Exclusive: ‘Path of Exile’ Ascendancy Interview With Chris Wilson


Since its 2013 debut, Path of Exile has grown exponentially, and the action RPG title now has over 13 million gamers that are part of its universe. Ascendancy, the game’s next expansion, is set for an early first quarter 2016 release, and players will be able to unlock up to 19 new Ascendancy classes for their respective character.

POE Ascendancy - Grinding Gear Games
Path of Exile Ascendancy – Grinding Gear Games

My knowledge of Path of Exile consists of just about six hours of gameplay, and thus far I’m loving the diverse and immersive character skill tree that one can build through the various battles, and though it does employ the ever popular, top-down POV aesthetic that Diablo fans have grown to know and love, Path to Exile is far from derivative.

A lifelong RPG nut, I’m extremely appreciative of the developers’ decision to make Path of Exile a free to play experience (where micro-transactions are just an added addition to the game and not a necessary evil). For more information on Ascendancy, check out its Steam page.

Grinding Gear Games managing director Chris Wilson has been part of the title since its inception, and during he displayed the various puzzles that are featured within Ascendancy. I was able to chat with Wilson for a few minutes after the walkthrough, and he was more than happy to discuss the origins and success of Path of Exile:

How has the game grown since its 2013 debut?

It’s grown much more than we thought. Initially when we made this game, we thought we were making it for tens and thousands of hardcore action RPG fans. But now we’re up to 13 million signed up users worldwide and many of them from countries where I don’t speak the language or I really don’t understand what gaming is like in those countries. So it’s just become a worldwide thing that we never thought it would be.

Path of Exile: Ascendancy - Grinding Gear Games
Path of Exile: Ascendancy – Grinding Gear Games

What is the keys to the success of Path of Exile?

I think part of it is having a type of gameplay to people regardless of their background. A lot of people have grown up playing RPGs and it makes the game accessible. Even if they don’t speak English. And a lot of our community don’t have special language versions for their country available, but they happily are playing the English version just because most of it is clicking on monsters to kill them.

And now you’re having an expansion for the game starting in 2016?

So early next year we’ll be releasing Path of Exile Ascendancy,  the fourth (expansion) since its release. Ascendancy focuses basically on two key things: there’s a gigantic labyrinth that you get to explore and upon conquering all its difficult traps, you get to select an Ascendancy class which is one of 19 different specializations that you can get into.

We’re giving away a lot of class identities to the existing classes because each one has three Ascendancy classes to pick from and that will hopefully add a lot of depth to character building.

Character building is one of Path of Exile’s many strengths.

This really helps, because it gives something that stands out from other action RPGs. Path of Exile is the game that you play if you want to come up with crazy ideas on how to build a character with cool synergies and combinations of skills and so on.

Were you a gamer as a youth, and is that how you got started in gaming industry?

I played a lot of games as a kid. I spent a lot of time playing Diablo, Diablo II, and a lot of other good RPGS as I’m sure you can imagine. When I finished University after a bit of work in the industry, I approached my friends Jonathan Rogers and Erik Olofsson who I met from school and from playing Diablo and basically said, ‘Hey look, we’re in this situation right now where none of us have these particularly serious jobs and we have a little bit of savings and we know how to make our respective parts of games, so why don’t we get together and just try to make an action RPG?’

They both said yes, which might have been a bit naive but we got together in the garage of my house and started work on it, and seven years later we released the game.

So your best advice for people who want to get into the industry is pretty much just do the work?

My best advice is to just start making games, whatever you can do. If you’re an artist, make art for games and throw them into games that your programmer friends (are working on). If you’re a programmer, make a bunch of small games or art for games – get a portfolio together and don’t be afraid to show people this portfolio.

If you approach someone and say ‘I want to start making games’ and you haven’t got anything to show, they will not hire you. You don’t need a degree or qualifications necessarily, as long as you have a portfolio of games to show someone.

Path of Exile Ascendancy - Grinding Gear Games
Path of Exile Ascendancy – Grinding Gear Games


What else can players expect from Path of Exile Ascendancy?

In addition with getting to specialize in an Ascendancy class, which is the upfront, obvious reward for many people, there’s also the fact you get these cool Ascendancy mods to put on your gear. This is something where we’re trying to reward people for playing the Labyrinth multiple times. It’s worth playing a lot because it changes every day. You get situations where as you begin to learn its secrets on a specific day the runs start to become a bit faster and you start to rack up even more rewards based on the fact that you learned a lot about today’s variation.

How important is the community that plays Path of Exile to you and your team?

Our community is crucial. They pay for everything because our game is free to play and we rely on them to contribute money to keep the servers up and keep development going. They give us feedback. They’re our testers, they’re our best friends – there are so many awesome people in our community and we can’t thank them enough.

Path of Exile Ascendancy – Grinding Gear Games

Can you talk about making Path of Exile a goodwill, free to play experience?

So the backstory behind this is we were a bunch of guys in a garage when we were designing this. As far as we’re concerned, we can’t get a game put in the shops like back in the days when you had to buy games. Online vendors wouldn’t even necessarily listen to us. We knew we had to distribute the game ourselves and we had to make sure that there was no reason not to play it. We can’t do anything like charge money or have microtransactions that affect power that would cause someone not to play.

That’s where the goodwill gaming comes from. We want it to look on paper like the best possible game and combined with an actual fun game hopefully there’s not any reason to avoid playing it.

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