Indie Game HQ had the chance to speak with some of the developers from Grinding Gear Games regarding their game Path of Exile, currently in Open Beta. They discussed the vast realm of Wraeclast, their unique server situation, and future plans for the game. If you want to play one of the better games of the year be sure to click the link at the end of the article to sign up for their Open Beta.
About Path of Exile:
Path of Exile is an online Action RPG set in the dark fantasy world of Wraeclast. We’re a small independent team of hardcore gamers based in New Zealand and have created Path of Exile as the game that we’d want to play ourselves. It is designed around a strong barter-based online item economy, deep character customisation, competitive PvP and ladder races. The game is completely free and will never be “pay to win”. Path of Exile is currently in Open Beta!
Indie Game HQ: Can you tell us a little bit about Grinding Gear Games?
Grinding Gear: All of the company’s founders are lifelong RPG fans, with a play experience spanning more than 20 years. There was a big creative gap in the action RPG genre in the mid 2000s, so we began to ask ourselves “Could we do an RPG game ourselves?”. We gradually realized that the answer was yes, we had the financial capital to get started, and so we founded Grinding Gear Games and began work.
Our initial plan was to focus mainly on story and playability, with less of an emphasis on graphics. We planned to incorporate game elements from some of our favorite RPGs to help with design. As time went by, and our team grew, so did our ambitions. Path of Exile now has graphics and artistic design to more than match its ambitious, complex game elements. We’re very happy with how it’s coming along.
Indie Game HQ: How long have you been working on Path of Exile?
Grinding Gear: As of this writing, we’ve been working for just over six years. During that time, the team has expanded from just the founders to 22 people!
Indie Game HQ: Prior to Path of Exile, what titles have you worked on?
Grinding Gear: Path of Exile is our company’s first project. Prior to working on the game, our various founders dabbled in personal interests, including freelance programming, publishing, and even pro-level Magic the Gathering!
Indie Game HQ: How large is the fantasy realm of Wraeclast?
Grinding Gear: There are two answers to this question. In terms of available content, the continent of Wraeclast spans three full acts, with dozens of different indoor and outdoor zones. A play through of Normal difficulty for a normal player will take anywhere from 8 to 15 hours. The difficulty ramps up substantially on the second tier of difficulty, called “Cruel”, and will probably take double the time for a new player to clear. After that is “Merciless” difficulty, a challenge so great that it will tax even veteran players. Merciless is designed to really test player’s builds and gear, and it could take a long long time to beat.
We’ve only really just scratched the surface of the mysteries and horrors that await deeper in Wraeclast. We have tons of cool stuff planned for later acts, that will take you deep into the wicked heart of the continent, to learn the real source of its ancient corruption.
Indie Game HQ: You’ve described Path of Exile as a very dark game. Give us an idea of how dark the game will get.
Grinding Gear: Well, the tone is set the moment the player arrives on the beach. They’re in a bleak, gloomy, hostile environment, marooned on a desolate shore in a driving thunderstorm. The first person they talk to gets immediately eaten by a zombie, and it gets worse from there.
We’ve designed POE to project a feeling of mystery and melancholy, and we feel we’ve succeeded well on both counts. The NPCs who greet you in the first encampment are a miserable, desperate bunch, who barely regard you as a friend. As you get further into the ancient island’s interior, you’ll see many grim relics of its bloody, calamitous past. I don’t want to give away too much, but we’ve got some seriously gory, hardcore stuff coming in Act 3!
Indie Game HQ: How many different items and monsters are there in Path Of Exile? Will more be added in future patches?
Grinding Gear: Well, it’s hard to actually give a concrete answer to this, due to the way our monster and item systems are designed. We have added layers of randomness to everything, so that there is basically an infinite number of different items to find. Many monsters are generated randomly as well, so you’ll often go for weeks without running into an identical rare monster.
We plan to continue work on POE indefinitely, which means that future patches will include tons of new monsters, items and other content.
Indie Game HQ: What separates Path of Exile from other games in the genre?
Grinding Gear: Path of Exile differs from other games in the genre for a whole variety of reasons. Foremost, the game has nearly infinite customization, due to the way that its active skills interact with item sockets, and the size of the passive skill tree. Not only are the six classes completely distinct, but it’s unlikely that two people playing the same class will build their character the same way.
POE also takes place on closed, Grinding Gear Games-owned servers, which means that all your character data is saved remotely. While this may not seem like a big deal, and may inconvenience some, it also means that items in the game have real value. When you find something super rare and amazing, people are going to flip out over it, and offer you crazy things in trade. Items will have real value because people can’t simply use an item editor on their internal character files.
Path of Exile is free to play (but not pay to win) as well, which while not being unique to the genre does mean that there is no barrier to entry. We strongly believe that the game offers a premium studio experience for free, which is something few other free to play RPG titles can deliver.
The final main thing that sets POE apart from other games in the genre is that it genuinely delivers the “hardcore” RPG experience. The game is grim and dark in both style and tone. It lets players figure out their way in the game without a lot of hand holding. It allows players to make mistakes in their builds, and expects them to remake characters they have built incorrectly. POE challenges players to spend time really theorycrafting , especially if they expect to succeed in the final areas of the game.
Indie Game HQ: How many players can a single server host, and how many can be on a single part of the map at a time?
Grinding Gear: Unlike an MMORPG, Path of Exile will not partition players onto separate servers where they can’t really interact. We do use multiple servers of course, which are spread out around the world, but when you step outside of town, you can party with anyone, playing from any location. Because of this, there is no effective limit on how many people can be playing at once on the POE servers.
You can have many players occupying the same town hub, but once you leave town the area you enter is instanced for you and for anyone in your party. Under normal circumstances, there is a cap of six players per instanced zone (32 in towns), though this number can increase in special leagues like Cutthroat or in Arena.
Indie Game HQ: Are you hoping/planning to add expansions later on? Will they be paid expansions, or free for everyone?
Grinding Gear: Absolutely! Work on the first “expansion” to the current content began the moment we transitioned to Open Beta. We’ll be implementing a proper conclusion to the events of Act 3 in an upcoming patch called “Act 3X”. Once that’s out, we’ll begin work on designing Act 4, which is already well into the planning stages. We have many story elements in place for that upcoming act, so we hope to have it completed by later in the year. Act 4 will mark just a stepping stone in the journey path through Wraeclast and beyond. We hope to add content to the game for the next decade!
Like the original game, all expansion content for POE will be available to all players free of charge. We believe that our “Completely Free” status is one of the core reasons why our fan base has been so generous to help fund development.
Indie Game HQ: Will voice chat be implemented? If not, will there be local chat, party chat, and/or global chat?
Grinding Gear: We support full party, local and global typed chat, but we expect that people to use the normal third party voice chat programs like Ventrilo and Mumble.
Indie Game HQ: What made you decide on a F2P model versus the standard paid transactions?
Grinding Gear: We decided on the F2P model for a couple of key reasons. The primary reason is simply accessibility. As a fledgling studio, Grinding Gear Games just doesn’t have a lot of name recognition. In today’s world of $1.00 mobile apps, it’s a real challenge to get people to buy a game at higher price from a non-proven studio.
Giving away POE for free, and letting people play it with no strings attached is the best way to get maximum exposure. We’re very confident in the game, and we’re sure that when the public gets a chance to play it, they’ll not only have a blast, but they’ll tell their friends to play as well. With no barrier to entry, there is nothing to prevent the game from virally spreading quickly.
The second primary reason why we decided on the F2P model is because it’s proven to be an effective way to monetize a game. You only need to look as far as Riot Games’ massive success with League of Legends to see that you can garner incredible revenue by giving your game away for free. It really is the present and future of online gaming monetization.
Indie Game HQ: Why did you decide to crowdfund through GGG instead of more standard avenues such as IndieGoGo or Kickstarter?
Grinding Gear: There are a few reasons we chose to use GGG for crowdfunding instead of one of the more well known sites. For starters, Kickstarter doesn’t support New Zealand companies. Secondly, both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo take a pretty sizeable fee for their services. You also only receive your funds if you meet your target, so there is a sizeable risk of the entire funding project fizzling out. Missing our target on IndieGoGo would have meant a lot of negative press for the game.
We were really quite confident that our internal funding would work out, and since early April we’ve taken in around US$1.4 million.
Indie Game HQ: You mention on pathofexile.com that your team is made up of “hardcore gamers.” Does that mean that Path of Exile was designed with other hardcore gamers in mind, or is there a little room for the casuals as well?
Grinding Gear: This is a great question. We definitely would not feel we’ve succeeded with the game if one big group of gamers felt that POE wasn’t for them. What we’ve tried to do with the game is create a great experience for players of all levels. The basic rules and interface of the game are as simple as they come: move, click, slay, loot. It’s the tried and true ARPG formula.
Our testing has shown that even players with zero experience in the genre are able to hop into POE, pick up their weapon on the beach, and have a great time. There are tons of things to appeal to the casual player, who can easily get wrapped up in the story, atmosphere, voice acting, and graphics of the game. We’ve also designed POE‘s early areas to be quite beginner-friendly, with the difficulty only ramping up as you get well into Act 1.
At the same time, we’ve built many layers of complex mechanics into POE, so that even the most hardened veteran is going to find challenge. The sheer size of our Passive Skill Tree, and the nearly infinite build combinations it allows are enough to keep hardcore players experimenting and theory-crafting for months. POE has far more depth and replayability than any other game in the genre.
Fundamentally, we’ve designed our game to be THE game that all of us have always wanted to play. I guess you could say that it’s a “hardcore” experience, but it’s definitely something that casual players will enjoy as well.
Indie Game HQ: Thanks for your time. Is there anything you would like to add for our readers?
Grinding Gear: Thank you very much for all the great questions, I had a great time answering them for you. Thanks to all your readers as well!