Path of Exile literally exploded on to the web since it went open beta on January 23 this year. The online action-rpg had managed to evade my radar last year and it was only now that a couple of friends referred me to some of its gameplay videos. Suffice to say it caught my attention instantly.
What’s not to love about Path of Exile? The free-to-play title dwells in a dark fantasy world of Wraeclast, “a remote continent that serves as a colony for criminals and other unwanted individuals.”
Developer Grinding Gear Games has done well in creating an atmosphere which feeds on fear and despair; and the statistics speak for themselves.
As of now the game has reached two million registered players in just the first two months of its open beta.
Last week we contacted the producer of the game Brian Weissman, and fired a long list of questions at him. Thankfully he took enough time out of his busy scheduled to provide us with the answers.
Fans would be happy to know that there is indeed an Act 4 in the making, as is more content for the present Act 3. The game itself is currently eying a release later this year around September.
I find it fascinating that GGG started off with such humble beginnings and went on to create something so amazing. Can you tell our readers how your studio has progressed in these past six years? Has the team expanded over this time or does it comprise of the same members?
Brian Weissman: As they say, sometimes the greatest things have very small beginnings. The studio has progressed tremendously since our early days in Chris’ garage. It’s pretty funny too, because there is a cliche about companies starting in people’s garages, but in our case, it’s completely true!
We started with just a few people and a lot of ambition, kind of the same way that many companies begin. Things moved along pretty slowly, we had a million ideas, but we needed to first build the foundations for the game.
Once we had some basic things in place, we steadily increased our personnel to their current levels. Grinding Gear Games now employs over 20 developers plus a large customer support team, all based in Auckland, New Zealand.
One of the most defining features of Path of Exile is its immense skill tree. That said, many are currently opting to go full HP, which ultimately destroys the concept of versatility. Do you plan on changing this trend? If so then how are you going to incorporate the new changes in the skill tree?
Brian Weissman: This trend is much more common in Hardcore, where it makes perfect sense. In Hardcore, your #1 priority is survival, which guides not only your choice of passive skills, but your gear choices as well. A player might opt to go spinning around with Cyclone using a big powerful 2-handed weapon in Default, but in Hardcore, that same player would likely prefer a 1-handed weapon and a shield.
Life nodes are meant to be plentiful, and obviously super attractive to Hardcore players. Believe it or not, the game went through a long period where people eschewed life nodes almost entirely, partly because Energy Shield was too strong, and partly because monsters just weren’t dangerous enough. We adjusted the difficulty and damage of the game because of this, which accomplished the goal of making life nodes very tempting.
We have no immediate plans to devalue life nodes. We want players to have to make the choice between higher damage and higher survivability. That’s a quandary that has always existed in ARPGs. True, there may be more build diversity in Default, but that’s pretty much intentional. We want players to experiment with wacky, esoteric builds. Hardcore just isn’t the place for that sort of thing, it’s about survival.
Instead of making life nodes worse or less attractive, what we’d ultimately like is to have a wide enough range of skills in the game that people feel there are other ways to survive hard content. That’s the ultimate goal. We’re also looking into ways that we can improve the Armour and Evasion systems.
Last year you mentioned in an interview that GGG has no plans to release their game on Steam. Don’t you think doing so would grant you a wider audience?
Brian Weissman: We’ve always stated we do intend to, but that it’s not a priority. While we agree that releasing PoE on Steam would grant a wider audience, there are numerous logistical hurdles we’d have to tackle first. For the time being, we’re pretty happy with the size of our player base, it matches our ambitions pretty closely. Expanding onto Steam would be a major undertaking that takes valuable development time away from the core game at this crucial stage.
Unlocking the Scepter of God seemed promising but the game just ended too suddenly after that. I take it there is going to be additional content for Act 3 or perhaps maybe a new Act 4. Can you tell if and when that’s due?
Brian Weissman: Your assumption is correct, we’ve said as much a number of times. Act 3 will complete with a big boss battle high atop the Sceptre of God. We went to Open Beta in our current state because we felt the Piety fight was a good final challenge. However, Act 3 is not complete. We’re actually working on the content right now that will comprise “Act 3x”. It’s expected in approximately September. Work for Act 4 has already begun.
The game currently seems to not bode well with anyone tinkering with the video settings, specially if they are using AMD cards. There was a post last month on reddit by one of your admins that said you would be improving graphical support after March. Don’t you believe that ensuring a smoother gameplay experience is of the utmost importance and should be looked at right away?
Brian Weissman: Of course we want everyone to have a smooth gameplay experience. However, we’re a pretty small team, so there is a hierarchy of stuff that always needs attention. Following the transition to Open Beta, there were a number of highly urgent things that required our immediate attention.
We needed to address issues like account security and overall server stability first, as those things had the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. As we move further into Open Beta, we’re able to dedicate time and manpower to other things, including the issues with desync, video cards, melee vs. ranged balance and so on. There is always a give and take at a small studio, you simply can’t be working on everything at once.
At this stage we do not know of any AMD-specific issues with the game, other than the fact that many AMD users have changed settings in their overall AMD control panel that negatively affect Path of Exile. We can’t control those settings easily, and have posted on the forums about what types of settings they should not make system-wide changes to.
There have been rumors of a new class inbound around the time Path of Exile officially releases. Any truth to that?
Brian Weissman: Sadly, these are just mere rumors. We have six classes in the game for a reason: there are six permutations of the three core attributes. It’s more likely that we’d work on alternate sex models for each class than we’d make a brand new one.
Trading at the moment is a bit too annoying than it should be. Any chance of an actual auction house or a separate platform which can help players purchase and sell equipment more easily? That said I know I would love a mailbox delivery system.
Brian Weissman: Trading can be a bit tough right now because all of the systems involving trade are still pretty new. We didn’t even have formal player to player trading in the game for most of the Closed Beta period! With that said, there are many big improvements coming.
The biggest aid will be the ability to execute trades through the website. Additionally, players will be able to put items into a public stash, that others players can browse and make offers on.
This should cut down on the amount of spam in the trade channels, while streamlining the entire trading process. We have no intention of ever implementing a formal auction house, because we feel that it runs counter to the fundamental motivations of a loot-based ARPG with no gold-based currency.