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.

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Appreciation Through Play

Last week turned out to be an exceptionally busy week in terms of the number of games I suddenly wanted to be playing – all at once, at the same time – an impossibility to be certain, but not something the desire would stop to consider.

It was a good kind of problem – how fortunate that so many games suddenly tickled my interest – and bad at the same time for someone with barely any ability to organize or prioritize.

Unavowed had just launched, at practically the same time as Monster Hunter World, and I’d made the uncharacteristically hasty leap into buying both of them at launch price. Both interested me, for varying reasons, one for story and characters, and the other for big monster hunting action. Plus, gotta get my launch money’s worth.

Path of Exile had floated back up to my attention (Incursion league was ending at the end of the month and I hadn’t even tried it/ Incursion Flashback was just about to begin, offering laggards like me a last chance to run through the league boosted by the mob quantity insanity of  a whole bunch of past league mechanics acting as map modifiers).

Warframe was quickly rising from secondary game status to threatening to depose Guild Wars 2 as primary game. 6 years of GW2 was giving rise to an increasing sense of ennui and boredom, while Warframe was busy launching devstreams of “here’s what we have planned coming soon(TM)” with the main story plot was busy blowing my mind at every turn.

Yet there was still that nagging commitment of two nights of GW2 raiding plus the self-nagging of “maybe if you finally clean your inventory and get organized, you might actually be willing to take the game seriously again.”

It is, after all, somewhat likely that the detritus of the years is mentally bogging me down and making me unwilling to do stuff, knowing full well that either a) MORE crap is going to get accumulated and added to the “do something about eventually” pile or b) all my bags will be full and nothing can proceed.

I wish I could say that an angelic light shone down and I miraculously got my act in order and played through everything like an efficiency monster.

It was more on the scale of a lonely traveler meandering through various landscapes, making some manner of forward progress, not as quickly as one might hope, but reaching a kind of contentment all the same, with a side of bittersweet regret.

After sampling a little of all of the above, Unavowed pulled the strongest. It was a small, short game in the larger scheme of things and the story was both unknown (bearing that sense of novelty I crave so dearly) and compelling as a narrative. So I finished that.

I had it in mind to replay it again with new origins, but other games yanked my attention away as the days passed.

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Path of Exile was a curious case of conflicting desires.

On one hand, I’ve done most of it all before. The story Acts and maps are not compelling when attempting them for the umpteenth time (think I’ve done at least 4-5 runs through Act 1-10 by now) and my SSF builds would be likely to hit an upper limit somewhere amidst yellow-red maps. Their eventual fate would be to move over from the current league when it expired to Standard league and my ever-optimistic but impractical hopes of getting further through patient grinding with them “some day (but not today).”

On the other hand, it would really suck if I never tried out the Incursion mechanic and made a few Temple forays and maybe even collect some league specific uniques when I had the opportunity to.

There was also a deadline to this; Incursion league ends 27 Aug.

Driven a little crazy by these compulsions, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my brain and wherever the hell these urges come from, ending up with a bargained compromise – I wouldn’t invest all the time necessary to get to lvl 80+ this time around (something my prior two SRS characters had done, quite effortlessly but with plenty of time put in). Instead, I’d aim for lvl 60-70ish, and just -try- the unique league stuff.

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Over the course of the week, in fits and starts and 3-5+ level jumps per play session, this was accomplished.

I was okay with playing the flavor of the month build – arc traps – since the plan was just to play for just long enough to mess around with the new league stuff.

Naturally, the game had other plans.

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For the past couple of years, I have -never- gotten a single Tabula Rasa until I spent the last SSF character farming the Blood Aqueducts for 2-3+ hours to gather 9 Humility cards.

Of course, my second Tabula Rasa is offered completely unexpectedly for a pretty cheap price in Perandus Coins when I was planning on ending this character between lvl 60-70.

6-link arc traps is pretty giggle-inducing. I am now lvl 70 and a little bit torn. I might just keep going for the remaining week.

My resistances are absolute shite, since I’m not actually interested in putting in the effort to regear everything to a new tier. But I’m still living by the skin of my teeth between layered defences like acrobatics, immortal call and being quick enough to toss traps at anything that moves, thus eliminating the -entire- pack and possibly a few more besides in a single action.

We’ll see. I guess we’ll stop when I keep blowing up because the gear can’t cut it anymore or the league ends.

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Then there’s Monster Hunter World, the game of meeting interesting big monsters and killing them to carve them up for parts.

I was fortunate enough to escape most of the technical troubles that were said to have plagued the PC port.

For about a heart-stopping half-hour, starting the game was quite impossible as the thing would keep crashing about ten seconds into the first video cutscene. I intuitively suspected this was due to my ancient graphic drivers – which I had to roll back to practically the time I first bought the PC (ie. 4 years ago) when installation of newer Nvidia drivers failed six months ago while trying to fix GW2 lag/latency problems.

I was not looking forward to a repeat incident where the installation deleted my current drivers yet failed to install the new ones, leaving me with naught but Intel embedded graphics. I had to roll back all the way to the original OEM graphics driver installation before it took.

Still, before I refunded the game, it behooved me to at least give it a shot. So I downloaded the current Nvidia driver installation, set it running and crossed my fingers.

Lo and behold, it actually worked as one would normally expect. My drivers updated!

And sure enough, when I started Monster Hunter World again, it ran the cutscene without another crash.

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Lookin’ good to boot.

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Except when they’re ugly as sin.

I escaped most of the connection problems by not really intending to connect and play with another person.

First, there’s the desire to solo it all to both feel a sense of accomplishment and go at my own pace, and later, while eavesdropping on various conversations over Discord and Reddit and forums, I must admit that my own pace is probably too damn slow for the greater part of the player locusts who are just rampaging through the game and aiming straight for High Rank armor.

Here I am, still content to murder a Great Jagras every other day and planning to make a vast collection of every type of Low Rank armor eventually, before finally moving on to whatever High Rank armor implies.

It’s perhaps not the best way to play this game – I may end up with zero allies by the time I hit better-to-group content, but given all the other games on my plate, I have to reluctantly acknowledge that things must be prioritized and MHW sits lower in that priority order for me.

Part of the issue is that I just don’t feel like intensively learning anything these couple of weeks.

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MHW has an exceptionally helpful training ground that shows you all of the neat moves each weapon can make, just like a fighting game. But I’m really not familiar with either genre, and when you don’t have time to play intensively, you don’t have time to memorize through theory, practice or muscle memory every movement either.

It’s cool, certainly. And when I finally have time to treat this as a primary, or even secondary game, I think it would be fun to master a weapon or three.

But for the moment, it’s slightly frustrating to flub things because you’re not familiar with the controls and it pushes the game as a whole down a priority notch until one has time to deal with it the way it expects you to.

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You get cat sidekicks though. Which is ridiculously awesome, in a Japanese game kind of way.

And then there is Warframe – the game of way too many lateral options similar to GW2.

To keep my focus, the long running goal there was that I wanted to play through all the main story quests.

I finally decided to get past the barrier of Tier 4 Void missions Mithra and Mot by public grouping. Those went by fairly uneventfully.

Then it was on to the Chains of Harrow quest.

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The creativity of Digital Extremes never fails to amaze me. The whole quest turns the standard procedural spaceship maps you run around into a horror movie transplant.

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If you think you stepped into The Secret World for a moment, I would not fault you.

As is usual for Warframe, the story quests are confusing but epic, making a dozen allusions to historical events that reveal tiny mysterious drips of lore and plot for players to speculate for months thereafter. It is somewhat fondly reminiscent of GW2 Season 1 – except done way better, because the reveals are serious and for main storyline characters, rather than bit players or sidelong tidbits to be forgotten in the next chapter.

Then it was on to the Apostasy Prologue and The Sacrifice.

Oh, they were fucking good.

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Suffice to say, there are many things in this screenshot that resonate for players in the know. (But it will hopefully just look interestingly epic for players who have yet to experience it all.)

You earn the Excalibur Umbra warframe by the end of it. There are many reveals to be had; and even more questions will bubble up as a result of those reveals… to be continued… in the next installment. *mind blown*

Now that I’ve finished the main quests, side quests are also now on the agenda.

I’m also turning attention back to Cetus and the Plains of Eidolon, because certain missions in The Sacrifice were, let’s say, a massive pain.

I was lacking certain accoutrements the game was plainly expecting me to have, and dying and restarting every 3 seconds because of that lack. I ended up googling for help and settled for relying on z-axis abuse and very patient tickling of a certain mob to death. It worked, but it was pretty ugly.

So rectifying that lack is also on the agenda… though it looks to be a month-long faction grind sort of affair.

Speaking of faction grinds, Syndicates were yet another thing I hadn’t looked at, and that was rectified this week. After some guide consultation, I decided on the four syndicates I was probably going to aim towards accumulating standing for and started by putting on the first sigil I was supposed to put on. I should probably have done this a little sooner, but oh well, we all have to start somewhere.

Suffice to say, I am deeply enjoying being a busy little bee in Warframe and anticipate quite a few more months, if not years, of gameplay out of this surprising game.

Black and Blue…

Warframe’s servers have been having intermittent issues due to a DDoS this weekend, which leaves me time to ponder a blog post, while feeling twitchy and restless and almost cast adrift.

The irony is that I didn’t get back to playing Warframe till a few days ago, when I decided I’d check it out and scored the 75% off for some Platinum discount I’d been waiting for for ages.

I promptly bought some to show my support for Digital Extremes’ hard work and care for their community, then played the anniversary missions to nab the free weapons. Said weapons turned out to be fairly awesome in their utility and power level, managing to replace temporarily the maxed out Soma Prime I couldn’t function without, which gave me a reason to start playing with a tiny change up of playstyle.

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Oh yes, I also bought the Rhino Palatine skin. Fashionframe has never been sexier.

(Captura mode rocks, btw. Is this something being on PS4 demands or what? Both Warframe and Horizon Zero Dawn rock this so hard.)

I’d hit a wall around Jupiter since I’d mostly ignored purposeful modding beyond the basics of dumping in an endo’ed up Serration and throwing in whatever else seemed good from my random assorted collection of mods.

Thing is, I urgently needed -another- Serration, because I can’t exactly max out my only Serration for higher mastery weapons and then leave the to-be-leveled weapons out in the cold with zero functional damage mod.

I’d also mysteriously managed to cut paths through Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Phobos, bits of the Void, Ceres, Jupiter without scoring something as basic a Steel Fiber mod that increases Armor for my Rhino.

Obviously, some purposeful targeted mission farming was way overdue.

Some wiki reading and a failed solo Excavation attempt later, I settled on solo Survival missions for a 7 or 8% chance to drop what I wanted, and level up the new weapons at the same time. After some testing with Tier 1 and Tier 2, I eventually found a comfortable Tier 1 Dark Sector in Venus/Malva that had Infested that beelined straight for you, making Survival a lot easier than having to chase down other faction mobs.

The nice thing about new weapons is that their mod slots are more limited, so I sat down to mod them well, from a more limited list of options. The straight damage increase goes in, then maybe something to improve their handling like faster reload, and if there’s space, increase whatever damage type the weapons do and figure out what damage 2.0 type does more damage to Infested (Gas, apparently.)

Badabing, even shinier new weapons purpose-built for destroying hordes of Infested. Stay 15 mins for a shot at the Rotation B prize, linger 5 mins more for Rotation C if I somehow get delayed or distracted, extract, rinse/repeat.

Granted, the prize excites no one but me at my newbie “solo self-found” level but hey, it’s the core loop of Warframe and it’s fun in its own way.

In the other screen, I watched teams of streamers get up to shenanigans I’m not willing to experience firsthand myself in Sea of Thieves and it’s the best of both worlds. A solo experience on this end, and a delegated team experience on the other side.

It’s odd, but it seems some computer games these days are catered towards being something in a “spectator games” genre.

The actual number of players might be relatively small, as compared against the obsessive attempt of WoW-like MMOs to capture -all- of the players (which seems doomed to failure the more games fragment into various niches), while another proportion of consumers “play” them virtually by watching said players go at it.

In this case, I guess the money stream goes from the audience => streamers => game, and through advertising and tie-ups with platforms that allow said spectating (cough *Twitch*  cough).

Over in Path of Exile, things are chugging along happily. I hit level 86, lucked into a few teeny upgrades with plenty more improvement to go, alternating between going back and forth through white and yellow maps to unlock them / play some Shaper/Elder-influenced maps, with Tier 8 as the current main unlock goal.

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It’s virtually impossible to take a good screenshot of my current build. It’s just blackity black and blue everywhere. Black ravens (SRS), two lightning golems which spawn phantasms on kill, the phantasms shooting bolts of black darkness, a Hatred aura which gives all the minions blue circles and bonus cold damage… It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s sure fun.

I did a quick duelist alt to level 19 or so, thinking that I might do a really tanky melee ancestral warchief champion to put some of the STR-based and Axe uniques that have been dropping like candy for the SRS necromancer main to good use. I’ll get around to it. Eventually. Maybe. If the league doesn’t end first. (I’m sure there’s still a month or three to go.)