Path of Exile's Race Season Three starts next weekend! We've designed a new signature event for this season - the Descent league that PC Gamer announced over the weekend. Today's news post goes into more detail about the development of this league and how it works.
Path of Exile race leagues are short duration events where players compete in a fresh economy to win prizes. With durations ranging from minutes to one week, they allow players to demonstrate mastery of the game. We group them into Seasons and have run two of these Seasons since entering Open Beta in January. For more information, please check out the announcements of Seasons One and Two.
After the last two seasons, we surveyed our racing community and took a lot of feedback on board. During the design of Descent races, we tried to take into account the following pieces of feedback:
- Players asked for leagues that didn't filter back into the regular leagues upon death. This would mean that we could potentially change item drop rates and how items are given out. Many players said they felt that the choice between using currency items in the race or keeping them for regular play diminished the fun of a race.
- Hardcore racers really loved signature races. Being able to improve on a record throughout the season was very popular.
- Players asked for races with different starting locations and area progressions.
- To reduce the RNG effects of shops (and attrition strategies related to using waypoints/portals to fill flasks), a common request was disabling town.
- Some players wanted difficulty through means other than crazy combinations of league mods.
- A frequent request was a steeper level progression so that players were discouraged from just skipping monsters.
- Some players asked for no instance management so that the player has to push forward and can't just farm a safe area.
In the first two seasons, players competed by racing through the standard Path of Exile game as quickly as they could, trying to gain more experience than other players. We occasionally added interesting properties (special game modifiers, super fast monsters, random ancestral totems) to these races. These events have been very popular, but when designing Season Three, we wanted to offer an experience that differed from running through the core Path of Exile plot.
Our random level generation system allowed us to easily string together a new set of levels and build a minigame around it - the Descent league. It's an alternate shorter version of Path of Exile designed specifically for our race events.
In a Descent event, you start in the outskirts of the Phrecian Forest and must search out a forgotten cathedral. As you descend into its depths and explore dungeons, caves, ruins and more, you encounter challenging combinations of monsters and bosses from all areas of Path of Exile.
There is no town to return to. There are no waypoints or portals for travel. Players cannot party up with each other - they start out alone and will perish alone. The only way to restore flask charges is to kill monsters or to level up. You can't backtrack to previous areas or re-run an area that you have completed.
At the end of each Descent level is a pair of a special chests. Each contains a different set of predetermined items that help focus your character build in specific ways. The catch is, you can only choose to open one of these chests per level. While almost all of the resultant items are useful, the choices that are made can drastically change how the event is played. For example, the chests at the end of the first level contain a choice of either Life Flasks or Quicksilver Flasks (which increase movement speed when consumed) and Scrolls of Wisdom. As the event is timed, a decision to focus on survivability over racing speed can have large consequences. The predetermined items from chests (and lack of NPC shops) reduce the random variance that players often experience in traditional races.
In Descent leagues, the normal hardcore rules (where hardcore characters just become non-hardcore ones on death) do not apply. Characters and their items are permanently destroyed once a Descent event ends, regardless of whether they survived or died. We wanted to design Descent as a standalone experience where we don't have to worry about items making their way back into the regular Path of Exile economy. This freedom allows us to structure how characters receive items so that there are interesting choices as they progress. We're able to give out complex crafting items at certain levels without it being unfair to players who don't play the Descent events.
Because the goal of Descent isn't to accumulate wealth, we've designed it almost like a traditional single player RPG where the fun is working out what character build for each class stands the best chance of surviving through the difficult content.
Descent events last for one hour each and are the Signature Event of Race Season Three. This means that we'll be running approximately fifty of them over six weeks, spread over a variety of timezones. We'll be keeping track of the players who have reached the highest levels with each character class over the whole season so that we can give them prizes at the end.
Allowing players to replay the same event every few days is really interesting from a game design point of view. We've designed the Descent events so that they're difficult at first but get easier as players work out better strategies. The contents of the special chests are not known in advance, so players can pool their community knowledge to work out which ones are best for their own play styles. We expect that as players work out the best ways to build characters to handle the challenge we've constructed, they'll get deeper and deeper into the cathedral.
Because there's no backtracking or repeating areas in Descent, there are many tough choices when deciding which monsters or bosses to kill on each level. We provide support for skipping areas by having a choice of Quicksilver Flasks early on and by not restricting entry to the next level based on any criteria other than discovering the entrance. The higher levels are very hard and scale up quickly (as well as technically being designated as Cruel and later, Merciless), so you're going to want all the experience you can get from previous levels.
Note that because Descent races are the Signature Events of Season Three, there will be alternate-art Demigod's Stride items given to the top-three characters of each class at the end of the season, based on overall experience. Only the highest result of each character class on an account is compared.
Race Season Three runs from Saturday June 29 (New Zealand Time) for approximately six weeks. We'll be posting a schedule on events within the next few days!