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Path of Exile had three difficulties prior to The Fall of Oriath expansion: Normal, Cruel, and Merciless. Currently there's a single storyline playthrough, without players having to replay the same acts multiple times.

After completing Act 4 for the first time, players restarted the game in Act 1 at the Cruel difficulty, as long as they met the level requirement. After completing Act 4 on Cruel, the same process repeated for Merciless.

Each difficulty level contained the same zones, monsters and quests. The difference in difficulty came from the zones being generated at a different level and hence monsters and items within them also being that level. The only structural differences was 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.

Elemental and chaos resistance penalties and experience loss on death were solely tied on the difficulty the player was on. Switching difficulties modified these penalties.

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 modified 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.

Upon going to the next difficulty characters did not lose access to the zones of previous difficulties, and could travel back to them from any waypoint.

Content modified with the removal of difficulty levels

Bandit rewards

The Deal with the Bandits quest gave different rewards for each difficulty.

Difficulty Side with Kill all
The Bandit Lord Oak The Bandit Lord Kraityn The Bandit Lord Alira
Normal +40 to maximum Life +10% to all Elemental Resistances +60 to maximum Mana +1 Passive Skill Point
Cruel 16% increased Physical Damage 8% increased Attack Speed 5% increased Cast Speed +1 Passive Skill Point
Merciless +1 to Maximum Endurance Charges +1 to Maximum Frenzy Charges +1 to Maximum Power Charges +1 Passive Skill Point


6 achievements were modified with the removal of difficulty levels.

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

Version History

Version Changes
  • Removed the Cruel and Merciless difficulty levels. Path of Exile is now a single ten-act playthrough.
  • Now that Act Three has been added, we've removed the Ruthless difficulty level and have rebalanced around this new progression.


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