Good Morning Friends! Yesterday I got to thinking about my past experience with Path of Exile and the assorted leagues that I played in and then the ones that I actually took seriously. Largely this was spawned by the comfortable spot that I have arrived at in this league having two extremely strong characters, which led me down a path of exploring some of my past mistakes with this game. There is something about the complexity of Path of Exile that makes you forget entirely what it was like to play the game when you were first starting out. As a result, there are a lot of build makers that assume everyone will be engaging with the trade league and that low investment is anything under 10 Divine Orbs. Granted I am starting to reach that point myself in my journey as this league I have spent probably at least 10 Divines gearing out two characters.
The overwhelming success that I have had with Toxic Rain Pathfinder, has led me to start questioning some things. Namely, whether or not the state of the league is just exceptionally good, Toxic Rain is simply a great build, or I am just much better at the game now than in the past. It could be all of the three but the Toxic Rain build specifically has led me down this path because mechanically it is not that mechanically different from the Explosive Arrow Champion build that I tried back in Sentinel League and did not really enjoy. I’ve seriously played Path of Exile for the last four leagues and for both Sentinel and Kalandra, I had some significant issues with the game, which has now led me to objectively evaluate the state of those characters when I left them. Of note, I do not really play Standard, so any character from a past league is effectively in exactly the same condition I stopped playing when the league ended.
Before that, we are going to talk a little bit about the early murky time spent playing Path of Exile with no clue what was going on. One of the things I never really could figure out is why exactly I did not play Path of Exile before 2016. Sure the passive tree was daunting, but I figured that there had to be another reason. Yesterday I watched the original trailer and then immediately understood why I turned my nose up at this game. The prominent placement of Player Vs Player combat in the game’s features would have been enough for me to chuck the game in the bin. So it wasn’t really until April of 2016 that I gave the game a chance, and only then because I was really coming into a grove of playing Diablo III which made me want to branch out and try other prominent ARPGs. I’ve always loved this style of game but prior to Diablo III, the MMORPG had always been my primary game type, and like so many people I got trapped in the orbit of World of Warcraft for over a decade.
Sadly I have none of my original characters because, during the Sanctum league, I decided to purge them to free up their names. However, none of them were even vaguely close to playable or had anything resembling a “build”. I technically started playing during the Perandus League and I know Breach was active at the same time as I remember doing one of those and dying horribly to it. They used to do this weird cycle of challenge leagues where two events were happening at the same time. I did not manage to make it terribly far on my first attempt and I think I ended up stopping somewhere in Act II. It was not until 2018 and the “Don’t You Guys Have Phones” debacle that I really revisited the game, and at that point, it was during the Delve League. Basically, it was at that point that I started seriously diving into other ARPGs because I felt like Diablo IV was not actually going to happen. From that point forward I sort of picked at the game, never really making serious traction. I remember specifically playing during the Heist League, Expedition League, and Scourge League before finally taking the advice of following a build guide for Sentinel League.
For Sentinel League, I decided to follow a build guide from Zizaran as he was and still is probably one of the most “noob-friendly” guide creators. That said… there is still a huge gulf between his understanding of the game and what he takes for common knowledge and what a brand-new player understands about the game. So I legitimately thought I was playing along as expected and when I hit maps… I ground to a halt and struggled significantly. I think I made it to yellow maps before giving up on the league and trying another character for a while… getting both to 73 and thinking I had “made it to the end game”. However rough it was, it was enough to get this game into my bloodstream and make me want to take a much more serious look at it with the Lake of Kalandra league, when most of AggroChat tried the game out.
However, after four leagues of playing Path of Exile, I look at this character and cringe. Firstly notice that I didn’t have anything higher than a four-link on any of my gear. Like today I wouldn’t even begin mapping without at least a five-link… and out of sheer lack of understanding I was throwing myself into the gristmill with not having anything better than a four-link. Additionally, there was a massive problem with my resists… not a single one of them was at the natural level cap of 75% and my Chaos Resistance was negative 52%. Then defensively I am sort of all over the place with relatively low evasion, armor, and no life recovery to speak of. No wonder I struggled with this build. Yesterday I grabbed a 3.21 equivalent to Explosive Arrow Ballista and tried mapping… and shockingly I did okay. I had to ride my health potion a bit more than I would have liked, but there is a certain layer of muscle memory that has built up now where I am actively dodging attacks before I even register that I am doing it.
After moving away from Explosive Arrow I had dinked around with what started out as a Righteous Fire Inquisitor and then got stuck playing Wintertide Brand because I enjoyed that gameplay so much. So with Lake of Kalandra, I wanted to play something Brand based and it seemed like Stormbrand was going to be a good option. So I followed a guide from Velyna and again… something got lost in translation. At this point when I look back on this character, I am shocked that I managed to make it all of the way through unlocking the Atlas. I remember a number of the red maps being exceptionally painful to complete but just assumed that Stormbrand was a far weaker build than the comfy gameplay that I would eventually find with Righteous Fire Juggernaut in the Forbidden Sanctum League.
Once again however looking back at this character makes me cringe in ways that I find hard to explain fully. I thought I knew what I was doing during the Kalandra League, and I very clearly did not. First of all, once again I was not even close to sitting at the natural resistance cap of 75% in each elemental resistance and still had a negative Chaos Resistance. For Crucible League this was “day one” stuff, or at least day one from when I reached the end of the Acts. Then again I didn’t have anything resembling a plan when it came to defenses. I had too little Armor to be an armor build, too little Energy Shield to be an Energy Shield build… and a completely insignificant amount of Evasion and Life Recovery. Once again I thought I was doing what the guide told me to do, but clearly missing something in translation.
Last night I pulled out the most recent copy of this build and reset my passive tree. I was able to do several maps relatively comfortably and was amazed at just how good this did at the clearing. It even did a reasonable job at killing bosses, but once again struggled to stay alive and it was only through constantly dodging attacks that I reached anything resembling comfortable gameplay. If I got hit… I had to ride the flask. I also noticed that NONE of these characters have anything resembling a flask strategy… but I guess that was a lesson I did not fully learn until playing the Juggernaut, last league.
One of the problems with Path of Exile that really plagues new players is the extreme level of complexity. For a while, I legitimately thought maybe that Zizaran and Velyna were just bad guide creators, but looking back I realize that no… they did a relatively good job but just simply were missing steps that they assumed everyone understood. They are creating guides for folks who are already engaged with Path of Exile and understand the concepts. However, no one really understands Path of Exile until they have lived with it for a while and failed miserably enough to fully understand why they were failing. Knowing what I know today, I could go back and fix my Sentinel and Kalandra characters and could have had a much better time in both Leagues had I understood what I do now.
However I have only arrived at that knowledge through almost a thousand hours of gameplay, and multiple hundreds of hours of regularly consuming content about the game. Almost every single day I learn something new about Path of Exile, and there are still game mechanics that I have not really engaged with at all. The cliff of knowledge is so brutal to climb that it makes sense that after ascending to a plateau… these creators forget what the climb felt like because they know they still have another sheer face to ascend in front of them. For example… Subtractem has an hour-and-a-half-long guide on the Betrayal League mechanic… and it only covers “the basics”. Grasping anything more than the most basic understanding of many of the league mechanics requires a similar dive into the abyss of Path of Exile knowledge.
So we arrive at where I am today. I deeply love the game and wish more people did. However, I also know what a brutal climb it is to get to at least where I am today, knowing that I am but a “babe in the woods” before some of the folks who have been actively playing the game since launch. The problem with Path of Exile is a problem that I have seen in so many MMORPGs as well, in that the level of complexity required to really be efficient and good at the game… requires so much of the player and as a result most folks never really reach that point. I could ramble on about the madness of what group construction looks like in Guild Wars 2 for example, and how nothing in the game would ever lead you to a point of understanding it. This is also why I appreciate games like Last Epoch so much because you don’t need to have played 300 hours of the game to be able to grasp the concepts, and there is an in-game guide that legitimately tells you everything you really need to know. Knowing that however… doesn’t really make me love Path of Exile any less for its beautiful madness and complexity.