Path of Exile keeps getting bigger. This summer, Grinding Gear Games vastly expanded the story content of the game with Fall of Oriath, which itself came after last year’s big expansion, Atlas of Worlds. That expansion introduced the Atlas and, just as Fall of Oriath changed how the base story of the game went, the next expansion, War For The Atlas, makes massive changes to the Atlas of Worlds and offers players more choices on how to progress through it.
“The last expansion [Fall of Oriath] was our best yet in terms of player numbers,” GGG’s Chris Wilson told us in an interview last week. Adding Xbox One and China to the Path of Exile community helped tremendously, and Wilson hopes to leverage all of those new players into the more “endgame-focused” experience that War For The Atlas offers.
War of the (Atlas of) Worlds
The “war” is between the Shaper, the original baddie who crafted the Atlas of Worlds, and the Elder, a being who lives in the Atlas and is attempting to wrest control of it from the Shaper. The map itself has been redesigned, with 32 new map nodes, “to take advantage of feedback and make sure maps are laid out in a more sensible way,” said Wilson. The war between the Shaper and the Elder changes it on an ongoing basis.
[Loot has] rare mods that “we wouldn’t normally dare put on rares, because they’re quite hard to craft onto these items.”
The Elder will encase some map nodes in a field bordered by writhing tentacles. “The Elder is living in the maps, in the same way that the Shaper is, and is trying very hard to gain control of the entire Atlas,” said Wilson. He showed me an example of an Elder-controlled map with enemies that gradually drained the color from the world – as well as draining the power of the player – rendering it monotone until they were all destroyed. “As you explore these various areas and fight these quite dangerous foes, you learn more and more about the Elder and what he’s doing within the Atlas itself.”
The Shaper isn’t just sitting there and taking it, though. He’ll surround map nodes in a non-contiguous starlike field. As with the Elder’s maps, the Shaper’s maps can also boast of a variety of dangerous effects, such as anomalies that drift around and explode, causing massive damage to players.
As players complete maps, they remove the influence of its controller – Shaper or Elder – allowing them to shape the war in whatever way suits them the most. “This is a thing that plays out over many weeks,” Wilson said. “So we’re not expecting players to immediately execute it on the first day.” So … two days, then?
If the Elder controls an area, there’s a chance – represented by a purple border on the Atlas – that instead of the boss monster in an area, you’ll fight a special guardian spawned by the Elder himself. That guardian is dependent on the “normal” boss for the area, which is dependent on the map, which is a reason for players to shuffle things around to influence who has control of what.
Another reason, of course, is loot, which can carry with them rare mods that “we wouldn’t normally dare put on rares, because they’re quite hard to craft onto these items,” Wilson said. “These are the rewards for getting very lucky in Shaper or Elder areas.” Some of the examples he gave me are items that make you immune to burning ground or that add poison effects to attacks where that normally wouldn’t be possible.
Let the bodies hit the floor
If you’re not tooling around in the Atlas of Worlds, there’s still a good bit of stuff for you to look forward to in this expansion, including four new skills, six new support gems, and over 50 new unique items.
The four skills are all based around corpse manipulation. It’s a deliberate goal of the dev team, Wilson said, to try and create new combinations that players can explore, rather than just introducing bland new skills. With the Cremation skill, for instance, you can kill enemies and then make their corpses explode in a fiery blast, incinerating even more foes. With Volatile Dead, the corpses become monster-seeking spheres of doom; in the example video Wilson showed me, a player had linked that with the “Cast on Melee Kill” support gem to automatically send out the orbs after wading into a pile of enemies and shredding them. “The corpses-as-a-resource thing doesn’t necessarily mean you raise the corpses to fight with you,” said Wilson, referring to typically necromancer-style gameplay. “Of course, that’s the way most people play it, but we’re trying to make sure it’s a resource that can be used for assault casters like this.”
“We’re trying hard to make sure we keep pushing the envelope, because sitting complacently on a big pile of customization isn’t going to feel new to people.”
Even cooler was the Spell Cascade support gem, which caused ground-affecting skills to be cast three times. In the example video Wilson showed me, a player cast Frost Wall to block off large portions of the battlefield and easily control the flow of baddies. “Our goal with these new support gems was to try very hard to make sure they’re quite large and visual differences to how skills work, rather than just saying, ‘Your spell casts faster.’”
It was at this point that I jokingly told Wilson that it’s good they’re trying to introduce this kind of variety, because Path of Exile is such a simple game with absolutely no variety in how you can play. “The funny thing is, if you listen to the community, they certainly make it sound like that!” he replied. We compared it to a CCG bringing out an expansion with 150 new cards and, two weeks later, the players all having figured everything out and wanting another new expansion. “We’re trying hard to make sure we keep pushing the envelope, because sitting complacently on a big pile of customization isn’t going to feel new to people.”
Into the Abyss
Finally, there’s a new challenge league coming out with the expansion, the Abyss Challenge League. As with previous leagues, they’re “start from scratch and get as far as you can” challenges for seasoned veterans of the game. In this iteration, cracks open up in the ground that ripple out ahead of players. Following those cracks – as quickly as they can keep up – leads players into more and more monsters. Eventually, it culminates in a giant hole, swarming with baddies. The farther and faster you go, the more loot you’ll accumulate.
That covers everything that has to do with the War For The Atlas, which goes live on Dec. 8. We’ve got a bit more from Wilson about Path of Exile, covering a few different topics – including everyone’s favorite topic these days, loot boxes! – that we’ll get to at a later time. For now, ready yourself for war!