Simplifying Path of Exile

Path of Exile is a deep game with many layers of complexity - as is natural for a long running free-to-play game. Warframe also has many systems layered upon one another competing for attention.

Skill Tree

The Path of Exile skill tree is a terrifying beast for new players - it isn’t after screwing up your first build and finding a few better examples that you finally understand what you are doing.

While I think it is part of their philosophy that it remains a large tangled web of both useful as well as less valuable nodes, the fact that it is difficult to weigh passive trees in-game is quite annoying. (We now have third party tools that attempt to help with this - Path of Building is legendary in the community for being a helpful build planning tool.)

There are probably a couple of avenues for making this more palatable. One options is that instead of having more nodes, perhaps nodes should be consolidated - costing more points, but having a larger total impact. This wouldn’t necessarily reduce the complexity or the difficulty of planning out a tree, but it would probably make it more obvious to a player which nodes to aim for. There isn’t really as much subtlety to skill point assignment as the tree would otherwise suggest - it’s really mostly picking out as many of the desired larger groups of nodes, and then picking up as many sockets in the tree as possible.

The other is probably having an in-game guide - this wouldn’t simplify the tree overall, but it would definitely be a huge quality-of-life improvement since players no longer need to constantly leave the game in order to refer to their planned build. I don’t think this would be a good use of developer time, however, as I believe most of their most devoted players would have very little issue memorizing massive amounts of the tree.

Combining Currency

Path of Exile has a lot of types of currency. I think there is room for consolidation of some of these types of currency without causing too much trouble in the economy while reducing the number of currency drops and inventory we need to manage.

Blacksmith’s Whetstone + Armourer’s Scrap

This is fairly straightforward - I’m not sure why these two items are separated other than modifying how we acquire them from recipes - they are pretty much used for the same purpose (upgrading quality on armour and weapons) and drop fairly often in reasonable quantities.

Remove Scroll Fragments and Scroll of Wisdom

Scrolls of Wisdom forms a fairly important part of the early game - during this time you are mostly in a “Robinson Crusoe” or SSF economy, where you have to be self sufficient. This quickly just becomes unnecessary inventory management kludge as you get through the first two acts of the game and becomes quickly irrelevant busy work (except for Strongboxes.)

Scrolls of Wisdom make up a fair amount of the drops, and if we just replaced this with a way to identify rares and uniques in town and had a timer a la Diablo III’s legendary timer for Strongboxes, I think we could do away with this currency entirely.

As for replacing its role in early game, I think simply replacing it with Transmutation Shards or equivalent and adding a little bit of back-end complexity for vendors being able to give you change for full Orbs of Transmutation would be sufficient.

Remove Portal Scroll

Speaking of another item that drops often, the Portal Scroll is another prime candidate. We use it everywhere, the restriction on quantity is pretty much non-existent after the first act of the game. We could just remove this and add a portal button. This invalidates the Portal gem, but really I don’t think anyone will miss it. (And I’m sure we can think of other ways to acquire Vaal Breach.)

Orb of Transmutation + Orb of Alteration and Orb of Alchemy + Chaos Orb

I may be missing a back-end reason, some odd crafting trick or perhaps a very good economy reason of Orbs of Scouring, but these currencies do very similar things. Transmutations make a random Magic item, and Alterations just reroll the Magic item. Alchemies make a random Rare item and Chaos just rerolls the item.

We could just combine both and adjust the drop rates and currency sinks accordingly. The only flaw I could see with this is that this may affect the trading economy - Chaos Orbs are currently the currency of choice but I think a little inflation for reducing the amount of drops and other things you have to deal with is reasonable.

Orb of Scouring -> Crafting Table

Scouring items to turn them into normal (or remove prefixes and suffixes) is a fairly common crafting tactic - this could very easily just be built into the crafting table and cost different currency (like a Chaos Orb.)

This suggestion falls over where you would want to scour items while in a Map. For example, Orb of Scouring + Orb of Chance on a specific base or bases to get a specific unique while under the influence of a certain League. The next example is Strongboxes - you often scour it to save Engineer Orbs.

This is probably sufficiently important to maintain its existence. (I still wouldn’t mind seeing a reset to Normal Item option for crafting in the Crafting Table for us more casual crafters.)

Blessed Orb

I see Blessed Orb as a peculiar beast - it seems to have a very singular purpose, that is to be a Divine Orb with a more limited scope. Given that most passives rarely have a massive roll range and the power of this currency is extremely limited in my opinion, I think that it makes sense to remove this as a currency and move it to the crafting table (and cost an appropriate number of Chaos Orbs instead.)

Maps

However, I hope that in future they prioritize simplicity and fun. It would be great if they removed the key dangerous mods from the pool (reflect, no regeneration, no life leech) and then added an option to just have the map device automatically consume the required currency to craft the map for those of us who just want to run through maps mindlessly.

Currency Auction House

I think another thing that would be nice is a currency auction house. We already have currency trading bots, and these make trading for currency so much better. It would be great if every player could participate - while this would definitely create a slight drop in the value of rare currency (and probably a massive drop in the value of very common currency) it would be a massive quality-of-life improvement for all involved.

A big concern here is that people may choose to play the auction house and constantly be trying to find arbitrage opportunities - but people are already doing this and this is already a valid way to play. This would just even the playing ground between bots and humans.

Diablo III vs Path of Exile

I’ve been playing Path of Exile for a while now, and I think there’s some design differences that are worth discussing - one is not necessarily better than the other, and I think it’s very clear that some philosophies are very different.

Trading and Economy

The biggest and most obvious difference between Diablo III and Path of Exile is their approaches to trading and the economy in general.

Diablo III launched originally with an Auction House to allow players to quickly and easily put up to 10 items for sale, and then eventually added the ability to buy and sell items for real money as well. This system was met with much disdain, as players perceived that good item drops were made more difficult to acquire (than they would normally be without an Auction House.)

It then switched gears completely with the release of Reaper of Souls - Reaper of Souls essentially made every player have to find their own gear as gearing became moved to set items and legendaries (instead of rares or yellows) or whatever the group found while playing together. (In Path of Exile, this is known as SSF - Solo Self Found, which is essentially the mode where you make the conscious mode not to participate in the economy.)

Path of Exile has trading, but trading is made more difficult by requiring players to manually message each other and negotiate in order to complete trades. The developers, Grinding Gear Games, have made it clear that their philosophy is that trade should not be easy. Recently however, their position is probably being slightly challenged by the fact that currency bots are now dominating the currency trading market. This, in addition to constant community feedback that the market is too easily manipulated by people who are putting up price listings without a genuine desire to sell, may make eventually force their hand. It remains to be seen whether this will change in the future.

I am honestly very fond of trading. Even with the additional friction of having the message multiple people at times to get the item you want, it makes it very accessible to get specific pieces of gear as well as get currency to enable you to either craft or buy items that you need for your build. It is a shame that Diablo III no longer allows trading, but their solo self found philosophy has its merits - I know that all my gear is mostly earned myself and I get the benefit of playing the item slot machine myself, as opposed to Path of Exile, where it is often grinding out sufficient currency before being able to participate in the excitement of getting your own gear.

Levelling

Diablo III, with the introduction of Adventure Mode has allowed many options for levelling characters - you can play through the campaign, do bounties and rift in Adventure Mode, or alternatively, you can be power levelled by someone in a rift. Endgame begins the moment you hit level 70, it doesn’t matter how you get there.

Path of Exile has a much more opinionated approach - it forces you to play through the ten acts of its campaign before it allows you to even think about entering the endgame - Maps. Recently in Delve league, it has become possible to power level someone via low-level Delves (and having a lot of fuel.) However, as this system is changing in the next league, being Betrayal, it remains to be seen if this will be changing. (You will still need to kill the final boss to access maps, however.)

My preference is, of course, strongly for the ability to power level and play however you want - this suits me better as I have limited time to play, and can’t afford to spend 8 hours of more of my limited game time to level a new character.

Builds

Diablo III has a very simple build system - you gain skills as you level up for the class you have chosen, and if you enable Elective Mode, you can use any combination of 6 skills you want - usually this is in tandem with the set items you have. If you want to play a different build, all you have to do is find a new set of items that works for that build - then you can just click over and switch all your skills over.

Path of Exile has a much more complex system - a build consists of the class you’ve chosen, the subclass (Ascendancy) you’ve chosen, your passive skill tree pathing and the skill gems that you have. There are some builds which depend on having certain specific or unique items, but often these are either optional, or stepping stones on which before you advanced to much more powerful. I feel Path of Exile’s passive skill tree is definitely overly complex for what it does. It also makes your choices feel less impactful, as every point you put into the tree does very little by itself, although as a whole they stack up into a useful total.

Diablo III is clearly built to be more friendly to the casual player - there is very little customisation that you perform on your specific character, but on the other hand, you don’t have to keep creating new characters if it so happens that the skill you are building around requires a completely different setup (with the exception of being in a different class.) If you want to switch play styles from a Marauder Demon Hunter to an Unhallowed Essence build, you aren’t going through another 4 to 8 hour slog through story mode. On the other hand, every single person’s Marauder build is going to feel and play nearly the same. However, that’s not to say Path of Exile players will behave differently - there are still “meta” builds and you will often run into very identical looking builds while playing with others. (Poet’s Pen Inpulsa Elementalist anyone?)

The constant Path of Exile updates however, negate the feeling of all builds feeling the same - you can very often find something new to play, even if it may be slightly less efficient than the fastest or best build. I believe this is why Path of Exile is generally viewed to be the better game - it’s just updated more frequently. If Diablo III had updates at the same place, I’m sure it would be in a similar place as well. (Imagine a world where we constantly got new set items, new skills and new legendaries!)

Itemisation

Diablo III’s itemisation is definitely among the more disliked aspects of it - it hasn’t changed all that much since the original release. Smart Loot has made it behave much better, but it still follows the same basic tenets: you want Crit Chance and Crit Damage wherever you can get it (except for some builds which prioritised Cooldown Reduction) followed by as much main stat (Strength, Dexterity or Intelligence) as you can get. It is extremely simple to grasp - and it doesn't feel like you'll easily be lost in depth and complexity - you can very quickly get a grasp of what's best of your

Path of Exile’s itemisation appears to be better, but really it’s the same as when Diablo III’s original launch. Stats are random, there is no smart loot. However, you can trade for better items, but that’s something we will discuss later. As you get a lot of damage from your passive tree, your items are often confined to survival-oriented stats. Besides your build-enabling items or uniques, you are often chasing life and damage resistances. After that, then you begin to hunt down damage boosting items. There is definitely a better variety of damage boosting affixes, as different builds function differently from the code point of view, and therefore scale differently with different affixes. This is definitely deeper than just focusing on main stat, but the systems here are often far too opaque for my tastes and require too much research. For example, flat physical damage is highly desired for conversion builds over flat elemental damage due to it scaling better. “More” damage mods are better than “increased” damage mods, as “more” mods are more difficult to get than “increased” mods, which are abundant on your passive tree - so the rarer “more” mod generally gives you more damage per %.

Crafting

Diablo III really has very little crafting - you are either building a ready-made recipe from Haedrig, the blacksmith or you can gambling via the Kanai Cube. It's really not something you even think about in Diablo III. (There's augmentation, but can you really consider it crafting?)

Path of Exile really shines from an itemisation point of view due to crafting. While mods are random, they are constantly adding new and exciting ways to gamble currency on building amazing items, along with many ways to improve your chances of crafting your “dream” item. While a lot of aspects of crafting are random, many are not - Path of Exile’s crafting options go extremely deep. Especially with Delve’s crafting mechanics being added into the game as a core mechanic, you can now pretty much guarantee yourself a good chance of getting an item you can use if you go in with enough currency. (Mirror-level items, of course, require multiple mirrors of currency to craft, usually.)

Crafting mostly serves as an item sink - in this respect, I believe it is very difficult to top Path of Exile - the crafting options are numerous, the tactics and strategies for crafting items run deep and are overall, extremely fun to engage with during the overall item chase. However, it needs to be noted - this is hardly the core gameplay loop and it is completely understandable that this is not fun for a good percentage of Path of Exile players, who may choose to grind for currency instead. In Diablo III, you can only get items by running through more of the core loops.

Endgame

Diablo III has pretty much two choices for the endgame: Nephalem Rifts and Greater Rifts. You run Nephalem Rifts for gear and Greater Rifts for experience points (as well as levelling gems and augments.) Besides that, you don’t have much choice. It’s very simple, but I find it works very well - it’s a very quick way to immediately engage in the core gameplay loop: killing monsters.

Path of Exile definitely has more choice of the endgame. You can choosing to kill bosses - some of which are so hard a good percentage of the player base have never attempted them. You can choose to farm the Eternal Labyrinth (although I believe most people see this more as a transition phase.) You can also choose to not kill anything and work on trading and crafting instead - a perfectly viable option. However, if your intention is to kill monsters like most of the player base, you run maps. Maps are essentially like Nephalem Rifts, but you get to pick the tile set instead of it being completely random. You also get to craft maps - you can roll it with the desired mods, and you can also add certain properties using the “Map Device” to do things like add previous league mechanics, reroll the tile set that your map is on and so on. The options here are endless.

The endgame is really the meat of both games - it is where you will end up spending the most time playing, so it is extremely important. I prefer Diablo III’s Nephalem Rifts significantly - it is a much simpler system. I choose a difficulty, then I can just mindlessly kill monsters and pick up loot. Then, I switch to Greater Rifts to progress my gem levels and Paragon levels.

That’s not to say that Path of Exile’s endgame is bad - it’s just too much mandatory micromanagement. Path of Exile has map progression where you slowly work your way through the 16 tiers of maps as well as some unique maps. However, this system is complex and often frustrating. You often run into situations where it feels like you are running out of the maps at the tier you wish to run. You can’t always just put in a random map and run, as it could slow your Atlas (where your map progression is tracked) progress significantly. Before you run every map, you need to craft it and then check that it doesn’t have affixes that could be deadly to your specific build. On top of this, you may also have to choose a mod from the Map Device to stack on top to improve your map returns. (And while you are doing this, you are also organising hundreds of tiny Map items in your inventory and stash.)

All this very quickly stacks up to cost you hours in just micromanaging your tiny little Maps where you want to get back fairly quickly to the core gameplay loop. Some of this is in line with the developer’s philosophy - they want the game to be hard and they don’t want players to just play through it mindlessly.

Summary

This has been a fairly extensive rant, so let’s summarise my opinions:

  • Path of Exile’s crafting, trading and economy are amazing compared to Diablo III.

  • Builds and levelling is honestly a toss up - there are things I like about both.

  • Itemisation is a philosophical split - you either prefer the simpler approach Diablo III has taken, or you prefer the deeper options provided by Path of Exile.

  • Diablo III has a simpler rifting endgame that I believe Path of Exile could take some lessons from.

Overall, Path of Exile definitely demands more from the player compared to Diablo III, whether it comes to thinking about builds, time commitment, crafting or the endgame. That’s not to say it’s a difficult game - but you shouldn’t go in with the expectation that you will see everything. You should go in with the expectation that you will need to put effort towards seeing everything - and it will be rewarding.

Diablo Immortal - Dissecting the Blowback

Diablo Immortal got announced at Blizzcon, to much disdain from its community, so much so that it’s reached all end of the internet (and may have even whacked Activision Blizzard’s stock prices) - here’s my attempt at trying to figure out what exactly went wrong. 

Why was there community outcry?

My opinion is that the main reason there was so much community outcry was because Blizzard completely misread and completely chose the wrong place to announce Diablo Immortal. I’m guessing this is in part from how Hearthstone was received - but the Blizzcon audience is essentially filled with their biggest, most ardent fans. They took the trouble to come to your convention, some came at great expense - they are your biggest fans (and will be among your biggest critics) of your core products.

At this time, these fans are mostly on PC and console. Blizzard’s titles almost consist entirely of games on these platforms. I’m not sure what their PC / mobile split is for Hearthstone, but I’m strongly suspect it would have a stronger bias to PC than a game like Shadowverse would have.  This audience at this time views mobile games as a much weaker medium and even often treating it with disdain as these games often have to be simplified to get them to be workable on a small touchscreen.

Following off that, they then continued to treat it as a new pillar of Diablo, rather than as a more cautious experiment. If you’re wondering if there’s precedent,  Nintendo is one of the big companies that does this - they always treat their latest console as an experiment at launch. Nintendo has had several high profile “experiments” definitely go awry (such as Wii U, New 3DS and DSi.) It’s definitely arguable that some of these were just pure marketing failures - they didn’t really sell that the consoles were different and that the games coming to them would be different. (And this failure often extended to both consumers and developers alike.)

Most of the biggest existing fans of Diablo are certainly PC players. It’s clear that as a business, Diablo Immortal makes a lot of sense - it appeals to a crowd the Blizzard doesn’t currently have much traction with, being the mobile gaming crowd (which would consist of both younger gamers and more “casual” gamers.) It was just a rather major public relations error that they announced this to the wrong audience.

What was really bizarre about the whole thing was that someone clearly foresaw the community outcry. This was surely the only reason they essentially pre-announced that Blizzcon would not be showing anything that the current Diablo player base would want. It was a shame that whoever foresaw it couldn’t get their concerns to override their decision to announce it at Blizzcon.


What could have been improved?

Given Blizzard’s history of waiting until they had more of a product to show before announcing anything, it makes sense that they wouldn’t have a Diablo 4 product to show. Given Rise of the Necromancer, there was probably a good chance that the second expansion for Diablo 3 was almost certainly scrapped - probably in favour of working on another mainline title. They are probably still prototyping and have yet to find anything they are even remotely close to happy with - let’s not forget that there are few games in this genre and even fewer games that everyone likes.

In terms of possibly working on other Diablo projects, we don’t know how well Rise of the Necromancer did for them - there is however a good chance that whatever was left of the player population was willing to pay for it (me included.) I think there’s a good likelihood that the sales of another class expansion would likely not sell anywhere close to as well - given that the Necromancer wasn’t as fun to play, and probably overlapped design-wise too much with the existing Witch Doctor. There was a fun rumour that they were working on an additional class, but I have my doubts since I suspect the Necromancer was really content from a scrapped expansion - it probably doesn’t make financial sense to build an entirely new class for a game that is seen as a weak entry in the Diablo franchise.

We can certainly speculate to no end as to what is going on internally, but Blizzard is just too cautious on game announcements. Going forward, I assume that they will be more cautious on the public relations end as well. They probably assumed (wrongly) that their biggest fans would support anything they did and didn’t expect them to be their biggest critics as well.

Fundamentally, choosing to not announce at Blizzcon would have been wise. Doing it on the down low, or announcing it at a more mobile game oriented event would have probably not caused as much outrage. Blizzcon was not the audience for this game, and should not have been the audience for this announcement. They are not a new company and this is not a new field - this should have been clear to them.

It is really difficult to pinpoint the real cause of the anger, and what could even be done to alleviate it now that the damage is done - it is entirely possible that the blowback would’ve happened regardless of when it was announced - Diablo fans, like Path of Exile fans, are a very different breed of gamer - they are willing to play the same game for hundreds, even thousands of hours, and they are not afraid to complain.

All it takes is one look at the Path of Exile forums every time there is a new major release - ARPG players are very willing to grind through a game for gear for a long amount of time and they aren’t afraid to tell you what they like and don’t like.

Conclusion?

So really, what’s the lesson here? Know your audience and tailor your message for them. If the message is meant for a different audience, then find a place that will get to that different audience. If Diablo Immortal was announced at some sort of mobile game conference, I’m sure Diablo players would’ve still been disappointed, but the attention and outrage to it would have probably been more muted.

However, knowing your audience and customers is actually much harder than people think. It’s easy to say as a customer that all the things you think are right, but it’s a much more difficult reality when you are faced with millions of different, opinionated people like yourself and then trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Which customers should you listen to? What do customers want as opposed to what they say they want?

VR Is Amazing - So You Should Wait.

In the past few weeks, two new Virtual Reality (VR) headsets have been released - the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. I haven't used either of them, but I'm sure they are amazing.

I've chosen to wait. I have a computer completely capable of running both of these headsets (yay for the R9 290) - and I have an Oculus DK2 - and I love it to bits. It is the most amazing experience that you can buy today. It immerses you in another world. It is impossible to describe what it's like to be able to move your head and be able to see in 3 dimensions without going to enormous amounts of effort to figure out what's in focus and what's not.

It is by far the best new gaming experience money can buy.

So why wait? Firstly - there's the cost. Both the Rift and Vive cost exorbitant amounts of money to ship to Australia. Considering what they do, they are actually not that costly. (Good computer monitors and phones easily cost that much.) But knowing that you will almost definitely want to replace them the moment the next generation lands (unlike a good 27-inch monitor) makes it a difficult sale.

Secondly, this is the first generation. And with the first generation, comes compromises. While the screen door effect is less apparent than it is in my DK2, the fact that the screens are not high resolution enough are definitely something I'm not happy with.

This combined with the fact that Elite Dangerous is definitely by far the only game I really want to play in VR at the moment means that waiting is by far the best option.

(Elite Dangerous has a lot of text - and while text is not the only thing pretty in that game; having bad text rendering kills immersion really quickly.)

 (Screenshots belong to Tested.com - not me.)

(Screenshots belong to Tested.com - not me.)

Here's the recently released Final Fantasy IX on PC.

 The background is clearly from nearly 2 decades ago, but the text is definitely sharp by today's standards.

The background is clearly from nearly 2 decades ago, but the text is definitely sharp by today's standards.

Lastly - and this is probably the most important part - there aren't enough games for it yet. I made this mistake with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One - buying them the moment the console came out; only to find that there weren't many games to play. I have a DK2 now - so I can play most games that don't require the hand controllers, but really, knowing what I know from the Wii, those games will have limited longevity compared to deeper gameplay experiences that one would mostly do seated. There aren't enough games now - a year or two from now, that will change.

Batman: Arkham Knight Tweaking

Looking around for Arkham Knight tweaks, I found the this guide the most helpful.

Just to give you a reference point, I have an Intel i7 950 and an AMD Radeon R9 290, and most notably, the following tweaks seem to have helped me the most:

1. Texture Streaming

I've found this to generally be helpful, but I've only tried this on a WD Black and an SSD - your mileage may vary.

BmEngine.ini

[TextureStreaming]
MinTextureResidentMipCount=7
PoolSize=4096
MemoryMargin=192
MemoryLoss=0
HysteresisLimit=11
DropMipLevelsLimit=16
StopIncreasingLimit=12
StopStreamingLimit=8
MinEvictSize=10
MinFudgeFactor=1
FudgeFactorIncreaseRateOfChange=0.5
FudgeFactorDecreaseRateOfChange=-0.4
MinRequestedMipsToConsider=11
MinTimeToGuaranteeMinMipCount=2
MaxTimeToGuaranteeMinMipCount=5
UseTextureFileCache=False
LoadMapTimeLimit=5.0
LightmapStreamingFactor=0.1
ShadowmapStreamingFactor=0.3
MaxLightmapRadius=2000.0
AllowStreamingLightmaps=False
TextureFileCacheBulkDataAlignment=1
UsePriorityStreaming=True
bAllowSwitchingStreamingSystem=False
UseDynamicStreaming=True
bEnableAsyncDefrag=True
bEnableAsyncReallocation=True
MaxDefragRelocations=256
MaxDefragDownShift=128
BoostPlayerTextures=6.0
TemporalAAMemoryReserve=4.0
ReflectionTexturePoolSize=96

2. Upping Maximum Framerate

As my computer couldn't maintain 60fps, I chose to only increase the maximum frame rate.

BmSystemSettings.ini

[SystemSettings]
...
MaxFPS=60
...

BmEngine.ini

[Engine.Engine]
...
bSmoothFrameRate=TRUE
MinSmoothedFrameRate=29
MaxSmoothedFrameRate=62

[Engine.Client]
...
; This is actually your refresh rate, set it to match your desktop's refresh rate and ignore what its name seems to imply
MinDesiredFrameRate=60.0

3. Motion Blur and Reflections

I found that turning off Motion Blur and Reflections also helped with frame rates, especially during rain, it does make your cape and the Batmobile less shiny, but sacrifices have to be made.

BmSystemSettings.ini

...
MaxFilterBlurSampleCount=1
...
Reflections=False
AllowImageReflections=False
AllowImageReflectionShadowing=False
...

4. Update Drivers

This actually helped a lot - updating to 15.6 beta (now you can get 15.7.)

Hopefully this helped you get to roughly where I got to at the moment, which is about 60 fps with occasional dips to 30 fps. (I suspect some of that is due to my now 4-year-old CPU.)