It’s been 17 months since Grinding Gear Games unveiled Path of Exile 2 at ExileCon in November 2019. A lot has happened since then – much of which we’d rather not be reminded of – and the project is coming along more slowly than expected.
Still, there was enough done for studio head Chris Wilson to host a presentation this week to show off the game’s progress with a lengthy presentation of the game’s second act. Select media outlets got a chance to preview the presentation beforehand and pose a few questions. You can watch the full presentation on YouTube or embedded at the end of this article.
Into the desert
The second of PoE 2’s seven acts takes place in the Vastiri Desert. You’re aiding the Ardura, a caravan of Maraketh that’s pursuing another caravan, that of the Faridun. In the gameplay preview, we accompanied Asala, the leader of the Ardula, who was trying to open Ancient Gates to let her caravan pass through the desert.
The video presentation showed extensive gameplay with a pair of new weapons taking center stage: the spear and the crossbow. The spear is a melee weapon that features built-in engage and disengage skills, allowing you to leap into and out of combat, with synergies for doing so. For example, one of the unique spears discovered during the demo was Daevata’s Wind, which grants you additional projectiles when you disengage.
Spear skills that were shown off in the demo included Whirling Slash, which creates a growing sandstorm every time you use it that explodes when you disengage out of it. There’s also Rapid Assault, which has three quick stabs followed by a fourth that does extra damage and can stun – if you’re willing to wait for it – and Spearfield, which sends several sharp spear points up from the ground, damaging and bleeding monsters who walk over it, giving you incentive to keep moving and luring monsters to you.
The second new weapon was the crossbow, which offers users three types of bolts, if they have the skill gems for them: Permafrost Bolts slow and freeze enemies, Armour Piercing Bolts deal heavy damage, and I probably don’t need to explain to you what Incendiary Bolts do.
Partway through the combat sequence, the character picked up a Siege Crossbow, which granted the Siege Cascade skill, which let bolts rain down from above rather than hit in a direct line. I’m not certain what advantage that provides over direct fire; maybe it allows you to effectively shoot around corners or behind walls, but I don’t recall if there was anything like that in the video.
Boss fights are also getting more love in PoE 2, with mini-bosses being more unique and challenging and larger boss fights still being as cool as ever. At one point, the player in our demo even had to take on two bosses at once, each with its own health bar, in an arena that was almost too small to fit all three of them, along with the various ground effects they all pump out.
The Ardura caravan is basically your hub city for Act 2, but instead of having areas that branch off from it, like a boring, immobile city, it will travel to the location you want to go. Sure, it’s not technically different from just selecting an area to warp to, but it’s a nice touch and a great way to blend lore with game mechanics.
Speaking of nice touches, can we talk for a moment about how gorgeous the game is? At the start of our presentation, we were told to make sure we had our video quality set to 1080p because of some issue with the streaming service we were using. When we swapped to the PoE 1 footage for the Ultimatum expansion (below), I had to check to make sure I was still at 1080p. You may not notice the difference if you just play one of the games, but seeing the two back to back made for a stark comparison.
We had the chance to ask a few questions after the PoE 2 presentation, and while I don’t want to “take” too many questions that were asked by other journalists, there are a few responses that I think are important enough to warrant coverage.
When talking about PoE 2 as a whole, Wilson said that its development path was much different than the first game’s. Path of Exile 2 was “designed from the ground up to be a better game,” forged in “a different ecosystem” using a 150-person team that had been gathered over the last decade. This is greatly different from Path of Exile’s development, which was made by a bunch of guys “just out of university.” Wilson naturally loves both games, but when asked if a new player should try PoE 1 before PoE 2, he unequivocally stated that they should go straight to the sequel.
Players of both games will be able to play together, though it’s “looking at this stage” like you’ll need a new-generation console to play PoE 2. PoE 1 will continue to get new content, and the two games will have a shared endgame, the same as the first game’s, though there will be something “totally new.” Wilson and his team are looking into implementing a dynamic level of detail so new assets will be compatible with the old consoles. He’d also like to have couch co-op, but it’s something GGG can’t commit to at this time.
Path of Exile 2 is still a ways off – next year at the earliest. While the progress hasn’t been as quick as Wilson would like, thanks in part to COVID-19 and the difficulty Grinding Gear Games has had with bringing enough people on board to work on it, the delay is a necessary hurdle. “Path of Exile 2 is so important to us that we are definitely taking our time to make sure we make the best possible ARPG,” Wilson said, and he’s unconcerned about competition from, or being beaten to release by, Diablo IV. In fact, he welcomes it, saying that a bigger ARPG market is good for everyone.
Issuing an Ultimatum
Next up in our presentation was a preview of the new content for the original game, Path of Exile: Ultimatum. This update arrives next Friday, April 16, and takes the risk/reward mechanic to a whole new level, as players will be introduced to the Trialmaster, who is “an emissary of a Vaal entity known only as Chaos.” Seems trustworthy!
The Trialmaster will challenge Exiles with a fight with some difficult modifiers. Complete the challenge to earn your reward – or, if you want, you can continue the challenge with another modifier for a greater reward. Complete that and you can continue, if you dare, with greater challenge for even greater reward. And so on, and so on, until you stop and claim your reward or are overwhelmed and lose everything.
You can also find Inscribed Ultimatums in the world, which you can use in the map device to transport you to the Trialmaster’s realm. Here he’ll put you through a special trial, if you bring a specific item as a wager. Pass the trial and you’ll get something worth approximately double your wager. As Wilson put it, “a lot of our developers are looking forward to watching Twitch so that we can see players risking far too much.” They’re an evil lot, those villainous game devs.
There are the usual slew of new gems coming in Ultimatum, four each skill gems and support gems. I won’t cover all of them here, but my favorite, at least from a visual standpoint, was Exsanguinate, which “shoots tendrils of blood in front of you.” Naturally, it costs life instead of mana, but who doesn’t love “tendrils of blood”?
When Ultimatum arrives, it will also bring about a slew of changes to the rewards for previous league content, as well as the core reward pool for monster drops. New currency items (Orbs of Binding and the new Veiled Chaos Orb, which rerolls an item with new mods, one of which is guaranteed to be a Veiled mod), five new Atlas base types, and better items from Act-ending bosses were all part of the improvements.
I’ll be perfectly honest when I say that I rather glossed over the lengthy description of all the loot changes to the various league content. Regular players will probably find plenty to like in the details, so I encourage you to watch the presentation, or read the patch notes when the become available.
While there are a ton of buffs to loot, there are also a couple of notable nerfs. Talismans, which “have been dropping with insane mods and great anointments” will lose their “well-rolled mod” because you can now use Tainted Oils to redo their anointments.
I also asked about the nerfs that were coming to Harvest, which prompted a very negative response from players when they were announced a few weeks ago. Wilson was brutally honest about the mistake of making the rewards too great, saying that “We pitched it too powerful when we introduced it to the game. Pretty much any way of getting good items was through the system.” He understood the frustration players had at “losing their toys” but ultimately said that “We stand by the changes. We think the current situation is a better place to be.”
It may not be coming as quickly as some would like, but Path of Exile 2 is probably also in a good place. As Wilson said, they want to take the time to do it right. Given their now-long track record of success, they’ve likely got the support from higher-up to do so.