For those unfamiliar with the game, Path of Exile is a free-to-play action RPG that features extensive character customisation across its 10-act narrative structure and varied endgame mechanics. Every few months, Grinding Gear Games releases a new league that introduces new mechanics to enhance gameplay and add new characters and lore to the world.
With so much excitement surrounding the upcoming release of the latest Path of Exile league, Legion, OnlySP took the chance to speak with the game’s director, Chris Wilson, about the league’s development. Legion will have a particular focus on enhancing melee skills and will also experiment with the introduction of mechanics that enhance player agency.
OnlySP: Rebalancing melee skills has been a long time coming for players. How did you design Legion to support the melee overhaul?
Wilson: Half the development effort that went into the Legion expansion was directly focused on improving elements of the melee experience. From overhauling the animation system to changing how numeric melee game systems work, everything that we can change has been improved.
We also designed the Legion league itself around melee being improved. This type of mechanic, where you have to deal damage to a lot of monsters in a short time, would previously have been very difficult for melee players to engage with (as they lacked the tools to compete with ranged characters). With these improvements, players can engage with the league regardless of whether they are playing melee or ranged characters.
OnlySP: After such a negative reception over the Synthesis League, did you feel any extra pressure during Legion development to create something bigger and better? Did this change some of the content we see in the final version?
Wilson: Rather than feeling pressure to create something bigger than Synthesis, the pressure was to make something smaller. Synthesis’s problem was that it was over-scoped and too complex. For Legion, we really simplified it down to the core fun of a tight, repeatable, and rewarding gameplay loop. We didn’t change the plan for Legion during development, as we knew from our own experiences with Synthesis where we wanted to go next.
(Despite a vocally negative reaction within the community, we received a lot of fan mail from people who felt Synthesis was their favourite league. I guess there was an audience for that type of content, it’s just that we should have aimed for a broader one in order to keep more people happy.)
OnlySP: Players will have the ability to upgrade their map device to access Legion endgame content. Why did you incorporate this feature as an upgrade players need to unlock through a challenge as opposed to including it for everyone as part of the update?
Wilson: The five-slot map device has two uses—accessing the five-army version of the Domain of Timeless Conflict and augmenting existing maps with a fourth modifier. Both of these are very challenging end-game concepts, and so we prefer that the five-slot variation of the device unlocks once players are ready for it, rather than too early. It’s intended to be a reward rather than a new way the game works.
OnlySP: ZiggyD mentioned in his overview of the league, that Legion is based upon fan favourite league Breach. Which specific aspects of that league did you use as inspiration for Legion?
Wilson: For many players, Breach was an ideal embodiment of risk vs. reward. You could control how quickly you killed monsters, which influenced the rate that more appeared, which determined the level of rewards you received from the encounter. This is the key aspect of Breach that we wanted to re-imagine for Legion.
In Legion, you directly control how many monsters you free, which lets you influence the difficulty of the encounter and hence the level of rewards you receive. Some other elements, such as the meta-progression splinter items, are intentionally reminiscent of Breach but function differently.
OnlySP: The introduction of an incubation mechanic is one of many new features added that will allow players more control over what currency and items they want to seek out. Why was player agency important in this update?
Wilson: Players have long been asking for more control of risk vs. reward in Path of Exile, so we are experimenting with it heavily in this update. Incubators are a great example of a way for players to decide what type of rewards they want to farm towards.
OnlySP: Character customisation is key to the Path of Exile experience. The introduction of Legion jewels creates a new depth to customisation although you mention on the site that they will only be for players “skilled enough to acquire one.” What percentage of players are likely to find these rare jewels?
Wilson: It’s hard to discuss percentages of players in a meaningful way because it depends which group you’re sampling. On one extreme, 50 percent of people who down a free-to-play game like Path of Exile don’t make it through the first hour, and on the other extreme, 50 percent of people who post on our subreddit are playing our top end-game content that takes hundreds of hours to reach.
The jewels are obtainable, but still difficult. We want people to get them, but they will be valuable and sought after. Any very serious player won’t have a big problem acquiring some to play around with.
OnlySP: In addition to new content, you have done a massive overhaul of early game monster combat. Will these improvements make the early content more new player friendly?
Wilson: Surprisingly, the goal was actually to be more hostile to early players. We’re rebalancing the early monster combat to be harder and more satisfying. Boss attacks have better signalling but now do more damage, so it feels good to dodge out of the way using the new tools that are available. Think of it like a regular action game – if you’re playing a brawler and a boss is introduced, you quickly learn to keep out of the way of its big attacks and then close in to deal damage while it’s a bit safer. We’re creating this feeling, and so far it’s a lot of fun.
OnlySP: There is so much new content to look forward to in Legion, what is your favourite aspect that you think players will love the most?
Wilson: If I know Path of Exile players, then I believe the thing they will love the most is all the new theorycrafting opportunities presented by the unique legion jewels. Our players love having new ways to build end-game characters, and there’s so much to explore there.
The Legion league for Path of Exile will begin on June 7. Until then, players can explore the world of Wraeclast on PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox.
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