The newest expansion to Path of Exile is all about the eponymous Masters -- their goals, their attitudes, and what they can teach the player. Tora is fairly straightforward in all of the above. She is all about the hunt, taking out the monsters that surround Wraeclast, and in her own words, she wants to root out the corruption that has taken root in her world now, before it does any further harm to the natural balance.
I had a chance to speak with producer Chris Wilson about Tora and the expansion as a whole the other day, and he happily shared details both about Tora herself and one of the new challenge leagues that will be going live with the expansion on August 20th. Hop on past the break to see Tora's video introduction and to learn more about what players can expect from the huntress, the challenge league, and the expansion in general.
As the video preview demonstrates, Tora is fixated on cleansing the world of mutated creatures of all stripes. Players who encounter her in the wild will find her on the trail of something, enlisting the player's aid. There's a lot of variability in her goals, however. Players might have to track down a single creature or a pack of them; the beasts might be in a single location or in several points; they might be roaming the world or they might have a small side-map den. The beast you're chasing can also have several different properties. While she only offers one sort of mission, how the actual hunt goes down is extremely mutable.
Your reward for helping her? Bows. Wilson stated that a third of players opted to play a bow-using class, so it seemed important to give players a Master based specifically around that style of play, even if that means her focus is a bit narrower than the other Masters. She also offers boosts for players who are otherwise using Dexterity in their builds, such as with builds requiring a high level of attack speed; that gives her relevance even to those who'd prefer not to pick up a bow.
Also, there's her hideout map, which is a lush forest area complete with streams and trees. Players who accumulate favor with Tora can purchase decorations with a similar theme, making her hideout the most welcoming and peaceful of the lot. Not that there's anything stopping you from decorating her forest hideout with heads on pikes, of course.
On a more general note, Wilson confirmed that while some Masters will like one another more than others (and there are established relationships between the lot of them) players won't be stymied by advancing one over another. Most players will, however, want to pick one or two Masters and focus on them from the start, since those will be the ones that provide the most tangible benefit to the player character.
Hideouts are most useful for exactly this purpose -- you can only get the daily mission for a Master in your hideout. Otherwise you have to just jump into areas and hope to find them. Endgame areas offer the best odds, as you'll run into one of the seven about half of the time. You do, however, have full control over who's in your hideout, and the team wants to make sure that you're not stuck looking for the master you want while finding one you don't want over and over.
Wilson also discussed the upcoming Beyond League in some detail, which is one of the new Challenge Leagues added with Forsaken Masters. Players in the Beyond League will have to deal with a race of extradimensional demons invading Wraeclast. When you kill monsters in close proximity to one another, small portals start to open; get enough of those open together, and a larger portal opens up, spawning more powerful monsters. If those happen close together, an even larger portal opens up, complete with a unique boss that's designed to be extremely difficult to kill.
The design team is particularly proud of this league, largely because it keeps the tension high but also puts control firmly in the player's hands. You can pull and kill more carefully to try and avoid big encounters until you're ready for them, or you can pull larger groups in hopes of getting the event to start and reaping the rewards. It also lets players potentially survive longer by having the tools to adjust their experience based on how they're doing. Sure, you'll need to face the big bosses eventually, but you won't round a corner and run into them immediately.
I also asked a few questions about the balance and system changes coming with the expansion, starting with the across-the-board reduction in mana costs for skills. Wilson explained that the team found several skills simply weren't being combined despite having high synergy; the mana cost for doing so was simply prohibitive. While lowering those costs, it became clear that the game as a whole could support lower mana costs for skills to let players act more often.
It was also a side-effect of making attacks faster -- after all, if the skill comes out faster, it makes more sense to have the costs support more frequent use.
The crafting changes are the other big mechanical addition for the expansion, and this was meant to fill in a hole that existed in the game up to this point. Essentially, while the crafting system that's already in place works, it's hard for players to find something specific from it, instead coming down to rolling the dice and hoping you get what you need. The Master-based systems allow you to aim at something specific, which has benefits for both new and veteran players. New players will have an easier time filling holes in their setup, like stacking on some needed defensive stats; veteran players will be able to fine-tune their equipment to be just what they need.
This is also part of the systems used to ensure that otherwise unattractive Masters offer more diverse benefits. Rather than creating a setup with a Master for each class, the Masters cover broad categories, and Masters who might not otherwise line up with your class can still offer something useful.
Last but not least, I asked about future expansions and what they would contain, to which he simply answered that it depends on what the game is lacking. The first expansion was focused on the endgame because that was the weakest part of the game at the time, but the endgame is still in a good shape now. This expansion focuses more on the core experience. Nevertheless, it's important that every expansion offers players at all ends something of interest; the team wants to reward veterans and new players alike.
Forsaken Masters goes live for all Path of Exile players on August 20th.