Sometimes the headlines just write themselves. We’re sure that’s what Grinding Gear Games had in mind when it named its newest content update the Breach League… or maybe it’s because players will tear asunder the invisible barriers between worlds and rip holes in the fabric of space. Nah, it was for the headline-writers.
Officially Content Update 2.5.0, the Breach League will hit live servers on Dec. 2 and is a quarterly league update sandwiched between two full-sized expansions and a small challenge league update. Even if Path of Exile isn’t your cup of blood, you have to admire GGG’s consistency in releases, which have been hitting like clockwork in March, June, September, and December. Between that and having a fair cash shop, it’s almost as if GGG has mastered two of the most important elements for any free-to-play online game.
Gameplay is, of course, another slightly important component. To learn about that, I got in touch with Path of Exile Lead Developer Chris Wilson to give me the low-down on everything that’s coming with the new league next month.
“As you play in the Breach League, you’ll occasionally encounter these breaches, which are basically tears in reality,” Wilson explained. “Whenever you approach one of them, it splits open in a bubble and lets you step into an alternate reality.” As the breach bubble expands, monsters come in from its edges, and the longer you keep fighting, the bigger the bubble gets, and the more monsters swarm in and the more loot you can collect. It’s like a miniature time trial, and skilled players can make it last for a minute or more.
The brevity of a breach’s opening is by design, Wilson said. “In the past we tried a challenge league – similar types of fast monster-killing were the norm for the entire league [for three months]. We found that was incredibly fatiguing for the players.” Breach spaces out the “rush” moments, coming about every 10-15 minutes and lasting for a short time. “It makes the breach events exciting and something to look forward to.”
There are five different types of breaches, separated by element: fire, cold, lightning, physical, and chaos, each with different monsters, drops, and its own Breachlord boss. When these bosses show up – about one out of every 10 or 15 breaches – you can’t kill them, but the more damage you inflict, the more rewards they drop.
“But I want to kill them!” you might say. Sigh, fine. As you battle in breaches, you’ll get Splinters, each related to a particular Breach Lord. Collect 100 of them to assemble a Breachstone, which you can use to travel to a special world with a breach. Kill the monsters in it fast enough to expand the breach (not easy) and you can take on that Breachlord to finish him for good (also not easy). As with nearly all of PoE’s loot, you can buy and sell Splinters or Breachstones to other players if you like or dislike certain types of breaches.
No Path of Exile update is complete without new and shiny loot, and Breach is no exception. There are 15 new unique items, one of each weapon, armor, and jewelry for each of the five breach types. “They have a specific stat which is really pushing the boundaries of how much we interfere with players builds,” Wilson said. The one he showed had the line “Armour is increased by uncapped fire resistance.” Fire resistance is normally capped at 75%, so if you have a bunch more, you can still gain benefits from the excess. Another item, a pair of boots made it more likely for the player to suffer from bleeds and increased incoming damage while moving but also gave significant bonuses to movement speed and reduced damage while standing still.
Wilson thinks a typical player will find a unique like this about once every few days. The hope is that players will get these items at a reasonable pace so that it feels like they’re able to progress, but there’s an additional layer for those who chew up content at an accelerated pace. You can get Blessings from the Breachlord and, when you have 10 Blessings, you can upgrade a unique to an even better unique. The upgraded version of the bloody boots from the last paragraph, cleverly titled “The Red Trail,” increases the bonuses and penalties of the base version, making them even more challenging – but also more rewarding – for a skilled player with the build to mitigate their disadvantages. “The players are going to try and find crazy ways to be bleeding all the time.” Sounds like some kind of twisted S&M game.
“We’re giving out much better rewards than normal to see how it affects stuff. Is it going to trash our sales? Is it going to greatly incentivize people to play all the challenges and try content that they are unfamiliar with? We’ll see, I guess.”
As with the previous league, there are three levels of challenges (akin to achievements in most games) coming with the Breach League. Completing 12 (easy), 24 (difficult), and 36 (you have no life) of the 40 challenges nets players sweet cosmetic rewards that would normally go for $20 or more in the cash shop: Demon Hand Gloves, a Breach Portal to replace the normal town portal, and Demonic Wings, respectively.
“Our microtransactions are quite expensive,” Wilson said. “Because of this, we’re hesitant about giving out really good ones as rewards, but we’re doing an experiment with this league where we’re giving out much better rewards than normal to see how it affects stuff. Is it going to trash our sales? Is it going to greatly incentivize people to play all the challenges and try content that they are unfamiliar with? We’ll see, I guess.”
As an aside, we diverged a little here to talk about game updates versus cash shop updates, something that Wilson said is always a careful balance, saying things like “Developers have to put regular game stuff first” and “I don’t want to fall in the trap of just focusing on the cash shop first, because as soon as we fall off the update train, it’s not great for the game’s player retention.” We’ve probably all got our stories of games that seemed to prioritize the cash shop ahead of actual game updates, so it’s nice to see that there’s a developer out there who knows that’s the backwards way of doing things.
As our talk drew to a close, we briefly touched upon some of the other details of the update (graphical updates to early areas, skill gems, and capes, the last of which took “a Russian guy with a Ph.D. in soft-body physics systems”). I asked about the Chinese version of the game, which Wilson previously told me was taking about half his day. Grinding Gear Games brought on a new employee to help with that transition, someone you might have heard of: Diablo creator David Brevik.
“It also helps a lot because the Chinese Path of Exile players absolutely love the Diablo franchise and David [Brevik] is basically a god to them.”
“He’s launched games in many, many countries in the past, so he’s making sure we don’t fall into any common traps,” Wilson said. “It also helps a lot because the Chinese Path of Exile players absolutely love the Diablo franchise and David is basically a god to them.” Hey, who wouldn’t want a god working on their game?
“They’re in a closed beta at the moment, so limited access as they’re trying to basically just get metrics on the game and see how well it performs leading up to an open, full release next year. Tencent has a lot of power to push products if they feel they’re going to perform well, so the purpose of the closed beta right now is to get the validation that it’s going to perform well, and then they all go nuts next year.”
Go nuts, you Chinese Path of Exile players. Go nuts. For the rest of you, you can check out Breach when it goes live on at noon PST on Friday, Dec. 2.