This post will be heavily opinionated based on my recent experience with the Incursion league, the end of Beast League, the very initial foray into the Flashback Incursion league and finally the upcoming Delve League. I might occasionally compare it to Diablo 3, but for the most part this isn’t going to be game XXX is better than YYY type of write up.
First of all, I want to say that I can finally play the game without it crashing or freezing. If there was one major setback for the past few years in terms of getting into Path of Exile, it simply was that my old system could not handle it. I ended up borrowing a coworker’s gaming laptop and managed to nail down the settings to the point where the game played smoothly for the most part. I still occasionally lag but it’s not as detrimental nor soul crushing as the frequent blue screens of death I would receive on my piece of shit Alienware system.
With that out of the way, I really hope that the upcoming Delve league will see less mind numbing bugs that just destroy any hope of progress. While the basic game mechanics are very progressive overall, the actual engine running the game feels old and clunky. I don’t feel the responsiveness as the game ages; instead, it feels as though things regress just with all the newer effects.
Mechanically, much of the game is extremely satisfying to play. I think the most exciting part is seeing the gradual growth of your character and the deep layers of levels that allow for a fairly expansive system of builds and play styles. Part of the attraction to me is trying new things out, figuring out what went wrong then possibly re-doing things with a better understanding. It can get frustrating if you’ve gone far done a certain path. However, once you get the basics and acquire enough gear for twinking a new character, re-leveling no longer becomes a chore but just a phase that you get to see something blossom.
Personally, I really enjoy the first three acts the most. Leveling through that can seem redundant but I feel the most rapid growth happens at those stages. From Act 4 and on, I feel the game becomes more of a chore where each section has its share of annoying gates before you hit the end game of mapping.
While I have become accustomed to lab and certain highly annoying boss fights such as Kitava, I don’t really enjoy them. I feel that the game tries to accomplish too much in attempting to be creative in these areas whereas the average player just wants to kill, find loot and grow. They feel more like mini raid bosses to satisfy that medium of being in an MMORPG. However, the clunkiness of the aging game engine makes these mechanics more painful than rewarding as a user experience.
What’s worse is the added grinding of certain un-fun things such as the Masters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skipped over a Master just because I felt them to be another distraction rather than something that made me motivated to do something different. What’s worse is that with every new league, you have to do the basic grind all over again and it’s really painful. Almost insert rabid squirrel into pants to rip my penis off with blood sucking fangs painful.
The other horribly painful aspect of the game is RNG built over RNG. I know a lot of people complaint about the Incursion Temple mechanics where being unable to select a layout made getting ideal corruptions nearly impossible. But that’s just one sample where this idea of the RNG god just is unforgiving in a nonsensical manner.
What hurts me about having this highly layered approach to RNG in gaming is just that you feel you have no control over anything. A simple example is crafting. Because it’s already difficult to get a great deal of basic currency (especially on SSF) without getting lucky in finding a few key items to build up your wealth, you rarely will have the experience of being able to craft something reasonably satisfying. In fact, the chance of you crafting anything useful is about as good as winning Keno in Vegas (which btw is the worst game to play on this planet).
Certainly, people can point to trading as mitigating this issue. While that is true, there’s a huge difference in being able to craft something on your own as opposed to buying it. The situation isn’t nearly as horrendous as Diablo 3 was prior to the introduction of itemization with the Reaper of Souls launch. But the situation is far from ideal.
A great example of where crafting needs a massive kick in the rear is getting a 6-linked item. Forget streamer RNG. Although I have managed to craft six sockets on my own, the chances of linking them together are pretty horrific. Also, the conversion ratio between Jeweled Orbs to Fusings is really bad. You’re honestly better off farming tons of items and using the chaos recipe to make your own wealth and buying stuff off of poe.trade. How is this even satisfying?
Here’s what ultimately kills me about the RNG over RNG aspect of the game: GGG doesn’t really make a dime off of it. So I don’t get why it’s even an enforced thing. I can see the nefarious design over at Blizzard when it comes to raiding, dungeons and finding good items, since time spent in the game implies dollars for Blizzard. But GGG’s money is made through microtransactions, so I’m utterly confused by this design decision.
What makes the situation worse is that you end up having magic find builds specific for those that have the time and resources to spend in the game. I understand that part of that concept probably was straight out taken from Diablo, but that’s not necessarily a great idea if you really think about it. I think that’s partly why Reaper of Souls streamlined the process of acquiring items (maybe a bit too much admittedly).
That said, I think one of the smarter design decisions in the game involved being able to farm divinity cards. This is something I really liked because I enjoy the concept of target farming. That aspect in conjunction with prophecies are really awesome concepts that aren’t game breakers but actually add the proper amount of depth and RNG into the game. I just wish that the game’s crafting system would work alongside these types of mechanics. For instance, not so much target farming but currency farming. Sure there are cards, but I’m talking about just getting certain maps that could drop exalts more frequently or reliably so you could do your exalt slams.
The other thing I really enjoy are the shaper and elder maps. Mostly, I enjoy them due to the idea of getting the related items. These are pretty smart items from my viewpoint. What I like about them is the potential for support gem-like qualities. For instance, you could have a 6-linked one handed weapon or maybe even a six or seven linked helmet. What’s nice is that you may not necessarily be forced into getting a 6-linked chest piece or two handed weapon. In turn, that opens up more flexible builds that move away from the dreaded six link or better yet escaping the need for uniques.
I think the crafting system while having incredible depth ends up killing itself largely due to the RNG upon RNG factor I mentioned before. There are a few ways to control the crafting aspect but to get there, you just need a lot lined up such as your Masters being high enough level, having the materials/wealth and the right item(s). I feel that the crafting system could be made better with either the cutting down of the RNG factor or being able to find more reliable ways to focus on what you really want. Essences are one way but it’s just not enough.
What I would love is a non-RNG based system that incremental adds what you really need or allows you to build towards a goal. You still would need to farm out the materials and ways to get the right materials/recipes, but at the end you get what you really want. I think the positive would be opening up more build potentials since you can cut down on generic build ideas to really fine tune the thing you want to accomplish.
Also, I just wish there were far more recipes. I love the basic recipe system. Much of it makes sense. There just needs to be more of it. For instance, I wish there were more combinations of trading items with other items to produce an item you really wanted. Take the Loreweave idea. It’s great. Here, you just have tons of excess rings that you can eventually trade into produce a six socketed chest piece. Same thing with Fated Uniques.
I suppose what I really want is a better mechanism for item progression itself. Crafting really isn’t the item progression that I find satisfying as is. It’s more like a compensation for the occasional rare that has potential. But you can regress too with things like Vaal orbs or tossing a chaos orb onto something. Real item progression allows you to build up something that you’re striving for. An example is trapper gloves. I would see some ridiculous gloves on trade with 3 support sockets and +1 traps. But I would ask myself, “How long did it take for that person to get that thing?”
Moving on, I want to talk about the main story line. I really hate it. It’s boring. I wish there was a way to fast forward the game to circumvent the story mode play through. I really like Diablo 3 Reaper of Soul’s Adventure Mode setting once you finish story mode. I mean, you already know what you need to do so why do it how many hundreds of times more? The end game is maps anyway so why impose the same damn story mode for 5 years straight now?
Even the way they split the acts up from previous triple difficulty settings was cheesy. I felt that all they did was cut down on the need to develop maps and content, emphasizing mostly a few bosses with unique mechanics that would be later re-utilized in maps. It’s hard not to want to vomit in calling this “new content” with any sort of enthusiasm if you truly break it down
Then there’s lab. Man, what a mess! I get the intent. Basically, introduce a different rhythm and a way to test a player’s abilities. But in truth it really doesn’t test a player’s abilities. It’s just a stupid wall to get ascendancies much like Kitava act 10 gates maps. Probably the most infuriating aspect to lab is just that it feels utterly pointless. All you really are tested on is whether you understand that you need a good movement speed boost, two quicksilver flasks, maybe 3 life flasks or a granite flasks and the address to poelab. How stupid is that?
I’m not going to beat around the bush in bashing the idea of lab to death. It just feels awful because of the traps and puzzles that really have nothing to do with the rest of the game. It certainly has almost nothing to do with your class. But it does have some things to do with the build you choose because of how you can deal with traps and Izaro. I had a similar issue with the so-called class challenges in World of Warcraft that gated heroics back in the day.
The real problem in designing something like this is that there’s no humanly possible manner that a game built around RNG and permutations/combinations can be easily testable in a setting like this. You can’t say, “Yes, we will test your knowledge of the core mechanics of your flicker strike build but oh wait, you also have reave on your hidden chest piece we cannot see.” Diablo 3 tried and failed with the stupid set mastery thing. It was a good intent but game designers need to realize that an ARPG is meant to be brain dead. That’s why the original Diablo was so popular as turning off ones brain was immensely appealing to the masses.
Now, let’s talk about Flashback league a bit. I did a bit of both for Beastiary and Incursion. I pretty much didn’t do much for neither. I just went for the easy loot box on them and stopped right after. In the case of Incursion league, I immediately just went back to playing my normal characters. I had invested far too much time into Incursion to start from scratch with only one month of available play time until Delve league would start.
The thing is that I don’t hate the Flashback league concept. However, the timing is awful. It feels like around that point the main league dies out, which forces GGG to introduce a special timed event to reinvigorate interest in the game right before a new league starts. I heard from a few people how burnt out they felt when Flashback came around. I wasn’t necessarily burnt out but I just had too much left to do in Incursion.
The thing that angered me was that Flashback essentially cuts into Incursion at least with regards to trade. I couldn’t care less about the race itself. The race is over within the first weekend. After that, it’s absolutely meaningless since people would die off from rushing or lose interest as the week progressed. So why not just do a special weekend event that isn’t as disruptive but allowed for higher item chances that would help push you faster?
Perhaps, that’s why they would allow for things like Perandus since you could gather coins and trade them for key items. But I prefer a race like that to be far shorter. Even a week would feel long enough as long as leveling wasn’t painful and ones wealth could be expedited and eventually brought back into the main league.
That said, I really like the idea of the additional random events within each area. I honestly wish they would keep Perandus in the leagues themselves along with Incursions. And I wish Breaches and Abysses were moved back down to the starting levels just because they add a great deal of flavor to the game.
Also, rather than having a month long race, I think it would be better to do as I proposed in having weekend races. So the idea here would be to do them more frequently with spikes during a league to keep things reasonably fresh. The drop rates would be far higher and they would end allowing your character to be transferred back into the main league. I like this idea because it’s like speed leveling for people who just don’t have time to dedicate to the game. Also, it really can boost the economy up with all the new items people could get from these fast sessions.
As for the Incursion league as a whole, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to it being added into the core game. There’s a lot that needs to happen for it to really shine. Such as preventing Alva from always appearing (she gets annoying), minimizing the RNG aspect of the temple layouts and the horrible rips that occur from being tossed into the middle of a bad layout where mobs can one shot you without you doing a damn thing. I loved the little rooms where you could get currency. That part was probably the best along with being able to fully clear an Incursion and getting some sick loot. What made this feature great was just boosting you a little more along your journey towards the end game.
Also, I’m going to miss those String of Servitude belts. I managed to buy the elemental resist one on trade and it was probably one of the best investments I’ve made. Combine that with a Goldrim and you’re good until end game with regards to resists. I just really like the idea of having another piece of gear that allows me more flexibility in my overall setup.
For Delve, I’m just going to delve (pun intended) in mostly blind. I did take a look around at the basic patch notes but outside of the notable nerfs (like to Elemental Hit and Traps), I didn’t find anything truly outstanding that would make me switch to entirely drastic new build/play style. I feel like with the nerf to sunder, I’m more inclined to go towards Arc Totems because it’s pretty reliable and reasonably easy to gear. I think it’ll be at least as good as Ancestral Warchief while leveling if not better in certain circumstances. The new metas that may pop up are too much of an unknown for me to really sit down and try. I’d prefer to use something that has been established unless someone can show me a better path.
I suppose the only ability people are ranting about is Caustic Arrow along with the poison rework. I’m still not a fan of leveling bows for a league starter so I’d prefer to wait and see. And I just got through the Necromancer. I suppose if I really wanted to try something on the edge a bit, I could do an Ascendant summoner type of build but I’m not feeling it just yet.
One thing that I’m kinda excited to see with Delve coming out is all the people moving towards SC. I’m always going to be a softcore player just because HC is stupid to me. It has its niche I’ll admit but I’ll never be apart of that. I already get disheartened by the XP penalties but losing a character out of my control is something that would make me quit the game entirely. But what makes me happy is the potential for having a very deep economy.
In all honesty, I don’t think Delve will bad for HC. I think people are overreacting but again without testing it, it’s impossible to say. Of course, once people understand the mechanics, I will anticipate more people moving back to HC. But with WoW’s expansion released so close to Delve along with the upcoming raids, a lot of people sound as though they don’t want to risk the time investment in a character while still being able to enjoy the depth of the game.
I wish people thought like that in general. For myself, I probably wouldn’t mind HC so much if the idea of being online to play wasn’t a thing. You could argue that with all the characters I create, I might as well play HC. But in truth, I’m just creating characters to experiment and form opinions. They may not be the best opinions based on really maximizing each build, but they are my own opinions on what makes me enjoy something.
Overall, I want to say the game is in a pretty good state. I wish GGG doesn’t fall into the path of darkness that Blizzard has in terms of using game balance as a way of spinning it into “new content.” I wish that they just developed real new content and tried to bring up unused skills rather than making ones perceived as “OP” into useless ones.
The new Delve system reminds me of Greater Rifts in how I originally imagined what Blizzard intended. In short, a neverending dungeon with infinitely scaling difficulty. I’m hoping that they do not force the game to be balanced around the ladder system. Although I typically disagree with him, Alkaizer once poignantly mentioned how the ladder in Diablo 3 essentially killed the game (same thing with World of Warcraft and arenas). I’m hoping that any idea of a ladder isn’t something that GGG will ever attempt to balance around because e-sports should be a bonus aspect to a game as opposed to a concentration. Blizzard’s games now suck as a result of their move towards focusing around e-sports and high end players rather than whether or not people are having fun. Sometimes fun just means having that slightly OP build or item. But usually that also means someone probably took some time to think about that build or acquire that item. Again, if people are having fun with it, then don’t stop them. Games are meant to be fun.