Path of Exile has taken the spotlight as one of the most innovative ARPGs on the market. Every season the player base grows consistently, and with each major patch, the game evolves far beyond what the competition is able to produce. PoE is without question one of the most enjoyable, ruthless, frustrating, complex and innovative ARPGs ever made. And with the upcoming 3.0 expansion, which has been in the works for years, there’s no doubt the game is going to continue to grow (and possibly explode), especially with the Chinese and XBox market releases. As an individual who has been playing PoE since BETA, I thought a state of the game overview prior to the 3.0 release was warranted.

The Good

Chris Wilson and the team at GGG has set a new standard of the most active patching and content evolution release schedule in the industry. Nobody even comes close. Many other companies could learn a lot by they way GGG has built and continues to expand PoE. This includes new Leagues every 4 months (with a fresh start) where each league is almost always better than the last one. Races are also fun events that players thoroughly enjoy.

The Community Interaction in PoE is also top notch. The forums and subreddit are always bustling with activity, and most are very helpful to new players and enjoy engaging in thoughtful discussion or have basic questions to ask. This is reaffirmed by looking at builds posted on the forums and how players work together (usually with the author) to make it even better.

Diversity in Character Builds is unprecedented; no other ARPG comes close to the combination of play styles you can build in PoE. Now,  there are some viable arguments that the diversity is a bit of an illusion since so few builds can make it to end-game, but the reality is many of the PoE players who cry “meta” have been desensitized to how diverse the game is. Try 20 different builds in PoE then go back to D3 where there are only a handful (1-2 per class) of viable end-game builds. Looking at the league ladder, we can also see how diverse the builds can be.

Wealth building is a key part of PoE, and allows players to open new builds as they acquire more currency, find highly valued uniques, and trade with other players. While most unique items generally end up being useless and vendored or traded for the 5-item prophecy, there are enough to keep the game very interesting, and that rare Exalt drop always makes things more enjoyable.

Hard Content (solo) for the most skilled players rests at the core of PoE. GGG has built map and boss fights that only a fraction of the players will ever be able to complete. This is a good thing for the truly dedicated and very skilled players. It also gives casual players something to strive for, even though most of them will never get to (and defeat) such content.

I do want to cover the positive side of the way Trading currently works. In its current form, it does bring players together; you get to see other people’s hideouts, their characters (MTX), and often end of chatting, which can sometimes result in new friendships.

The Crafting in PoE is also unprecedented and one of the most innovative features. I’m not aware of any game (namely ARPGs) that has a crafting system like PoE; paired with the Masters, it’s a great system; and rolling chests is awesome. Let us also not forget Prophecies, which entice players to fully explore maps and game zones.

The World Atlas is a very solid design; providing a path for players to follow at end-game and allowing numerous augmentations to make the game more challenging and rewarding.

Hideouts are a great feature, and while the system can be expanded (covered below), it’s always enjoyable to visit other player’s hideouts when trading. I’ve seen some very unique, crazy, cool, and strange layouts from players.

The Item Filter system is also awesome and truly “required” with the sheer volume of drops the game now offers; but it could use some enhancements (which is also covered below).

There are many other positive aspects to PoE, but I believe the above references cover the core of what people love about the game. Make no mistake; the good list and accompanying content being shorter than the below list is no way indicative on PoE being a bad game. The reality is the good greatly outweighs the problems. PoE is a fantastic game and is well on its way to be the best ARPG ever made. That’s saying a lot.

YES! I need more scrolls of Wisdom! … I … uh … hmmm … *click*click*click*click*click* …

The Problems

The lack of a Proper Tutorial is probably the biggest issue that drives new players away due to the complexity of the game; learning about skill gems, socket links, crafting and augmenting items all overshadowed with the extensive skill tree often overwhelms and confuses new players to the point of simply quitting before they even really start getting into the game. This brings a serious question – how does one take such a complex game (where the complexity makes it awesome) while also slowly introducing the complexity to the average player in a fashion they can absorb, support, and ultimately understand? It’s easy for people who have been playing ARPGs, MMOGs and other such games for years (or more than a decade) to forget how confusing a game like PoE can be for the “new player”. This is no easy task, however, the Build Template System proposed below would help address a number of these issues and walk players through predefined starter builds.

Once players figure out the basic mechanics, the second most problematic feature that drives players away from PoE is the Death System. First let’s talk about why it exists. GGG wants the game to be extremely difficult for the 1% (or less), and for very few players to ever achieve level 100. Since there is no alternative leveling system (such as paragon from D3) the core design of the game revolves around making level 100 being as difficult to achieve as possible. This core mechanic is flawed in today’s gaming market because many players want to just play and not compete, and will never be part of the 5% let alone the 1%; but they want to progress and grow their characters, and if they love a specific build, they want to stick with the play style. PoE does not allow that. Most players hit a “brick wall” in the 80’s where they feel progress with their current build is just too tedious, so they often quit the character and go play something else (another character or game). This is a big problem for players who love a particular play style (and character) and feel “stuck” because they’re constantly dying and not progressing in any capacity beyond currency/equipment drops. But it’s more than just dying; a key factor is how it impacts other aspects of the game, such as grouping with other players and prohibiting character progression. PoE  has more 1-shot mechanics than any other ARPG (and those mechanics continue to grow as features and dynamic permutations to mobs and environments are expanded), and people don’t want to group with others because it often ends up getting them killed. What’s interesting is GGG states the PoE death system is based on the D2 death system, but that game is 17 years old and did not have the 1-shot mechanics that PoE has, so a player can die multiple times in a row and lose hours (or more) of character growth. Can anyone say Volatile? This causes rage-quits by many. Another problem is the death system prohibits reckless fun and real exploration; around level 90, most players become overly cautious relative to running new maps or tackling new bosses because they don’t want to die and lose their experience. Additionally, the fact the game allows for Alt-F4 logout to circumvent this penalty is a symptom of an underlying design flaw. The truth is PoE’s end-game is solely designed for hardcore players, and very few are able to tolerate and progress in such a system (often resulting in the abandonment of their character, even if it’s fun to play). Games are supposed to challenge, limit, and give to players – but (in my opinion) not take away. It’s one thing to lose access to your map when you die, it’s another to lose hours (or more) of character growth due to a death that even some of the most skilled players would have difficulty in avoiding. This isn’t challenge, it’s punishment. The game is designed to reach level 100 with no other means of growth outside of the Labyrinth (covered below). This is why most modern games have some sort of secondary leveling mechanic beyond core character level. Once your character hits 100 and you’ve completed Uber Lab, you’re done with your character growth (outside of equipment). Now to be fair, the current design is so only the most skilled and hardcore players can achieve end-game. GGG doesn’t want all players to make this achievement (which is a big deal). However, this ensures casual players who never gain the level of skill necessary are unable to grow their characters beyond a certain point, save equipment upgrades (which of course makes a difference, but that’s gear, not character growth). When it comes to retention, the Death Penalty drives players away. If the death penalty was part of Normal difficulty, how many players would quit early on? I believe many; it’s a form of bait and switch – let the player go through the start of the game (Normal) and don’t hit them with the penalty until later on – when it matters. That’s not a good design for retention. Many (hardcore) players think the Death Penalty is too easy, or the Lab is awesome and should be used to cull the herds to separate the skilled from those who aren’t as quick. The simple truth is people play games to have fun, and taking from a player’s time, energy, and effort is counterproductive to overall game design. Of course the hardcore (not talking HC mode, but “hardcore” players) base of PoE is the most vocal, and GGG somehow thinks their feedback represents the casual gamers (which are the majority of PoE players). This is not the case. You almost never hear from the casual gamer that quit PoE due to the death penalty or labyrinth – because they quit and are gone. Heck, you can 1-shot kill yourself in your own hideout by using the wrong flask. Even veteran HC players have accidentally done this. I think balance is necessary. Keep Hardcore the way it is (and let players who want such a challenge play in HC), and make some sort of adjustment to “standard” that doesn’t punish players by taking away their efforts. One interesting note is rumor has it the Chinese release of PoE will contain an purchase that either prevents or restores the death penalty XP loss. If this is the case, it shows another market believes alternatives to the experience loss are necessary for the game.

Next, we have the Labyrinth, which is one of the most controversial issue in the game, shown by this ongoing thread with more than 500 pages of discussion. Forcing players to traverse the Labyrinth in order to secure character progression is a restrictive design. For many (possibly the majority), it’s not fun, and it is one thing to provide enhancements for items (which can be sold) and rewards (in the form of drops), but another to prevent a player from growing their character unless they are able to complete the lab. The most hated feature in D3 are the set dungeons (and when I say hated, the community if venomous about them). The lab is very similar. Forcing a player who may not be as “quick” as others to complete specific (no deaths allowed) content to progress their character is a very poor design and simply drives people away. And less than 1% of all players ever complete the uber lab. This is another indication of the end-game being geared towards only hardcore players.

In the end, every player that I have known to “quit” PoE (either a character or the game) has done so either due to the death penalty or the labyrinth, or both.

There are numerous Targeting Issues in PoE. Cyclone is a great example; the constant issue of getting stuck on small world objects in the middle of combat and dying because you lost your leeching for a split second is not fun. As I was writing this, GGG announced Cyclone is going to be “fixed” in 3.0 but I still felt it was worth including since it’s such a well-known issue (and some readers may not be aware of the announcement).

Lack of Queued Command Execution is problematic and a mechanic that really should be in the game. You can be 100ms too early on an action/click and it won’t execute because your last action isn’t finished just yet, but other ARPGs handle this issue more gracefully. The game should allow a player to foresee an event/action and execute another action knowing it’s going to be executed as soon as the action is available. Using a flask and having it activate when you’re at full health/mana would also be beneficial, allowing players to activate the restoration just as they jump into combat instead of having to wait to take a hit or lose mana.

The game does have serious Performance Issues with certain builds; this also impacts why players don’t like to group. However, players need to remember that GGG is a home-grown (originally 3-person company) game developer that built their technology from scratch. I believe they’ve done an amazing job with their resources, and there’s little doubt the 3.0 release will bring new and much-needed optimizations.

Many players have commented on the Illusion of Build Diversity due to the end-game difficulty and meta requirements; however if you look at the leaderboards of level 100 characters, you can see quite a diverse set of builds – but all of them have one thing in common. Hardcore players are almost always behind them. There is solid diversity in PoE, but almost all the top players are CI (which is expensive) and it’s common knowledge that life-based builds usually aren’t strong enough for end-game content (there are exceptions, but they are rare).

PoE really has no real Guild Features above a stash and tag. This is disappointing because so much could be done to bring players together. People have been asking for the guild system to be enhanced for years. I am hopeful the 3.0 release enhances the guild system and makes being in a guild actually mean something. This brings us to a connected issue: there is no real reason to Group with people in PoE. This is a big problem that makes trading the only real community-centric aspect of the game. As mentioned above, a big reason for this is due to the death penalty at end-game. However, there is also no content specifically designed to be tackled by groups.

Note: I did not cover double-dipping (Fire/Poison) because it’s already been announced by GGG to be addressed in 3.0.

I did it! I killed Izaro! Wait, what’s happening?! WHAT’S HAPPENING?! (Note this is a known display bug that’s been in the game for months)

The Potential

The number one feature request from players is some sort of Auction House or Enhanced Trade system. Some have asked not for an Auction House, but want a more automated trade system for those who are online. As mentioned above, the current trade system does bring players together and shares hideouts with others; I believe a hybrid system is in order, where players can either trade old-style (as it is today) or use some sort of online queue/auction system. Perhaps a fee per transaction for the auction system would be in order (1a or 1c per transaction through the auction house depending on the value of the item).

A Build Template System would be fantastic addition to the game. It could be integrated like the Item Filter system (i.e. downloaded and selected), allowing for players to select a specific build to follow, and also create a completely new community dedicated to designing and sharing specific builds, complete with level by level skill point distribution, defined skills, links, and gear. GGG could even include a few core starter builds with the deployment of the game and offer predefined builds to follow during character creation. As the character levels up, the “build guide” would highlight the recommended next skills, links, and even items to equip. This guidance would entice new players and give them something to strive for. Yes, players can follow the builds from the forums on other sites like the Build Browser (which just points to forum posts), but new players don’t know about these resources, and build guides are often incomplete and not designed for new players. Integrating a system like this would skyrocket the retention of new players and could act as its own tutorial.

PoE needs a proper Low Life Indicator. What’s very interesting is the game already has this in dimly lit areas (the lighting goes down as your health does) so the mechanic exists, but when you’re outdoors, it simply doesn’t work. I think Grim Dawn does it the best by drawing red that grows around the edges as your health lowers. Corrupted blood constantly kills players, even those who are experienced, because they simply don’t see their health drop due to multiple factors (in combat, running and seeing a chest in the upper right corner of the screen, etc.).

Another key issue is players often have no idea what killed them due to a lack of notification. Even veteran streamers are left scratching their head “what just killed me?” This is very important; it’s hard for players to learn how to play better when they don’t even know what killed them in the first place.

MTX is the key money maker for PoE, yet there’s no way to find what character or even league your MTX items are assigned to. MTX management is a huge issue for those who have spent a substantial amount of money on outfits and visual augments. The good news is there is a 3rd party tool that accomplishes this goal, and GGG has stated they are making MTX management enhancements for the 3.0 release.

Master Volume Control really needs to be added to the game. Same with a Sound Toggle (on/off) option. The ability to toggle the User Interface would also make taking screenshots a lot easier.

The ability to Pause the Game when playing solo would be a very nice addition; it’s not fun dealing with the phone or doorbell ringing while in the middle of a boss fight (yes, one can port, but pausing would be much better option). From a technical perspective this could increase the space requirements for the server infrastructure (since a player could pause an instance for hours, tying up server resources), so such a feature would require systems consideration; however with today’s cheap hosting costs (and the fact a paused instance would not utilize any processing power), it should be viable. However, such a feature could be used to abuse end-game boss fights where a player could pause the game in the middle of a very intense battle just to strategize on what they are going to do next. So there are reasons not to have this, but if a balance of implementation could be met, I’d definitely support it.

As covered above, there really isn’t any content in PoE specifically designed for groups. This does link to the Death Penalty issue where players generally don’t like to play with other people because it can easily get them killed, but there aren’t any fights or aspects of the game designed specifically for a combination of different builds (or that require collaboration to complete). Once again, this also references the community aspect of the game failing to truly bring players together as a team.

Updated Minimap Graphics are in order. Anyone who has run Marshes and other maps can see how the current minimap system just doesn’t show things very well. I hope this is addressed in the 3.0 release.

We really need the ability to place Markers on the Map with the Item Filter. With builds that can kill 2 screens away, hearing that special sound leads players on a goose chase wondering where on the map the item fell.

As covered above, PoE needs more Guild-based features. Such features could include custom maps, augmentations, bonuses (for achievements), master options, and even vendor enhancements.

There has also been discussion about Automatic Item Pickup by Pets. I personally think this is a great idea due to the sheer volume of items that drop; they could even allow pets to act as storage. But would this break the “no advantage to players who purchase MTX” to the game? Hard to say as those who spent money would be able to progress at a much quicker rate, but only through clean-up. One option is to provide pickup pets as one (or more) rewards for completing certain game content. Granted this is an exception to the rule, this video shows what a mess the game can create. Players would rather spend their time playing and fighting rather than running around and cleaning up their mess.

An option to Turn off the XP Bar would be a nice feature for those players get enraged when they see the XP loss upon death.

Another regular request is for the saving (and sharing) of Hideout Layouts. A lot of time, energy and effort can go into building them, and I’ve seen multiple requests from players who want to save and share templates.

A Sort Inventory button would be fantastic, especially for the 4x size stash tab. Those who play Grim Dawn know how awesome (and useful) this feature would be.

The ability to Run world zones at different levels would enhance the game greatly. While one can shape a specific map to raise its level, some players want to run Dried Lake or other zones at a higher level. I hope 3.0 implements some sort of feature allowing for the augmentation of world zones to make them great farming zones for all levels.

And finally, we have the concept of an Exile Companion that one can equip and define the skills for. Not a guardian, but a full-fledged companion we can throw items on, level up, and equip skills with. Granted such a feature would have a monumental impact on the game (and open a wide door of abuse-potential mechanics), if it were done right, it would be an awesome enhancement and allow the players to have their own true in-game “buddy”. This could also open the door to “mini-group” content; boss fights that require the support of an Exile Companion (or another player).

Experienced Player: “I LOVE THE SKILL TREE!” … New Player: “Ummm… what is all of this? I’m supposed to what?”

Conclusion

There’s no question the 3.0 release of Path of Exile will be the most impactful yet. We know there are numerous changes incoming to core game mechanics and even the trading system; however there is no indication the majority of issues covered above are going to be addressed. It’s one thing to enhance and expand the content of the game, but another to ignore key issues that drive players away, especially when so many casual players are leaving Diablo 3 and looking for an alternative game to play. I’m an avid supporter of GGG and PoE, and I want only the best and success for the game; of course it’s easy to armchair quarterback a game of this complexity – many of these issues will take some serious consideration to properly address, but given the future growth of PoE, I believe making decisions that adhere to the core principals of the game while also evolving to address core mechanics, problems and complexities that drive players away is essential. Here’s to the bright future of Path of Exile!

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About The Author

Mr. Allen has an extensive background in technology spanning 20 years including software architecture, design and development, project management and leadership. He specializes in corporate planning, productivity and collaboration, and is the creator of the games Mordor, Demise, Horizons, and Alganon.

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