Path of Exile 2's developers ended up reworking the entire game's combat around a new control scheme because of a single class

Development of Path of Exile 2 has been an adventure for Grinding Gear Games, with several major reworks and redesigns happening since the ambitious free-to-play ARPG sequel's debut at Exilecon in 2019. Its latest big pivot is a literal game-changer. What started out as a gimmick for a single class has become what feels like the primary way to play for every class—an action-oriented control system, controlled like a top-down shooter on WASD and mouse. Or a gamepad, if that's your jam.

This more action-style control method was technically unveiled last year. It's the result of an attempt to make the game's new mercenary class feel like it was lifted from an action game, with an assortment of fantasy crossbows that serves as analogues to classic shooter weapon archetypes like SMGs and shotguns, able to run and gun at the same time. It worked almost too well. So instead of cutting it back, Grinding Gear upgraded every other class to match.

According to director Jonathan Rogers, this took a lot of time and effort, including massive reworks to a huge number of skill and spell animations to let them play out independent of where your character's legs are moving. The result is (at least from the few hours I played at a recent event in LA) a game that feels very different from the original Path of Exile. More mobile, more aggressive, and more evasive. At least for ranged classes and spellcasters.

Melee classes haven't been forgotten either. While most of their attacks lock them into fixed animations that involve planting their legs, shields have been given a complete rework too, letting you assign a block button and giving absolute immunity to any damage from the direction you're aiming. This can handily interrupt any overextended melee attacks that might otherwise get you smacked in the face by a big angry boss.

Most attacks can be blocked to completely negate damage, although attacks that come from above, below or are just big 'screw you' boss special moves (highlighted by an ominous red glow) can still take a big chunk out of your health bar if you're not also prepared to dodge roll. Blocking too many attacks in a row fills up a small stagger gauge, too, and when it maxes out, your guard will be broken for a brief moment. Less than a second, but enough to get extremely murdered.

In short, Grinding Gear Games had to rework a vast number of game mechanics, add whole new systems, and rebalance the behavior and balance of enemies to support the new changes. While the classic 'click to move' combat style of the first game is still an option in PoE2, from what I played of it, it feels like a secondary option now, forcing frantic mouse wiggling to keep moving quickly enough to dodge incoming fire. For those wanting a more old school experience it's still there, but I can't see myself playing that way.

With any luck, this will be the final sweeping change to PoE2's design, as Grinding Gear hope to release it (feature-complete, but tagged as a beta to highlight potential rough edges) "closer to the end of the year" after announcing that it'll be missing its June 7th release date.

Dominic Tarason
Contributing Writer

The product of a wasted youth, wasted prime and getting into wasted middle age, Dominic Tarason is a freelance writer, occasional indie PR guy and professional techno-hermit seen in many strange corners of the internet and seldom in reality. Based deep in the Welsh hinterlands where no food delivery dares to go, videogames provide a gritty, realistic escape from the idyllic views and fresh country air. If you're looking for something new and potentially very weird to play, feel free to poke him on Twitter. He's almost sociable, most of the time.