Last week, Grinding Gear Games held a preview event for a group of select media outlets, including MMORPG.com. Later in the day the development team also held one-on-one sessions with a handful of media outlets to talk about this new league. We had the chance to sit down with producer and developer Chris Wilson for a “few” questions about the upcoming expansion.
MMORPG.COM: When you introduced the Sentinels I immediately thought, oh, a pet system. And then it sounded like the Sentinels were meant to empower your maps. But then further in the presentation, it looked like there were other benefits to sentinels, correct?
Chris Wilson: Yeah, the default behavior is basically that they make the enemies you're facing both more difficult and more rewarding. So, it's basically if theoretically, something that's in your favor, because you get to choose when you use it at a point in the map where you feel you can do with some more difficulty and some more reward so then you turn the Sentinel on. Now, of course, there are much more complicated ones, as is our way. You know there's the unique ones that do interesting stuff. And so, you do have the ability for them to benefit you more indirectly, like, for example, freezing groups or monsters for that vessel or squad.
MMORPG.COM: What is the mechanism to trigger a Sentinel manually?
CW: A button you can click and a key press. There's a different key for each Sentinel, I believe they are on F2 through F4 at the moment. And that can be completely rebound.
MMORPG.COM: So, I as a player, must be careful that I don't trigger these at the wrong time. I don't trigger them when I don't want to.
CW: Personally yeah, but you can put them away. Like if you want to dismiss one of them, you can get rid of it if you realize you made a mistake. But yeah, you certainly don't want to juice the difficulty up at the wrong time.
MMORPG.COM: You also introduced the idea of re-combinators Can you discuss those a little more? I know they’re to help you tune your weapons and armor and jewelry.
CW: Yeah, it was a thing I kind of barreled through pretty quickly. So, as you saw the Sentinel league allows you to assemble new sentinels using power cores. And so basically, that system combines the two sentinels together and takes some properties from one, some properties from the other and twists properties around and mutates them and so on. So, you end up with kind of an offspring of the two sentinels that has something from one parent, something from the other parent or maybe a new twist. We realized that the system, while designed to work on sentinels, could actually work really well on normal items too. So re-combinators are the reward from the Sentinel league that enables you to kind of cross over two of your existing items, getting some properties from one at random, some from the other and potentially a new twist. And so, we made a bunch of new things those items can get, which can only come from the recombination process. And so, in that way, if players are lucky, they're able to make some really good stuff.
MMORPG.COM: When Sentinels power up, you're able to choose attributes. What is the mechanism for them to power up? Is it just the course of me leveling my character up?
CW: So basically, you have your Sentinel controller, which is kind of like you know, the iPad that lets you control your sentinels as it were, that you carry around with you. And it's got the circuit on it and the amount of power it has will soon level up based on engaging with the central league. So, it's as you gain experience for this based on Sentinels tagging enemies and you killing those enemies. So basically, providing you're getting your Sentinels out, using them and killing the monsters that they empower, then you'll continue to gain power. And rather quickly. By the time you start approaching the end of the Path Of Exiles’ campaign, you have a lot of power to actually build quite a complicated build on the controller. And then there are some more points you can get in the end game. But we've kind of front loaded it a bit so you get to specialize in interesting stuff from early on.
MMORPG.COM: Also in this update, you guys are tailoring the challenge system a little bit. You’re condensing the levels?
CW: Yeah, it's so basically, we have a set of 40 challenges. And they range from easy to hard, and there are some rewards for getting a lot of them done. And so, what we found was people would generally do all the challenges, and then kind of sit around and be like, well, what can I do now? And if they finish the challenges after one month, what is their next to-do? You can pursue better items, you can get higher character levels, you can try new builds, but it's kind of self-directed at that point. And so, the experiment here is if we squash down the existing challenges at the first half and introduce just tons more really hard ones, and then a bunch of rewards to go with it, like really ramping up what rewards you can get, does this motivate players to try out the “hot challenges”? So basically, the challenge is just a lot harder and a lot more rewarding.
MMORPG.COM: Also, of interest in this release, is that you stated we are in phase two of the endgame improvements. You guys are setting a course for the player to decide what they want to do at endgame what maps they want to do, and you know where they want to go with it.
CW: We begin an endgame update in the last one. And that was really popular, the players said that they felt that it was the best version of Path of Exile’s endgame. And we made it modular. So, we have stuff we can improve in this expansion and in every other one leading up to Path of Exile 2’s release. Our basic plan is just to double down and triple down on the stuff that people like in the endgame. I feel we fell in the trap in the past of releasing these challenge leagues where the league itself was fine. And then there isn't anything new to do in the game. So, if the player doesn't particularly engage with the league as much as we would like, then there's not so much to do in the overall expansion. So, we're being more careful here where we'll release Sentinel and take some risks with it. And at the same time, we make sure that the endgame improvements are solid. So even if a player plays Sentinel and doesn't engage with it particularly heavily, they've still got actual stuff they can do, new things they can experience in the main game itself,
MMORPG.COM: Is there any thought as to whether we'll see any newer story content in Path of Exile one before Path of Exile 2?
CW: We would like to because we see story as an important characteristic that every expansion would ideally have if we had the resources. Now a lot of our story guys are hard at work on the big Path of Exile 2 story stuff. So, I think we're going relatively light intentionally. We've always tried to do a show rather than tell kind of approach. And so, for example, with Sentinel here, there isn't a lot of reading where the player can, you know, read thousands of words about exactly where the Sentinels came from. But we've tried to have a very rich kind of system in the game where you can work things out. And that will hopefully work. But yeah, I'd like to have more story-focused expansions between now and the release, especially just for variety. I mean, there was some players that really love that stuff.
MMORPG.COM: And to finish off, you’re adding PC controller support to this release. That's something that everyone's been asking for.
CW: Yeah, it's been a popular thing since we released on console a number of years ago, and people have been clamoring for the ability to play with the controller. It's partly because the Steam Deck has been popular and the Blade runs really well. And secondly, that just a lot of other action RPGs, to be honest, like Diablo II Resurrected and so on, have controller support. And so, people try it out and say it's kind of fun to chill out in front of a big TV with friends and, you know, play some Path of Exile and so on. And so, they want to try that on the PC version.