The dev team at Grinding Gear Games has labored under many a moon to provide players with the next expansion, Harvest, which will see players tending farms to grow … well, not cabbages and tomatoes, that’s for sure.
In the Harvest Challenge League, players will run across Oshabi, Caretaker of the Sacred Grove, who will instruct you to locate seed caches throughout the world. When you open the cache, you’ll get a bunch of seeds, as well as a portal to the Sacred Grove, where you can plant your seeds. They’ll take time to grow, but that time only passes when you locate the next cache. That way, you won’t just be waiting around in the game (or outside it) for your garden to mature.
When your seeds are ready to harvest, you’ll be able to activate the collector near them – you did plant a lifeforce collector near your seeds, right? – and out will pop various monsters for you to fight. Their lifeforce will be collected up and you can use that lifeforce to craft various items.
That’s the core gameplay loop from Harvest, but it’s not that simple. Tier one seeds just need to be planted near a harvester to work, and that will be “the majority of your gardening,” as Grinding Gear Games’ Chris Wilson told us. That’s because he wanted the farming aspect of the game to be more of a side mission than something that dominates your time – or as he put it, he doesn’t want players complaining, “Wait, I downloaded an action RPG and you’re making me build a farm?”
Things get a little more complex when you have tier two seeds. They might require that they be planted near other specific plants or, in the example he showed me, you need to channel lifeforce from other plants – or more specifically, the monsters they spawn after you kill them – rather than using that lifeforce for crafting. You’ll send that lifeforce around your garden by means of glowing pipes, giving your garden a kind of SimCity or Cities: Skylines look, with the way you arrange blocks with various building types and power/water lines to connect them all.
It would have to be a nighttime city, though, as the garden is dark but the plants glow with eerie blue, purple, or yellow lights. I commented on their attractiveness to Wilson, who told me that gardens make “heavy use of our global illumination technology.” Some of the boss assets were even done by the team working on Path of Exile 2, which Wilson said represented a “quality jump” over the game’s usual graphics. I’d like to just walk around one of the gardens and just admire its beauty, if I wasn’t deathly afraid of kicking over a plant and having a wolf pop out of it.
As we were getting into item rewards, Wilson went into what he called a “philosophical rant.” “When you engage with a Path of Exile league, it typically gives you items at a rate that’s higher than what you’d get by playing the regular game.” This makes sense, since giving players the same level of items for the additional effort of playing in a league would seem unrewarding. On the other hand, Wilson said that getting “about 80%” of items from league content instead of the base game was also less than ideal.
The plan for Harvest, then, is to give out substantially fewer rare items for league content, but for the garden crafting system to provide better, more impactful items – just at a lower rate. That could lead to Harvest being the “crazy crafting league” where things are too powerful, but the way PoE works, the leagues can be scrubbed away after a few months and then re-worked for potential later inclusion into the base game. As Wilson put it, “Path of Exile is a game about knowing what items you want and finding it really hard to make those items.”
All in all, the gardening aspect is meant to be generally rewarding, but not terribly time-consuming or “micro-manage-y” if you don’t want to invest heavily into it. The monster design is also meant to be heavily customizable, so players have the ability to choose their level of difficulty in their encounters, similar to the popular Metamorph league, where players built their own boss monsters to fight.
As has often been the case, the unique items in the new content don’t just provide straight power buffs but “encourages people to build characters in a different way than usual.” An example Wilson showed me was Doryani’s Prototype, a piece of chest armor that only lets you deal lightning damage and makes monsters have your lightning resistance and makes it so your armour protects against lightning damage. So you’ll want to create a character that only deals lightning but also has as little resistance as possible and a very high armour value – a challenging proposition for a lightning-focused spellcaster! “It encourages players to think, like a puzzle that we throw out there and seeing where the pieces fall,” Wilson explained. “And potentially regret it a lot.”
There’s a concerted effort in this update to make two-handed weapons more attractive to players. As such, “slam” skills – skills that hit the ground and radiate damage out to enemies – will work better with slow two-handers than they do with fast one-handers. One called Fist of War summons an ancestor spirit that copies your slam every few seconds, which means it works better with slower, more powerful two-handed weapons than with faster, one-handed ones. Another, Tectonic Slam, deals more damage the more Endurance Charges you have. Since you’re attacking less frequently, you’re less likely to “use up” your Charges and deal higher damage as a rule.
“We added warcry skills to the game about five years ago and they weren’t particularly popular,” Wilson said about the next class of skills getting some love. Seismic Cry now makes a particular number of future attacks do greater damage, which again provides synergy with two-handed weapons and their larger individual attacks. Rallying Cry grants a percentage of your weapon damage to nearby allies – including AI minions – which is again a benefit to two-handed weapons with high actual damage numbers rather than damage-per-second rates. Additionally, it used to give the bonus based on the number of enemies surrounding you, but now scores its bonus based on the overall quality of those enemies so it’s not useless when fighting a single boss.
Brands are the final class of skills getting worked over. Unlike with the other skills, they’re actually too powerful, letting characters clear out entire levels without doing practically anything. While they’re being toned down (“Which players will describe as nerfing their builds into the ground”), they’re also getting some neat benefits. Wilson showed me a video for Arcanist Brand, which lets you attach another skill to it that chains out when it hits an enemy. In this case, it was Magma Orb that received the attachment, leading to a bunch of little fireballs bouncing all around the map.
Aggressive with the passives
There are also changes coming to possibly the most iconic part of Path of Exile, the passive skill tree, which Wilson said hasn’t been changed “for an embarrassingly long time.” It’s been tweaked and adjusted throughout – particularly to make the above elements, like two-handed weapons, brands, and warcries better – and some new keystone skills are also on the board now. Some were pulled from the mass of skills you could get from the Legion expansion, while some are entirely new.
Speaking of which, I took this opportunity to ask how the previous expansion’s content had been received. Wilson said that players liked it, but it required the team to “make some rebalances,” which will be implemented with this expansion as Delirium’s cluster jewels and delirium effects come to the core game. It’s going to be a little different this time around, with Delirium portals being more rare than usual league content but will be more likely to appear the more other league content is present in that area. That allows players to use various effects to inundate an area with league content, which makes the Delirium version of that content even more challenging.
Several dozen unique items are also getting rebalanced, and Wilson profiled a pair for me, an axe that pulls you to your enemies with the skill Lighting Warp and boots that release lightning behind you when you move. Suffice it to say, the accompanying video was shocking. Yeah, fine, I won’t give up my day job.
The new normal
Addressing the elephant in the room – or, more accurately, the elephant on the planet – we talked briefly about COVID-19 and the impact it’s been having on Path of Exile development. In our last chat, in mid-February, Wilson told me that GGG’s partners in China had been majorly impacted by the disease, leading to some slowdowns. Now, though? “They were back to work before we were even locked down here.”
Speaking of “here,” a.k.a. the Grinding Gear Games home offices in New Zealand, the nation has done very well in containing the coronavirus, and that led to only a brief interruption for the dev team. Wilson said that they’re only “about a week behind schedule for this league,” owing to the difficulty of communicating with a team that’s more accustomed to in-person group meetings, but they’ve been back at work for a while now and things are going smoothly, save for Bruce in art, who still comes to work in his pajamas. (That’s totally not real. I just made Bruce up. But I bet there are at least a few people who’d like to go to work in their pajamas.)
We ended our chat by talking in brief about the new Vulkan renderer that Path of Exile will be implementing, which we covered as news last week and is probably better described on the PoE site than having me try and sort through all the technical bits.
Path of Exile: Harvest is scheduled for a June 19 release, though Wilson advised that the date could slip a little bit due to all the issues surrounding the global pandemic. Whenever it arrives, it’ll be at the onset of summer – well, unless you live in New Zealand, that is – so it’ll be a great time to get out and start planting those seeds!