Incursion League – final tally

My participation in Path of Exile’s current challenge league, which ends today, can be broken up into three parts.

A pretty active first month, a considerably slower second month, and a third and last month where I played just a little bit and then quit mainly in favor of Everquest II.

It’s not that I didn’t like the new league mechanics. In fact I think they’re pretty great and I’m glad that they’ll add it to the core game. My only wish would be that they dial back the RNG aspect of it, because as it is you don’t really have that much influence over how the finished temple turns out.

As for progression, not much has changed since last time obviously.

PoE_Queen
Still, level 87 in 2 1/2 months is my record by far

I’ve completed one more challenge, that’s it.

PoE_14Challenges

That’s ok though, since I wasn’t going to get the portal effect anyway.

So this was Incursion. In merely four days the next challenge league will already start: Delve. This looks very promising too, and they’ll also release a ton of other improvements alongside it.

I’ll pass though. Everquest II demands my full attention right now, but even if it weren’t I’d not be willing to start PoE from scratch yet again so soon. I’m sure these mechanics will end up being added to the base game too in the end.

I’ll return to PoE, that much is certain. It’s an outstanding game and I like to play it very much. This is no farewell, I’m just taking a break.

Actually I’ll be taking a little break from all kinds of online gaming starting tomorrow, as we’re going on an internet-free vacation. I’ll have posts scheduled for the rest of Blaugust of course, but after that there’ll be radio silence until at least September 10th. Sorry in advance that I’ll not respond to any comments until then. See you soon.

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Appreciating the makers of our favourite pastimes

BlaugustReborn

It’s Blaugust Reborn, and we now have Developer Appreciation Week. So today I want to say Thank You to some groups of people and one very special individual.

First I want to thank Grinding Gear Games for their outstanding work on Path of Exile. Not only did they develop the in my opinion best ARPG and true successor to Diablo II, they have continued to enhance it relentlessly without ever slowing down.

That this extraordinary game is still free to play without any kind of content-limitations is nothing short of amazing. All the more because it’s cash shop doesn’t sell a single item that comes even remotely close to P2W territory. It’s expensive, sure, but I imagine that’s literally the price you have to pay if you want to fund an ambitious game like this just by selling cosmetics and stash tabs.

PoE_Forest

Next I’d like to say thank you to CCP Games for EVE Online, and generally for being the crazy mavericks they are. While it’s true that none of their projects since EVE has turned out to be a big success – and I’m still a bit grumpy about World of Darkness personally – I still admire that they’re always trying to push the envelope and break new grounds.

EVE itself is a very unique game that I love despite its flaws, and I’m glad that CCP never gave in to the temptation of attracting more players by creating safe zones or something. Lots of changes made the game more accessible and even outright easier over the years (remember the time before warp-to-zero?), but compared to most MMOs it’s still relatively hardcore. That has always been their vision for the game, and thankfully they stick to it.

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Lastly I want to thank Emily “Domino” Taylor. She was Everquest II’s main dev for all things tradeskills and housing between 2007 and 2017. That pretty much says it all.

Oh ok then, I’ll elaborate.

Domino’s work and dedication is the main reason why Everquest II has an astonishing wealth of crafting and gathering related quests. Seriously, look at that list. Those aren’t your standard ‘craft 5 of this, get XP’ quests other games have. Those exist too, like the repeatable rush orders I mentioned, but aren’t even worthy to be listed in that timeline. Most of the ‘real’ quests have expansive storylines that evolve as you complete your tasks.

When the Rise of Kunark expansion gave players their first Epic Weapon questline crafters got their Tradeskill Epic to match. It really is an epic quest, and so are the rewards.

EQ2_Epic

EQII’s player housing is, to me, the best there is. I’m not even talking about the abodes themselves or the placement mechanics, though those are great too.

What makes it really shine is the unbelievably huge amount of available items. Eq2wikia lists 9,732 entries in the “House Item (Item Type)” category, and that number doesn’t surprise me at all.

Of course many can be crafted by carpenters (which is why that’s my main tradeskill class). But you also get lots and lots as quest rewards and mob drops. Lore and Legend quests, which let you learn about specific creature types (by killing them, naturally), each give you a trophy and an actually readable book. The reward item of all Heritage quests can be transformed into a housing item if you don’t want to wear it. Seasonal events shower you with housing stuff. The list goes on.

EQ2_Library

Without Domino EQII just wouldn’t be the game that it is today, so again: thank you!

Memorable vs always fun gameplay

The other day Tyler contemplated about what kind of games are worth playing, and which one’s are more or less a waste of precious time to him. It’s an interesting read. He concludes that, while it’s all fine and dandy as long as you’re having fun, the most important aspect to him is if the game creates good memories. My first reaction to it was ‘Exactly, mate!’.

He cites Heroes of the Storm as an example for games that are fun to play, yet don’t leave lasting memories or feelings, making the time spent playing them meaningless to him in the grand scheme of things.

When I look back at all the games I’ve played I too hold those most dear that left me with lasting memories of thrilling or hilarious adventures. I even have a couple of posts in draft stage that will share some of those.

ArcheAge Adventure1
Just a little teaser, stay tuned

It’s no surprise then that I always gravitated towards games that offer much freedom, because that makes memorable stuff to happen more likely. It’s the reason why I still keep coming back to EVE after almost 13 years, and why I am more interested in sandbox style games in general.

But: everything has two sides. Thinking about this made me realize that the games I have the fondest memories of were also the ones with the highest percentage of downtime. By downtime I mean either doing a lot of extremely boring stuff, or even waiting for something to happen and essentially doing nothing.

EVE, for example, can be like that to the extreme. First you grind pretty boring missions or combat sites for hours on end to earn enough funds for your PvP ships, then you participate in fleet ops that take three hours or longer and there’s not even a single hostile ship to shoot. It’s not always like this of course, and when it’s not it can be very awesome. Unfortunately the ratio of boringtime to awesometime has always been pretty bad for me, at least until we joined Holy Cookie.

EVE_POSrep
Slowly repairing a station’s shield with no enemy in sight

On the other hand you have those games with pretty fixed gameplay loops, like HotS in Tyler’s case or Path of Exile and Overwatch in mine, which do let you experience cool moments but don’t really leave lasting memories or feelings. If you hear me telling a ‘That one time at bandcamp…’-story chances are it will be about EVE, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Black Desert or ArcheAge. Maybe Everquest II. PoE, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Destiny 2…probably not so much.

What the latter games don’t have, though, is the aforementioned downtime. At all. You log in…and play. And play. And play some more. Until you log out again. It might always be pretty much the same and therefore not give me those coveted memories I want to blog or tell my buddies about, but if the gameplay is fun to me, it’s fun all the time and not just a small percentage of the time with a lot of boring in between.

PathOfExile 2015-03-22 14-26-35-508
If this doesn’t look like fun I don’t know what does

Now, what to do with these insights? I guess I’ll just continue to play whatever I feel like at any given moment, until that one game finally comes along that has the potential for the most memorable experiences while omitting all kinds of boring gameplay and downtime.

One can dream, right?

Now that’s what I call power leveling

I’m still in a bit of a lull in regard to Path of Exile. I always do the forsaken master’s dailies though, because they are done pretty quickly, the mobs are relatively high level and one can never have enough favour to buy hideout decorations with.

The other day Zana’s daily sent me to a map the name of which I wasn’t familiar with: Untainted Paradise. My mission was to kill the map’s boss, no time limit. Nothing fancy.

Once I entered the map and had a look at it’s modifiers I was in for quite a surpsise though.

PoE_Untainted

Turns out it’s a unique map that can only be accessed when Zana gives you this quest. I wasn’t really impressed at first glance. 335% more XP didn’t seem like an adequate trade-off for getting no item drops whatsoever to me.

Once I started to explore my surroundings I quickly changed my mind. Mob density on that map is really high and each pack of monsters is huge. I haven’t seen the XP bar move this fast since the league’s beginning when this character was level 20 or so. I couldn’t help but grin with glee.

I started the run at level 86 with exactly 60% XP. I dinged 87 before I even reached the boss room. In the end the XP bar sat at 7%. Wow!

Zana, can I have that quest every day now pretty please?

Incursion League – two months down, one to go

I’m still busy playing Path of Exile’s Incursion League, though I have slowed down somewhat. EVE Online’s Alliance Tournament has taken up chunks of my gaming time, and since it’s been over 30° Celsius in our flat for the last two weeks straight I didn’t feel like turning on the PC at all on some evenings.

My character’s at level 86 now. She could’ve been higher, but I died some stupid deaths costing 10% XP each. I think I can still reach level 90 before the league ends, which would tick off another challenge.

Speaking of which, I now have completed 13 challenges total, only two more than at the end of June.

PoE_13Challenges

I have to admit that I didn’t actively work towards completing them though. The fact that I won’t come even close to the 36 needed for the portal effect dampens my motivation pretty severely after all. The only one I’m really trying to get is ‘upgrade all temple rooms to level three’, but as there’s a good bit of RNG involved in which rooms and how many shots at upgrading them you get it’s not completely in my hands.

PoE_Rooms
I absolutely demolished the House of the Others. The Others weren’t pleased!

I have to say that I’m very much looking forward to switching the build to The Baron by now, because my long time summoner build’s weaknesses start to show more and more as I try to become quicker and more efficient at clearing maps.

It’s mainly two things that make my build somewhat bulky and slow to play: my robe’s drawback and the fact that I have to cast too many things before the damage gets seriously rolling.

In order to maximize my damage output I have to cast 3x Spell Totem, 1x Desecrate, 1x Flesh Offering, 1x Vulnerability and up to 9x Summon Skeletons. Once I’m going really fast I can scratch Desecrate off that list because I always have enough monster corpses to refresh Flesh Offering then, but it’s still too much and takes too long. This is only exacerbated by the fact that a random curse is cast on myself everytime one of my totems vanishes, because one of those curses is Temporal Chains which slows my move and cast speed down considerably. Since I have to place new totems very often if I want to move fast this happens all the fricking time. I can dispell curses by using my mana flask, but it’s still very annoying.

After the switch the list will shrink to 4x Summon Skeletons (summoning three skeletons with each cast instead of just one), 1x Desecrate (probably unnecessary since some monsters should have already died by then), 1x Flesh Offering and 1x Vulnerability. Since Summon Skeletons has a very short cast time this should result in a much faster flow overall.

That being said, I still plan to play the character as is until the league has ended and we all get a free passive tree respec. I’d have to use too many Orbs of Regret to change the character now, and it’s not like she’s not playable in her current state.

I’ve given her a new look though. One of the best looking MTX armor sets was on sale recently, and I just couldn’t resist.

PoE_Stygian
The cat’s still unimpressed though, as is her wont

Things about PoE that I love – Part II

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.

PoE_Tree_Attribute

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.

PoE_Tree_Basic

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.

PoE_Tree_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.

PoE_Tree_Keystone

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.

PoE_Tree_Jewels

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.

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My Marauder’s tree at level 83 a while back

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.

PoE_Map
Pain Chambers…doesn’t sound too inviting really

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.

PoE_AtlasOfWorlds
The Atlas of Worlds, fully revealed

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.

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Stars for Shaper influence, tentacles for Elder controlled areas

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.

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Shaper stuff looks much more appealing if you ask me

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.

Things about PoE that I love – Part I

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.

Flasks

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.

DII_Reju
Not my screenshot, but I had a mule character looking exactly like this

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.

They also look fancy to boot and taking a sip visibly empties them

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.

PoE_CurrencySamples
Just a few samples. Maximum stack sizes fortunately don’t apply in the currency stash tab.

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.

PoE_ExaltTrade
I still have no idea how people get so outrageously rich, but some obviously do

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.

Support-gems

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, but others modify the way a skill works rather drastically.

PoE_Supports
Generosity is a blessing for minion builds, and GMP is used by many different builds all the time

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.

PathOfExile no GMP
Changing my Solar Guards’ default attack from this…
PathOfExile GMP
…to this

In part two I’ll look at some more features that make Path of Exile special in my opinion.