With over 16 million registered users and 1.1 million monthly active users on PC, Path of Exile is an immensely popular ARPG by New Zealand developer Grinding Gear Games. During E3 2017 we sat down with Managing Director Chris Wilson to check out the latest expansion for Path of Exile: The Fall of Oriath. The largest expansion to date, Fall of Oriath includes six new acts with a port for Xbox One launching with the expansion as well. Since its launch in 2013, Path of Exile was only available on PC.
The Xbox One port will include everything available in the PC version, with each platform getting separate servers. Actually porting the game over to Xbox from a technical standpoint wasn’t too much of a challenge, “From a control point of view, it actually came together pretty smoothly,” says Wilson. “It’s easy to port to Xbox because the game was already a Windows game.”
Path of Exile will even be available on Microsoft’s newest console the Xbox One X. After they got a dev kit a few weeks ago, it only took an hour, yes an hour, to port the Xbox One version of the game up to Xbox One X running at 60 fps in 4K.
Despite the ease of porting the title form the technical side, there are still balance issues that must be considered when taking a game primarily played with a keyboard and mouse and altering it to work on a console controller. Even though the game will be the same story-wise on both platforms, several smaller details revolving around gameplay had to be tweaked to fix balance changes that effect the Xbox version in particular, making the two versions subtly different.
The biggest features that required adjusting were skills that had players use the mouse to choose the placement of their attacks on PC, whereas on Xbox using the analog sticks would leave the you vulnerable while enemies continued attacking as the player paused to consider a placement. A prime example of this is the use of the totems, which are sedentary creatures you can use as an ally to fight and distract enemies who come within a certain radius near its location. On PC, you can just click and choose where you want to summon it, but for the Xbox One port, Grinding Gear Games had to come up with a way for it to intelligently pick a place for it to spawn near you automatically.
However, this can cause issues for difficulty in gameplay, Wilson says, “If the intelligent totem placing is too intelligent, then we have to reduce the power of the totems. On the other hand if it’s inconvenient and isn’t quite where you want it, then we have to make them more powerful.”
Another example are skills where magic users shoot spells at enemies by pin-pointing a glowing circle on the ground to where they think enemies will move to. “That’s an example of a skill that required significant changes to work with a controller, because on the PC you want to pick someplace that you expect the enemies are going to run to,” says Wilson. Like with the totems, on the Xbox One version the spells will intelligently choose their location based on the placement of the enemies.
Other issues arose with deciding on the button placements on the Xbox One controller. Some were easier to accomdate. For example, on PC the keys Q-T were for the players five chosen skills, whereas the Xbox One version uses a weapon wheel for four skills connected to the coloured buttons, with the remaining two slots reserved for buffs available with a single button push.
However, other adjustments required a bit more thought, an example being how users on Xbox access the flasks that allowed them to regain health and mana. On PC every user has space for five flasks, which at first caused problems at first on Xbox One. “Now for quite a long time in the Xbox version there were only four flasks because we initially had them mapped to the D-pad, and we shuffled the buttons around. It’s a bit easier to use [now] because your primary ones are on LB and RB, which helps quite a lot. Previously, you had to reach down for the D-pad and that wasn’t working very well in testing,” says Wilson. “Having four flasks versus five flasks is the kind of change that requires you to modify how difficult the game is in various other places.”
The Xbox One port is even bringing benefits to PC users who don’t have the most fancy or expensive PCs, since porting to the Xbox One meant adjusting the game to preform at the same rate as high-end PC builds. “We wanted it to run at 60 fps on [Xbox One]. That means that the game now runs at 60 fps reliably on Netbooks and other lower-powered PCs,” says Wilson. Some people are even asking for controller support on PC, which is something Wilson and his team weren’t expecting. He says it’s a possibility, but it depends on how big the balance issues would be when combining keyboard users with controller users. This is why the Xbox One and PC servers are separate to begin with, as there might be certain unfair advantages gameplay-wise with either of the two formats. Despite this, Wilson expects some PC users to try out a fresh start on the Xbox One version. Especially since they will be able to show off the Path of Exile skills they have been honing since 2013 to a group that is new to the series.
Like on PC, the Xbox One version will be free-to-play. Cosmetic items and storage space that grants you more room to store your loot are purchasable, with “Support Packs” also available if you want to fund future development and also get some in-game gear and physical merch.
When asked if we could see ever Path of Exile coming to PS4 in the future, Wilson says potentially. “We’re going to get the Xbox launch entirely out of the way and make sure we are supporting it well before looking at other platforms.” The Fall of Oriath is coming to PC in July 2017, with the Xbox One port releasing close to that window with no official release date yet.