Witch! Destroy dungeons with Path of Exile's new playable class

Evan Lahti

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the witch path of exile

Hail, traveler! You seem the adventuring sort. Pause your passage through our website village, and look: a dungeon lies before you. You're not just going to sit there and let it lie uncrawled , hmm? Not when we have a new, magic-throwing girl for you to use to purge its dark citizens, surely.

We've already had hands-on with Path of Exile. It's dark. It's good. And it'll be free . Today, we reveal a new class: the Witch. Sorcery-filled interview and video within.

PC Gamer: What sort of dungeon-crawling person does the Witch suit?

Chris Wilson, Producer at Grinding Gear Games: The Witch's typical playstyle is "blasty." She's generally a glass-cannon class who deals a lot of damage but is very vulnerable. Some players love the combined fun and risk of herding groups of monsters together and trying to kill them in bulk with area-of-effect spells. A lot of fans on our forum have been begging us to announce the spellcaster class. Hopefully they're pleased with the style of gameplay that the Witch offers.

PCG: How does the Witch's backstory fit into the game world? How does a magic user in Path of Exile differ from a magic user in, say, World of Warcraft?

Wilson: Path of Exile has a dark aesthetic. The continent of Wraeclast is a very hostile environment, where the player fears not only the monsters, but also other players and even the environment itself.

The Witch, like all our character classes, was exiled from her homeland because of her crimes. Her society does not tolerate any magic use whatsoever, so her fate was sealed when she murdered those who threatened her for being different. The backstories of all the classes (including the Witch) highlight the stark unfairness that afflicts many characters in our world. She's not implicitly evil, but committed a violent crime due to her inability to control her powers. Being exiled to Wraeclast is intended to be substantially worse than a quick execution.

In terms of a specific gameplay comparison, magic users in traditional MMORPGs select a target and then cast spells on that monster in the same way that a melee character would use skills on their target. In Path of Exile, magic users can cast spells into the world and have them affect whatever they hit. The path and impact of projectiles are tracked correctly, and area of effect spells can be thrown around rapidly, chilling or burning groups of monsters that are calculated based on exact positions.

Squids that don't need water. Yeah, you should kill that.

PCG: What specific abilities does the Witch possess, and what are one or two examples of how they change after being augmented by gems?

Wilson: None of our characters possess any exclusive abilities, but are intended to use highly synergistic skills appropriate for their core attributes. For example, the Witch is highly encouraged to use intelligence spells such as Fireball, Ice Nova, Cold Snap and Raise Zombie. Because she's the intelligence class and these are intelligence skills, it's far easier for her to meet their attribute requirements and equip items that have intelligence sockets.

In terms of augmentation, here are some examples of support gems that have not been publicly discussed before:

"Chaining" support gem: Once the linked spell has hit one target, it replicates itself and targets another nearby valid target. For example, the fireball would explode and then launch another fireball at a nearby monster. Higher levels of the Chaining support gem cause it to target additional consecutive monsters. This support is useful for more than just the obvious damage increase, because it makes the skill somewhat fire-and-forget. The player isn't locked in place like they would be with the "Multiple Casts" support gem (which causes several copies of the spell to be cast in series).

"Protection while casting" support gem: Puts a temporary additional Energy Shield on the caster for the duration of the linked spell's cast time. This is very useful for skills such as Ice Nova where the player is generally in the middle of a group of monsters. It's also useful for use with the "Multiple Casts" support gem where the player spends longer than normal casting a sequence of spells.

His chocolate hands will be your end.

PCG: When we were talking with Blizzard about Diablo III, they made the interesting remark that they're not altering any of the PvE balance of their classes to make PvP more fair—they don't want to turn Diablo into a hypercompetitive e-sport, to paraphrase Blizzard. Not that there's one right way of doing things, of course—but with the addition of different leagues mentioned in the press release, how much of a focus or concern is PvP balance for Grinding Gear?

Wilson: Leagues are separate game economies within one realm. They can have additional rulesets that modify gameplay. For example, in a cutthroat league, players drop all their items when they die. Some leagues are short-lived and offer opportunities for players who want to compete at levelling quickly. For example, an attrition league could last over a weekend, and would eliminate players periodically (based on who has the lowest experience) until only one remains. There's a much more detailed explanation of leagues here .

There are specific active skills, passive skills and support gems designed with PvP in mind. It's likely that dedicated PvP players will create specific PvP characters that have taken into account appropriate meta-game concerns. The items that are found in PvE (or awarded in PvP) are usable in both modes, and although they may be better suited to one style of play, there aren't many stats that are only useful in PvP or PvE alone.

An example of a PvP-specific support gem is the "Resist Skill" gem. If linked with an active skill gem, your character will have some degree of resistance to attacks made against it with that skill. For example, if you expect that a PvP tournament is going to have a meta-game consisting of many fireball wielding characters, it might be sensible to link "Resist Skill" to "Fireball" in addition to the usual fire resistance gear you'd wear.

We do care about PvP balance and will try to make sure that it's a fun, fair playing field. It's not that we want Path of Exile to become an e-sport, but it's not healthy if there's one dominant PvP build that everyone has to either play or beat. We'd prefer that it's a constantly changing environment with many different viable builds.

In terms of quest content and classes, Path will be completely free to play.

PCG: If two players built two very different Witches, what would those characters look like?

Wilson: Assuming that the Witches didn't use skills or abilities that spilled over too much into archetypes that are better suited to other unannounced classes, I'd probably suggest these two witches:

- A glass-cannon Witch that spams high damage fire spells, with a specialisation in achieving critical strikes frequently so that the enemies catch on fire. Passive skill points allocated that cause the fire to spread between enemies.

- A defensive Witch with specialisation in energy shield regeneration and reduced energy shield cooldown. A usage of cold spells to chill or freeze enemies while summoned minions deal damage to them (at a safe distance from the Witch).

These two ability sets show the contrast between crazy volatile damage output versus careful defensive attrition. Of course, players might have completely valid reasons to play strange builds such as melee Witches if they wanted, but there might be more appropriate classes for that unless they have some clever synergies planned.

PCG: When you're creating a character class, what sort of balance do you want to strike between exploiting existing archetypes of what people understand mages to be and surprising them by creating something that deviates from that?

Wilson: The feeling of familiarity with an archetype is very important. Many players have a favorite playstyle and the best place for them to begin with Path of Exile is probably that character class. We initially designed a completely classless system for Path of Exile, but had to scrap it because we found that players were uncertain what direction to take with their blank-slate characters. By adding identifiable archetypes in the forum of starting character classes, players are encouraged to think early about what type of playstyle they want for this character.

Because any class can use any active or passive skill or any item (providing they meet the requirements, of course), there are a lot of surprises in terms of possible deviations that characters can take.

Coin-covered carpet is the best carpet.

PCG: The press release mentions a “barrier” that the Witch uses to protect herself. Is it fair to think of this as a shield mechanic, and is it unique to her class?

Wilson: Armor pieces in Path of Exile use different damage mitigation techniques depending on whether they are aligned with strength, dexterity or intelligence. Intelligence armor pieces add "energy shield," which is the mentioned barrier. It's a damage buffer that must be depleted before the character's life total is damaged. Once the character is out of combat, it regenerates. It's not unique to the Witch class, but she's the class who finds it easiest to obtain and has the most synergies with it.

It's worth noting that it's easy to stun a Witch, because stuns occur when physical damage is dealt that exceeds some percentage of the character's life. Although the Witch may have a large energy shield, her life total is relatively low, so most hits probably deal over the threshold and cause a stun. This encourages the Witch to keep out of direct combat unless she specialises in reducing this drawback.

PCG: Have you settled on how many players will be able to participate in co-op simultaneously?

Wilson: We haven't decided a number yet, as we're still testing values and seeing what feels right for gameplay. For now, we're still using the estimate of between four and eight players being able to cooperate per instance.

PCG: What's the release window for Path of Exile at this time? When can fans expect to participate in the beta?

Wilson: We're still on track to enter both closed and open beta during 2011. We've announced three of the character classes so far, and expect to announce the other three prior to inviting players to the beta. Content is in full production mode, so the distance between class announcements will hopefully not be too long. How long the betas will last depends greatly on player feedback, but the game is essentially released once it's in open beta, as far as we're concerned. After release, we expect to release several content expansions per year.

We'd love to encourage people to sign up for a game account on our website . These accounts are real game accounts and are entered into the pool that we will draw beta accounts from, so it's good to sign up if you're interested in trying Path of Exile out when it's available.

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