This weekend Path of Exile developer Grinding Gear Games surprised fans with the announcement of Path of Exile 2 (opens in new tab). Revealed during the opening ceremony of its first-ever ExileCon fan convention in New Zealand, Path of Exile 2 deceivingly isn't a standalone sequel, but rather a second campaign and a major overhaul that will be incorporated into the base game. With a vastly improved graphics engine, animations, and deep reworks of core systems, Path of Exile 2 is an exciting step forward for the small New Zealand studio.
The elephant in the room, however, is Diablo 4. Announced just two weeks prior at BlizzCon 2019, Blizzard Entertainment's legendary action RPG is back in all its satanic, profane glory. And with an increased emphasis on MMO-esque features, Diablo 4 looks and sounds an awful lot like Path of Exile. But Grinding Gear Games co-founder Chris Wilson isn't worried.
"One thing with Path of Exile 2 versus Diablo 4 is they're making a new product and they're going to try some new things," Wilson explains. "They're going to get some things right and some things wrong. [Diablo 4] may be amazing or it might be bad. We don't know. And [Blizzard] won't know until people play it—until the die is cast—and they've released something."
As Wilson explains, Diablo 4's situation is very different to Path of Exile, which already knows what its audience wants and how it can improve. "I know Path of Exile is good," he says. "I'm not planning to screw around with anything that makes it good. I know the new campaign has better quality and more fun than the old campaign. I know the new skill system lets you do everything with the old one while removing some frustrations and adding some new stuff. So I want to only make it better in a safe way. If we have a crazy change like a new idea for the skill tree that might just be dangerous. We probably won't do it."
But Wilson also recognizes that despite Path of Exile's popularity, the studio can't stand toe to toe with Blizzard. "Look, Path of Exile is successful and is making good money, but it's not making Blizzard money at all," Wilson says. "The first week of Diablo 3 sales probably made more money than our company will ever make, I suspect. A lot of people have a lot of fun with Diablo 3 regardless of what the hardcore fans and Path of Exile fans happen to think of it."
That disparity in the cultural influence of Diablo is something that Path of Exile can benefit from, Wilson says. "[Diablo 4 is] a retail game from what they've indicated, and we're a free game. They're also going to be spending a lot of money marketing their game, which is great and will be good for the genre. And that means that when people have enjoyed playing [Diablo 4], they can also enjoy playing us because it costs them nothing to get into it. And people will certainly be talking about both games."
There's even potential for a healthy kind of balance for players that want to play both Diablo 4 and Path of Exile, Wilson suggests. Because Path of Exile is structured around temporary Challenge Leagues that remix the core game every few months, there's a kind of natural tide of players jumping in during the start of a league and waning over time. "Path of Exile is kind of designed around playing heavily at the start of the league, and then gradually going to play other games," Wilson says. "We're not in communication with Blizzard about their season start times, but if both companies were smart, they would stagger it so the season start times work well for both groups of players."
"Every Path of Exile player is probably going to buy Diablo 4 and enjoy it. I strongly believe that and that's amazing. It's going to be good for the genre. And, likewise, I would like a lot of Diablo 4 players to try Path of Exile. If both games are good, I think it's a win for everyone."