0.10.0, or Open Beta, has a number of differences from 0.9.13.
You can see the changes in the patch notes, but here is a more broad, high level explanation of what sort of balance changes were made, and why we made them.
This post only discusses some balance changes - we strongly recommend you read the full patch notes to see all of the changes, including the new features and content.
Act 3 and losing a difficulty
A lot of changes for Open Beta are based on adding Act 3.
The first major difference is the removal of the Ruthless difficulty.
Act 3 adds a lot of content to the game, enough that we can remove one of the four difficulties. When we looked at how people played, they tended to pass through one of the middle difficulties very quickly. It was clear players were fairly happy to engage with the content three times, but four was a bit of a stretch.
Going down to three difficulties allowed us to examine our goals with the difficulties, and to hew more closely to our original vision for them.
Normal should be fairly straightforward to complete by most players. It will spike up in difficulty towards the end of each Act, and Act Three also ramps up the pressure again.
Cruel difficulty is intended to be exactly that; it presents more of a challenge. Merciless is another step beyond that, we have tried to ensure it is a true increase in difficulty, and that players really have to understand the game in order to get through it.
Side areas in Merciless can also be much higher level than the areas they are next to. This fits with how many players approach the content. Often players come back to these areas after playing beyond them. It gives players more places to choose to repeat play areas at high levels. It also makes the difficulty more interesting and varied as players are playing high level content. Players looking for a challenge can take on these areas earlier, and we can surprise players with sudden difficulty spikes when they first attempt Merciless, to let them know the game isn’t going to be very fair from here on out. These level differences are signalled by lesser side area differences in Cruel difficulty.
Maps start at level 66, lining up with the higher level that content at the end of Merciless. There has been little change to the map system from 0.9.13. The general structure is the same. When we looked at the statistics for players running maps, we can see this system really achieved what we wanted, so have done little to change it. There will be more maps and bosses soon.
We have increased the difference in difficulty between each tier of map, as the difference between a level 60, and a level 68 map in 0.9.13 was not as significant as we would have liked. You should really feel the difference between a level 66 and level 75 map now.
Items and Affixes
There are few new changes to the base types of items. The item progression was adjusted for Act 3 and the reduction to three difficulties, but these changes have been on closed beta for some time already.
Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence requirements for armour pieces have been increased. Requirements on Skill and Support Gems have been increased significantly. The amount of attributes available in the game had increased since the requirements were last set, and there wasn’t really any attribute pressure on these items any more. Increasing the requirements will make some decisions about character build and item choice harder.
We have made a number of changes to item affixes. As the content now extends to level 75, we have added affixes of much higher levels in most categories.
Defence affixes have changed considerably. There were a number of differences in the range of available defence improvement between item types. Pure Energy Shield items could get bonuses higher than other armour types. Now, pure Energy Shield items get similar improvements to other defences. Flat armour can now also be higher, and is more consistent with what you can get on Evasion pieces.
There have been some affixes added to the pool:
- Block has been added as an affix for Shields
- Chaos resistance has been added, which will be discussed below
Other affixes have had balance changes.
Quicksilver Flasks provide movement speed on demand. The way players have used Phase Run showed us we had a need for this in the game, but we knew that Phase Run skill gems were the wrong place for it. Quicksilver Flasks give +40% movement speed, and turn up as an early quest reward, as well as dropping from level 4 areas and above. Phase run is in the meantime removed to be redesigned more in the form it was intended for, an ambush combat skill.
We have added a Chaos Resistance flask. For the moment, we have removed the Diamond Flask. It will be redesigned and returned to the game in some form.
We have also made a number of changes to Unique items. In general we try to live with our mistakes with unique items, as often the mistakes can lead to interesting results, however there was a clear need for many to be improved, and for a very few to be reduced in power. This last wipe gave us the opportunity to do this.
A lot of the most interesting gameplay dynamics, and worst balance issues in Path of Exile come when we mix absolute mechanics with more traditional RPG numeric progressions.
Chaos Damage has been no exception, and has offered us continual issues with balance and other game systems.
Part of examining Chaos Damage has involved looking at what the original design goals for the system were. Chaos Damage is still in the game. We have added Chaos Resistance in a number of forms though, even though its a bit harder to stack Chaos Resistance than it is to stack Elemental Resists.
As part of this change, we have added a penalty to Chaos Resists for each difficulty that matches the Elemental Resist penalties. However we have also revisited all the balance, and reduced the damage and the frequency of Chaos Damage in the game.
While part of the above discussion, this Keystone has become such an iconic part of the game, I have given it its own topic.
Chaos Inoculation has undergone many changes during its lifetime, and many changes during the preparation of Open Beta.
This has been another case where we have gone back to the original intent. Chaos Inoculation has returned to being about immunity to Chaos damage. We have removed its association with Energy Shield that has developed over time.
We do not want Chaos Inoculation to be considered a must have, but an interesting choice for specialised builds.
Skill Changes, and “Nerfing All the Builds”
We sometimes get feedback that “nerfing” is a never a good idea, and we should just leave everything as it is, and only improve underused skills.
This idea doesn’t really work. If we constantly improve skills, then the game just gets easier. Making the game easier really isn’t our goal. And if we just make the game harder to compensate for making certain skills/builds better, then that’s just a very roundabout way of reducing the power of the others.
Some skills and builds have been much more effective than we intended them to be, which is fine - after all, we want a game where looking for power that emerges from intersecting game systems is the way to play. However, if a gameplay system is so powerful that is becomes dominant - or worse, boring - we will attack the power of those skills/builds.
We also want to make players earn their power. If there is something that allows a player to succeed with no effort, and without working hard to ensure all their passive choices, gear choices, and play choices line up with it, then that game element will be changed.
We also want the metagame to change over time. We aren’t looking to find some perfect balance and then call it done.
We are going to be adding skills and items and changing things for a long time to come. We will be giving you more interesting interactions. There will be theorycrafting fuel for years. There will be new overpowered builds, and your established characters may need tweaking to deal with changes to their skills.
More specifically, if you look through the patch notes you’ll see certain changes:
- Lightning Arrow has basically been redesigned from the ground up.
- Totems have been weakened, and getting more than one is a bigger commitment.
- Late-game life of summoned minions.
- Auras are more expensive, and an aura-based character is much harder to build.
- Diamond Flasks have been temporarily removed pending a redesign.
- Chaos Inoculation does not provide Energy Shield any more.
- +many other skill changes...
You’ll notice a lot of the mainstay “OP” builds have been hit. We have tested them and found them to still be powerful, but require more effort.
We have also specifically attacked various “free” forms of defences, for example Granite Flasks have been reduced and Grace is more mana intensive. Discipline has been significantly reduced in power.
We have made several changes to quest rewards. The core system of quests giving you Skill Gems and Support gems is still in place.
We have tried to approach these rewards from a perspective of supporting core builds.
Generally, for both Skill Gem rewards and Item rewards, they matter more to newer players. As players get more experience with the game, and as they have more stash wealth, they feel that these rewards matter less to them. After some testing, we have worked out this is a natural consequence of players’ experience mattering, so we have tried to make sure if you make an “on-class” build for your character, you won’t be lacking for the skill gems you need.
The flip side of this is that if you are making an off-class build, you may not be supported by the rewards. When we look at how people play, generally if they are experienced with the game, they already have the tools from trade or from world drops to make these builds.
We have increased the number of item rewards, especially towards the end of the game. Getting Rare items from quests is something players have responded well to. Later in the game, where skill and support gems tend to be repeats of earlier rewards, we have swapped out some gem rewards for item rewards.
While the value of quest rewards goes down the more experienced a player is, the value of Passive Skill Points never does. We have increased the number of skill points available from rewards, with 7 points being available across all three acts, 21 in total for all three difficulties. This will allow players to explore their builds in more depth. Passive respec points will still be available as rewards from each act also.
We have changed the rewards from the Bandit quests in Act 2. Being able to stack the same rewards at each difficulty made the rewards too strong for certain builds, and also removed choice. Once you started down a path you were unlikely to change which bandit you supported. The rewards now change at each difficulty. They are still on-theme with the bandit in question, but they offer more options.
The Game Economy
Our players engage in the game in different ways, but most styles of play involve interacting with the game’s economy. Most changes in this area have already made their way to 0.9.13 deploys, such as the change to Orb of Alchemy-based recipes, but there are some things that should be noted.
In Act 3, you can now trade currency all the way up to Orbs of Chance, Orbs of Alchemy and Glassblower's Baubles. This will allow players to pursue heavily economic styles of play without the need for stash tabs, or just allow more casual players to trade up to these orbs when it suits them. Orbs of Alchemy can be traded up to all the way from more common currency items. They also cost an Orb of Regret, so players who plan their builds well can capitalise on not needing these orbs by trading them in.
As the level content has increased, so has the level for currency penalties. A player won’t be considered over level 68 when determining currency drop penalties. Maps can drop from level 60 content and above, Cartographers Chisels can drop from level 52 content and above.
Players who like to grind areas for items, and racers grinding areas for experience will have more choices. In addition to the new Act 3 areas, we have looked at the levels and content of certain areas, and tried to provide more choice for those who heavily engage with this part of the game.
What we haven’t done
As noted above, we never plan to call the game complete and stop changing it. We had a specific deadline for Open Beta, so we have focused mostly on things that have to be in, as they make sense to do as part of a wipe.
However, there are several things we want to change that we haven’t got to yet.
We will continue to add skills to the game. On the short list of items to add are - Power Charge creating skills for casters, Axe and Sword skills, and Area of Effect skills for claw users. After that, there are still many more skills and supports to be added.
- Duelists, and general class balance.
We know Duelists currently need some love. They aren’t performing as well as we think they should. Some of this will be covered by new skills, but we will also look at their passive skill tree and quest rewards. Unfortunately, we knew we couldn’t give them the attention they deserved before Open Beta. Looking ahead, we will continue to make changes to the overall class balance as well.
- The Avatar of Fire and other Keystones
Lots of Keystones still need to be looked at for balance. Iron Reflexes and Resolute Technique require examination, but they also need to be assessed in terms of other game changes.
Avatar of Fire will come back into the game in some form, eventually. We also have several new Keystone designs that need to be assessed, and will added to the game over time.
- Recipes and Items
There are not a lot of unique items being added in 0.10.0. The developers who work on these were heavily tied up with 0.10.0 content. We have a lot of Diamond unique items to add to the game, and a lot of work from Brother Laz that needs to be added, too.
We also want to increase the depth of available trade recipes.
PVP balance has been left untouched for some time. Some changes will have happened to PVP as a natural consequence of other changes, but no specific attention has been devoted to it. We are really looking forward to addressing PVP balance further, and adding some of the new game modes we have planned!
We’re Looking Forward to This!
We are pleased with the changes, and we are looking forward to seeing what you do with them!
While a lot of builds have changed, we know you will find new ways to make powerful characters, and we know you’ll surprise us with stuff we don’t expect.