Path of Exile is undoubtedly a juggernaut in the Action RPG community. It now boasts over 20 million users, hitting a record number of 237,160 users online at once this year. They have continued to push out tons content every year with no plans of letting up. In 2018 the mega technology congloment Tencent acquired a majority stake in Grinding Gear Games (GGG). I joined in concern with a lot of fans who were worried this would change the game for the worse. I've played every expansion since open beta, so I have a fair amount to say on the matter. Let's take a dive into their expansions this year and see how they've fared.
Metamorph was released holiday season 2019 into March of 2020 and I feel it was the first big sign of GGG putting out unfinished content. After the first day of playing Metamorph there was public outcry to make the league specific items automatically be picked up. While I'm not a huge fan of automation, I completely agreed here. There were dozens of league specific items that dropped from monsters in every zone that were needed to craft a boss monster that you fight at the end of the zone. This required you to stop and click an extra 20-30 times on the ground, which really broke the pace of an ARPG. I know it sounds funny complaining about additional clicking in an action RPG, but these items weren't the easiest to accurately pick up on a first click, and it didn't feel as satisfying to pick up compared to "good loot". It's surprising this went live as this annoyance was apparent after just 10-20 minutes of playing. Thankfully the company listened after public outcry and it was promptly patched. After accumulating enough monster parts, you could create and fight a super unique monster in a laboratory that is essentially a loot piñata. There was zero challenge in this laboratory boss and it was clear the story wasn't complete. This league end game was also gated behind getting the correct ingredients which certain parts were very rare, so it ended up not coming together all that much. I really like the design idea of picking body parts from slain monsters and customizing your challenge and rewards at the end of the zone, but the execution and it being gated behind RNG, along with an unfinished story left the league feeling rather uninspiring.
With that said, this was one of their most popular leagues due to the new end-game and reworked map content dubbed "Conquerors of the Atlas". In short you are now chasing to fight Exiles such as yourself as well as fighting their leader. Lore wise I found it much less epic and not nearly as exciting compared to the prior Shaper/Elder story. System wise, I found it fairly confusing but ultimately more enjoyable due to being able to customize my maps more easily. I know others were able to customize the shaper/elder system with ease, but I never got the hang of it. However, I'm not the biggest fan of either system and I look forward to see how they will rework or provide more alternatives to the current map system. I do want to comment on actual boss fights and mechanics. Compared to shaper/elder, I found the conquerors and Sirus fights to pale in comparison. The new boss fights and the arena you fight them are annoying and frustrating. I hope GGG spends more time on boss mechanics and crafting better arenas, to make it more strategic and less irritating.
Delirium was released next in March of 2020 and was an action packed league mechanic. If you liked screens full of invading monsters and multiplied loot drops- you got it. Others who preferred a more relaxed mapping style undoubtedly found this league a turn off. When entering a zone with the league mechanic, you were forced to chain kill within a certain time and distance from the start of the area, so it led to fast paced builds getting rewarded a lot more. I think this play style is indicative of what Path of Exile has become - at least the meta. More fast paced screen-wide explosive skills and instead of strategic position and utilization of skills. Many commented on this and it seems GGG has embraced this style, noting that slowing the game down now would turn off too many people. Hinting that perhaps in Path of Exile 2 they can offer a different play style and tempo. I certainly got sensory overload with this league mechanic being in every zone, and much prefer it as it's implemented now- something you come across in maps once in a while. It also dulled the art style of the zone as interacting with the mechanic painted the entire map in a grey fog. It's certainly a love/hate mechanic but it's also not forced on you - this system was completely optional by entering the delirium mirror in the start of a zone, which I found absolutely brilliant. Median XL, the Diablo 2 Mod, found success in challenging but optional content.
Harvest league was released in June of 2020 and was touted as being an experimental crafting league and would "break" path of exile as we know it. I found that statement not to be hyperbole at all. After setting up your "farm" you were able to essentially edit your items to remove or add major stats. I enjoyed creating such powerful items and "completing" my character's gear so fast, but as finding out as a child using cheat code in Nintendo games- it gets old quick. I played the least of Path of Exile in this league due making the game that much easier, as well as not enjoying setting up or modifying the "farm" that would let you create/modify these items. We know that in a few weeks this system will come back to Path of Exile, but in what way, we're not sure yet. I'm hoping it's a middle ground in terms of power level as well as making it much more intuitive to setup your farm.
Heist brings us to the last league of the year and GGG really shot for the moon here. They delivered an alternative end-game system that had rich NPC characters in design and story, as well as introduce alternative versions of existing uniques and skills gems. It was refreshing to have interesting and often humor filled NPC characters in such a typically serious world. The revised gems and unique items were hit or miss, but I found them exciting to try and build around. It's just the sheer quantity of new uniques, gems, and NPCs that completely blew me away. The new maps/zones that you "heist" in however, needed some fine tuning. As much as it has become a meme having to click open doors, having to wait up to 4-7 seconds for an NPC to unlock a door gets old quick. I also felt the rewards were so pushed that you felt compelled to run these zones. Heist rewards were essentially massive loot pinatas that would give many times more currency than typical maps. They also dropped more league specific items than you would normally find in the original league mechanic, and certain heist maps gave you 4-5 times more XP than typical maps. All of these Heist rewards made playing the game outside of Heist feel unfulfilling. In Hardcore mode where you only have one life, I found it more balanced as the content was dangerous. Ultimately I feel the aforementioned "issues" can be fine-tuned and adjusted, and I'm excited to have Heist be part of the core game for the foreseeable future.
While I have many critiques of the game I am overjoyed at the amount of unique content we're getting every year. While playing you get the feeling you're part of this ever evolving epic world. I'm excited to see what they have in store for us in 2021, and this Thursday at 2PM Eastern they plan to announce the next league. We're expecting more end-game systems and changes to the meta-game. Thanks for joining me on this look back of 2020 in Path of Exile!