Path of Exile: Forsaken Masters First Impressions

There's actually some neat art for some gear. If only wardrobe customisation were a thing...

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 Old UI
The Old UI
The new UI
The new UI

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.

analysisparalysis

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.

uhhhhh

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!)

yeahhhh

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…

…crap.

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.

relic

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.

elreon

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:

relic2

Or something like this:

relic3

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.

haku

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.

wtfisthisdoinghere

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…”

There was.

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

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.

Path of Exile: Level 60, Forsaken Masters Ahoy!

When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Oh, brave Sir Robin!

News of the impending Forsaken Masters expansion has encouraged me to revisit Path of Exile.

Down time in GW2 helps (or rather ‘slow, not really doing much, no immediate goals’ time, since GW2 doesn’t go down for maintenance ever, and only becomes inaccessible when unforeseen technical problems crop up.)

I’m thrilled to share that my Shadow has made it to level 60.

You may or may not recall that he was previously bogged down at lvl 52, with a tendency to explode and lose a bar’s worth of experience every time a spellcaster looked at him funny. Or if he stood in melee range of something with a very big sword or hammer.

I don’t think they changed anything that affected me specifically during the few weeks that I was away from the game, but for some inexplicable reason, I felt like things seemed a little easier.

I suspect it was partly due to a subconscious change of strategy.

Playing XCOM made me realize that using corners and scenery to block attacks can still be valid in games that are not MMOs.

cornersummoning

So now, any time I feel like meleeing up-close-and-personal is not going to work, I find a handy corner.

Then I summon a stream of skeletons, which act as a passably decent wall of somewhat tanky mobs, and pop in a few raging spirits in between. (The raging spirits seem to attack for decent amounts, but are very squishy, so the skeleton distractions help.)

If all goes well, the enemy gets distracted and nickel-and-dimed to death by my mobs.

If it comes around the corner, I run screaming for another corner, quaffing heals like no tomorrow.

Ah, yes, retreat is now in my vocabulary.

I’m content to kite the things through multiple corridors of already-cleared rooms if I have to, throwing disposable skeletons in their wake to slow them down, while I work on raising slightly sturdier ghouls (which unfortunately require corpses and take a bit more prep time to summon.)

Watching DOTA 2 guide videos alerted me to the revelatory fact that getting behind your opponent allows for more time to get hits in.

Path of Exile, unfortunately, has major sync issues with skills that teleport you around the place. They’re just best not used. I used to have Whirling Blades on the bar as a get away quick mechanism, but the amount of jittery framerates and lag it can produce is just not really worth it to me any more.

What I do have, however, is Summon Skeletons, which places skeletons anywhere under your cursor.

I’ve taken to casting at least 2-4 skeletons BEHIND an enemy. This often has the welcome effect of distracting it and encouraging it to turn around to face them, offering up its vulnerable back for my stabbing. Worse case scenario, it doesn’t turn around and the skeletons get free hits in while I run around avoiding blasts and trying to stay alive.

Just watching pros juking others at DOTA 2 seems to have subconsciously affected my ability to dodge through mouse clicking, as if I’m either trying to emulate them, or I’ve suddenly realized that it’s actually possible to try and avoid attacks with a similar click-to-move control scheme.

The other part of it, I suspect,  is that old bugaboo of gear and levels.

As I started outleveling the maps, it got easier and easier. Less attacks hit through my evasive defence, I could use flasks that recovered more hp and mana, that sort of thing.

That mostly took a hefty helping of patience and plodding away.

I got more open to using the commonly-understood ‘standard’ farming maps to get some easier xp in. In Act 1, that’s places like the Ledge.

Ahh, happy ledge farming days. Thank you, Endless Ledge for teaching me this spot.
Ahh, happy ledge farming days. Thank you, Endless Ledge event races for teaching me this spot.

In Act 3, the early part before the City of Sarn, and then the Catacombs, and finally the Docks.

Before I went risky places to progress the story, I’d finish up the level I was halfway on, so that if I died, I wouldn’t be losing excessive amounts of xp.

Also, knowing that I could farm up that bar or two of lost xp quite quickly in these maps made deaths elsewhere feel a little less punishing and frustrating.

At the same time, all that farming gives decent amounts of loot to sift through.

Being voluntarily self-found (buying uniques off other players for a pittance feels like cheating to me and doesn’t really teach an understanding of the game, imo), that meant patiently sorting through junk, pulling out things that looked like they had potential, spending some currency to randomly roll up nice stats and get good linked slots.

It ends up being a fair amount of compromising, because it gets ridiculously expensive to get things optimally right.

This time, I followed the ‘understood wisdom’ again and prioritized resistances. Lots of them. Plus some +Life if at all possible.

Having 70% resistances to fire, lightning and ice went a long way towards mitigating the initial alpha strikes of the later maps’ mobs.

I could actually take 3-5 hits before exploding, which at least gives time to estimate the amount of damage coming in, and to quickly quaff a heal while hastily scrambling away out of range.

Some of my support gems had to be rearranged, or gone without, which was a little sad, but welp, can’t win them all.

In a way, it was interesting to be forced to experiment with new combinations of gems.

I tried putting Increases Minion Life on my skeletons, instead of my ghouls, and that didn’t seem to work very well at all with the way I normally play (with an entourage of 5 ghouls following me.) I swapped that back after a few close encounters.

I’d previously put Faster Attacks on my dagger attacks – having it on Venom Strike was nice, iirc. It wasn’t bad on Reave either. But then my slots changed and I couldn’t  fit it with either of those skills, and I went hunting for any other valid places to combine it.

Turns out, minion melee attacks can be buffed by Faster Attacks too. I only had a free slot for my Raging Spirits, but now they attack 33% more quickly, which seems to be working out fairly well for me too. (Like a permanent GW2 mesmer time warp on them, mwahaha.)

I got a few levels under my belt, then went through the rest of the Cruel Difficulty maps, marveling at the change of feel. Heck, I even managed to down Piety without dying, which is doubtless utterly standard for normal PoE players, but quite a feat for a noob like me.

Even the Dominus fight went well, all his preliminary attendant bosses were patiently kited one by one and dealt with patiently, with plenty of dodging around and kiting… right up to the final phase, anyway. When he went into his final form, and that damnable blood rain started, I looked at my xp bar, which was 3/4 of the way to the next level and sighed.

I knew I could just walk out and go farm up the rest of it before dealing with him again, but I was already -there- and committed. I also knew I didn’t have any chaos resistance worth speaking of, and that it would be even more farming and grinding to put together a semblance of stuff that worked.

But what the hell, right? If I got through to Merciless Difficulty, I suspected that I’d be able to get to the Ledge eventually, where a bountiful harvest of xp would await me.

So I repeated the same ignoble ‘feat’ of dying, reviving, teleporting, stabbing him a few times while letting all my summons get a few hits in, total party wiping, reviving, resummoning, re-entering, getting re-teleported to him and attacking and rinsing and repeating.

Whatever works.

I hear there’s builds that utilizes a skill gem called Cast on Death. Yep, literally you kamikaze bomb something. And some folks have managed to get it all optimally linked to the point of it being able to deal 1.6 million damage, one-shotting bosses.

Your standard easy-mode PvE MMO player fears death and set-backs a ton. Player death feels terrible, even before you throw in old time hardcore stuff like losing equipment and needing corpse retrievals, or losing tons of xp (or worse, levels) that have to be ground back up. That’s one of the reasons why FFA PvP full loot games are so scary to us.

My little experimental forays into games with the threat of loss attached are teaching me one thing that probably all Eve Online players know, or are forced to learn in a hurry.

Never bet or risk anything more than you’re willing and can afford to lose.

It takes a bit of learning on each game to feel out the limits on this.

A permadeath quickie game like Realm of the Mad God can risk a lot, but you can build a farming character up quite quickly in an hour or so, and figure out that it’s best to farm potions on a throwaway for your desired ‘main.’

A game like Path of Exile means figuring out how to quickly get back the xp you’re bound to lose at some point, and to try and keep risky attempts near the start of a level, while doing non-risky farming activities when you’re trying to get to the next level.

I’m still not really willing to risk my stuff on a game where other players can take things away from me, since that always sounds like a grind to build up lots of throwaway items to trundle around with and risk losing through no fault of my own, but for games where my deaths are either my fault or at worse, lag’s fault, I can deal with that.

Anyhow, I essentially ‘paid’ 3/4 of a level to defeat Dominus on Cruel Difficulty because I was too lazy and disinclined to pause and take a break.

And I was totally all right with that. I knew the cost going in, up front.

I got into Merciless Difficulty, celebrated a little, did some killing of random stuff,  died once or twice accidentally, then got into a groove and got back that 3/4 of a level. Ta da! Problem solved!

Now I’m back to being bogged down again in the early beginnings of Act 2, Merciless.

Whee.

At least I know what to do this time.

pisspoorresist

Behold, my glorious resistances on Merciless.

On Cruel, which imposes a global -20% to resistances, I was pulling 70%+ resist with my current gear.

My current gear on Merciless, with a global -60% to resistances, well…  UGH.

I admit to being a bit at my wit’s end on how I’m going to stack more, as I’m already relying on lucky rolls like my boots with 30%+ fire and cold resist mods.

I suspect that I may have to change things around to focusing on -one- resist, as and when each map needs it.

I more or less did that for cold resist when facing Merveil, and that -seemed- to work somewhat well.

I think the other possibility is bringing along a specific resist flask for the specific map, so that I can quaff that just before doing an important fight and dealing with a bad alpha strike. Resist flasks don’t really last for a long time though. UGH.

My gear is, of course, also woefully underleveled by this point, since I’ve hit level 60.

I suspect a patient farming pause is in order.

I’m hoping the Forsaken Masters update might help. Apparently, they will be introducing new NPCs that you can work towards building a sort of faction rep for, and that will unlock new crafting options like being able to add specifically chosen mods to items.

This sounds a hell of a lot more attractive than just randomly relying on RNG, though it will no doubt be quite expensive. We’ll see.

My hope is that they recognize that low-level players kind of need an in-between alternative to keep them occupied, and help them gear up at various level ranges,  if they don’t just buy uniques off various shop bots sitting around. Hopefully upgrading and crafting low level equipment will be possible and affordable, with these new systems, while still keeping the super-awesome high-level stuff as a golden carrot very hard to get to for those crazy enough to desire chasing them.

Naturally, the Forsaken Masters update is also going to come with a complete rework of the part of the skill tree that directly affects my most high-leveled character. Go figure.

Shadow and Witch areas are apparently going to be reworked. I do hope this doesn’t mean that my weird-ass summoner dual-wield dagger-stabby build is going to be invalidated or impossible to achieve, because I’m kind of fond of it.

On the bright side, I don’t think it’s possible for a reworked skill tree to get myself any worse off, being all noob and newb when I chose my options, so a free complete respec is going to be quite the gift horse.

The bad news is that it’s entirely possible for me to screw it up a second time, since I wouldn’t have the advantage of slowly leveling through the skill tree and figuring out how to work with what I chose.

Welp. I guess we’ll see. Worse case scenario is I adapt my strategies to whatever my new build becomes.

There’s also the last resort of throwing out the character, but I believe I’m a little more stubborn than that.