Path of Exile: Once More, Unto the Breach

I seem to have found myself back in Wraeclast over the last few days.

News of Path of Exile’s impending Ascendancy expansion (in less than a week, Mar 4th) tempted me back into rolling up a character to check out the changes I’ve missed since I last played.

Basically, I missed the Awakening expansion, which landed sometime in July 2015, and I’m a little sad that I did.

Still, better late than never.

The Awakening was apparently versioned as Path of Exile 2.0, and I can see why.

Significant improvements have been made. That’s really saying something, given that I’d already enjoyed the game even before this.

The most obvious addition is the inclusion of Act 4, which adds new story, maps and bosses to the existing Acts 1-3.

What is not obvious, but extremely pleasant on play through, is how much effort Grinding Gear Games has put into smoothing out the leveling experience with this addition.

Previous criticism has been that difficulty in PoE felt very uneven and spiked in places – I even drew a fun graph once – you get used to it and learned to compensate. Well, now it feels like the line has gotten much smoother.

Not necessarily flatter as in easier difficulty, Act 4 bosses felt like soloable mini-raid bosses with various attack animations, the need to keep moving and circling, and even different phases and mechanics sometimes.

Just smoother, as in less sudden spikes, more of a gradual ramp up. There are more maps, since there’s an entire Act 4, so levels can be spread out into those new maps, and there’s less of a need to farm for 3-5 levels in a specific farm map before moving on. (There’s still the option to do so, of course, but you now have the option to just play through the game normally too.)

It feels good.

Considerable thought has also gone into making it easier for players less willing to sell and trade on a constant basis to obtain skill gems for different character builds, as you can now buy these from NPC vendors as you progress through the Acts.

“Just playing through the game” self-sufficiency now feels a little more playable as an option, between this and the ability to craft desired mods through vendor recipes or Forsaken Masters crafting. (Presumably this is playing at a much different level than those stuck deep in PoE’s endgame. Plenty of time for that once you hook players in the first place though.)

The UI has had some quality-of-life improvements. Small stuff, but again it feels good. An in-game clock, the ability to toggle on life and mana bars over your character’s head, the option for a smaller latency graph display next to the minimap, visible refill levels for life and mana, being able to see item level by holding down Alt, rather than having to pick up each item and type /itemlevel, on and on. Itty bitty seeming stuff, but with big impact.

What’s -really- huge is the introduction of deterministic lockstep mode, as a separate option from client predictive.

Desync was an old complaint that Path of Exile kept encountering, especially when using fast movement/teleport skills that would show the character on the player’s client in one position, while network latency meant the server still thought the character was in another position (usually surrounded by monsters, leading to death) and you’d only find out when both server and client had hashed out their little disagreement some split seconds later.

Some people didn’t like that, so now they’ve added an option (seriously, aren’t -options- such wonderful things) to force the client to sync with the server before showing you the move/action taken. With low latency to the server, this is apparently quite wonderful as it completely eliminates desync and delay is equal to the ping that you have to the server.

(Apparently, they also tried to tweak the netcode to improve the client predictive mode as well, so players who can’t use lockstep aren’t completely left out in the cold.)

What is amazingly wonderful (and a bit of a miracle, really) is that for once, Path of Exile is a game that actually has servers set in the country I’m staying in (though you have to type it in, as the Singapore server is apparently a lil sekrit option – probably piggybacking off the Garena servers.)

That means I can actually play with deterministic lockstep mode on… at 15ms or so.

(Also, no forced region-locking. I can actually use a GGG account, not a Garena one.)

State of affairs… unprecedented. *brain explodes*

Of course, it’s not all song and games. The Singapore server has a tendency now and then to hiccup and start jittery lag spiking for a night or two of complete unplayability, forcing me to switch to a US West Coast server at 190-200ms or so, but when it decides to play nice, it is awesome.

poe1

What’s also awesome are the new art assets.

The map backgrounds just feel a touch crisper and slightly higher resolution than the old ones.

The mobs are nuts, in a good way.

poe2

These crazy little totem things feel like they stepped right out of a twisted Miyazaki movie. They appear to be innocuous background scenery like mushrooms or corals, but as you approach, they seem to wake up, their eyes glow blue like stunted gray aliens, and then they shoot you with said blue energy bolts darting from their eyes.

(My response: Roast them in a field of fire. Hooray for fire traps.)

There’s also a boss fight in Act 4 (not my video) that made me laugh immediately as it reminded me of GW2 Sabetha’s rotating flamewall attack pretty durn quick, along with the same requisite strategy of running in a circle as close as possible to reduce the distance run.

I ended up toughing it out with healing flasks at Normal difficulty, since I was playing a tanky high-armor Marauder, and reaaally slowly killing her with fire traps (my secondary skill, since I couldn’t stay put long enough to use my primary killing skill of Incinerate – that spell just got completely countered by her mechanics) but I definitely think this fight is going to need preparation and thought at the higher Cruel and Merciless difficulty levels.

Apparently, Act 4 Merciless is intended to be an alternate challenge to PoE’s map endgame, and given how elaborate the bosses already felt in Act 4 Normal, I think that’s definitely going to be fulfilled intent at the highest difficulty.

I’m already laying in plans to get some kind of movement or dash skill before I do this fight on Cruel. Probably going to find out the hard way all the other stuff I’ll need to kill her.

Lore-wise, Act 4 also felt really good. Some really familiar historical names were brought into the picture, and the whole experience felt quite epic.

I wish I could go into more detail than the above, but the truth is that I play Path of Exile on a very shallow level, I’m no expert, I’d like to learn but it’s such an in-depth game that there’s always more to learn every time I play the durned thing.

The good news is that it’s still extremely enjoyable while not understanding half the things that’s going on under the hood, and it only gets better when you do understand that little smidgen more.

Unlike *cough* some other company I could mention, you get the feeling that Grinding Gear Games knows their game, knows their audience, and are focusing very strongly on that niche. They’re not trying to be the next MMO, the next first-person shooter, the next card game, the next raid game for funsies or introducing odd out-of-place features to catch a crowd that’s currently not into the game.

They’re making an awesome oldschool Diablo-like ARPG with mindblowing build options, challenging fights, RNG loot and map variety, and improving the heck out of it with each patch and expansion.

Come the Ascendancy expansion, I suspect it’s going to get even better still.

Path of Exile: Milestone Achieved, Many More to Go *Twitch* (Pun intended)

Much of the Easter weekend was spent furthering my noob adventures in Path of Exile.

In the span of time a pro PoE player probably takes to get to level 80 (likely in hardcore to boot), I have been slow crawling my way in softcore past my prior lifetime peak of level 66 and moving officially into mapping (and farming, and getting semi-bored out of my mind, and farming some more.)

I’d been entertaining the vaguely optimistic thought that I might go from 62 to 70 on Friday, 70 to 75 on Saturday and maaaaybe 76 to 80 on Sunday.

Of course, I very well knew that a) Path of Exile’s level curve is decidedly exponential – no linear GW2 easy mode here, and b) there was the possible danger of running out of maps for one’s optimal level range, so I expected to not quite make it and possibly need to go another week to finally hit the magic 80.

I end Sunday at level 77, so… not too shabby, considering I’ve never done this before.

poe-library

Fearing that I’d run out of maps too quickly, I spent a while farming in the level 67 Library zone in Act 3 merciless while I was still in the range for it. (+- 7 levels, apparently, so I could theoretically hit 74 before I started getting an xp penalty.)

I also learned that I don’t quite have the mentality for repeatedly farming the same damn map over and over again, because it started getting awfully boring.

If I hadn’t set myself the goal to reach as many of the 1 month challenges as I could, I would definitely have stopped and went to play another game by now.

However, necessity is the mother of all invention. I discovered that I -could- farm quite well if it wasn’t the only thing I was focusing on (perhaps my safe flame totem build was also a bit boring to play, but hey, let’s not knock what was actually working to level me up.)

It ended up being a great opportunity to catch up on all the Swan Song and Mirrorshades roleplays in the other screen, led into being tempted to subscribe for ad-free video-on-demand on itmejp’s Twitch.tv channel, which then meant I needed to -make- a Twitch account and on the side, begin investigating this strange phenomenon of ‘Why would someone watch someone else play games when they could play ’em themselves?’

I’m still working on figuring that one out.

Sure, it’s kinda fun to flip through games on Twitch like flipping TV channels, marveling at how many people are just sitting around broadcasting themselves playing games, but really, I can only last for 15 seconds at best on most streams before I end up boggling at how this disgustingly low resolution stream has several thousands of viewers, or how that streamer’s voice grates on my spine, or how amateur the production values are on that stream, or hey, absolutely nothing is happening on this stream because it’s one of those PvP sandbox games where the idea of someone else playing the game for me -does- appeal… except that it appears to consist of a whole bunch of standing around waiting for something to happen and my attention span only lasts so long.

Well, maybe I should choose games closer to my heart, where I can actually understand the UI and the jargon and where I don’t have to fear spoiling myself.

So I try to watch a few GW2 PvP streams, which aren’t too shabby, except that GW2 is so active combat that my eyes have to stay glued to the other monitor to keep up, and that doesn’t work when I just want something to vaguely glance at while -actually- playing Path of Exile in the main monitor.

Oh hey, maybe I should watch a Path of Exile streamer being all pro in one screen while I noob it up in the other screen, that sounds all meta and stuff… Except that I realize it becomes -doubly boring- to see two little figures endlessly farm loot and xp, and it’s also depressing to see how the ‘pros’ do it – apparently they party up and trade a lot, both things that I don’t wanna do, thanks, and am ok with being slower as a result.

So I’m not exactly learning anything by watching how three people co-op and kill things much faster than my lonesome (I would rather watch them when they are solo racing to learn that particular fast playstyle) which makes this channel worthless too. Bah. *flip*

I end up going for the one type of Twitch content that -does- make sense to me, competitive matches with a commentator, because watching eSports is way cheaper than paying for a cable TV sports channel over here.

It so happened that an ESL Evolve tournament was going on, which was nifty. Here was a game that I know how to play, know how the game is supposed to be played, don’t have the time to play it and certainly not at a competitive level. I still ended up bouncing channels because one of the commentators in one stream sounded like they knew absolutely nothing about the game, which got on my nerves, but it was a great Path of Exile farming accompaniment for a while.

Until the third time I died by accident just standing around and letting a wandering mob beat on me because my attention was riveted on an exciting monster vs hunter play in the other screen.

Bah.

I’d have more use for Twitch if I was still playing A Tale in the Desert, that’s for sure. Now there was a game with hefty amounts of downtime.

I ended up following Youtube links for audio music instead, but that’s another story.

poe-1stchallenge

Somewhen during the weekend of endless farming, I finally caught up with the one last Tormented ghost I needed and completed the first of four challenges. Hurrah!

On Sunday, I got around to setting up a hideout and getting some Forsaken Masters established in my abode for the daily missions, so as to increase my chances at filling in some of the missions needed for another challenge.

I also finally managed to get a first sighting of Zana, the mapping Master, in a level 70 map and quickly ran her mission and got her set up in the hideout.

poe-mapping

Her daily mission was delicious in terms of maps produced. (Beginner’s luck, maybe, but there was a cartographer’s strongbox in the mission and it popped a ton of -admittedly low level- maps.)

A week or two more of this and I suspect I should be able to get at least three of four challenges done.

As for the last, I have no clue if I’ll ever get to high enough a map level to meet one of the unique bosses I’m supposed to kill, or whether I’ll get brave enough and venture in to Atziri – I have one complete map of the four vaal fragments sitting in my stash, but I’m thinking I’d rather hit level 80 first.

I -think- the non-uber version is only level 70, but y’know, it’s a fight I’ve never done and I don’t know how many deaths and re-entries I’ll get (usually 6 if it follows the other maps).

I peeked at a video and it -almost- looked doable, except that I worry that I a) don’t have enough dps, and b) don’t have a good solution to running out of flameblast aoe yet. That video someone was using lightning warp to zap out of there, but it’s definitely a reduced duration lighting warp and I don’t have that gem yet (sad face.)

I’m kinda vaguely entertaining the hope that it’ll drop during my farming and get me set up that way… or I could bite the bullet and send someone a whisper (the horror) or, and this just occurred to me while writing this, I could go check out the possibility of another travel movement gem instead of slavishly following the forum build (leap slam or flicker strike comes casually to mind.)

We’ll see.

Honestly, I’m getting very antsy and kinda want to start another alt (or two or three). I’ve dropped a stash tab full of uniques that look great for leveling, a whole bunch of skill gems that make me want to make a bow character, a lightning tendrils or arc character, but but *twitch* I just need to stay the course a little while more until I hit level 80.

The focus I’ve been devoting to Path of Exile also reminds me that I could be doing the same thing in Guild Wars 2 and leveling and playing all the lowbie classes I’ve been ignoring for a long time. Which I kinda want to do once my PoE stint is done.

Certainly there’s no shortage of things I could be doing until Act 4 in PoE arrives (and Heart of Thorns in GW2 too.)

In other news, they say that Path of Exile is going to get a customizable item filter soon, allowing one to hide junk and highlight desired items in different colors and borders.

poe-itemfilterneededyep

Yep, can’t wait for that functionality.

March in Review

UltrViolet from Endgame Viable planted a whimsical seed when he shared his February Progression Report using a timetracking software called ManicTime.

Hmm… sounds kinda fun, I thought, and decided to give the program a spin for March as well.

The graphs are a little hard to see unless you click and expand ’em, but I’ll try to summarize in text too.

week1

In Week 1, I was all about Minecraft, spending 16.7h that week. A hefty chunk of that was played on the weekend, with around 2-3 hours each weekday, dipping as my interest waned.

The cause of that waning interest? I started playing Grim Fandango (2.6h), having treated myself to the remastered edition as one of my anticipated games of 2015.

On replaying it, I realized that Grim Fandango’s greatest strength is in its audio – the voice actors nail their lines with perfect emotion and the music, while understated enough not to be annoying as you revisit each scene, conveys the mood to that ideal point where your imagination takes over and starts imagining what is left unsaid – the backstory, the sidelong quips that one ends up filling in.

Tim Schafer’s writing, of course, is spot on, with conversational lines speckled with humorous wordplay, but in my opinion, if the voice actors didn’t get it right, one wouldn’t want to select every option and sit through the delivery, grinning gleefully like the skulls in the game.

The remastered edition brings in mouse controls and a radial menu for commands that works decently, to the point where you don’t really notice the controls too much – which is far better than fighting the controls with every step, certainly.

You have the option of ‘tank controls’ too, aka ye olde keyboard operated style, and can even get an achievement for doing that the whole game, but I wussed out of that – it did occur to me that keyboard controls felt a little more immersive though, in that you feel like you’re moving Manny, as opposed to mouse controls where you’re clicking on the screen at one step removed and telling Manny where to go. Perhaps another time.

Guild Wars 2 stayed at a constant 6.5h on essentially standby mode, a half-hour for dailies most days with 1-2h longer spurts when I felt like Triple Trouble Wurm, or caught guild missions on Fridays.

week2

In week 2, Grim Fandango obsession had set in.

Finished it with a further 8.8h, which kinda surprised me at how long it took, I hadn’t realized that it contained so much criss-crossing from scene to scene, looking for one item or another. Guess one blanks out the tedium in one’s memories and only remembers the stories.

Guild Wars 2 had slightly more hours of play (11.1h) this week, mostly via attending a dungeon event on Saturday, iirc, making me stay online for longer.

I started casting around for another game to play, dabbling with the Steam free weekend of X1, X2, X3, X:Rebirth type games (a spaceship trade simulator with fairly non-intuitive controls, though it gets better with the latest Rebirth edition), a bit more Minecraft and the Talos Principle (a puzzle-story game in the vein of Portal with some interesting philosophical themes about God and AI – I’d like to play it more later but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for that week.)

week3

In Week 3, Endgame Viable again showed me the way with a casual post about how he’s started to appreciate Path of Exile as a low-energy game that can be played one-handed.

You know, I said to myself, you haven’t played PoE for a very long time and I can’t really remember why either, maybe GW2 came up with an update that tore my attention away and maybe it was my old computer blowing up and I forgot to reinstall everything that was on it.

Turns out that they were starting a new one-month league quite soon, in a few days, when I visited the website to redownload the game.

Gee, one month sounds like an interesting time period, short enough to focus on (as opposed to the usual three month leagues, which to me is like the normal game, an end point too far away to imagine, I’d probably lose interest in the game first), but long enough that it isn’t a race either (of which I would fail miserably at even being competitive.)

And they were offering cosmetic skins as prizes! That looked actually quite pretty! For tasks that almost seemed achievable by normal people as opposed to only achievable by PoE experts!

Well, ok, when your highest character ever is level 66, level 80 is a bit of a stretch. Killing a unique boss like Atziri is definitely a stretch goal, but hey, people speak of farming her as an endgame task. But 40 of 46 encounters with Tormented Spirits and Bloodlines mod magic creatures sound like one of those ‘play enough in the month to encounter them’ participation prize, ditto 18 of 21 Forsaken Masters missions.

Maybe, just maybe, I might be able to qualify for one or two shiny skins, with a super stretch goal of three or four.

Since the league hadn’t started yet, I thought I might as well get some practice in and try something I hadn’t done before (my old characters had one of those skill points completely reset things, which kinda stalled me on going further with ’em – who wants to screw up one’s build permanently when one can’t even remember much of the game, right?)

Conversation on Reddit was all about safe, easy builds for noobs who wanted to get some of the prizes. Flameblast and arc witch were some of the stuff that was mentioned, neither of which I had tried, but y’know, I had a low level witch I had been intending to make into a lightning throwing character.

Playing with Arc, it was.

She was in Standard league, so what the heck, just have fun, deck her out in some lowbie twink gear and run around. Hrm, this Lightning Tendrils gem seems new (It was. 1.3 update or some such.) DAMN, it hits 4 times and attacks super fast, with almost the same cone area as ground slam. But so so fast, look at my DPS climb.

Suffice to say that was one of the fastest characters I ever leveled, eventually slotting in Arc mid way. She was about level 55-ish when the new one-month league finally started.

10.8h of Path of Exile playtime, with an almost exponential climb in the above graph, except for Friday, which is GW2 Teq-Wurm-guild mission day. 8.7h for Guild Wars 2.

I dabbled with Assassin’s Creed (yes, I am still stuck on 1) too for 2.7h, before getting bored of the repetition for now.

week4

In week 4, I am officially in the throes of Path of Exile obsession with 20.9h.

There are a few weekdays where I’m busy and can’t play a thing, but when I can, it’s full steam ahead in the Bloodlines/Torment league.

Having cleverly outsmarted myself by playing a lightning thrower in Standard, I want to do something else for the actual league.

I decide on another build that looks fairly noob-safe and not really reliant on much traded-for gear (since I really loathe old fashioned whisper trading – talking with people is hard, and I don’t wanna get scammed or have to deal with the potential to be scammed – and would rather play self-found if not given any kind of automation or auction house.)

The dual flame totem blood magic marauder.

I’ve always been wanting to try totems. The description of blood magic has always scared me (spend life instead of mana for skills? wouldn’t I just kill myself spamming skills?) so it seemed safer to follow a tried-and-tested build that can cope with taking that node. Marauder is a comfortable tanky class that I’ve played before with molten strike and ground slam, so I know how to level it.

The build even helpfully provides leveling skill-tree setups, so that there isn’t too much guesswork in which path to go up first.

Best laid plans and all that.

Try as I might, I just can’t get a Greater Multiple Projectiles gem to drop yet, and the only quest rewarded one is via a Merciless difficulty quest. This makes my Flame Totems somewhat wimpier, though I did manage to get my hands on Added Chaos Damage, Fire Penetration and Faster Projectiles.

Instead, I end up leveling with a Searing Bond totem as well, whose Increased Burning Damage support gem helpfully dropped for me. The scaling on this particular skill is quite nuts, being super-forgivable and packing a hefty punch with only that support gem slotted. It does around 2-3x the DPS of my as yet not yet fully upgraded flame totem.

However, I’m not quite in a fully Searing Bond build (which I peeked at and it looks quite different, utilizing Elemental Equilibrium and an ice skill to inflict more flame vulnerability) so I’m still working towards getting the Flame Totems more scary.

Dual flame totems are interesting mobile flamethrowers, but because they don’t pack too much of a punch right now, they take a while to kill mobs.

Dual searing bond totems are amusing. In the words of a Youtube PoE streamer, it is sort of like Spiderman webslinging, where you build up a web of fiery lasers that melt things, and then move yourself around pulling a line of fire across foes. It’s a little more active than flame totems in that you need to be constantly repositioning, but it’s also annoying when mobs ignore your totems because they haven’t been hurt by them yet.

poe_creativity

I end up ad-libbing a curious mixture of the two for imo, the best of both worlds currently. I throw a flame totem down, whose flamethrower projectiles piss off any nearby mobs and encourages them to approach and kill the flame totem. Then I block the path with a searing bond totem to the side of the flame totem.

Now anything that approaches either totem ignites and gets set alight by the searing bond totem, getting constantly dps’ed. The flamethrower from the flame totem is also picking on at least one mob for extra dps.

The best part, anything that approaches me, crosses the last beam and also gets set on fire – which is something you don’t get with dual flame totems.

And if I feel like being active, I can pull the searing bond beam across anything this setup misses. If not, I just stand around and chill for a bit while the totems do the work and replace the totems as they die.

Leveling this character went a lot slower than the arc witch, but I think it’s finally coming into its own. I crossed level 55 the other day (where the arc witch was at) and am now level 60 in Act 3 Merciless, working my way towards the final Dominus.

Playing in softcore for now, since I’m an idiot that tends to die a bunch and I personally like blue over red anyway. Easier goal to possibly strive towards too.

6.4h for Guild Wars 2 that week, a pretty standard ‘waiting around’ sort of pace.

week5

The last week of March is more like a couple of days.

I was off on Monday, which is why Path of Exile playtime resembles that of Sunday, aka insanely obsessed. 18.6 hours and rising.

I also dabbled a little with Alien: Isolation (1.7h) , which was on Steam sale last weekend. Haven’t got very far into it, but it feels a lot like a first-person survival horror rather than a first-person shooter, which has fairly faithful nods back to the original Alien. A lot of sneaking around, dark places and shadows, barely seeing an Alien (except for one part where I was too slow and it came out to kill me for taking my time. Bah.)

GW2 over two days has been 0.5h – super quick dailies and then full steam ahead into Path of Exile.

I expect that it should slow down over the next few weeks, as I’m approaching the area where leveling begins to plateau off somewhat, leaving me trying to figure out the PoE map endgame once more.

Path of Exile: Bragtoberfest Get-Together

Path of Exile played host to the second Bragtoberfest event that Eri kindly organized for us.

As per last week, it was good fun to meet and play with a whole host of other bloggers – Simcha, Jaedia, Syl, Doone and of course, Eri and Izlain.

Also, I had my eyes opened as to some aspects of a game that I rarely get to see – the multiplayer partying and group aspects, which I never really get the good fortune to see in detail, since that requires finding a group of people all interested in the same game and playing at the same timezones as me.

(Of course, 5am is not really sustainable for me either. One more meetup for TF2 next week and I’ll have to surrender in the name of getting normal sleep again.)

Path of Exile is interesting in that it allows up to 6 people to group.

That’s quite sizeable, with only the late and much-missed City of Heroes topping that at 8 (within my limited knowledge, anyway.)

There were, however, some more inconvenient aspects that made grouping a little less smooth than it could have been.

1) Are we in the same map? The same league?

The Twilight Strand is an initial introductory area that separates a new character from the first town.

While racers know that they can run through in a couple seconds past all the zombie mobs and beat on Hillock with a held down left mouse click and be in town in no time flat, the average individual encountering the map for the first time will want to actually play the game – that means hitting a few zombies, getting a level, opening some chests, and eventually meandering their way to Hillock and figuring out how to deal with him.

Each person completes this at a slightly different time and pace, making it a little tricky to meet up when everyone was still new and confused.

(Not to mention, our dear host Eri successfully joined the wrong league twice! Cue deletion and re-making of character. Twice.

Can’t blame ya though. Rampage league IS fun, and we should play more of that too. The more mobs you kill in a row, the more killstreak rewards of all shapes and size rain down from the skies, hence “Rampage.”

The good news about going standard league though was that I got to twink out my character later on, from my personal bank stash.)

Fortunately, someone hit on the good idea of creating a guild.

This was an effortless procedure.

Simply pressing S for “Social” and flipping to the Guild tab, allowed one to type in a guild name and voila, guild created. Once everyone’s assorted characters were invited, at least there was a shared communication channel for the future.

2) Where IS everybody anyway?!

Y’know, sometimes I don’t get games that start you off with the weirdest default settings ever.

Strife locks your camera down and refuses to let you scroll away from your character in the center. Path of Exile makes it all ridiculously dark and shadowy and doesn’t even give you a minimap to play with.

Seriously? What? Why? Are there really going to be people terribly confused if you offered them more vision?

Especially since these are UI options that can be set.

Our Path of Exile newcomers sounded very lost until I realized, courtesy of Syl griping to me about a missing minimap, that they didn’t have one.

It’s “Show Corner Map” in the UI tab of the Options… but really, you’d think this would be a helpful option to preset for newbies.

It took us a while to figure out how best to meet up. There seemed to be multiple instances of the town, and being that I’m not familiar with the whole grouping thing either (nor do I trade with anybody), I didn’t have offhand knowledge of how to hop instances until one met up in the right one.

We eventually did get ourselves over to the map after the town, The Coast, and there the whole party shebang sorted itself out quite nicely and naturally, with all the invited persons finding their way into the same map instance opened by the first person to enter, without any extra excessive effort on our part.

3) What do you get when you pour water onto six cats?

For a moment there, I could see why other games limit their team size to 3 or 4 people, because there were six individuals fanning out like a star, going their own separate directions. Some were chasing the next mob for xp, some were getting stuck by very deceptive ramps up and down and blocking walls, some were trying to chase after someone else, and pretty much nobody was following the same person.

It was, in fact, kind of funny.

This was not helped by Path of Exile’s limited design – in which one has the option to toggle on health bars over other party member’s heads, but lacks any option to actually tag anyone with a name tag like MMOs unless you hover over them and/or target them with your mouse.

Also, no handy party member arrows on your minimap if the party members are out of sight.

If you lose track of the party member indicators on the minimap screen, it’s going to take some detective work (possibly bringing up the larger map overlay) and communication (screaming “where the hell is everyone, someone give me a direction, no matter how vague, here!”) to find the party again.

The good news is that the Social screen at least showed the map each person in the guild or party was in, so I had it out fairly frequently, keeping an eye on everyone’s relative whereabouts.

The six souls eventually did find each other and the big zombie killing party started.

Zombie-raising too.

We had a whole bunch of witch classes with us, and not a few of them could resist the Raise Dead gem, so as zombies died from getting their faces smashed in, they got called up again into un-undeath and formed a friendly throng.

poe_muchzombies

Feeling very safe here with the friendly zombie army tanking for us.

We smashed through the Coast, did a circle around Tidal Island and walked over Hailrake like he didn’t exist, ran south-ish then north-ish through the Mud Flats (with folks losing each other through the more open map), got into the Fetid Pool and did a full clear of that map, as per the quest.

Sometime amid the Lower Submerged Passage and the Flooded Depths where the Deep Dweller lurked, it started to get late for our EU folks and most took their leave.

I’m curious to know how the lag / latency / ping times were for our EU bloggers, playing on the PoE NA server. Path of Exile is known to have some sync issues, which do cause some freezing or lag in some situations.

I was doing quite well despite 224 ms latency, with only a few instances of freezing for a second at worst, which was better than I’d feared. Perhaps no one owned one of the more infamous lag-causing skills just yet.

Izlain joined us after that, and the remainder of our cohort finished up with the Submerged Passage, headed over to The Ledge (where Doone and me had a little sorta-kinda-Endless Ledge party while waiting for the two slowpokes to catch up with their quests) and went through the rest of Act I.

We took on the new and improved Brutus in the Prison, with his groundslamming that was almost actually threatening rather than a cakewalk, and then Merveil, the crazy siren in her lair.

poe_muchtornadoes

Of course, it’s not so easy trying NOT to kill her while waiting for the last person to get into the room.

Merveil had lots of opportunity to show off her low hp emergency skills – summoning other mobs, summoning bosses, summoning a ridiculous number of tornadoes, etc.

All good though, it needed to feel a little bit challenging… even for a party.

Grouping-wise, the scaling felt pretty good so far. I was afraid of excessively hard or tanky mobs, but they still seemed to die fairly quick.

Rewards-wise, there did seem to be a somewhat increased quantity of items dropped, with more varied currency coming out of chests (orbs of transmutation, chance, even an orb of fusing and one or two alchemy orbs dropped.) Quality-wise, I’m not sure. There were one or two rares per boss or elite type mob, I think. Nothing too drastically out of the curve, but certainly not miserly either.

There was a comment from Izlain about the style of loot that was dropping. Very oldschool, in that everyone could see the loot dropped.

Apparently in Diablo 3, it’s all individual loot now. Which I gather is more like the old City of Heroes or a system like GW2, where each person gets their own private loot and can’t see or be tempted by anyone else’s.

From my quick perusal of PoE’s partying options, there are three kinds of distribution systems. Permanent allocation would have been the closest to the new style of loot drops, something like GW1, I suspect, where the loot that drops is permanently assigned to a person randomly.

Short allocation was the default, that I left it at for the most part. The loot is temporarily allocated to a player, who can pick it up before anyone else, and then after a while has passed, anyone else can grab it.

And of course, there’s free for all, which I swapped it to when it was just four folks left being friendly and rivalrous. (Then I spent most of my time plaguing Doone by ninja looting currency under his nose, with double the ping that he has. I’m sure he’s going to thrash me at Defence Grid for that!)

All in all, good fun.

I’d love to play more Path of Exile with folks. Especially in the higher levels, at the harder difficulties. (I have two characters stuck in the 60s that aren’t going anywhere! I can wait! And play alts!)

Just have to figure out those timezone matching blues.

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.