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  • Deterministic crafting means you can add modifiers or create custom items that don’t entirely depend on randomness (or, the ability to use a series of steps to craft an item that is always repeatable for a set of given inputs)
  • Path of Exile’s Harvest league is a farming simulator mechanic that gives players the freedom to create exceptionally powerful crafts
  • Grinding Gear Games (GGG) released a statement that said Harvest would not be incorporated into the core game (but “may be reintroduced in the future”) mainly due to the ease of getting powerful items
  • Completing the PoE endgame requires high-level equipment and specific builds that most players get by grinding currency and trading for items
  • The debate: should Harvest come back? Should there be more forms of deterministic crafting? Should the endgame involve less RNG and trading currency?

I wrote up a really simplified version of this for a previous Daily Gaming News post before deciding that it deserved its own post.

You’re probably heard of Path of Exile, Grinding Gear Games’ (GGG from now on) isometric kill-and-loot-everything-that-moves ARPG that’s in the same vein as Blizzard’s Diablo series. Originally released in 2013, it’s still going strong after seven years and countless seasons. Late last year, GGG announced a sequel, Path of Exile 2 – bold name – which brings a new storyline, new classes, new items, and a host of updates to skills and skill gems. As of now, no one knows for sure when PoE2 will be released – the GGG site mentions that a beta could come near the end of 2020, so there’s a good chance that it’ll be in 2021.

Path of Exile consists of two parts at its core: the main storyline, and an endgame called The Atlas of Worlds. The Atlas lets you play through various maps that you’ve picked up or purchased (maps are items that can be modified and have different levels of rarity) with all kinds of modifiers to make it easier or harder, or affect the items that drop. As you might expect, more difficult maps give better rewards.

While the endgame generally involves going around clearing maps to unlock special boss areas, the end goal is to kill the final boss, Bob* the Awakener.

*not the Awakener’s actual name

Every three months, a new league (season) begins with all progress reset (characters created in previous leagues get moved to Standard). Each league features a special mechanic or mini-game that exists on on every map – Blight league was a tower defense game, Metamorph league had you building a frankenstein-esque monster from body parts that dropped from killing rare monsters, and Betrayal league had you capturing syndicate grunts to obtain intel on higher-ranking members (at which point you could raid their base for rewards).

Path of Exile leagues involve a pretty hefty amount of RNG [random number generator, basically the element of randomness] when it comes to doling out rewards. Most of the time, the loot is just a random hodgepodge of items. In some cases, you can slightly influence what types of items you get – going back to Metamorph league, each body part that you use in your crafted monster is tied to a specific reward, like “a random unique item” or “random currency”. So if you were lucky enough (or strong enough to target specific bosses for their body parts) to get parts that all had the random unique item modifier, you’d end up with an explosion of possibly-awesome unique items.

Sometimes there are multiple layers of RNG – in the aforementioned Betrayal league, the Syndicate bad guys that you encounter on each map are random, as are the items they drop. Sometimes you’ll get a special “veiled” piece of equipment that you can unveil for a choice to add one of three random modifiers. The modifiers themselves could also gain experience/levels: if you were able to roll the same modifiers multiple times, they would level up and be available permanently for the player to use at a crafting bench.

And that brings us to deterministic crafting.

Each player gets a crafting bench in their hideout that can be used to apply modifiers to equipment. There are crafting recipes sprinkled throughout the game world that give you access to a specific craft (say, +x% lightning resistance, or change the colors of an item’s sockets, or +x to your character’s attributes). Crafting through the bench is deterministic – you pick a recipe for a specific modifer, and that’s what you get [author: when you let your heart win…]. Of course, since this is PoE, there is randomness involved in the actual numerical value of the modifier (due to item modifiers having ranges of values – if you craft +1-4 physical damage to a weapon, you can roll anything from 1 to 4). Technically, you can argue that the system isn’t deterministic because of this – however, players use the term kind of loosely and to differentiate it from other types of crafting.

In the past few leagues, there’s been no deterministic crafting, and the endgame involved running maps for currency which you would then use to trade for items with the best modifiers for your character’s build. Since the majority of “good” items won’t necessarily be tailored to your build, you would just sell those on the main trading site.

This all changed with Harvest.

In the Harvest league, you own a plot of land and have the ability to plant seeds that you find on each map. Eventually, these can be “harvested” and spawn monsters that you kill for Lifeforce, a new currency used for crafting modifiers onto items (it can also be stored for later use). Growing higher tier seeds requires you to purchase additional farming equipment like dispersers and storage tanks and optimize your farm’s layout. All in all, it’s a farming simulator, Stardew Valley, etc.

Where the whole thing gets interesting is the sheer number and quality of crafting options available to the player. Some examples of what you could craft in Harvest:

  • Augment an item with a Physical modifier
  • Sacrifice a map to get +3 Atlas missions
  • Exchange 10 Chaos Orbs for 1 Exalted Orb
  • Change a map into another of the same tier, prioritizing ones you haven’t completed
  • Exchange a unique item for another unique item of the same type
  • Reforge a rare item with new modifiers, guaranteeing a Life modifier
  • Swap an elemental resistance modifier for another elemental modifier

Additionally, you can find official numbers (provided by GGG) for each of the crafts used this league here

One of the most popular items to craft was a chest armor piece with the modifier “Enemies you kill Explode, Dealing 3% of their Life as Physical Damage”, and Reddit user /u/Dudsidabe provided a rough guide to build this item through deterministic crafting. Or, here’s the flowchart (credit to user /u/rhoapower):

How to craft an exploding chestpiece (credit /u/rhoapower)

While the chart looks absurdly complicated, in actuality you only need the lowest tier of seeds to craft the final item (though you would probably need to pick up a lot). But it’s a good example of a possible late-game item that could be deterministically crafted in the Harvest league.

Two weeks ago, GGG released a statement in the Path of Exile subreddit that launched the debate over the future of deterministic crafting:

In short, Harvest will not immediately become a core gameplay mechanic but may be reintroduced in the future. When we designed Harvest, we wanted to experiment with a more deterministic crafting system that would enable players to access powerful items earlier in their character progression. In this sense, we feel that the crafting system has been very successful. However, at the top end of gameplay, Harvest has made it too easy to gain very powerful items that previously required a lot more work and investment to acquire. This was acceptable for a temporary challenge league but poses problems for the long-term health of Path of Exile’s item economy if allowed to remain in its current state.

-Bex_GGG, Grinding Gear Games

Normally, when a league ends, its mechanics are incorporated into future leagues (in the endgame, you have a % chance to roll a certain league on each map) or the core game (Delve, the mining league, is accessible in Act 4). However, in this case, GGG decided that Harvest would not be integrated into either due to the ease of crafting powerful items at the top level (and by extension, the ease in completing the game compared to previous leagues).

The community’s response was largely negative, and best summed up in this post by /u/ShakCentral (long).

Meanwhile, GGG has been mum, other than dropping hints about 3.12, the next expansion league for Path of Exile (to be announced on September 1). It looks unlikely that the topic will be revisited any time soon.

And so this tale ends here. Will deterministic crafting ever find its way back into the game? Will the next league, like Harvest, temporarily replace the repetitive currency/trading grind? We’ll find out in one week.

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3 years ago

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