Path of Exile’s Delve launches August 31 with an infinite dungeon; here’s our chat with Grinding Gear’s Chris Wilson!

There's some vintage updates here, you know.

Picture this: an underground dungeon that gets progressively more challenging — and rewarding — the deeper you go, and there is no end. Not no end in sight, but no end. An infinite dungeon. Does this sound like a dream come true to you? Well go ahead and smile because Path of Exile is delivering just that on August 31st (unless you play on Xbox One, then you have to wait until September 3rd). The next league is aptly called Delve, and its all about descending into a never-ending mine shaft, reaping rewards while staving off the dangers in the darkness — with the darkness itself being one of those dangers!

While that info alone might be enough to keep you entertained for a bit, we know you want more. So I had a little chat with Producer Chris Wilson to learn more about this intriguing idea with its new mechanics and features to pass it all on to you. And who knows? This might be just the beginning: Wilson called this “Path of Exile’s first infinite dungeon,” which would lend you to believe that more numbers could follow.

Hello, darkness is not your friend

In Delve, currently known as patch 3.4.0, darkness does more than hide the dangers — it is the danger. The story (and adventure) is set in the ancient Azurite Mine that has become filled with an oppressive, evil darkness that Wilson stated not only hides monsters out of sight but also hurts players just for standing in it. And by hurt, he means can quickly kill you! This darkness is no slow acting, leisurely DoT but a suffocating monster that can snuff the life out of you in short order; the damage gets progressively worse very quickly. “There are a number of ways to mitigate this and bring it under control,” Wilson said. “Part of the mastery of the league is conquering the darkness to some extent.” And how do you combat darkness? There is no way except with light. And not just any light, but a special light;

The darkness cannot be penetrated by mere torches, so new technology was developed to allow players to explore. The inventor of this technology is Niko the Mad. His system of a cable-laying robotic mining cart and generator will enable players to descend into the mine… if they bring him a way to power it all. This generator needs a mineral called voltaxic sulphite in order to produce the light bright enough to pierce the darkness and afford a small space of safety from its damage. If players find this mineral out on the surface of Wraeclast (and there will be about one per adventuring zone), they just click on the deposit to summon Niko who will mine it. At that point, players can choose to click on Niko and dive into the mine right then for a short delve or stockpile the sulpite and continue on their current adventures for now. Saving sulphite also allows players to do a much longer, deeper delve.

Not your everyday escort quest

What happens once you get in the mine? Players will find themselves next to the robotic mine cart, called the crawler, which both lays cable to connect different points within the mine as well as gives off a radius of bright light. This cart ambles along through the shaft, and players would do well to stay within its light unless they want to face those consequences. As I watched a demonstration of the process, Wilson pointed out that this is not your typical escort mission as MMO might players know them. For one, you aren’t scrambling to keep pace with the mining cart. Instead, it keeps pace with you. This means players can go as fast or slow as they wish, barrelling through to get to the end or stopping to kill everything that comes out of the darkness. Additionally, there are chests just barely out of reach to entice players to leave the safety of the light; if you want to open a chest, you have to brave the darkness. Just be quick! There are also side rooms out of sight even deeper in the darkness that could hold more wondrous treasure, but players will either have to hope they can survive long enough or they can use an alternative temporary light source: flares

Obviously there are going to be players who want to explore further than the crawler allows, and there is a method for (relatively) safely doing so. Flares provide a brief period of illumination. Throwing them into the dark allows players to explore off the beaten path. Just be sure you have enough flares to get you back to the cart and the light’s safety! Another feature in this league is dynamite.

Knowing that the darkness damages, it’s obviously not a good idea to stand in it and sort your loot. Micromanagement of inventory is not a task to undertake in the middle of a delve! The good news (for people like me especially) is that the mining cart collects the loot dropped from mobs for you so that you don’t have to stand there taking darkness damage while deciding what to keep. The cart will then cough up all your goodies when you reach the end and you can take time to sort there. The one very notable exception to this are the chests, or anything off the same screen of the cart. While the chests hidden in the darkness are filled with more alluring loot, you do have to pick the loot up yourself, so be mindful of your inventory before so you don’t die to darkness while deciding!

When you reach the end of the line for that particular delve, the cart stops and players have a final encounter. Defeating that encounter means that this staging point is now hooked up to the power grid and unlocked for players to use. Players will see what nodes are connected on their personal map by the a bright yellow line.

How low can you go?

In Delve, it’s not about who goes the highest but who goes the lowest. Wilson explained that this will be the ultimate test of really who is better, especially among the streamers. After all, it is plainly obvious exactly how low a player has gone in the mine and that can be compared to others, whereas content in other leagues was effectively capped.

Just how far down do you want to delve into the mine? You can keep going forever — or at least until this league ends. Down isn’t the only path, however. There are also side branches to explore. When examining their mine map, players will see many different encounter and reward indicators at various nodes. This info allows players to decide which direction they want their next delve adventure to go. Perhaps you don’t want to go down right away but instead detour to the side for something really cool. Players can start their adventure at any unlocked node, and will automatically start at the unlocked node closest to the one they want to connect to. Each time players connect a new node, they will get to see a little further around it, opening new choices as to where to go. And how extensive can this map get? Take a peek at one map in the clip below:

Part of the coolness will be finding the various biomes. There are caves (fire, ice, etc) as well as petrified forests and even rare underground cities. There are 10 different tilesets, each with different probabilities of spawning. The sets include their own composition of monsters and encounters. Wilson also noted that there are some rewards that only come form certain tile sets. How much cool stuff will players find? Wilson said,

“We completely acknowledge that for this league that a success or failure will be completely based on how much cool stuff we can jam underground. And so the team is furiously working, and have been for a long time, to put as much cool stuff in there [as possible]. The basic goal is that as someone is going deeper and deeper, as the mine gets harder, we’re trying to distract them and tempt them with cool rewards off to the side, and make sure that there’s a lot of difficult choices as to what they should be getting in the mine.”

Basically, the idea is that there will be no end to the stuff you can find no matter how long you play or how often you play. You just keep going deeper and deeper, getting more cool stuff as you go. “Our primary focus there is that players who have been playing it for many, many weeks still find new and exciting stuff underground,” Wilson stated. “The only way this league is going to be our most successful ever is if we can pile so much content in that players are constantly finding new stuff when they are underground all the time. And so a lot of the team’s mandate has been come up with cool stuff and stick it in the ground.”

Delve progression

Progression in the mine is handled mostly with azurite, the mineral found within the mine. These blue crystals are automatically vacuumed up by your character as you run near them so there is no need to stop and pick them up. The azurite is what is used to upgrade the crawler as well as the flares and dynamite, and which it is spent on is players’ choice. You can increase your sulphite capacity, darkness resistance, and the light radius of the crawler. However, you can also choose to upgrade your flares (maximum number, duration, and radius) and or your dynamite (maximum number, damage, and radius). Wilson said the flares and dynamite options are there to tempt the players away from what they should be spending it on, and those tools are quite powerful when upgraded. Will you decide to make yourself withstand the darkness more or focus instead on your tools?

Know before you craft

One of the big (and sure to be very welcome) changes in Delve is chucking some of the crafting randomness to the curb. “We like the randoness,” Wilson explained, “but there, of course, are problems with it being completely random. So one of the things we wanted to try in this league is finding a middle ground with crafting between complete randomness and some degree of determinism.” That’s where a new socketable currency comes in to play, resonators.

Resonators come with sockets, usually one, but there are more powerful ones with up to three. The sockets are filled with fossils, ), and players can socket fossils they find in them. These fossils will say what type of bonus it will grant, just not what the bonuses will be. For instance, the one Wilson showed me stated, “more lightning mods, no physical mods.” So you know whatever it is put on will add lightning mods, an important thing if lightning is what you want! So now, instead of trying to reroll items constantly looking for the type of mods you want, you can put those desired mods on specifically. The randomness is still there in what exactly those mods end up adding to your gear. So there will likely be some rerolling to get what you want but not the tons of rerolling from before.

Non-league new content

As always, there is more more to a patch than just the league. Although half of the new 18 unique items are Delve specific, the other half are build-enabling items in the main game. One example Wilson showed me was the primordial chain, which allows folks to choose whether they want one very large golem minion or split it into four smaller golem minions.”With a unique like this, we are 100% happy if we add it to the game and no one cares,” Wilson stated. “Because eventually there will be this golem monster build that discovers this, and then the whole game revolves around this for those players.” He went on,

“In fact, its kind of desirable to have these hidden gems in the game that no one’s really thought about or noticed. And then one day they are like, ‘Wait, how long has this existed for? Because that’s perfect for me and I’ve never seen it before!’ It’s kind of revolutionary tech breakthrough.”

That said, based on the popularity of primordial chain just within the office, Wilson feels like his dream of a sleeper unique item that he can say “I told you so” about will likely have to wait for another one.

There are also new skills, such as Smite for guardians and Toxic Rain for rangers. Smite shoots both a target and another nearby enemy with lightning while simultaneously buffing teammates (either minions or other players) with increased lightning damage and a chance to shock. Toxic Rain creates spore pods which will both root enemies and cause chaos damage until the pods finally explode. There are 10 new skills in all, and Grinding Gear Games will delve into more details about each of them as the month progresses.

There are also very rare time-worn reliquary keys that players can find. These keys will open up a portal to a very special chest. Why would you care about this particular rare chest? In it will be one unique item from leagues past that cannot be obtained any other way. Wilson emphasized that this is a very rare golden-ticket type of item, and most people should not expect to find one. Why is it so rare? Because, he explained, the team wanted to go with the odds of getting anything from the chest being equal (instead of being more likely to get junk), so instead the team made the rarity the actual key.

Additionally, Wilson showed me a number of the graphical improvements coming in this update. And they look pretty awesome. Shadows and light are one of the biggest improvements (which makes sense, since light and darkness are vital in the underground mine). Items that wouldn’t necessarily cast light and shadows before, such as skills, will now thanks to new way GGG has worked out to do global illumination that won’t be super taxing to use; Wislon said 75% of PoE players would be able to leave it on without hurting their performance. Ambient occlusion is also added. Just how good is it? Take a look at the walls next time you are fighting deep down in the darkness. Wilson said all these lighting changes really improve the look of the game everywhere without a need to upgrade the art.

Wilson also demonstrated how water is now dynamic, correctly calculating the flow of the water depending on the terrain. This means it changes speeds when the waterway is restricted or widened, creates currents and eddies as it moves over items, and even creates foam. You won’t be seeing these effects down in the mine itself (no water!), so be sure to take a look at it in the surface world. Wilson also noted that monster art from earlier areas was also improved to more modern standards. Go check out those blood monkeys! Dont’s despair if your favorite area/monster hasn’t gotten the beauty treatment — it still might. Wilson emphasized that the team will continue to “meter out these improvements as they come over the next few years without formally putting them in one big expansion.”

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