"I have nothing but admiration and respect for the grueling schedule Grinding Gear Games has committed themselves to, and they consistently deliver."
Since committing to a quarterly release schedule in 2016, Grinding Gear Games has held strong in their grueling 12-week development cycle to bring constant updates to Path of Exile, and the Bestiary expansion marks their first for 2018. Having followed the game since its beta release, I'm happy to report that despite, or in spite of, their commitment to no pay-to-play microtransactions, Path of Exile has handedly doubled their players' hours of play in 2017 over 2016, clocking in a cool 400 million hours total! Easy to jump into while possessing plenty of endgame content and new updates for the truly dedicated, Path of Exile succeeds in drawing new players in while keeping things fresh for seasoned veterans.
Always a pleasure to talk to, Chris Wilson of Grinding Gear Games walked me through a preview of the extensive amount of changes happening in Path of Exile: Bestiary. Notably, Bestiary's challenge league will include a Pokémon-esque capturing system comprised of different types of nets. Players can weaken and then capture almost 250 regular and 40 legendary beasts within the game. Once captured, the beasts hang out in the player's menagerie and can be used for beastcrafting. As players capture beasts, their recipe book expands. Each menagerie functions somewhat similarly to a player's hideout; areas are themed based on the location the beasts are from and look much akin to a zoo.
Unlike typical crafting mechanics, beastcrafting involves a trial by combat—players have to defeat the beasts they are crafting with once more (and yes, party members can help) in order to create or augment potent items. Furthermore, the right combination of beasts can result in multi-stage spirit boss encounters that reward players with powerful unique items. While four new sets of items based on the spirit beasts can be obtained, Wilson commented that even the designers of the game have argued over the number of pieces in each set they would use to build a character, thus exemplifying the balance with which they crafted them—players can pick and choose what works best for them without feeling the pressure to "catch 'em all." Most importantly, the benefits gained from crafting are centered around unique perks that are unavailable through other channels in the game. Wilson said that after the challenge league ends, Grinding Gear Games may consider integrating Bestiary into the regular game, but the crafting aspect would most likely become less powerful, so players who wish to fully experience Bestiary should dive right in without hesitation.
Besides new content for the Bestiary, the Atlas of Worlds now has a new challenge: players can now fight the Elder and the Shaper simultaneously after restoring the Shaper's memory. Wilson quipped that this will be the hardest content in the game targeted towards the 0.1% best of the best players. Internally, they found a quality assurance member who lasted a whopping two minutes in this battle—phew, good luck everyone!
What is an expansion without new gems and items? Bestiary comes with three new gems: Spectral Shield Throw, which provides additional offensive capabilities based on your shield's defensive statistics; Summon Phantasm on Kill, which is a support gem that summons ghosts when you kill enemies; and Tectonic Strike. Not only does the expansion come with 29 new unique items, but players can also complete new prophecies to transform lower level items into one of 30 new fated unique items that are essentially upgrades to existing items, thus allowing players to continue using them at higher levels. Players must complete the prophecies while using the old items in order to reap their rewards.
Last but not least, Grinding Gear Games will completely overhaul the ascendancy classes to make them rightfully unique in playstyle. Wilson commented that the erosion of the ascendancy classes' efficacy did not go unnoticed and that this update is certainly due. Over time, as more content was added to the game, some of the perks of ascendancy classes were overshadowed and de-incentivized players from investing in them. With the revamp, each ascendancy class should really carve out its own viable place in Wraeclast—for example, the berserker will accumulate rage from attacking while taking damage over time and all berserker skills will modify this accumulated rage. To sum it up, ascendancy classes will now have class-unique specifications that cannot be acquired elsewhere in the game, and I'm very excited to see how this will apply to each class.
It doesn't seem that long ago that I covered Path of Exile's previous expansion, War for the Atlas, in November 2017; yet here we are with Bestiary packed full of content. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the grueling schedule Grinding Gear Games has committed themselves to, and they consistently deliver. I'm sure Path of Exile's players, both old and new, can always find something to enjoy within the game.