“Like clockwork”: I wouldn’t be surprised to see an icon of Grinding Gear Games and Path of Exile in the dictionary when you look up that idiom. You can count on the studio to provide information on its next update and league every three months (pandemic notwithstanding).
What you don’t see regularly is information about the upcoming Path of Exile 2. First announced at 2019’s ExileCon, this sequel was met with great enthusiasm, but word on progress is rare. That’s understandable, since the world shut down for the pandemic soon after, but it was still disappointing for those really looking forward to the next chapters in Wreaclast.Wandering Wraeclast!
Yes, it has been a long time since POE 2 got some screen time. To be fair, the world did have a bit of a shutdown right after the sequel was announced. And this game is a true sequel — a full game — with an entirely new seven-act campaign with new monsters, systems, gems, items, classes, Ascendency classes, and graphics. Obviously that’s going to take some time.
But it has been more time than Wilson liked. He emphasized to me that the lack of desired progress “is because the project is so important to [GGG] that [it is] definitely taking [its] time to make sure that [the devs] make the best possible action RPG.” However, he also noted that a key part of the pace of development being slower than he likes is because the studio couldn’t get all the manpower it wanted; the pool of game developers in New Zealand is much smaller than many other places (it is a small island, after all!), and with borders closed, GGG couldn’t hire internationally. But the pace is picking up, and Wilson told me has no concerns about it:
“I don’t have any concerns about the slower development pace because Path of Exile 1 is growing: We had our best player numbers in the most recent expansion and we’re hoping to have even better ones this expansion. As long as that continues to have a trend upwards, we can take our time to make sure that we get Path of Exile 2 right.”
Unlike some companies working on sequels, GGG is not interested in moving on from Path of Exile in favor of the newest shiny. “We’re not just throwing away our legacy, we’re embracing it,” Wilson explained, saying that both POE and POE2 will be played from the exact same launcher, with players choosing which campaign to take part in on the way to a shared endgame experience. New characters can be built in either game (but cannot be swapped between), and all old characters will be playable.
Why not a separate game? GGG didn’t want to split the playerbase, wanted players to have access to all their microtransactions, and wanted to ensure that POE continues to get regular development. (They also really like the endgame!) This will happen as the systems and features will be shared between the two games, whereas the content itself will not be. As Wilson put it,
“We are drawing the line between game systems and game content. Game system stuff affects both Path of Exile 1 and 2, so any improvements we make there affect it. But if it’s content like monsters and items and so on then it is specific to each story line.”
As an example, Wilson pointed to POE 2’s new gem system (where support gems are linked to skill gems instead of inside specific weapons so swapping weapons is much easier) coming to POE as well while weapons do not. That said, come endgame all players will have access to POE2 weapons.
Shiny and new!
Speaking of POE2 weapons, the team is just the start of the many new things coming to the sequel. The livestream showcased two new weapons, the spear and the crossbow. Wilson stated that GGG wants all weapons to feel unique and have different mechanics. Certain weapons can also synergize really well with specific skills thanks to its modifiers. Additionally, skills are designed to be canceled early for dodge, or players can stick with it for maximum damage.
Spears have both ranged and melee attacks, and each will have a mobility skill. The one demonstrated has an engage skill (increasing melee damage for short time) and disengage (flying backwards and throwing projectiles). The Whirling Slash skill creates a sandstorm that grows in size each time you use the skill then explodes when you leave it. The Rapid Assault skill does three rapid stabs, followed by a fourth stab that deals more damage and can stun it –if you’re willing to commit to the long attack time! More skills include Spearfield (pops spears up from the ground in an area to impale and make mobs bleed), Storm Spear (fires a lightning projectile which splits on contact), and Blazing Lance (a fire trail DoT where you can also fire a second flaming spear to fan those flames if you stand still long enough).
Crossbows are the next unique weapon. Their attacks are implicit. The particular crossbow highlighted in the livestream grants Power Shot, a high-damage single target attack. To modify that, players will equip different bolt skill gems. Each shot then is decided, be it to freeze, fire, poison, or whatnot. Currently the character calls out each type of shot, but Wilson said this will be togglable. (It can get pretty annoying every few moments!). Another type of crossbow, the Siege Crossbow, grants the siege cascade skill (which is in turn modified by which bolts you equip).
Remember claws? They will no longer be classed with daggers. Instead, they get to be their own class. These will be counted as unarmed. (I mean, did Wolverine ever have to carry weapons around?)
Weapons, of course, aren’t the only new shiny en route. There are plenty of new minibosses POE2 to test your mettle; in fact, players will find at least one miniboss in each area of the game. Players also have the new big baddies of every act to face. And there is the super shiny aspect of new graphics. Graphics-wise, things are really turned up a few notches in Path of Exile 2. Not only are things more detailed and crisper, but even the remnants of battle are more visual. For instance, any mobs that died while burning will leave an actual charred corpse. That kind of detail can help players feel as if they really left their mark on the battlefield. Oh, and there’s the whole playing while on a moving platform thing too!
The progress update focused on Act 2, centered in the Vastiri Desert. And boy, things are different from the get go! The main town in this act, Adura, is not a stationary town but a moving caravan. You are with the Maraketh tribe caravan, which is chasing the Faridun tribe’s caravan. And this caravan is moving. Moving! Players select where they will adventure next and the caravan will move to it. They then the travel on ahead into the game map to unlock the massive ancient gates blocking the caravan’s progress. It is definitely different to see the terrain rolling by under you while you run about to all the NPCs in Adura!
Ready: Play 1 or 2?
With both games in the same client, players have the option to choose where to play each time they log in. So which do you choose? Do you have to play through POE to get to POE2? No. In fact, Wilson shared that if a new player is jumping into the game for the first time, he’d strongly recommend you start with the sequel, noting that while the original campaign is great, the new one is newer and designed around better tutorialization:
“One of the things here is that these acts have been designed form the ground up to just be a better game than Path of Exile 1. We made Path of Exile 1 when we were just out of university. We were kids making our first game. [Path of Exile 2] is really quite a different ecosystem being developed. The Path of Exile 2 campaign is done with a 150-person team who are very experienced at making games and they’re just going to be making a better campaign here.
Folks can always go back and play the original any time they would like. Of course, POE2 will also be bringing much to the table for those who’ve spent many hours in the original. He added, “It’s going to be quite a breath of fresh air to people who have played Path of Exile 1 for a long time.”
Wilson did note that currently, it looks as if players won’t be able to play POE2 on last generation consoles due to the graphics. However, he said GGG is looking into dynamic levels of detail to allow for new assets in endgame to be compatible with the old so last-gen console players can still play POE 1 after they get to the shared endgame. Wilson also wants official controller support to come to POE 2, so players can use a controller on the pc or mouse and keyboard on a console.