Path of Exile currently 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|
|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 removes you from the league and places you in 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.
There are 6 achievements available for completing each of the three difficulties in each of a softcore league and a hardcore league:
File:Breaking Free achievement icon.jpg
|Finish the game on Normal difficulty in a non-Hardcore League.|
File:Ascension achievement icon.jpg
|Finish the game on Cruel difficulty in a non-Hardcore League.|
File:Vengeance achievement icon.jpg
|Finish the game on Merciless difficulty in a non-Hardcore League|
File:Fearless achievement icon.jpg
|Finish the game on Normal difficulty in a Hardcore League.|
File:Dauntless achievement icon.jpg
|Finish the game on Cruel difficulty in a Hardcore League.|
File:Indomitable achievement icon.jpg
|Finish the game on Merciless difficulty in a Hardcore League.|
- Before version 0.10.0 was released, there were four difficulty levels (Normal, Cruel, Ruthless and Merciless).