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Path of Exile 1.0, Steam, and sweet, sweet revenge

Gavin Townsley

If you're in need of a healthy dose of monster-bashing, clicky goodness, nothing is better for you than the soon-to-be-Steamed Path of Exile. I'll let that sink in. Yes, I did.

Grinding Gear Games is finally taking the game out of open beta on October 23 and simultaneously releasing on the Steam network. Version 1.0 of the free-to-play action RPG will include several new improvements such as a new prestige class (awesome: wields ethereal weapons like boomerangs!), three new areas filled with sub-zones, and new PvP modes. The release also marks the conclusion of the third act in which we face off against Dominus himself. Well, himself and legions of dead, demon-y things.

And, that's just the beginning.

Meet the Scion

She's the daughter of corrupt nobles, which means she can throw a good punch. The Scion is PoE's first take on the prestige class and the seventh unfortunate soul to be exiled to Wraeclast. Unlike the other classes, the Scion is a bit more difficult to play, according to Chris Wilson, Managing Director of Grinding Gear Games.

The difficulty begins with unlocking her as a playable character. Players will have to search the world looking for her in a locked cage, a potentially rough task given the randomly-generated quality of the world's landscape. Once released, she is available as an option at the character creation screen.

Path of Exile 10, Steam, and sweet, sweet revenge
Each class in PoE starts at a location central to their stat sets on the skill tree. The Marauder is set closer to everything strength-oriented and the Witch is closer to magic and intelligence perks. The Scion is literally in the middle of the tree -- a Jack-of-all-Trades that is close and yet far from any heavy specialization. Wilson tells me this will make it much harder for players to make pure versions of the class, but the Scion benefits from being able to spread across the skill tree more easily than any other option.

The difficulty continues in the types of skills central to the Scion's gameplay. Wilson shows me how the character creates a fan of ethereal blades that shoot out and return like boomerangs. The initial damage isn't very high, but he shows me how drawing the blades through enemies as the weapons return increases the damage output significantly.

Path of Exile 10, Steam, and sweet, sweet revenge
The skills are a bit different this time around, too. Wilson opens up the inventory to show me a new line of support gems he calls "trigger gems." Trigger gems act like passive gems except that they trigger active abilities. As I slay small clumps of monsters, random spell effects burst out of me without any keystroke on my part. Wilson says these gems make it easier for players who don't want to worry about the micro game of managing eight skills and juggle various conditions associated with each skill.

New Zones and Shrines

The official release will add three new zones to the end of Act III. The first zone is made up of gardens outside a large library and contains few new monsters and a rather lush environment. The gardens lead the player into the library. The library is dark and ominous in atmosphere with books and bodies laying scattered around the interior landscape. Wilson says that lore fans will find lots of secret goodies in this area in the form of discoverable pages that are randomized with the zone's layout. He claims it will take several runs to piece together everything from the library. The third zone is called the Scepter of God: a giant tower that leads, floor by floor, to the final showdown with Dominus.

Path of Exile 10, Steam, and sweet, sweet revenge
It's in the library that I come across two new mechanics in the form of Shrines and spell effects I didn't recognize on enemies. Wilson explains that the golden globes surrounding certain enemies are an attempt to help balance the game. In other words, ranged classes have been enjoying a power advantage over melee-based classes. The golden globes are a field in which the player must enter in order to damage the enemy. In most cases, these place the player in a much more dangerous position if they are used to kiting groups of enemies without being touched.

Shrines are a new mechanic being added the game's new Domination league type. Each shrine acts as a station in which a player can pick up a certain buff that can give them various benefits or spells that automatically cast around them for a period of time. The difference from other isometric shrine iterations is in how these shrines passively buff any enemies in the area with the same skill. Wilson says that players will have to make a choice or gamble on whether grabbing the shrine is something they need to get by enemies or vice versa. In my ignorance, I questioned whether players would actually find grabbing shrines to be difficult, and Wilson let me know that when they finish balancing the mechanics, shrines will be incredibly difficult to just run and grab. The goal being a reward for players that take them seriously -- death to player's that don't.

PvP, Guilds, and the Future

PvP is being expanded through two new systems: speedy tournaments and capture-the-flag (CTF). Tournaments will be shotgun-style matches between fellow players in which the winner moves up and starts their next fight almost immediately. Wilson says they pulled much of their inspiration for this style of tournament from speed chess. He likes the style because "players can know all the moves but have no time to think about it." The more matches you win the higher your rank in the tournament. This method, as Wilson put it, also forces players to play decisively without wasting time with builds only meant to kite players to death. The team is also very excited to see how their previous integration will help spectators get into the quick match action.

Path of Exile 10, Steam, and sweet, sweet revenge
CTF PvP is still in the process of being finalized, but Wilson says that the game will be interesting because of the diversity of the PoE skill system and classes. The team also wants to avoid arbitrary CTF arenas, choosing instead to adopt meaningful scenarios such as a battle between bandit leaders found in the second act of the game.

Guild features such as storage and ranks will be added in version 1.0, as well. As players contribute towards tournaments, leagues, and races, the guild will earn points that will unlock awards from more storage to unique gear rewards. Guild storage will have the usual access and rank controls players would expect from an online game. According to Wilson, players are already enjoying these aspects of the game and they want to continue to incentivize working toward a goal with a group of friends or other players.

Path of Exile 10, Steam, and sweet, sweet revenge
When I asked Wilson what the team had planned for the future, he hinted at a better system for trading, although it won't be an auction house. The game is built around players interacting during trade and they want to continue that while allowing players to barter through a browser when not in-game. He even hinted at a mobile app, but said that was a dream far down the horizon.

As far as Act IV goes, he says that won't come out until sometime next year and, if it's anything like this update, it will be worth the wait.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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