ExileCon 2023 kicked off this evening as Path of Exile fans have gathered both live in New Zealand and in front of screens all around the world to watch events unfold. Over the course of the weekend, there will be panels, Q&A sessions, and even a POE tournament, but perhaps the most anticipated part by many players (and especially me) is the Path of Exile 2 info dump. After fours years of waiting, it’s hard not to thirst for more details! Starting with today’s keynote address and followed by a number of specific panels, we get to finally learn more about POE2. And just before the event commenced, I got to talk with Grinding Gear Games’ Managing Director Chris Wilson and POE2 Game Director Jonathan Rogers for a preview of tonight’s big announcements.
The first major news is that Path of Exile 2 is no longer what it was introduced as at the first ExileCon in 2019. Don’t panic, though; it’s much better.
The second big news is that GGG has already set a date for the closed beta. Yes, a specific date. If you don’t have plans already cemented for June 7th, 2024, you may want to pencil in your trip to the newest Wraeclast.
Of course, there were many more details shared as well on top of a lengthy game demo, touching on classes, skills, and other mechanics. Let’s dig in!
Back when the POE2 bomb was first dropped on the con audience, we learned that it would not be a stand-alone game. That, my friends, has changed. Previously, GGG said, “It is not a stand-alone game: Players will use the same game client and share the same endgame, but they will progress through different storylines on different versions of characters.” That’s all changed now.
During the demo, Rogers explained that as the devs moved through development, the scope of the game grew so much that it had to be split off into a separate game, making it a true, full sequel. That doesn’t seem too surprising as Rogers noted that the team working exclusively on POE2 is over 100 developers strong! He told me that given the game’s growth, GGG realized keeping it as an expansion was not feasible.
“We kind of realized that we’d actually be destroying POE1, which is a game that a lot of people like if we were to do this,” he said. “So therefore it is important to us to be able to split those out again.” Being a separate game, POE2 will have its own balance, its own mechanics, its own leagues, and even its own endgame — there’s no trying to pigeonhole or force something to work for both games. We all know how crippling that can be on all sides!
As intriguing as the idea of having the two storylines be in the same game and meeting together in the endgame, I am actually really glad that GGG didn’t use that idea to limit the ultimate scope and development of POE2; I’d rather see a more robust game that can expand with new ideas and more tools unique to this other experience while still keeping the Wraeclast spirit. From what I have seen, the studio is succeeding. Aside from the new campaign set in the land’s future, the sequel has new monsters, new mechanics, and new classes. Even most of the original’s league content was revamped.
However, the new game will still be played on the same platform. That allows for one very important point that you don’t see often in sequels: the sharing of microtransactions. Yes, everything you have bought previously (or will buy in the future) for one game will be available in the other (with the exception of very specific content such as a bear from reskin of POE2 that has no counterpart in POE1). You don’t need to buy things twice! Forgive me while I give a cheer and a big thumbs up for this. To me, this just oozes the opposite of bleeding your players, a philosophy that I feel GGG espouses well — and I wish other studios would learn from.
An interesting tidbit that Rogers shared is that the two games’ league launches will be spaced out. Knowing that many POE1 players will also be playing POE2, GGG will start leagues at different times in the three-month cycle so that folks can jump in and play both right as they start.
Getting to watch 30 minutes of Path of Exile 2 gameplay is pretty exciting. (Not as much as playing it live, of course!) POE2 currently has six acts, and during this preview, I saw a bit of the third act. This demo highlighted two classes, a number of skills, new bosses with their mechanics, and new gameplay mechanics. Here’s just some of what I learned!
Classes: With new mechanics for every attribute combination, the POE2 classes have new themes. Unlike POE, where there is one character class for each of the combinations of Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence, the sequel has two classes associated with each attribute combination. Rogers explained that the Strength and Intelligence combo has the Templar and the Druid. For Dexterity alone, there is the well-known Ranger but also the spear-focused Huntress. Mixing Dexterity and Intelligence, you can choose between the Monk and the Shadow.
Pick your rewards: With there being two variants per combo, it makes sense that one reward can’t work for both. Rogers emphasized that quest rewards will offer two variants, each tailored to one of the two classes associated with the stat combinations. Additionally, gems that are dropped in POE2 will not come with predetermined skills. Instead, players will click on the uncut gem and select from the available options what best suits them. These uncut gems are pre-levelled to match the level of the area that it dropped in, making it a lot easier to change between skills in POE2 according to Rogers.
POE2 also has Meta Gems, which are skills that can have other skills socketed into them, changing how they work. Trigger gems use a system of filling up cast time on each trigger; if a skill has a short cast time, then it will trigger often, but a longer cast time means a longer time to trigger. Barrier Invocation is another Meta gem that charges up as your energy shield is hit by monsters; the more shield you lose, the more charge builds up, until the point that you can instantly cast the skill you socketed in it.
Ascendancies: The two games diverge when it comes to Ascendancies as well. In the sequel, each class has its own three Ascendancies for further specialization that are exclusive to that class. Unfortunately, Rogers didn’t disclose what those Ascendancies are yet; we’ll have to wait for more information.
Bosses: Each area will have its own boss with unique boss mechanics. Rogers noted that this makes over 100 bosses for players to face as they make their way through the campaign. Rewards for killing the boss can include consumables that permanently increase stats for the character. Another important distinction about bosses is that you can actually freeze them because there is no immunity to that as in POE1. If you are a POE1 player, you might think that you can’t rely on freeze because there are so many bosses that are immune to it, but in POE2 that is changing significantly.
Crowd control internal meters: Many bosses in POE1 had immunity to freeze because freeze is a binary mechanic there, Rogers explained. Either it hit or it didn’t, and it trivialized bosses. However, that changes in POE2. Instead, crowd control mechanics have internal meters that build up to freezes and stuns and other CCs. He described it as “a little bit like Poise from games like Elden Ring, though the meters tend to be a lot smaller.” Basically, when you freeze an enemy, it increases the amount of freeze you need to do to get another freeze, but the increased difficulty bleeds away slowly.
New resource dubbed Spirit: Mana pool? Why be stuck with an eternally empty mana pool? That seems to be the thoughts of the POE2 devs. In fact, Rogers said, “We were kind of sick of the fact that basically every character was playing with no mana pool, so we decided to change the way that reservation works.” The result is the introduction of a new resource called Spirit. Spirit is a dedicated resource that you can use for ongoing effects like Arctic Armour, Heralds, Auras and even Minions. Everyone starts with 100 Spirit, and players can work their builds and gear to increase that number.
NPC summons: Players will be able to call on an NPC to join them to either get answers or seek help for a quest objective. This negates the need to travel back to town to get aid.
If you think this is all there was to learn from the demo, then you’re quite mistaken! In fact, the skills shown off were not a few! Both the Monk and Sorceress were highlighted, but we can’t do them justice here. In the next piece, we’ll take a look at the skills revealed for the Monk and Sorceress, and then we’ll take a look at the new mechanics involving instant weapon and skill swapping as well as new combat movement with dodge rolling.