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.
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.