Up until this recent patch/league, I never had much luck getting far in Path of Exile. However, this league marks the first time I managed to get into maps due to mostly having a better computer and some helper gear donated by a friend as well as getting good advice from the same person. Here are my post-league thoughts on this league as well as my journey.
In this league, I started out quite ignorant, using a few old build guides that led me down the wrong path a few times. In turn, I was unfamiliar with the meta and just trying to feel myself around as I made my way towards a few old barriers to entry. The result was that I had created a few characters, all of which were unsatisfactory until I settled upon a witch/necromancer zombie/SRS build.
I did my first item acquisition from buying a Baron’s hat, which essentially propelled me forward a great deal as I now had an item that could boost me a little. I got carried through a few normal lab runs early on and ended up deciding to push this necromancer up the chain. What I liked about this build in particular was the general ease of getting into the league by having my minions do all the dirty work while I stood back in safety.
Along the way, I discovered an awesome farming zone called Blood Aqueducts which allowed me to get two Tabula Rasas from Humility cards. I gave one to my friend. However, I already had discovered one much earlier, which allowed me to get an early six link setup.
As I made my way through each act, I found myself finding each spot to being a new challenge. I would watch videos to prepare myself for each major boss while completing the lab on my own. Finally, the big day came when I would confront my last hurdle into maps: Kitava act 10.
Kitava is a notoriously bad boss. Not as bad as the scorpion boss nor bear boss, but still mechanically he can be a pain. I was pretty nervous from the phases and layers of complexity. However, I managed to beat him on my own and was quite pleased.
Then it was onto maps. I had no idea what to expect so I just went head in and began opening up the map zones one by one. Spoiler alert: I never opened up the entire atlas. However, I learned a lot in the new types of content like shaped and elder influenced maps. In some way, those shaped and elder maps were addictive for me once I learned about the shaped and elder item system. It simply made me want to continuously run them to hunt for all these cool looking items with the potential to have numerous affixes, especially those with additional support gem-like features.
However, one thing that I was running into was just the general slowness of progress, especially when it came to the Incursions themselves: my necromancer simply was clearing things fast enough. I tried a Fireblast totem Hierophant but similarly, the clear speed was abysmal. Not to mention, I found the Hierophant quite squishy and slow (at least with the gear I was running). Thus, I decided to go meta: Arc Trapper!
The Arc Trapper was a build I discovered via a streamer. Essentially, the clear speed was insane mostly due to the revamped Arc mechanics. But once you added the safety mechanism of the trap portion with the speed at which you could toss them out and you had a truly OP character. Two things that made this process incredibly fast was getting a Fencoil early on and then fating it to a Mirebough. That just propelled me through most of the midgame as the high level support linking allowed me to nuke most of the content down. One of the funniest bosses was Piety just before fighting Malachai. I probably through down 20+ traps and the fight took less than a second.
There were more avenues I went down as I progressed, mostly in trying builds that I had been wanting to play for a long time. At this point, I finally had the gear to twink out to my heart’s content. Doing this gave me a ton of practice at content that previously would give me headaches. Almost every boss felt reasonable (although some were just flat out annoying) and lab didn’t bother me as much. In fact, I consider Normal and Cruel reasonably easy.
At this point, I feel confident about knowing enough of the basics of the game where I can progress on my own. I’m still not at that point where I feel I’m capable of creating my own builds just yet. However, once I see the basics of a build, I can get the main idea to take it from there. I’ve learned a lot more about the basic statistics and combinations. I don’t have the deep knowledge of the math to really min-max a character out. Still, I can do fine with what I know and feel comfortable.
A few things that I found disappointing was that while having more builds open, Path of Exile does end up locking you down to the meta. What that means is that there will be a featured build for a league it seems. Many people criticize Diablo 3 for lacking builds; I think the difference is just focus. Path of Exile requires more intimate knowledge of the mechanics and math of the game to produce effective builds. However, the larger amounts of RNG make it harder to max out a character in a satisfying manner.
The other thing about these builds is that, in reality, they don’t truly feel distinct as you would imagine. They’re just variations in math and geometry with a few visual and audio effects thrown in. I’m not saying they’re not fun, but when you break things down, it really boils to permutations/combinatorics.
The other major disappointment I had was a mixture of understanding and frustration on the way skills are off balance. The three areas where the real big picture stuff comes into play are 1) map clears; 2) boss fights; 3) movement. You could throw in survivability but I think that should be a given. The real issues lie in the three above points.
With the first two, the game becomes somewhat ridiculous in terms of extremes. On the one hand, you’ll have certain builds that specialize in boss kills while the others focus on map clears. Once in a while you’ll get something in between. But let me provide a concrete example which makes me nuts: bow characters.
Bow characters supposedly are notoriously painful to level. At least, in my experience they fail in the boss and movement aspects. The popular Tornado Shot build forces one to use Barrage for single target. That’s just insane! People would talk about requiring 2 six-linked items that you could swap between. Then you have the god awful Blink Arrow movement. So for lab runs, you’re kinda fucked.
Then you take a character like my zombie necro and find that your area damage just blows. So for this league, Incursions were nearly impossible to do compared to an Arc Trapper. Even swapping between Melee Splash and Melee Physical damage support didn’t help all that much. It just was physically painful to play this class and find the experience joyful.
At the end of the day, I spent so much time experimenting to see what worked and what didn’t that I hit all my major marks. Sometimes I would find items to make me want to play a build (e.g. Poet’s Pen). The idea would be to see what the hype around some builds were.
A few builds just remained locked away for me since the guides would often recommend core items that were out of my price range or just too hard to obtain. I found that to be unsettling as one might never have the chance to play a build at all due to time constraints or the fact that the game designers might just pull it altogether.
At the end of the day, I found myself really hitting this league hard. I have a better idea of how to start next time and what to try next.