'Path of Exile 2 in some ways is less complicated than Path of Exile 1': Grinding Gear Games talks about why it created a WASD control scheme and other improvements in the sequel to its long-running ARPG

Last month Path of Exile 2 was selected as the #9 Most Wanted game in PC Gaming Show: Most Wanted. The sequel to the long-running ARPG Path of Exile is coming soon, and with work on Path of Exile 2 now well underway, we flew to New Zealand to talk to developers at Grinding Gear Games about how they're approaching a game that needs to be firmly rooted in the original while offering both new players and veterans something fresh and different.

"One of the things I've really enjoyed when designing Path of Exile 2 is just being able to surprise team members by the kind of changes we're willing to do," game director Jonathan Rogers said. When I suggested, 'Hey, maybe we should have WASD controls for our characters as well as click-to-move,' being willing to make those kind of changes to actually make the game better I think is something that's going to really impress existing players, as well as new players coming to the game who maybe thought they weren't interested in playing before."

Lead game designer Rory Rackham said the studio wants to keep the underlying mechanics from Path of Exile in the new game, but also aims to "rebuild or restructure them" in a way that makes them easier to understand and more accessible, particularly for new players. The goal is to maintain the depth of gameplay but keep it hidden or "natural" feeling so players can jump in and

"I think there's a difference between depth and complexity," Rogers explained. "Path of Exile 2 in some ways is less complicated than Path of Exile 1, because we've simplified the technical complexity around doing things like the way you socket skills and things like that, to make it easier to understand. But at the same time we're making sure that we keep all the depth in terms of character options and things that you can do. Everything is still there as far as what can I do to build my character. It's just that it's easier to do so because you don't have to be worrying, for example, about when you're changing your items that you're going to break the way your skills are working.

"I think new and regular players can tolerate a lot of depth. It's the complexity that we want to try and avoid."

Path of Exile 2 will add a whopping six new classes, one of them being the mercenary, who wields crossbows that give the game a bit of an isometric shooter look. Naturally, keeping all of them suitably distinct is a big challenge all on its own.

"As we approach each different character class, we're thinking, how can we make the skills here feel so different than every other class?" Rogers said. "With something like the mercenary now, we're developing how crossbows should work. We kind of looked at that and thought, okay, how can we make crossbows just feel completely different than bows? If you look at a shooter's pistols and shotguns and things like that, what about those makes them different from each other? So therefore it makes the whole experience just feel so different than what a bow feels like now.

"For each class it's back to basics. Let's actually think about what makes this class fun to play, what kind of issues the players have, what annoys them, what can we do to address those kinds of concerns and make the gameplay just a lot better."

Johnson said the monk is his favorite of the new classes in Path of Exile 2: "It's the first class where I think we really nailed the kind of new feel of combat. We put a lot of effort into making sure that it feels fast going in and out of combat. There's a lot going on. It just felt so different than what we've done before."

Path of Exile 2 doesn't have a release date yet but a closed beta is set to begin on June 7, 2024. For a shot at access, wishlist the game on Steam and sign up at pathofexile2.com.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.