Path of Exile: Exilecon 2019 Review

Exilecon 2019 has come and gone quite quickly and I did my best to try and keep up with the various panels. I wanted to share my thoughts on the matter.

First, I was impressed that GGG allowed people to re-stream the event. This was very forward thinking as it allowed people on stream to share their reactions while the event was going on. Unfortunately because Twitch has moved to a very annoying ad injected model, I could only catch the main stream and a few moments from Quin69’s stream.

The stream was pretty unsteady initially with a few technical difficulties that I think showed some weaknesses imo from GGG. The chat, as per Twitch, was humorously unforgiving in this regard as people made comments on every little issue. It felt as though there wasn’t a lot of prep work put in ahead of time for these aspects.

The con stream kicked off with both ZiggyD and Kripparian being the lead in to distract viewers as the main crew prepared for the main announcements. I felt this was a a bit odd but showed the community focus of GGG on two of the biggest PoE streamers from the past.

The start of the event was horrible to say the least. I don’t understand why Einhar was put on outside of a warm up exercise. But it was more like a cringeup as his performance was neither funny nor enlightening. In fact, I lost a lot of confidence once he appeared because it just felt like an insult to my intelligence and really had no place for a game that really targets more mature players. Heck, I would venture that the actor playing Einhar was caught off guard and had to improvise in a few spots because there were some very awkward moments.

Luckily, it didn’t last too long and led to Chris Wilson taking the stage. From there, we got into the real meat and bones of why everyone was there and tuning in: Path of Exile 2.0. Admittedly, I wasn’t blown away by what I saw initially because it felt like more of the same beyond a new start. The audience though reacted very favorably and Chris Wilson gave a near teary introduction.

I think if there’s one real positive about GGG here it’s that you can see that these people do care. I’m not trying to take away anything from any other company nor individual but it was quite heartfelt seeing Chris Wilson being emotionally broken up after the audience’s reaction to the game. Any creator will always be nervous when it comes to exposing their creation to the world and this was no different.

The other two major announcements were the upcoming expansion/challenge league for December and the mobile game. The expansion/league challenge for me was a little confusing because I couldn’t tell the difference in terms of what belonged where. This is more due to a presentation issue because the usual challenge league presentation shows an introductory video accompanied with Chris Wilson’s voice over. Here, we had two videos that seemed almost like the same thing but not really. I mean, the expansion changes the map system while the league challenge is focused around bosses.

In either case, I didn’t understand why these two videos were separated. What does one have to do with the other? I suppose you could say it was a bit of overwhelming content being broadcast all at once in conjunction with the 4.0 expansion announcement. Because this is all a single game/product, it was a little tough discerning between these.

The mobile game I almost thought was a joke and surreal. But so did GGG as they kept it slightly tongue-in-cheek with a few very glaring shots at Blizzard/Activision. The game play itself did not look inspiring and seemed just like the description given to it: a skunkworks project.  Given the problems of UI/UX with PoE, I cannot imagine this version to be that great of a near port but it’s something that might be an experimental strategy for GGG to get one foot into the door of mobile gaming.

The rest of the con was really hit and miss for me. Some of the devs were just a snoozefest. And you can’t blame them since this is probably their first time publicly speaking (e.g. Nova) What was more interesting was seeing their design philosophies behind the game. I think one thing I learned from this convention is that the developers are probably responsible for too much.

And this part is very disconcerting for me. I get that the company is young and spunky but I hope they realize that they need to scale their teams better to help improve the overall game. Like Nova might be very knowledgeable technically about the game but it feels that he might be responsible for too much. I mean if he’s doing the actual core coding on top of game design then he’s going to be stretched too thin (not going to make a fat joke here either because it’s way too easy).

But I can see where the game flaws become highly apparent in this team structure. Like your boss encounter designers should be separated from those who design the way skills work. And the reason I mention this is because the goals of both should be segregated.

A good example is the way Nova described how Uber Elder was designed initially. It sounds like he’s the type of person who would prefer to add a billion things in because he equates “lots” with “challenging.” But he was forced to remove it for both technical and balance reasons. A good QA and UX person could have spotted those limitations early on and I feel that these are lacking.

Another thing that I noticed was the streamers they brought in. Some just felt like odd choices. Like Rhykker. Why? Someone on reddit pointed out that he was a journalist. Really? Is that what you call what he does? Wouldn’t his spot be better filled by someone who actually knows the game better? He kept making comparisons to Diablo, which I thought was pretty cringeworthy because it showed his limitations of knowledge with the game. He didn’t even seem excited to play it.

Then there was Kripparian. He got some heat on Twitter for which GGG mentioned that his involvement was instrumental in their early success. Now, this one I get because at one time I was a Kripp-a-maniac when it came to PoE. The real I played was because I followed the guy and got intrigued by this game. But his current involvement in the game is almost at zero at this point. On top of that, I thought it was funny how the designers created the encounters to kill Kripp.

The only one they needed to kill was Mathil (and they got him once). Let’s face it: Mathil is the king of PoE at the moment when it comes to content. Mathil is the main person holding up PoE on a daily basis and creates all the content that the community managers should be doing with his builds that come out every few days.

The rest of the people I understood but it just felt awkward because most of the PoE players are a bunch of dead beats. Not going to sugar coat my words here but basically the main content is just grinding out more currency and trying not to die. Like there were a few people they brought on for interviews where it felt like they were digging at the bottom of the Twitch barrel.

I’m certain they invited Alkaizer (or attempted to) but that guy is such a dead beat that he knows if he actually showed up anywhere outside his little boi cave, people would line up to kick his ass for all the shit he says.

The one streamer, whom I had to give it to outside of Mathil though, was Quin69. I mean this guy is just funny as hell. I’m surprised he got away with saying certain things on the official PoE stream. But his interview was pretty dead on. I liked the fact that he didn’t go easy on the questions and just pounded away. I know some people berated him on reddit but his questions were spot on and he had some good insight from all the other games he played to compare it to PoE. Like Rhykker’s only experience was Diablo but Quin69 I think plays enough games and it showed.

Probably, the only streamer that should’ve been invited who wasn’t present was DatModz. I think DatModz has some really great insight into the game, has a good gaming background and is a great on air personality. He can go high end and represents a good middle of the road type of player that is both casual and can handle the hard core/advanced game play.

Either way, GGG’s choices made me feel that this game is still quite niche. They have done an excellent job growing and building up awareness. However, I have to wonder that in the end they might be stifling themselves by sticking to this niche. What I mean by this is that the game and audience hasn’t changed much. It’s grown but I think it’s just because of the amount of features and word of mouth.

However, to get to this point makes me feel it’s taken a bit too long. Maybe I shouldn’t judge but I won’t beat around the bush in saying perhaps people like Nova shouldn’t be the only ones making key decisions that might be limiting the company’s overall growth.

Yeah, that’s a very harsh criticism but that’s what I see when I look at Exilecon. Like the mobile game is just the same thing except more limited. Here, you have the chance to create a new experience but instead you’re just creating a limited port and tossing it over the wall to see if that sticks. Also, there seems to be an oxymoronic fear internally about changing too much but reverting to things from 2012. I don’t understand how one goes backwards after supposedly learning from 7 years what works and what doesn’t.

The thing is that I don’t think this game will have that wide of an appeal given GGG’s approach to development. It reminds me of Linux on the desktop as well as that community. I talked with a so-called hardcore Linux guy ages ago and his philosophy was to only allow the elite to use it. Well, if you’re that gung-ho about something like Linux, wouldn’t you want to see it expand?

The thing is that if you don’t allow your system to grow, then the real things you want to accomplish will never come to fruition. Like 4.0 should’ve been a ground up re-write rather than bolted on features to a legacy engine. It’s the same reason why I can’t play World of Warcraft anymore; the game itself in the core design cannot really change. With WoW, you just fall into this trap of questing to get to end level then running dungeons and raids repeatedly awaiting new content patches.

The main positive though about this convention as a take away is just that Chris Wilson cares as well as the other developers. The company continues to appear hungry so they will still push new features and the game will expand mostly in the combinations of how one creates a character and build. I just wish they would try new things that are daring but at the same time understanding of the user experience (e.g. Blight sucked!)

 

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