordes of mobs in pretty surroundings is checking all my boxes.

I did take five minutes of random touring in order to leave you with some “proper” GW2 screenshots as I sign off till next time…

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Very Happy Camper Right Now

It is super duper rare that I am beaming all over after playing a game. I am, by nature, more of a cynic and a pessimist. Outwardly, anyhow, so as to protect the teeny tiny kernel of eternal hope within from crushing disappointment.

But tonight, I am grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat of epic proportions.

On the 12th of November, since I was coming down from a GW2 legendary push, I started playing Warframe more heavily and giving it a more focused shot at void relic farming for Chroma Prime.

Somehow, a Chroma Prime Chassis blueprint dropped from solo opening one of my few Meso T3 relics (20% chance, after farming enough Void Traces to boost them to Radiant status.)

Bolstered by the first part finally dropping, I went ahead to crack open some Intact Neo K2 relics (25% chance for the Chroma Prime Blueprint itself), assuming that this would be the easiest part to obtain.

It also yielded itself that selfsame night.

Next, the hard part.

Chroma Prime Neuroptics blueprint have a 2-10% chance dropping from a Lith C3 relic; ditto Chroma Prime Systems with a 2-10% chance from an Axi C3 relic.

The 2% chance is if one brings the relic as is, “Intact” to a mission.

Improving the drop rate means upgrading with a Void Traces currency (which itself must be farmed by opening other relics). The best chance one can get for those two parts is 10%, which costs a fairly hefty amount of 100 Void Traces to bring it to Radiant.

Missions, by the way, are arranged in the order of difficulty from Lith (Easy), Meso (Okay), Neo (Medium-ish) and Axi (Pretty Durned Hard).

Lith would be tedious in terms of grind, but at least the missions would be something I could easily do.

Axi honestly terrified me. It would push the limits of where I currently am at with my warframes and weapons and mods.

After a few nights of patiently farming a grand total of three Lith C3s and three Axi C3s, tonight a 7 hour resource booster dropped as a free gift from the daily, which I noted doubled the Void Trace drop quantity.

Taking advantage of this, I changed plans and boosted all six of them to Radiant ever slowly and steadily farming in my inefficient solo way (which at least lets me have the agency to shoot mobs rather than wait for someone else to play the game for me.)

Naturally, once they were Radiant, I just -had- to try to crack them open.

After two missions of generously bringing Radiant Lith C3s and a Saryn to public groups just throwing in random Intact Liths, I decided I was tired of watching things die to another player pushing one button (and me being little better, snatching up what remained from that player and pushing my own button 4 to AoE wipe out the stragglers.)

Also, I had hoped that maybe another player might have some to improve my chances, but it apparently was a revolving door of some players deciding to drop after checking out the party and probably what relics were on offer.

So I played my last Lith relic as a legit slower solo, taking my time to open some containers and shoot some mobs and kubrows for the hell of it.

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Oh yeah.

Axi was left.

*shudder*

I gamely tried a level 41-43 Axi mission that was Corpus Defence by myself. I brought my Frost Prime, which I figured would give the objective the best chance at survival, and my best weapon and my best everything.

His Snow Globe was getting ripped apart but I was managing to keep it up and stacked… until the Nullifiers showed up. One thing or another happened, the globe kept dissolving, I kept getting ragdolled around and barely clung on (losing two lives in the process.)

Then the Corrupted Ambulas showed up, which was apparently some kind of ridiculously high hp TANK of a boss mob and me with the wrong weapon damage type/no knowledge of how to deal with it. It took some five minutes of slowly nickel and diming it to death.

The next wave (wave 4, I believe) began, and a SECOND Corrupted Ambulas landed, accompanied by a veritable wave of robotic laser-toting moas which do horrible things to the Snow Globe.

That was when I surrendered and aborted that mission.

Public matches it would have to be.

At least I would be bringing an offering of a Radiant Axi C3 relic, which I assumed a more high rank player would be happier to crack open for everyone to benefit from.

Along that vein of thinking, I brought along my Rhino Prime so that I could both stay alive with Iron Skin and just Roar to give whoever was going to do the major part of the killing a little more damage.

Two missions and two teams went by. Nothing.

On the second team, two players voted to stay for waves 6-10, one decided to extract, and I decided to follow along with the two that hadn’t violently barfed and run off from my low to middle ranked mastery level.

My -last- Axi C3 relic… else I would have to repeat the process for another couple days.

Kindness rewarded.

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YEEEEEEEEESSSS.

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Very very happy camper right now.

In 3 days and 12 hours later, I can take the shiny new prime warframe out for a test run.

Laughably, I don’t even have the base Chroma yet and have no clue what it does. I like the idea of a dragon warframe, but found the normal Chroma both ugly and a bit tedious to make as it required farming up other warframe parts. The ugliness really did not help the appeal.

Chroma Prime, though. Love its look. Very similar in structure to the Palatine Rhino skin which is my top favorite fashion warframe. Had to have it.

Now I do. Feels so good.

Oh, and as additional icing on today’s cake, I was right in my last post that Path of Exile would be launching its hype cycle pretty darned soon.

Path of Exile 3.5 will bring us Betrayal.

Forsaken Masters getting majorly revamped – as in, the daily tedium of grinding faction will be gone, along with them entirely (possibly taking the place as bosses to fight instead.)

A new set of Masters will take their place, and bring the mechanics of the previous leagues into core – Delve, Incursion and a revamped Bestiary.

Hideouts will keep over leagues so that you can finally decorate one to your heart’s content without having to begin with a blank slate every league, and a great deal more besides.

Man, this is why I’m so thrilled to be playing and following Warframe and Path of Exile.

Fortuna’s patch notes busted the Reddit character limit the other day.

As one user said, “You know its a good day when the patch notes hit the character limit.”

Path of Exile’s Betrayal hype page has 12 sections. The patch notes are going to be pretty darned awesome come December.

And now I can actually viably consider veering back to PoE, now that my Chroma Prime goal has been ticked off in Warframe (and Astralaria in GW2.)

Today is a good day.

Path of Exile: Delving with a Witch Doctor

Delve league is out in Path of Exile, and I’m right back in the swing of things.

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The league is named for the supposed first of potentially many “infinite” dungeon type systems that Grinding Gear Games may experiment with or work on.

Though with the old Atlas of the Worlds endgame of ever expanding maps that open into more maps that link yet more maps recursively, you’d think GGG already had one.

That, and an old race event type called Endless Ledge which repeated a single map over and over with increasingly insane monsters until you wiped or ran out of race time.

But Delve is a little more sophisticated than Endless Ledge.

You get a map from which you select your next target location. You could plot a path that might take you laterally fighting roughly the same level mobs and earning various treasures and currency, or chart a route that takes you delving deeper and deeper, with presumably increasing challenges.

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I’m nowhere near a respectable deep level yet, but I’ve encountered a change in biome here and there.

At each stop, there are quick encounters with various swarms of enemies or some mini-bosses like rogue exiles to fight, and a mini-treasure awaiting.

The Delve system has its own currency of Azurite, a resource that for once isn’t a currency orb or physical object represented in Path of Exile to clog up your stash, but an automatically vacuumed resource that beelines directly for your character magnet-style and drops into your “wallet.”

At present, there are three things in it. Azurite, Flares and Dynamite.

Azurite is used for crafting Flares and Dynamite, as well as in a Delve specific progression system that increases your pool of storing these various resources, expands light radius, damage done by dynamite and so on.

The mine, you see, is dark. Very dark. So dark you might get eaten by a grue.

If you step away from the light for a short time, a dark debuff stacks on your very quickly and eats away at your health VERY rapidly.

So you’re usually following the precious light-bearing Crawler on its path from one stop to another, with occasional risk-reward forays into the pitch black.

The Crawler is fueled by a resource you can only harvest from the surface, so it is still necessary to ping pong back and forth from the old maps to the new Delve and back again.

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The Delve league also brings a number of less obvious but significant changes.

The devs apparently had to do some stuff in the lighting department to support Delve’s light/dark mechanic, and they managed to pull off light beams on objects at the same time.

Customable light beams, of different colors, on any darn thing you choose. If you can imagine it, you can tweak it.

Most people don’t quite have that imagination, me included, so we’re content reaping the benefits of some very hardworking players with a downloadable item filter – Neversink’s Filterblade, that also eases the work of customization with a whole bunch of options you can tweak via friendly website UI (as opposed to messing with textfiles and esoteric item codes).

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Equally mind-blowing, for me anyway, was a little patch note that said “You can now right click on any stash tab in the drop down list to send it all the way to the left.”

Hallelujah.

When you’ve bought more than a few stash tabs, all your special tabs for currency, maps, divination cards and so on all wind up to the far right at the start of every league.

This is terribly depressing because for many people, me included, it makes the most sense to have the currency tab – something that sees a LOT of use – as the very first thing you want to access on the very left of all your stash tabs.

Previously, one had to drag and drop, scrolling past dozens of stash tabs (I have around 40, what can I say, I’m a hoarder and a reluctant organizer) to get ONE tab where it needed to go.

This league, setup just involved a few right clicks and short drags, and that really motivated me to get off on the right organizing foot.

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We’ll see how long that lasts.

Build-wise, I decided to break from recommended build tradition and experiment with my own, since I started relatively on time this league.

I would still be following the main major changes. Last league, traps and arc got reworked, so arc traps was totally in.

This league, one major highlight is the new melee summoner archetype with a number of new skill gems to support this playstyle.

This is a dream come true. I love melee characters. I love doing damage. I also love supporting with buffs, offensive and defensive.

And I am totally for an entourage of questionably helpful AI-controlled killer mobs because I am a lazy bastard who likes to just walk around and have things die. (I played ranged summoners twice fairly recently and loved them.)

I get to have them all together, you say?

YES PLEASE.

Wait, what’s the catch?

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Well,  the catch is the class that makes the most sense to juggle strength for attacks and intelligence for minions and auras is the Templar, the naked old man above with no pants.

His Guardian Ascendancy was also reworked to support this melee summoner playstyle, and after studying both Necromancer Witch and Templar Guardian – the two classes that start relatively close to the stuff I wanted in the skill tree – it was decided that I really needed to use the Templar.

*sigh*

Microtransaction outfits to the rescue.

The Templar has a very holy, “God”, paladin-y vibe going for him, but it seemed a bit boring to go down that holy armored cleric route.

By chance, I combined a blue Harpy helmet I picked up last league with a red Gore body armor from a very long time ago, and thought “Hrrrrm…”

Red and blue is not really a color combination I’d go for, but it so happens that a lot of this character’s skills are all yellow. It’s high contrast, as they’re all primary colors, but there is a certain color wheel logic to this.

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It ended up working quite well, as my original idea was to try out the reworked Dominating Blow skill gem.

I was also going to swarm things with basic zombies as a minion meatshield – something I’ved used before for fairly decent effect with other characters (at least up to the point of higher level maps where one would then explode without good gear/defences augmenting you).

Dominating Blow wasn’t available till level 28, so in the meantime, I used the new Smite skill gem, in conjunction with Raise Zombies, and also picked up Holy Relic.

Dang, they were good. Smite lets you attack something, and then lightning strikes will hit other mobs. At the same time, if you hit something with it, you and your allies get a short term aura buff that adds lightning damage to your and their attacks.

Slot in the Ancestral Call support, and you get two ghostly helpers that randomly attack 2 nearby enemies at the same time, essentially tripling the Smite attack.

Holy Relic meanwhile will trigger an AoE nova spell on enemies that you hit with an attack (expanding the range of damage of the tripled smite attack) and put on a life regeneration buff that works immensely better on minions than you.

Some experimentation with the slotting of supports for Holy Relic suggested that minion supports could be put on it, increasing physical damage, fire damage, etc. Presumably, this only takes effect when the holy relic buff is on.

But as a melee summoner, you were going to attack -something- anyway, right?

Which in turn buffs all your little minions around you? Whee.

The synergy. Too awesome.

To add icing on the cake, Herald of Purity is the new herald skill gem that adds physical damage to you, buffs minion damage, and creates Sentinel of Purity minions when you kill enemies.

There is a Summon Phantasm on Kill support that creates ghostly ranged phantasm minions – something I was using to very enjoyable effect with my prior SRS raven necromancer.

It got to the point when I actually reached Dominating Blow, after some experimentation, I decided that the minions it created were a little more awkward to play around with than the existing Smite-Nova/Zombie-Phantasm Smash I already had going.

Guess we’ll save that for another build.

The rest of the build choice is a little haphazard for now. Lightning golem just for the attack speed and the off chance its aura might buff a minion or three.

Leap slam with fortify seemed like a decent movement skill. I am also tickled by the fact that both Smite and Leap Slam sound very similar, like the thump of a drum. It all melds with the witch doctor/shaman theme of Thuum Thuum of Doom, and then buffed zombies eat your face while lightning smites others in the background.

At level 46, I am feeling the shortage of life just a tide, but there are several life/energy shield nodes coming up in the planned tree, and my gear sucks for now, so we’ll see how it goes and adapt from there.

SSF experimental build life.

The fun is in the guesswork and tweaking things as you go along. If it works, you learn and remember. If it doesn’t work, you die and then you learn.

Most importantly, I am having a blast.

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And that’s the crux of it.