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End Game + Gear Acquisition Theory - How Does LE Find The Sweet Spot? *LONG*

I was thinking about this while watching the dev stream today. Be wary, I will be using d3 and PoE as comparisons, and this will be a super long post.

End Game Systems

End Game Systems

Diablo 3

D3 has frequently been used as an example of what NOT to do, and for good reason. End game is incredibly repetitive and linear. You push rifts, normal or greater to get gear, and then you continue to push the same content to incrementally improve that gear.

PoE

PoE is the current gold standard for end game in ARPGS, despite all of its issues. End game is what you make it in PoE, and you are able to choose between a ton of different complex individual activities or playing with the trade/economy side of things.

Gear Acquisition Systems

Gear Acquisition Systems

Diablo 3

D3 gear acquisition is a pretty simple system. You kill monsters to get loot, and you incrementally improve that gear over time whether it be from the ability to infinitely reroll an affix on an item until you get what you want, or getting the primal ancient version to drop. The good affix pool is limited and itemization is dull.

PoE

Acquiring gear is a contentious topic for the PoE community, for reasons I won't go into, but the systems themselves can be complex and exciting. The insane amount of affixes that exist open up a lot of possibilities for different builds. Hypothetically in PoE, there are several ways to get items and many item types are gated behind specific mechanics. Once you have an item, you have the option of completely changing it or attempting to morph it to fit your build. There are several methods to craft, and even ways to combine certain affixes on two different items.

The Problems

The Problems

D3

There is a lot missing in D3 to make the player feel excited to play. The gameplay loops aren't captivating and don't lead to a lot of replayability. End game has zero depth and once you have your base set of gear, progression feels very empty and it's easy to lose interest. Crafting is basically non-existent, and upgrading gear is linear and boring. These are just some of the problems out of the many.

PoE

In PoE, the systems are arguably too complicated. There are too many choices of content to do with casual players likely never getting to see 2/3rd of it. Access to a lot of content is gated behind RNG or trade, and doing the most profitable content requires you to spend sometimes hours trading and setting your atlas up. Trading is the absolute most efficient and optimal way to progress.

Crafting is gated by an absolutely insane amount of layers of RNG, with a very good chance you’ll lose every bit of currency you invest with zero results, forcing you to start over. The sheer amount of RNG behind every single mechanic, as well as easily exploitable mechanics, creates this massive divide between casual and hardcore players. 99.99% of item drops are useless and filtered out, so acquiring even decent items requires you to be extremely lucky, craft, or trade. Farming basically equates to exclusively picking up currencies and hoping you get an ultra-rare drop to sell so you can buy an upgrade for your character.


Where Last Epoch comes up short

Where Last Epoch comes up short

End Game

There's an opportunity for LE devs to learn from the problems of these two games. Right now end game is slightly less linear than D3 (with promises for it to expand), but gear acquisition and gameplay loops are actually kind of similar. Open the "rift", clear to the end, kill the boss, rinse repeat. The overarching goals of completing the boss quests and progressing through the monolith levels are really nice expansions on the concept, but that alone does not give players a sense of depth and customization in how they enjoy end game. Ultimately, other than choosing between 2 timelines and rerolling the affixes, players have very little control over what content they're doing.

Gear acquisition

Gear acquisition can be done through crafting or grinding, but getting optimal gear might currently be a little too easy. Once you have a good 4-affix combo, the chances of you finding a piece of gear that becomes an upgrade are infinitesimal. The fact that most or all affixes in the game have shards makes picking up things from the ground and finding upgrades a lot less exciting. It's relatively easy to get BIS stats on one piece because you can just craft them, but then it becomes impossibly hard to upgrade that piece. The only three possibilities of exciting drops are:
  1. Idols
  2. Rares
  3. Uniques/Sets

That alone makes the loot system feel a little one-dimensional. Affixes are also very general and not “unique” enough. The fact that you can build a BIS item from the ground up deterministically takes some of the excitement out of item drops.


How can Last Epoch improve these systems?

How can Last Epoch improve these systems?


I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a game balancer or developer. I understand I may be good at identifying a problem but bad at knowing how to solve it. That being said, I have a few ideas and design philosophies I’d like to see/share:

End Game

I'll just discuss the monolith for now, because that feels like the bread and butter of LE's endgame. LE currently has 3 layers of player agency (timeline, blessings, and reroll), but I can see a more complex, rich system with a couple more layers of choice and customization working really well. Having a little more control over how we enjoy end game is not a bad thing. Monoliths currently feel too much like D3 rifts or Wolcen expeditions, so I'd love to see some expansions on the system. I think they could also be a little longer. Sometimes I go into a monolith and it takes me 30 seconds to run to the end and complete.


It might be cool to have a system kind of like Grim Dawn constellations, whereupon completing monoliths you get XP towards a monolith passive web/tree, and upon leveling up you get passives that you can allocate that allow you to expand and control your rewards, drops, monsters, zones, etc. Having specific zones that grant specific item bases would be cool as well. You could even grant certain “notables” or big extra juicy passives for completing each boss encounter in each timeline. You can even increase the XP curve a ton towards the last few passives, giving players something to grind for. I think it’s also very important that killing monsters stays relevant in LE, and giving players monolith passives which increase the reward and excitement for doing so will keep people engaged.

There’s a reason why PoE atlas feels so substantial, and I think that’s partially because each map has its own identity. It has a physical item, its own tileset, and an atlas that connects it to the end game questline and the other maps. You have to actually open the map and go into a portal. These little connections give life to each area and make it feel physically present. (It helps that there are also 160+ tilesets). LE could capitalize on this design by making monoliths feel more substantial. Make the player interact just a bit more with it, make the zone feel unique, give us a more interactive UI with more options and enter/exit experience. Sometimes it just feels like I click a button and I get insta-warped into a zone I just cleared in the story to kill monsters I also just killed in the story. End game needs to be more exciting than that.

Gear Acquisition

I actually love the current crafting system, but as I mentioned before, being able to deterministically craft BIS affixes on an item takes a lot of excitement out of loot drops. There is a happy middle ground. Maybe affix shards are limited to certain affixes, with drops having a wider pool of mods to choose from. Expanding on the current affixes will help a lot with this also. In ARPGs, drops should always be the best source of gear. There is no greater feeling than dropping a super good item from a boss. Crafting something with minimal risk does not give you even a shred of that feeling.

Taking influenced mods from PoE for example, you can create unique affixes tied to specific monsters, areas, tilesets, or bosses that can only be attained through drops. This way, upgrading your gear becomes a combination of dropped items + crafting to create something BIS. There needs to be a mid-to-top-range grind for people who want to min-max, or people who want to create really unique builds.

Item drops should be exciting, not something you don’t really care about after a certain point. Perhaps introducing 2-5 more manageable drops with varying levels of rarity would add some excitement as well.

I’m currently also playing Project Diablo 2, and something that I find drawing me back in every day is the chance to drop several different types of rare items, which adds layers of actual fun RNG:

  1. Good rare items, rings, amulets, etc.
  2. Good uniques or sets
  3. Good charms
  4. Runes - High rune drop rate is increased in PD2 so you actually drop them and it’s ultra exciting when you do
  5. Bases for Runewords - Superior quality giving an extra step of min-max potential
  6. Gems
  7. Maps
  8. Essences and Keys
  9. Worldstone Shards (basically a vaal orb)

Last Epoch currently just has 3 levels of potentially exciting drops:

  1. Rare gear - Some variance here with class-specific drops
  2. Unique/Sets
  3. Idols

Using the PoE / D3 examples, PoE has WAY too many different drops to where it’s not only overwhelming but also not exciting to drop anything but an expensive unique or exalt. D3 has literally just gear and I guess legendary gems. Again, I think LE can take advantage of these two extremes to place itself somewhere in the middle.

TLDR:
Using PoE and D3 as extremes for end game systems and gear acquisition, I think LE could benefit from implementing changes to put itself somewhere in the middle by:

1. Introducing additional layers, mechanics, interactiveness, and player agency in end-game systems
2. Adding an expansive passive system to the monolith to allow players to have more control over their experience
3. Adding more interesting affixes (think influenced mods from PoE) and drop-specific affixes to the loot pool, possibly also limiting affix shards to a smaller group of affixes so that acquiring gear becomes a more balanced combination of crafting and drops
4. Adding new item-types that interact with the game in interesting ways that also have varying levels of rarity, creating excitement for loot drops for multiple layers of loot (think runes, superior item bases, or gems from D2)
5. Designing the loot system with the following in mind: "There is NO greater feeling than getting an ultra-rare drop from a boss or monster. Crafting should be supplemental to fill a gap on an item, not completely replace that experience in some cases unless you intend on giving crafting the same level of RNG (this is what PoE does)

7 Likes

Agree.

I think I’ve provided similar feedback to these over the years.

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I think the next big step in LE’s current state for gear, will be reworking all base types for all the different item slots.

Having multiple endgame-viable base types is a huuuuge improvement in gear variety and endgameviablity.
On some slots there is literaly only 1 base typ endgame viable.

Looking at some of the overhauled/new base types, like bows, daggers, quivers, shields, scepters and wands, i feel like having similar treatmeants to all other weapons and even some armours would already be a biiig step into the right direction.

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Yeah I agree but that’s kind of even a separate topic. Having multiple layers of drops leads to replayability. When it comes to gear, yeah you obviously need variation, but I think it’s important to think about what else will give you that sense of excitement every time you kill a monster. Right now it isn’t there, it just feels like I’m grinding to grind and I’m not even progressed that far into the monolith. Right now in project d2 the thing that keeps me logging in is the variation of drops. I’m excited because I think to myself “this could be the run that I get a Ber/amazing runeword base/shako/set piece/map” instead of doing monoliths where that thought doesn’t even cross my mind because there is so little loot variation.

Adding those alternate loot types and a ton of new sets uniques and rare base types, as well as adding a bunch of new drop only affixes (plus expanding of end game systems) would make it more exciting to progress through imo.

Good thoughts, glad to hear. :slight_smile: I agree in general, and I particularly like your suggestion re: “Monolith passives” akin to the constellation system from Grim Dawn. It would add some more complexity/flexibility to the character build (which, while it’s definitely better than D3, still doesn’t come close to Grim Dawn or PoE imo) and also help alleviate some of the monolith monotony. I don’t think it’s enough by itself to make monoliths not feel painfully repetitive, but it would certainly help.

I’m not sure if I agree re: mods that can only come from boss items. While the complexity is interesting, I think influenced items in PoE are a major part of why their power creep is so out of control (but that’s a different, also very long topic, and closely tied to the entire crafting system). I think I would prefer something along the lines of Grim Dawn’s Monster Infrequents, where there are unique item bases that drop from specific monsters/bosses. Possibly give them extra instability, so it’s impractical if not impossible to craft them up to 4xT5. If you get one of those with one or two good rolls already, then that’s fantastic; finding one that’s exalted with a decent mod would feel amazing.

Possible con: if the “MI” bases are generic enough to appeal to several types of builds, either they are OP as shit (bad for health of the game, and not being able to fully craft them won’t matter anymore) or they are boring.
Answer: similar to Grim Dawn, make them very niche, but have a crapton of them on a wide variety of bosses/difficult monsters.
Possible pro: then you care more about which monoliths you run, because you will want to target farm the ones that can drop the MIs you want.
Possible con: if you don’t have much choice about your monoliths, then it feels extra crappy to get a bunch in a row that don’t have any MIs you want.

In general, getting a random MI that doesn’t work for your build shouldn’t be any better or worse than finding a rare with mods that might be ok but you don’t want: maybe when trade is around, it’ll be worth saving to trade because someone else might really want that MI. But finding a normal MI that is good for you could be about on par with a very well-rolled rare (that is, it should really be a choice between do I keep the rare I put a lot of effort into finding/crafting or do I craft this normal MI into a good item even though I can’t craft it into a perfect one). And finding a magic/rare/exalted MI with 1 or 2 solid affixes should feel amazing.

Curious what you guys would think about that.

Honestly with some passives and control over end game Monoliths can be just as replayable and interesting as the atlas in PoE. They need a few things IMO:

  1. Way more tilesets
  2. Map-specific monsters and bosses
  3. End game mechanics that give monoliths more layers of depth
  4. Re-think the whole “Enter rift, run to boss, kill boss, portal out”. If the goal is to hit those quests for blessings, people will skip mobs and only care about rushing boss and portaling out, which is kind of a bad gameplay loop.
  5. Loot and itemization being more exciting.
  6. Additional layers of “completion” and rewards upon finishing each monolith or every x echoes.

Monster infrequents are a very interesting idea. I think they’d work very well in LE. I guess my idea wasn’t as much to create monster/boss-specific affixes that are outrageously strong (Nothing like culling + unnerve gloves, or explode chest, tailwind elusive boots, etc), but more affixes that increase diversity and give builds ways to min-max. The goal is to make loot more exciting than it is now, but there can be many different or combined methods to getting there.

bump for visibility

I’d like to add my 2 cents here and say that the PoE system is only partially designed with crafting in mind. The other part is gambling. Gambling is a big thing in PoE and I hope LE, while some level of it is unavoidable (and healthy), will not go as far as to focus on it.

Additionally, in PoE there is a currency revenue around stash tab sales. Bringing in new forms of currency (craft stuff) was additionally incentified to sell more specific tabs for that.

This has also led to bloat - and given these tabs were bought with real currency that bloat cannot be removed.

Imo crafting options are nice, but not up to the point where people start designing specific databases to cope with the amount of options.

Ive already suggested a year ago or more, that EHG needs to play more into their own creations ie shards

I suggested mono bosses should drop boss shards unique to them which give unique affixes, examples - when you cast a spell/attack you have a % chance to passively do some attack such as Lagon Wave, Rahyeh Meteors or some bonus relating to that boss

Gives more reasons to farm them, and LE has the unique system in place with this that PoE/GD/D3 doesnt really have

edit: I also think a couple of gear slots could have a ‘special affix’ slot for things like this independant of prefix/suffix which still adds instability so you can craft a 5 affix item but will be difficult - end game crafting basically. it would be near impossible to get 5xT5 but you could always keep improving

Some ideas using Lagon as an example for shards and some example numbers -

Lagons Scales - 1% maximum lightning or cold resistance
Lagons Teeth - 1 flat cold damage to attacks per 2 character level
Lagons Breath - xx% chance to summon a wave on hit
Lagons Strength - xx% more strength

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This.

After item editing the four needed 4 affixes you can basically ignore any drops except for the affix-glyphs and maybe idols. Getting all 4 affixes is soo easy with hardly any risk (even with fracturing).

Looks still like a big construction site but the dev on a recent stream seems fine with it and may only bring some minor QoL to the crafting window.

PoE Gambling Addiction

Part of my issue with PoE is that it has a gambling addiction. When it takes multiple thousands of alterations, just to hit one affix you want to use as a base is overkill. Then Chris’s statement of “just slam an exalt” on it. This screams of someone that has a gambling problem. Then to pour more gas on the gambling fire each league to reach a raging inferno that was briefly quenched by Harvest. There is a fine line between steady progression with RNG and a completely hopeless feeling of not reaching T14+ red maps just based on bad luck.

To help LE there needs to be a way of making crafting bases hold up to the strain of instability. If an item drops with a T6 or T7 stat, that uses a special kind of glyph that does not destroy the item but does have a penalty is what seems to be missing in the over T20 gearing system. I fractured a piece of gear with a 97% success rate T6 boots earlier today which was possible but highly frustrating.

The thing is that affixes get alot stronger with high tiers, namely T4 and T5 is alot better than any tier below that.

So having an item with 4x desired affixes of a low/mid tier is not better than having 2-3 T5 desired affixes and an empty, non optimal or undesired 4th affix.

It’s all about priorities… which are the most important affixes you need.

While LE still needs more interesting affixes, and especially more affix variety for certain slots (e.g. Gloves and Belt prefixes), i think the overall item progression and “growing your character” is already really really good.

It is still an item editor where you can target craft any desired affix up to T4. It would be hilarious if we could craft 4x T5 and be a borderline cheat mode.

So yes ,your crafting still needs a lot of work.

You can’t “just craft” a T16-20 item. You need a already pretty good base to reliably craft that high.

I think the crafting system is fine. I only would like to see more runes and glyphs.

It’s so crazy how many people love the LE crafting while those, who dislike it seem to hate it.
It sounds that you absolutely don’t like the crafting in its current state.

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This could be done similar to PoE’s Unset Ring. Instead of having an implicit mod, it has an open slot for the “special” affix.

I very much agree with this. They could add “checkpoints” in Monolith zones that require you to defeat a Super Rare/Mini-boss type enemy in order to continue on. They could even make it so that you choose between a couple different paths and once you defeat the Super Rare on the chosen path, the door behind you closes so you can’t go back to choose the other path. It could be taken further in that the Super Rare has abilities that are indicative of the mobs beyond that point. Choose the Void side or choose the Necrotic side? For this to matter, item drops should be weighted so that certain affixes are more likely to drop from monsters that use similar traits. Choose the Necrotic side and monsters have a higher chance to drop affixes/items that have Necrotic mods, etc.

These Super Rares would also be a great place to add in that Monster Infrequent idea from Grim Dawn. I do like that system. The special mod on those items seem to be mods that can’t normally roll on that type of item. That would allow a lot of room for minmaxing.

Not nearly enough affixes. They also need to do something with Monos that actually make you kill mobs, instead of just running to the boss.

I think the only Issue I have with crafting is the ability to get your BIS affixes with zero effort. Maybe the tier is low, but once you have let’s say a pair of gloves with the perfect 4 affixes that you crafted, it becomes almost IMPOSSIBLE to find an upgrade. I’ve actually hit a wall in 65 monos because I can’t upgrade a couple of my lvl 30ish items due to them having amazing affixes, just lower tiered.

It kinda just takes away from the item chase and the excitement from getting a good drop.

That’s what the t6/7 affixes are for.

I disagree,that’s why you look out for gear that already has 1 or 2 desired affixes andthen craft from that base on.

I do agree, that making decent or mediocre items is really really easy in LE.
But getting a really good item is also within grasp if you look out for the right stuff.

And a properly set up loot filter can really help with that.

On lvl 65 there are even some base types that can’t even drop, i would say the biggest “brick wall” comes once you at least have all the best bases types for your build.

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