ExileCon 2019: Path of Exile 2’s skill system reboot and Ascendancy classes


After the surprise reveal of Path of Exile 2 at ExileCon 2019, players were understandably hungry for more details. And that is exactly what Technical Director Jonathan Rogers, Senior Game Designer Rory Rockham, and Content Lead Neon offered during a panel that delved deeper into aspects of 4.0. They highlighted the new — and very much improved — skill system and gave con-goers a glimpse of ascendancy classes, with a focus on the Ranger.

Salvage from the old skill system

At the start of the PoE 2 panel Rogers said he was going on a rant about skill system design. “One of the things we wanted to do with Path of Exile 2 is fix the remaining problems as we see them that Path of Exile still has,” he said. And a big one of those problems is — you guessed it — the skill system. He noted that in order to fix it, there needed to be an complete overhaul; no collection of small updates would work. Hence, a perfect opportunity with PoE 2.

Rogers emphasized that there were parts of the system that Grinding Gear Games definitely wanted to keep, namely the flexibility. But the elements that made it frustrating to use needed to go.

As all players know, swapping out gems every time you want to switch gear is a hassle. Rogers told the audience that it was a mistake attaching the sockets and colors to the items themselves. The original idea was to offer more depth; with a chance for a variety of mods and variety of sockets, there were more ways for rares to be different and players would have to trade off between better sockets and better mods. Yet right at the beginning the devs realized they had to be more generous, so they kept adding more systems (such as the currencies to change color, number, and links on sockets) until the old design goals were completely left behind.

With Path of Exile 2, GGG gets to reinvent the skill system, keeping the best parts and tossing out the worst. The design goals for the system were to make it as deep or deeper than its predecessor, make it easier to understand, and make it easier to use. Did they succeed?

A superior skill system

From what I have seen and the little I was able to play, I say yes, it appears GGG did succeed. The system is much easier to use and easier to understand, yet it still has the chance for great diversity and customization.

For PoE 2, your gear has a set number of slots and colors as determined by item class (e.g. a bow has four green slots and a maul has two red). No longer will players hunt for gear with more sockets and acceptable mods, though Rogers confirmed that there will exceptions (see below). Gear gives players a total of nine sockets: four on weapons (four on one-handers, two on each one-handed/shield), two on chest piece, and one each on helm, gloves, and boots. These are your skill gem slots.

So what about support gems?

This is the best part: Skill gems themselves contain the sockets for the support gems! Once you socket the skill gem on a piece of gear, you can place the support gems right in that skill gem using the new interface. If you want to have more support gems, you need to find a rare higher-slot skill gem; instead of six-slot gear, you’ll hunt for six-slot gems. As you level, gems will increase in numbers of available slots. The breakdown for gem slots by level is:

  • Item level 1: 2 support slots
  • Item level 20: 3 support slots
  • Item level 35: 4 support slots
  • Item level 50: 5 support slots

Rogers assured us that players will be able to buy the appropriate level gem with fixed sockets from vendors when they hit those corresponding Acts in the game if they haven’t found them though looting. However, the rarer ones with more slots than standard will be available only through loot or trading with players. Fun fact: If you find a lower-level gem with fewer sockets than the one you already have, you can feed it to your gem to give it more experience. Abyss sockets also stay in the gear.

At endgame, things change just a bit. Rogers noted that specialty items do not follow standard rules; abyss items keep their slots and the Tabula Rasa robe has 3 white sockets.There will also be a new currency available at end game that will allow players to manipulate socketing. Additionally, players can utilize special metagems that have their own sockets, allowing players to put a number of skill in them and then socketing that metagem in only one support slot. All skills in the metagem are counted as one skill and fire simultaneously. One example given was the aura metagem, but many more will be in game.

A glance at ascendancy classes

Rockham and Neon took over to discuss the new ascendency classes, sharing that there will be a total of 19 new classes, just as there are 19 in the original Path of Exile. As much as players would love to know everything now, much is still in development. Besides, that’s too many to cover in a single panel; at ExileCon the focus was on my new best friend, the Ranger and its ascendancies.

Why is Ranger my new best friend? One of the ascendancies is called Beast Master. While other classes will be able to shapeshift, this ascendancy is the only way to get the werecat shapeshifting ability (with its nigh crit bonus). This ascendancy also grants a companion cat that can be specialized for particular buffs: either a lion for strength, a panther for stealth, or a cheetah for speed. This class can also switch between forms while keeping the buffs from the previous, such as from cat to work to human, keeping cat and wolf buffs. This sounds like my dream class!

The two other ascendancies revealed are also quite cool, though not pet-themed. The Survivalist has the ability to use a single-target and AoE version of each of its skills. It also swaps well between offense and defense.  The Tactician relies on ensnaring enemies by raining arrows down in tactical strikes; these force mobs to have to move closer to fight all while being slowed and taking whatever DoT damage is being dealt with each step. Tacticians also get a supercharged totem.

One important note is that once an ascendency has been unlocked by a player in either campaign, it is available for use in both PoE and PoE 2. Rogers also noted that the Labyrinth would not be the means by which PoE 2 characters would ascend. In fact, the team is discussing removing it from the Labyrinth in PoE as well. If that happens, it will happen before the launch of PoE 2.

A final fun fact: Rogers said that while it isn’t done now, the idea that an ascendancy class changes the character visual could possibly be implemented in the future. And because deleted characters are purged after a time, GGG has no way to know who has unlocked which ascendancies n PoE, so when PoE 2 comes out the team will likely grant all ascendancies to old accounts to be unlocked for the second campaign.

Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that Grinding Gear paid for our writer’s travel to and accommodation at the ExileCon event. Grinding Gear has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event.
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