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Difficulty

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Path of Exile has three difficulties: Normal, Cruel, and Merciless.

Each difficulty level contains the same zones, monsters and quests. The difference in difficulty comes from the zones being generated at a different level and hence monsters and items within them also being that level. The only structural differences are that The Twilight Strand does not have a waypoint in Normal difficulty, and The Eternal Laboratory is only a separate area with a map device on Merciless difficulty.

Difficulty Level Requirement Resistance Penalty Experience Loss on Death
Normal N/A N/A N/A
Cruel Level 20 −20% Elemental and Chaos resistance 5% of level progress
Merciless Level 35 −60% Elemental and Chaos resistance 10% of level progress

Difficulties also differ in terms of the required amount of Souls for vaal skill gems and the kills needed to enter rampage tiers.

In addition to the experience loss, death in the Hardcore league moves the character from that league and into the Standard league. It's important to note that characters that die in a hardcore challenge league are also moved to Standard, NOT to the respective softcore challenge league.

After completing Act 4 in either Normal or Cruel, players restart the game in Act 1 at the next higher difficulty, as long as they meet the level requirement.

Achievements

There are 6 achievements available for completing each of the three difficulties in each of a softcore league and a hardcore league:

Name Achievement
Breaking Free
Breaking Free achievement icon.jpg
Finish the game on Normal difficulty in a non-Hardcore League.
Ascension
Ascension achievement icon.jpg
Finish the game on Cruel difficulty in a non-Hardcore League.
Vengeance
Vengeance achievement icon.jpg
Finish the game on Merciless difficulty in a non-Hardcore League
Fearless
Fearless achievement icon.jpg
Finish the game on Normal difficulty in a Hardcore League.
Dauntless
Dauntless achievement icon.jpg
Finish the game on Cruel difficulty in a Hardcore League.
Indomitable
Indomitable achievement icon.jpg
Finish the game on Merciless difficulty in a Hardcore League.

Trivia

  • Before version 0.10.0 was released, there were four difficulty levels (Normal, Cruel, Ruthless and Merciless).