I’ve been reading gaming blogs for give or take six years now, so I already was aware of Blaugust – an initiative by and for bloggers, with the goal to write a blog post every single day for a full month. I didn’t blog myself back then yet, so for me as a reader it ‘just’ meant more content for my consumption. Thanks for that, by the way!
In 2017 Blaugust took a year off, so I didn’t have to decide if I wanted to participate. At the time I most definitely wouldn’t have dared to, what with just having started to blog and not yet knowing if I’d hang in there at all.
This year Belghast is reviving Blaugust, and after contemplating the pros and possible cons for a bit I’ve decided to give it a shot.
To be honest, I’m intimidated. By signing up for this I’ve become part of a community that has been blogging for ages, in some cases on multiple outlets at once. Many of these people I admire quite a lot for their writing skills and tenacity.
I’m also a bit anxious how I will go about posting every day, when until now I’ve only been posting about once every ten days on average.
But: I’m very much looking forward to it! I’m sure it’s an opportunity for me to learn a lot about writing, and maybe I’ll also finally get around to write about some other things than just the game(s) I’m playing right now.
In any case this is gonna be a ride!
If you’d like to participate Bel has all the info you need here. Should you just want to indulge in the organiser’s and participants’ labour, he also lists (and links to) every new participant every day, and we’ll probably link each other on our respective blogrolls soon (if we don’t already).
In part one I talked about three things that Path of Exile does differently – and in my opinion much better – than other ARPGs I’ve played.
Here are two more.
The passive tree
Was there any doubt that this would make the list?
Since characters in PoE get all their active skills from gems socketed into their weapons and armor, skill points gained by leveling can be spent in a tree that ‘only’ contains passive abilities and bonuses. There isn’t an individual passive tree for each class either, instead there’s one massive tree for all classes, the only difference being the starting point. According to Lakisa it’s comparable to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid.
With each level-up one skill point is gained, some quests reward additional points. As of now the maximum amount a level 100 character can have is 123.
This tree gives enormous flexibility to build the character of choice. While it’s not quite possible to play any conceivable build with any class (because even with 123 available points it’s not really viable to reach, say, the top left section of the tree with a Ranger, who starts on the bottom right hand side), but it’s pretty close.
The tree has a hierarchy of nodes consisting of attribute nodes, basic nodes, Notables and Keystones.
Attribute nodes give +10 to either strength, intelligence or dexterity and make up most of the spiderweb that connects the different clusters of the tree. As you move from one area to the next you gain attribute points en passant providing an ample supply that’s, while not quite enough for most builds, a good basis that can be increased further by bonuses from your equipment.
Basic nodes give simple bonuses like ‘5% increased maximum life’, ‘8% increased physical damage’ or ‘20% increased critical strike chance’. Most clusters consist of multiple basic nodes that are either identical or at least follow the same theme.
The centerpiece of most clusters is a Notable, which gives considerable stronger bonuses than the basic nodes leading up to it. It’s almost always worthwhile to invest enough points to reach the Notable.
Rather than giving simple bonuses, Keystones grant special abilities or fundamentally change how specific things works, for example ‘Life regeneration applies to energy shield instead of life’. To make up for the advantages a build gets from them there’s also a drawback attached to most.
Lastly there are nodes that do nothing by themselves, because they are sockets meant for placing jewels into. Jewels are dropped items that come in different flavours and can be quite powerful (a perfectly rolled rare one would probably be stronger than most top tier Notables). There’s also unique jewels. Some of those have a radius and affect some or all nodes inside that radius in one way or another, providing some more interesting possibilities.
When planning a character you basically decide which Keystones, Notables and jewel sockets you want to get and build everything else around that, making sure that you have enough attribute points, damage output, hit points and mana in the end. At the same time you can offset weaknesses your gear might have, with the option to respec a couple of points later when you’ve got better items.
I haven’t felt that much freedom (and also power-gain) when allocating points in any other skill tree. To me it’s the mother of all skill trees.
The Atlas of Worlds
PoE has a pretty clever approach to it’s ‘endgame’. When you finish the story by beating the boss at the end of Act 10 your character should be somewhere around level 70. The highest level areas in Act 10 are level 67, so in theory you could grind those zones for leveling over and over for quite some time before XP gains would slow down too much. That’d be boring as hell though. PoE’s answer to that: Maps.
Maps are items that can be used to open a high level area with random layout full of mobs including a boss. They can have mods that ramp up the map’s difficulty while also increasing the rarity and quantity of loot-drops.
There are 16 tiers of maps, with monster levels (and corresponding difficulty) ranging from 68 to 84. They are consumed upon use, so building and maintaining a pool of high tier maps is a constant challenge.
Back when this was all there was to it ‘just’ running one map after another started to bore me pretty quickly though, to me it didn’t feel that much different to running the same areas over and over in Diablo II.
In 2016 GGG introduced the Atlas of Worlds. This made a hell of a difference for me.
The Atlas is basically a map of all existing maps…which sounds a bit weird, but there you go. When you beat a map (by killing it’s boss) for the first time you mark it as completed on the Atlas and the next tier is revealed. Thus you slowly work your way from the corners of the Atlas towards the center, where your final challenges await.
The biggest draw for me are the Shaper and the Elder though. These very powerful beings are constantly at odds with each other and both try to take control over the Atlas and the worlds therein. When you complete a map controlled by either entity you free it from it’s influence, and under specific circumstances the other takes control over it.
It’s a constant back and forth, also depending on if you have the right map at hand when you need it.
The final goals are to reach the center of the Atlas and fight the Shaper, and help the Elder to expand his influence, then fight him too (of course).
Elder- and Shaper-controlled maps can also drop loot with special properties, which makes running such maps even more desirable.
The Atlas has added much depth and variety to the Map-system. It also has that ‘just one more’ feel to it now and, to me, never gets boring.
As I’ve said before I think of Path of Exile as the true successor to Diablo II. Grinding Gear Games have taken pretty much everything that was great about DII and either kept it the way it was (because it was perfect already) or improved upon it.
Some of these improvements were quite large in scope though and considerably altered game mechanics/elements and also added completely new ones. A couple of those are, to me, simply a work of genius and are so bloody good that I can’t imagine playing an ARPG whithout them anymore.
Here are three of my favourite things about Path of Exile, in no particular order.
Remember micromanaging potions in Diablo II? Picking them up, sorting them, upgrading them, refilling your belt whenever you had consumed some? While a kind of meditative activity like that can sometimes be a welcome change of pace after hours of monster killing, at the end of the day it really was just time consuming busywork. It actually made me reluctant to use potions at all because I didn’t want to have to replace them. I was always worried I might run out of precious Full Rejuvenation Potions as well (although I had tons). I died more than once just because I was too cheap to quaff a potion in time.
Flasks in PoE aren’t consumed upon use. They have a certain amount of charges, with each gulp costing some of those. Every killed moster refills one charge to all flasks, with rare or boss monsters refilling more.
Not only made this all of the above moot, it also made it possible to give flasks magic bonuses and enable players to incorporate just the right ones into their builds. They are basically five additional magic items to equip. My Summoner, for example, uses a healing flask that also heals her minions, and a mana flask that negates the effect of curses on her (which counters the drawback her unique robe has). There even are unique flasks that, like most unique items, have special properties you can’t get any other way.
The currency system
There’s no gold in PoE. No silver, platinum, Dollars or Credits either.
Instead there are lots of different Orbs used for a multitude of effects. There’s one to convert a normal item to a magic one, one upgrades a magic to a rare, one rerolls the stats of a magic item. Some reroll the number of sockets of an item, change the links of said sockets or their color. The list goes on.
Low tier currency can be converted to higher tiers at certain exchange rates, and there are ways to get higher value currency for your sell-loot, for example by selling a full set of rare equipment all at once instead of selling piecemeal.
Their respective crafting purposes aside every currency item also serves as, well, currency. NPC vendors sell all their wares for a price in currency items, and they’re heavily used for trading between players as well. Chaos Orbs and Exalted Orbs have over time become the default medium- and high-tier trading currencies, though other types are used too. Since the exact outcome of using Orbs on your equipment is random every player consumes them by the hundreds and thousands over time, so there’s always a demand for more.
This system serves two great purposes at once. One, I don’t need to mindlessly farm until I find the exact item with the exact stats that I want. As soon as I have the desired base item I can try to craft the stats that I need. It’s still RNG, but with much better odds when done right. Two, there’s always valuable stuff to pick up, never a map run that feels like it yielded ‘nothing’. Which for me is a much bigger motivator than just hoarding piles of gold, especially if there’s nary a use for it at endgame and/or inflation has made it all but worthless.
Skills in PoE aren’t inherent abilities characters just have. They are gems that you plug into the sockets of your gear. This gives much flexibility in building characters because any class can use all existing skills in any combination.
What makes the system really shine though are, to me, the support skills. These are also gems that have to be socketed into your gear. They do nothing by themselves, but when they’re placed into sockets that are linked with one or more sockets with active skills in them they buff and/or alter those skills.
Some ‘just’ simply buff a skill by giving it a damage bonus at the price of higher mana cost of said skill, but others modify the way a skill works rather drastically.
This provides near endless possibilities to use the different skills and combine them to great effect. They even work with minion skills and such. For example, I use the Greater Multiple Projectiles support pictured above for my Spectres.
In part two I’ll look at some more features that make Path of Exile special in my opinion.
It’s been four weeks since Path of Exile’s new challenge league started, and I’m making good progress. By my pretty slow standards, that is.
My Summoner is at level 81 now – just nine levels below my main character on Standard. I’ve finished the campaign at level 70 or so and started doing maps straight away. My supply of tier 2 maps and above builds pretty slowly though, so I’m doing mostly tier 1 maps at the moment, which are level 68, and xp gains have slowed down noticably.
The character is now powerful enough to fully clear incursions most of the time though.
One reason for that is a new type of monster I’m using as Spectres: Solar Guards. These bad boys have two kinds of attacks. The normal one is a fire damage projectile that does good damage at decent range. The real kicker is their secondary attack though. Every eight seconds or so they fire a big energy beam at a target area, which does a hell of a lot of damage after a short ramp up time.
Of the league’s forty challenges I have checked off eleven with another eight somewhere between halfway through and nearly finished.
I will not manage to get the required 36 for the exclusive portal effect, that much is certain. There are substantially more than four challenges that lie well beyond what I can hope to achieve. It’s a shame because the portal looks very nice, but not ‘I’m willing to play 24/7 for three months straight‘-nice. The lower-tier rewards don’t interest me that much, but I’m not in it for the rewards anyway. I’ll just try to finish as many as I can in a reasonable amount of playtime. After all it’s one more carrot to chase, and I’m actually curious how far I can get.
Speaking of carrots, the RNG gods were in a particularly good mood yesterday. In my whole time playing Path of Exile before Incursion I had found exactly one Exalted Orb. They’re rare, is what I’m saying. My second dropped about one week into the league. Yesterday evening two dropped within half an hour!
Exalts are one of the rarest currency items and are generally used as the main high-end trading currency. They also have gameplay purposes you can use them for of course, but most players (at least those as poor as me) only use them to trade for items they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. I guess I’ll hold on to them until I have a clear idea what to use them for. In any case I’m really happy to have found them.
Overall I’m still having much fun playing this league. There’s one downside to playing the same character build in both Standard and a challenge league though: after the league ends you basically end up with twin characters on Standard, making one of them redundant. The other day I had a Eureka-moment about how I can still benefit from that.
Shortly before Incursion started I found The Baron, a unique helmet with special properties for Summoners, on Standard. It’s bonuses revolve around making physical-damage-dealing minions in general and Zombies in particular stronger, but it requires the character to have a very high strenght stat to fully exploit its properties. This makes just switching to this helmet on a high level character rather inconvenient, you’re much better off building from the ground up for it.
I’ve decided to play my Incursion character with her current build until the league ends, and after her migration to Standard I’ll shelve her until the next optional passive tree reset comes around. These are generally given out to all characters every time the tree is changed. Then I’ll build her around The Baron. That way I can continue to use most of the minion skill- and support-gems I’ll have leveled up during Incursion while trying a different flavour of the Summoner achetype.
This is doubly great because it also gives me something to look forward to for after the league has ended.
On June 6th 2017 I wrote my first (and second) blog post(s). I had been reading fellow gamer’s blogs for quite a while and been thinking about writing myself more than once, but never got around to it until then.
I didn’t have a specific plan in mind, just that I wanted to write about things that interest me and occupy my thoughts. My target audience: myself, first and foremost. As I said in my first post, I want to capture and hold on to events that delighted, fascinated or just amused me. If anyone happens to stumble upon my musings and finds reading them worthwhile I’m all the happier of course.
The first year yielded 34 entries, almost one entry every ten days on average. This is of course much, much less than most bloggers produce. The main reason for that is my pretty high personal threshold for what’s interesting enough to be written about. While I like to read about fairly mundane things (if it’s done in an appealing way) I very often deem stuff that happens to myself not worthy to write down. I just can’t imagine myself or anyone else being interested in reading about how I did my dailies in Path of Exile for the umpteenth time or that yesterday’s EVE Online fleet went largely uneventful. But maybe I’m just not as capable an author as the good folks whose blogs I always like to read, no matter the contents.
If I do write about something I usually use a lot words though. If WordPress offers a total wordcount of all posts combined I can’t find it, but I’d estimate that I wrote about 800 – 900 words per entry on average, which would sum up to about 29.000 words. That’s not as much as it sounds (an average novel clocks in somewhere between 50k and 100k), but if you had asked me 15 months ago if I’d be willing to blog almost 30k words within a year I would probably have declined politely but decisively.
It seems that I don’t want to talk about stuff very often, but when I do want to talk I like to be thorough (Lakisa would probably use the word ‘exhaustive’).
I’m really glad to have started this blog. Writing is a lot of fun, lets me practice my English and, most importantly, preserves events and experiences I might forget about otherwise. A big Thank You to all bloggers who inspired me to do this, to Lakisa for reading it all and encouraging me, and to everyone who also takes the time to read it. Cheers!
About three times a year a new three-month challenge league kicks off in Path of Exile. Every participant starts at zero, without access to their high level characters and well-stocked stash. As the name implies there are challenges to overcome and in doing so exclusive prices to be earned.
While many games do something like this to keep the playerbase entertained, Grinding Gear Games go the extra mile by introducing a new kind of game mechanic for each and every league and making that new content a central part of the experience. Most of the time these new mechanics have proven to be fun and rewarding gameplay elements and were subsequently added to the game as a whole after the respective league ended, albeit with a much lesser probability to spawn in any given area.
There have been lots of challenge leagues by now, hence a great many interesting mechanics have made their way into the game. Despite being ‘just’ an ARPG and basically being about nothing but killing hundreds of thousands of monsters, the game has reached a point where it never gets boring. Well, to me at least.
I’m not the fastest or most efficient monster slayer and loot collector though, so starting over multiple times a year was never really a viable option for me. I made my first character in the Ambush League when I started playing the game over four years ago. After that league ended and my characters were converted to Standard I actually never played in another challenge league until now.
This time some things were different. My main characters in Standard are pretty much at the end of their (reasonably obtainable) progression, and while just playing the game is fun and all, progression as a motivator is not to be underestimated. Also the new league looked even more interesting to me than the ones before.
The new league is named Incursion and has an Aztec theme going, which already appeals to me aesthetically as well as historically. The mechanics are also pretty cool. In almost every area (this will be toned down a good bit later in the base game, I’m sure) you meet Alva Valai, an archaeologist of sorts, who is searching for an ancient temple’s location. She can teleport you back in time to one of the temple’s rooms while still under construction. There you have to fight its inhabitants and, depending on what you do, alter layout and properties of the finished temple.
There’s always a pretty narrow time limit and mobs don’t always drop the keys you need to progress in the way you had planned, but it’s fun either way. After eleven incursions Alva pins down the temple’s location in the present and travels there, taking you along for the ride. The temple is huge and can be rather challenging (at least on lower levels). The rewards vary, as always, but until now I always felt it was worth my time, and, more importantly, pretty fun.
I decided to again play a Summoner Witch for this, although I have a high level one on Standard already. I just like the playstyle so much and know it in and out, so I know exactly what I can and can’t do with her.
How much fun is starting over, then?
Pretty darn fun, I have to say. At first I was a bit annoyed by not even having the barest necessities available (like enough Scrolls of Wisdom to identify everything I picked up), and by my Zombies dying too often. But from level 15 or so I got into the groove again, and also started to feel the motivation that stems from progressing left and right, all the time, in one way or another. There’s always the next character level, another cool quest reward, another new item, oh, now I can have a personal hideout again, all while doing incursions and shaping the next temple run to my liking.
I had completely forgotten how hard it can be to obtain gear with the right amount of linked sockets in the right colours so you can use your important skills with the strength they need to have for you to succeed. Once you’re used to having hundreds or even thousands of Orbs for crafting your equipment just right you forget how it feels to not have them.
Astonishingly this has been one of the most fun aspects of starting over for me. Swapping out an ok piece of gear for a worse one just because the latter has one more gem socket is a bit weird, but also feels kind of cool if it lets me socket the gems that I want. It reminds me a lot of Magic: The Gathering sealed-deck tournaments. Having to make do with what you get instead of having your vast collection of cards at your disposal can be really satisfying if it works.
I don’t regret diving into this new league, and I’m eager to see how many challenges I can complete until it ends.
I’m having a blast in Path of Exile. The game has expanded so much over the years, it’s actually mindboggling how many systems and mechanics there are. It even has customizable player housing that puts many an MMO’s take on the feature to shame.
The most important aspect of an ARPG, or any RPG really, is of course how fun the characters are to play and evolve though. And I have to say, I’ve never had so much fun just running around and killing stuff in any game of any genre than with my Summoner in PoE.
The game provides nearly infinite possibilities to build your characters to your liking, and while I used a build guide I found in the official forums as a starting point for this Witch she has over time become my very own flavor of the Summoner playstyle. It is not the most effective or powerful character possible, not even close, but this is exactly how I wanted to play an ‘Armymancer’ since Diablo II introduced me to the concept.
Many Summoner builds are highly specialized, using only one type of minion as their main source of damage. Other minions are mostly there as meatshields, or not used at all. In contrast, my goal was to not only have as many minions as possible, I also wanted them to be relatively equal in damage output and general usefulness, maybe just with a different focus (like single target or AoE). Just like an oldschool real world army with infantry, cavalry and artillery, so to speak.
The tried and true backbone of most Summoner builds in PoE are Zombies. They are summoned from the corpses of dead monsters, are pretty tanky and have a single target as well as an AoE melee attack. They don’t have a limited duration, so they only need to be resummoned if they die. I use them in a helmet I crafted with +2 to minion gem levels, three damage enhancing support gems and two unique passive tree jewels to further boost them. They are very good meatshields, but also deal a lot of damage. I can have up to twelve of them.
Next up are Spectres, which are reanimated monsters. These are obviously the most flexible and potentially also the most powerful minions, since almost any normal monster can be revived, and all of its attacks, spells or special properties stay intact. Not only that, they can be enhanced with support skills just like every normal player skill can. This means that a monster that normally shoots a single projectile can for example be supported by Greater Multiple Projectiles to shoot five instead. Which makes monsters like Frost Sentinels great Spectres for clearing whole screens of baddies in an instant.
Since they are so powerful a character can only have one Spectre by default, but pretty much all such restrictions in PoE can be loosened by special properties of unique items and/or the passive tree. I can use four Spectres at the moment. I could bring that up to five, but I’d have to give up much survivability for that, and I’m pretty squishy as is. In contrast to Diablo II they thankfully don’t have a limited duration here and even persist after logging out.
I also use Raging Spirits. These are fiery floating skulls that, once summoned, fly to their nearest target to continuously attack and kill it, then fly to the next, until their by default pretty short duration has expired. Up to twenty can be summoned at a time, and to achieve that manually one would have to cast them pretty much non stop. Hence I decided to use a unique chest armor which has a built-in Spell Totem support. This means that every spell gem I socket into it isn’t cast directly anymore. Instead a totem is placed at the position of my mouse cursor, which then continuously casts the spell for me. Since the chest piece also raises the maximum amount of totems by one I can now place up to three, which combined spit out Raging Spirits very quickly. They are pretty effective boss killers, but also clear packs well.
It goes without saying that no undead army would be complete without Skeletons. In PoE these don’t need a corpse to be summoned, but have a limited duration. Basically I cast these whenever I have nothing more important to do. I have supported them with additional speed and damage and can have up to ten. The setup also contains a Vaal Summon Skeleton skill gem. Vaal skills are more powerful versions of normal skills that have to be fed a certain amount of souls by killing monsters before they can be used once. I mainly use this for bosses, as it summons a whopping 36 skeletons, a mix of warriors, archers, mages and a General.
Lastly I use a Stone Golem, which doesn’t do a lot of damage but gives myself a nice bonus to life regeneration.
To sum it up, when I have all minions except the Vaal Skeletons up and running I have 12 Zombies, 4 Spectres, 10 Skeletons, 1 Golem and three totems casting up to 20 Raging Spirits.
Of course a good General doesn’t just twiddle his thumbs while his army does all the work. I have a range of skills that I use to support as well as direct the minions.
I curse monsters with Vulnerability, making them take more physical damage (which all my minions deal at least in part except for the Frost Sentinels). It also serves handily to guide the minions’ attention towards the cursed area.
I use the Hatred aura to give all minions inside its radius a percentage of their physical damage as bonus cold damage. A Generosity support gem makes the aura no longer affect myself, but increases its effect and radius, making it even stronger for the minions.
With Convocation I can teleport all Zombies, Spectres and the Golem to my position (a skill Diablo II’s Necromancer would have desperately needed) and give them a small Heal over Time.
Offering skills blow up monster corpses to give my minions certain buffs for a period of time. I mostly use Flesh Offering, which increases attack, cast and move speed. When the minions take too much damage I use Bone Offering instead, giving them block chance and additional life regeneration when they block.
Desecrate lets me summon monster corpses whenever I need any but don’t have enough at my disposal (think boss fight without any adds).
Lastly I use a life flask that applies its healing effect not only to myself, but in part also to all minions.
Playing this character feels incredibly satisfying and never becomes a chore. Sometimes there’s so much mayhem going on that I can hardly see anything, but that’s a price I gladly pay for finally being able to play my perfect version of an Armymancer.
Now all GGG have to do is find a fix for those freezes and ‘unexpected disconnections’ that happen to me regularly as of late. Seriously, what’s up with that?