I missed a lot over the past few months, and missed even more in the past few years. One of the things I missed and have slowly making up time in is Path of Exile. I’ve always been drawn to Hardcore in Diablo and as the Season was winding down I was interested in mixing it up. I fell hard into PoE and think it’ll be my distraction of choice for a bit. As I’ve been playing I’ve noticed so many things I’d love to see in Diablo, and in fairness so many things that are Diablo. Luckily, I was able to interview Chris Wilson about his game and the mode we all love so much.
Xanth:As you were developing PoE when did you decide to implement a Hardcore mode?
Chris Wilson :We planned a hardcore mode right from the beginning of Path of Exile. We played hardcore in other Action RPGs like Diablo 2 so we appreciated how fun it was. We feel that once someone has experienced the thrill of building a character where every decision and action matters, there’s no going back.
Back in our very first years of development, hardcore characters were called “Mortal” characters, to try to more clearly explain their perma-death status. This idea was scrapped because we didn’t want to call non-hardcore characters “Immortal”.
X: What is your design philosophy for the mode?
Like much of the rest of Path of Exile, hardcore mode is about the acquisition of items. In this case, though, the items represent a safety net and accelerant for future hardcore characters after the first one dies. If you’re able to stash a set of twinking items, then your second character will progress a lot more quickly than the first. Our hardcore players accept that deaths occur, and try to recover their progress as quickly as possible, often with an improved character build.
X: Do you feel you’ve been successful?
CW:Absolutely. Path of Exile’s hardcore mode is extremely popular and is growing larger over time as more and more players try it out. Objectively, I know that it is a successful mode because I have a lot of fun playing it whenever testing content out or playing recreationally.
X: Do you play Hardcore? Class?
CW: Yes, I and many other staff members exclusively play hardcore. This year I’ve been playing Marauders (my highest died at 86). Some of our team have hardcore characters in the high 90s, achieved while also also managing a full nine-to-five job.
X: Your approach to Hardcore if vastly different than that of Diablo, in that you retain the character but in the softcore league. What was the motivating force behind this?
CW: This idea was a really early part of our hardcore mode and we feel it was really successful. It came from the observation that:Non-hardcore players were afraid of trying out hardcore mode because they would lose all their progress if they died. By having the character convert to the standard league on death, those players would still gain something of value from all their playtime True hardcore players would not value this standard character at all, because it wouldn’t be in the hardcore league with access to their other hardcore items and characters. It would essentially be perma-death to them.The plan worked! The mode has a good rate of non-hardcore players trying it out, while the hardcore players also ignore the standard characters that they get when they die. These characters are essentially glorified tombstones for them.
X:The boss fights are truly frightening, and I’ve personally felt like I was doomed at the start quite a few times, How do you balance these encounters around Hardcore?
CW: Even non-hardcore players have significant penalties for dying, so we balance the fights so that deaths are significant in either mode. It’s very possible to play through all the boss fights without dying, but it’s made a lot easier by learning patterns and signals so that you know when big attacks are coming.
X: Have you ever created something that was just too hard to do without dying?
CW: We have some very talented players who have set up extremely efficient characters that use clever combinations of items and skills. It’s honestly sometimes hard to create things that are hard enough for them! The difficulty with this process is that if we make some truly hard content for extreme players, then the everyday casual players will really struggle with it. We try to pitch our content at a variety of different player skill levels so that there are options for everyone.
X: With the myriad of talents, how do you attempt to keep balance, or prevent things from becoming too mandatory?
CW: The balance team are kept very busy with this. We feel it’s okay for there to be some “right answers” – powerful skills that are better than other ones, because the discovery of these is a mastery behaviour that makes players feel good about their progress. Pragmatically, it’s hard to achieve perfect balance, so we accept the skills that are better than average and generally only try to tweak them between leagues.
X: Diablo 3 brought to it skills for each class that resurrect characters after they die, and then have a cool down before their next use. Has there been any discussion of something similar for PoE?
CW: I hadn’t heard of that – it’s an interesting idea, but is something that we haven’t discussed for Path of Exile.
X: As both these games have grown at the same time, we’ve seen Diablo start to slow, while PoE seems to be just getting started. We’ve begun to speculate wildly already for Diablo 4, could we start speculating for PoE 2?
100% of our development efforts are focused on creating more content for Path of Exile. We’ve designed it for the long-term, and it keeps continuing to grow, so we see no reason to start over.
X: What would be your advice to someone transitioning from Diablo to Poe, in hardcore or Standard?
CW: My advice would be to take the game slowly and explore it as it comes naturally. There’s a huge temptation to start reading guides written by the most experienced players so that you can immediately make a lot of progress, but that can be a confusing experience. It’s best to play Path of Exile at your own pace, and once you understand the systems, then you can read up on the depth behind the systems.
X: Worst hardcore death? (I lost my first Ranger to a trap in the lab, felt like quite the rube)
CW: The one that sticks with me the most was in a race event a few years ago. We run these races that are a few hours long where everyone who joins has to start new characters and rush through the game. The highest level characters at the end of the event win points that that unlock various alternate art items. Normally I’m not a very good racer, but in this one event, things went entirely my way. I found great items and had really good map layouts to push ahead. It was getting close to the end of the race, and I was farming a relatively safe area. I just had to keep my experience rate up and not die by the time limit. Dead players weren’t considered for prizes at that stage. Needless to say, I became greedy, pulled too many monsters onto me and lost the character and race.
X: Hypothetically speaking, if the world was in peril, and the only way to fix it was you helming the Diablo team, could you do it? (Taken from Twitter)
CW: If it didn’t involve stepping away from Path of Exile, sure!
It’s always awesome to gain insight about a game and what really goes into making it, and I appreciate Chris taking the time out for this. As I delve further into PoE, I’ll be contrasting Hardcore to that of Diablo and what Diablo could glean from it in both its current iteration and the future of the franchise. Have you tried PoE hardcore? How does it stack up for you? Sound off in the comments below!
One Life to Live covers the Hardcore play and life style in the Diablo community. It is written by Xanth and published (semi)weekly. Post your comments below, Follow me on Twitter @HCXanth or contact the author directly.