As if Wraeclast wasn't bleak and dreary enough, Grinding Gear Games is now adding giant putrescent sacs to Path of Exile in its next expansion, Blight. I feel like I need a shower and some antibiotics after just writing all that.
Behind the expansion's infectious name is a very simple and familiar mechanic. Throughout Wraeclast, you'll discover Fungal Growths that cause nearby monsters to go berserk and attack it in curiously set paths. You'll defend the Growths, attacking the incoming monsters and setting up defenses to slow them down while a new NPC, Sister Cassia, drains them of their ichor. What does she use it for? We'll get to that shortly, but don't worry -- she won't be asking you to drink it.
The gameplay formula should be instantly recognizable. “We've tried hard to combine the fun of a tower defense game with Path of Exile's action combat and to do it in a bite-sized way,” GGG's Chris Wilson told us. There's one such encounter per zone, and they should last about 30 to 60 seconds each. “The towers really augment how Path of Exile's character builds work. You can do some really crazy things simply by using the towers as part of your build and the way you specialize with them can affect the monsters in a synergistic way.”
Those towers fill all the usual roles you'd expect in a tower defense game. Some slow monsters down, some buff other towers, some deal direct damage, and so on. You'll get some indication as to what kind of monsters are coming in each “lane” so you can choose the proper towers to deal with them.
You select what kind of tower to use via a pop-out menu at their fixed locations. Erecting a tower costs a resource, which is gained by killing monsters during these events and tracked via a meter at the bottom of the screen.
All love oil
For your efforts, you'll receive special oils that come in a variety of colors. You can combine them to anoint your rings and amulets to give them enchantments, which are new to those item types. Ring enchantments affect your towers in some way, such as making them cheaper or more powerful, and since there's nothing else “competing” for that slot on a ring, you can put it on your best equipment rather than needing “specialized” items to do tower defense events with.
Amulet enchantments have a more general use, however, and their implementation is “going to drive players crazy.” If you take three oils to Sister Cassia, she'll anoint your amulet and give it the effect of a notable passive skill from the skill tree – one that has a special name and a bunch of properties. Wear that amulet and you'll gain those effects, without having to diverge your build all over the skill tree to get to it. So if you want a Ranger to have a skill that's deep in the territory normally occupied by the Witch, you can. Six unique gear drops in other categories also have the “can be anointed by Cassia” property – one each glove, boots, and body armor, and three helmets – which allows for the same customization.
Which oils provide which skills? There are “roughly 500” such skills and combinations, and Wilson decided to take a player-friendly approach in terms of letting players know, in-game, what they'll get before committing their hard-earned oils. “Our line of thinking is that you're going on the wiki anyway,” to figure out what oils you'll want to go for, he said. “So do we want the player-hostile method of, it eats your things and gives you something you weren't expecting, forcing you to look at the wiki to avoid disappointment? Or do we tell you what it is, meaning some of the 'chase' is gone, but at least the player isn't disappointed?” Doing it the other way would “punish people for experimentation,” as Wilson put it, though it was “a long debate to get to that conclusion.”
Blight encounters are relatively uncommon, unless you chance upon a Blighted map item. Using this map leads to “the world's largest tower defense encounter,” as Wilson put it. The map he showed me had 10 lanes, and the dev team has been experimenting internally with 20 lanes. Such chaos is difficult for one player to handle, which might be a reason for more players to experiment with multiplayer, which is relatively rare in Path of Exile. “More than 50% of people do engage in multiplayer from time to time,” Wilson said, “but most of the time they are playing alone. The average party size in Path of Exile is 1.1 players.”
Minion masters (and more)
Two expansions ago, Grinding Gear Games offered a revamp to spells, and last expansion, it was melee combat that went under the knife (or sword). This time around, it's minions who are getting buffed. New support gems grant greater control over minions by introducing aggressive or passive directions for your minions. Skill gems also make minions better at higher levels, whether that be to make them faster, stronger, more durable, or whatever. Toss in a new golem minion, a new wand, and unique gloves that let you convert minion physical damage to elemental damage based on what sockets it has, and Necromancers should have a lot more options for high-level gameplay.
For players looking to try something new (that's also old), the Poison Assassin archetype is back. It was an early archetype that did “literally unlimited damage” and understandably got nerfed, or made “fair,” as Wilson put it – which naturally led to it falling out of favor. “Our job is to make it 'unfair' again, but in a way that we can control it better.” Notable is the Elusive buff, which is “the first buff we've added that becomes weaker over time as opposed to just turning off.”
Another new archetype is the Mine Saboteur for the Shadow class, which makes mines actually useful through a number of synergies, such as bonuses for detonating multiple mines and chain effects. “We essentially added a new class,” Wilson said, because “no one's using mines.” Gimli would be so offended by that.
No more missin' missions
The Atlas of Worlds is also seeing some changes, making it easier for players to do missions from the five Masters when they want to. “Players felt like they had no control over when they engaged with our most complicated content,” Wilson said. Whether it was a “do it now” when something popped up or the difficulty in trading for the right maps where the Masters appeared, it was a frustrating experience for players.
Now, you accumulate a kind of “credit” that you can use to talk to a Master in your hideout and do their missions whenever you feel like it. So, instead of doing a daily mission when it's offered you could, in theory, accumulate enough credit over five days to do missions and then, when you have a bunch of time on the weekend, run all five of them back-to-back. “This change gives players the ability to play the content when they want to do it,” said Wilson. It's also another potential boon to multiplayer, as you can grab a friend or two to do a bunch of challenging mission content when you have time to play together.
Speaking of missions, Betrayal missions are getting a significant rework. Every criminal in the Immortal Syndicate now offers a reward room, so that there's value in taking all of them down, rather than a select few. The final boss was also lackluster, which also changes with this update. “Now you're getting absolutely ridiculous rewards for completing the final stage, and we're going to see people really tripping over themselves to do that.” In addition, the state of the Syndicate will be shared across all your characters in a league, so you can use multiple characters to advance your progress. The same applies to Sulphite for Delve content which now has 69 fewer levels (nice!) before you reach the “endgame” maps, while rarer encounters have been made more common.
As expected, Legion content will be integrated into the main game and can pop up pretty much anywhere, including inside instances created by other expansion content, like Incursion's or Delve's. As for Synthesis, the main content was “quite divisive,” as Wilson put it, so it won't be added to the game full scale. The boss battles, however, were well-liked, so they'll be added to the unique map rotation.
Path of Exile: Blight launches on Sept. 6 for PC and Sept. 9 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The next expansion, which currently just goes by a number – 3.9.0 – will be announced at ExileCon on Nov. 16, alongside the 4.0.0 mega-expansion, which is actually two expansions down the road, later in 2020. Wilson isn't sure yet just how that will work with media previews like this one, but my guess would be that you'll hear about it from us at the same time you'll hear about it from them. It should be a wild show, with a few unexpected surprises, so don't miss out!
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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