Path Of Exile 2 Is Aiming For Approachable Depth Over Complexity
The sequel seems to play much like the original though certain systems have been streamlined to aid player onboarding.
The original Path of Exile has a huge skill tree, and its sequel does not break that mold. Path of Exile 2 features many of the expansive systems that its predecessor did, including equipable gems and multiple classes, but in an effort to ease newcomers into the series, much of those systems have been streamlined. According to game director Jonathan Rogers, this effort to streamline parts of the game was done to ensure Path of Exile 2's gameplay has depth without becoming overly complex.
I got to see what Rogers was talking about in a gameplay demo for Path of Exile 2 that showed off the new Druid class. Much like its counterparts in the likes of Diablo IV and Baldur's Gate III, the Druid is a spellcaster with animal shapeshifting abilities. In Path of Exile 2's case, a Druid is (sadly) limited to only changing into a bear (which makes them seem more like a werebear lycanthrope than a true druid but that's neither here nor there). However, your spells include a range of lightning and volcanic fire abilities that pair well with the murderous rampages and ground pounds of your wild side.
In the demo, Rogers showcased how the Druid's unique abilities can be combined together. As a bear, the Druid can unleash mighty roars and claw at enemies, which charges up the necessary rage to unleash a rampage across the battlefield. And in their humanoid form, the Druid can create storms of lightning or small volcanoes that spurt little fireballs of lava. They can also summon a pack of wolves. Against the massive mobs of enemies in Path of Exile 2, you ideally want to keep all these abilities going simultaneously.
But that's a lot to remember and set up--unleash a volcano, create a storm of lightning on that spot, create some wolves, transform into bear, build rage, rampage, repeat. So developer Grinding Gear Games implemented shortcuts the player can utilize to program combos into the game. For example, you can dictate that a wolf is summoned every time the Druid casts lightning storm or decide that the bear form unleashes a mighty area-of-effect roar upon immediately transforming into that form.
I got to see a few of these self-made combinations in action and it made Path of Exile 2 look far more approachable for someone like me, who has never played the original game and got a little scared looking at all the gems and skills that you need to keep track of. After the demo, I was able to play for a handful of minutes right as the preview was wrapping up--I tried out both the magic-flinging Sorcerer and hit-and-run specialist Huntress--and was quickly overwhelmed. I'm sure there's a natural rhythm to playing games like Path of Exile 2, but I just don't have that muscle memory yet. And having to track all the skills and know in what order to use them to be most effective would seem like a daunting prospect if not for the option to program certain combinations to just work for me without having to remember it on my own.
Whether Path of Exile 2 manages to balance this level of approachability across all its classes remains to be seen, and we still have a ways to wait to fully find out. A closed beta for Path of Exile 2 is set to launch on June 7, 2024.