Three times this year, Grinding Gear Games has added a temporary league to Path of Exile. When the first two – Bestiary and Incursion – expired (the third, Delve, is still ongoing), there was some sentiment from the community that they should be brought back in the future. GGG agreed, and the upcoming expansion, Betrayal, will transform the core game in a way not seen since last year’s Fall of Oriath expansion.
The expansion isn’t just about the old stuff, however. There will be, as usual, a new league in place, and it bears a striking resemblance to a recent series of AAA games. Grinding Gear Games isn’t shy about appropriating ideas – usually good ones – from other games and making them their own. The game itself is obviously a spiritual success to the Diablo series (speaking of which, have you checked out the Diablo 4 website?) with a skill grid reminiscent of Final Fantasy X.
Leagues have played upon similar themes, like the Pokémon-esque beast capturing of Bestiary, and the primary new mechanic for Betrayal, while similar to something you might be familiar with, still needs a bit of explanation. After all, one does not simply walk into a Path of Exile expansion.
Now in syndication
GGG’s Chris Wilson calls Betrayal “the fullest of the full expansions,” and there’s a lot to unpack. First up is the expansion’s primary new form of gameplay, from which it gets its name, as usual. Your new favorite NPC is named Jun Ortoi, and she’s with the Order of the Jinn. She opposes the Immortal Syndicate, a criminal organization engaged in all sorts of nefarious wrongdoing throughout Wraeclast.
The UI that tells you everything you need to know about the Syndicate looks like a police investigation bulletin board, with strings attaching pictures that tell you the various relationships between characters: likes/dislikes, bosses/subordinates, and so on. As you investigate and confront members of the Syndicate and make choices as to how you deal with them, those relationships will change – subordinates become bosses, characters move between the various branches and forge new relationships, etc. – and the board will change to match.
Right away, my first thought was of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel Shadow of War and their Nemesis system. Wilson confirmed that there were some similarities, with characters remembering what happen if you confront them multiple times. And you will confront them several throughout your adventures (How much? Wilson said there were 40,000 words’ worth of voice recording for the expansion.), but only the wise will turn those encounters into profit.
So what exactly do you do to these characters when you encounter them in the world? Well, fight them, of course, and then kill them … or not. After you’ve defeated a Syndicate member, you have some options. The basic choice is to interrogate them, which sends them to a special “jail” area of the board. When that happens, you gain information from them that will help in future battles against members of the same branch of the Syndicate and help find the branch’s safe house.
Another option you might get is “Bargain,” which can have a number of effects: switching the branches characters occupy, putting in or taking people out of jail, moving items, sabotaging relationships between characters, and more.
Sometimes you’ll encounter a Syndicate research lab and have to clear it out within a specific time limit. In the one Wilson showed me, there were actually two Syndicate members to deal with after it was over. Of course, as with any good criminal syndicate, there can’t be any witnesses to a deal. So if you happen to encounter two members at once, you’ll have to choose to bump off one of them to swing the sweet bargain with the other.
And what happens to the poor sap you bump off? Well, they’re not called the “Immortal Syndicate” for nothing. They get resurrected and actually moved up in rank on the board, since they didn’t reveal anything to you, and are rewarded with an item – which you can relieve them of in your next encounter.
After you’ve been gumming up their plans for a while, the Syndicate’s Intervention (“a euphemism for ‘assassination,’” said Wilson) arm will send someone your way. They can show up at any time, even during a boss fight. Deal with him/her and then you’ll have the “Betray” option available, letting you move that character all the way up to the top of their branch – and, eventually, the big man or woman at the top.
Here’s how Wilson summarized to me how all the parts worked together:
“So you can level someone up through Executes, and you can then use Bargain to manipulate relationships, and you can push them pretty high up with Betrayal, letting them into a Safe House. The Interrogation gives the information on where it is, and then you get to finally run it.”
If it all seems a bit intimidating, don’t fret. “There are no real wrong answers” for how to manipulate the members of the Immortal Syndicate, Wilson told me. “Everything you’re doing is progressing something. You’re getting intelligence, you’re upgrading people, and so on.” Even a player who isn’t trying to game the system can still benefit – though, naturally, those who are looking to maximize their gains can get even more. That said, Wilson hopes players don’t try too hard to rush through it all, so they can discover the “backstory and interaction” you get with the Syndicate members.
The safe house is where the big rewards lie. The exact nature of those rewards depend on the type of character who leads that branch of the Syndicate – the bow-using guy for a bow, for instance – and the branch itself. The more powerful and the higher up someone is in the Syndicate, the better their treasure, as you’d expect from any good criminal organization. Wilson anticipates players should get to run a safe house “every few hours,” so it’s not as if you’ll need to wait forever to raid one.
In addition to the usual goodies, you’ll also receive “veiled” items, which have a hidden mod that only Jun Ortoi can identify. She’ll offer three choices; the one you pick not only applies to the weapon but also becomes craftable for your character in the future. As you unveil items, you’ll get the ability to unveil (and craft) more and more powerful mods. Even the new unique items can have veiled mods.
That’s something we’ve tended to see a lot of in recent expansions: the ability to choose what you get with your gear, which offsets, to some degree, all the randomness generally found in PoE’s loot. “We are trying to present interesting choices,” Wilson told me, “by throwing a little twist in there, that keeps people guessing as to what the right choice is.”
This ties into a reworking of the Forsaken Masters, who previously were the focal points for crafting, a system Wilson unequivocally called “bad.” “The players hated life as they repeatedly grinded” the old Forsaken Master quests, which were “relatively shallow content we made in a week with four people back in 2014.”
“Our plan at the beginning of the year was … why don’t we retire those Masters in an interesting way and then bring in some new Masters that have a lot of work put into their content?”
Now crafting will be more integrated to a wide range of activities, rather than being gated behind arbitrary levels that require a repetitive mission grind. They’re more tied to achievements for doing the different types of content associated with past expansions, which are coming back and will be a part of the core game going forward.
Everything old is new again
Yes, you heard that right. The 2018 releases each saw a new character show up, and GGG’s plan all along was for those new characters to “come together” at the end of the year for the Betrayal launch and bring their content with them into the core game.
That’s big news, especially if you liked the old content in Bestiary, Incursion, or Delve. In particular, when Bestiary came out, Wilson said that it would be temporary but could come back at a later time, especially once the team had some data from its limited release and could adjust things as needed. That’s going to be the case now, with Betrayal bringing all this “old” content into the current release – and itself becoming part of the core game. Whether this will happen with future leagues will be determined on a “case-by-case basis,” Wilson told me.
Bestiary, in particular, has seen some significant changes, with players no longer needed to perfectly time when to toss nets to capture monsters. For Incursion content, you’ll be able to do multiple incursions at once. Even the Atlas of Worlds ties into the new Masters, whose daily quests now send players to clear out specific maps rather than another one of the boring kinds of quests they offer now. If you’ve already progressed far with the old Masters, there is a plan to map progress onto the new Masters, but Wilson told me the team hasn’t yet worked out exactly how that will go. “Our goal is that players don’t lose any progress with this change.”
(Also, the crafting UI has been revamped “That’s not worth writing about,” Wilson commented. You can’t tell me what to do, I love UI revamps!)
With the Forsaken Masters getting reworked, it also made sense for the team to take another look at hideouts, Path of Exile’s version of housing, which are granted by the Masters. Because the hard work players put into their league hideouts tended to vanish at the end of a league, now you’ll just have one hideout that applies to all leagues, so none of your interior decorating time goes to waste. GGG is also offering the ability for players to export their hideouts so others can “install” them into their games.
Additionally, there’s only one size of hideout now, and you can invite all the Masters to hang out in your hideout, rather than being limited to just a few at one time. No more rotating Masters!
Betrayal comes with the usual new skills. Cold-based characters are one of the archetypes that GGG is looking to improve in the expansion, with a new skill, Winter Orb (no relation), and a new skill type, Brands, that come in several flavors. The Storm Brand was the only one available for our press demo, which included a video of it leaping from one enemy to the next when they come close and shocking them with lightning damage. If you can quickly progress through an area and keep a “chain” of enemies going, you can get quite a lot of mileage out of just a single Storm Brand.
Finally, Wilson showed off a few screenshots from the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which will be coming on the same date as Betrayal and include the same content as the PC game, including the new expansion. There won’t be cross-play between PS4 and other platforms – not because of Sony as was the case with Fortnite, but because Wilson and his team “want to make sure the PS4 launch community has a clean slate, so the players can learn the game together.”
There’s a lot to absorb, but veteran Path of Exile fans crave this level of activity. “These things need to be this deep,” Wilson said, for the players to have enough to do over the three months – that is, until they figure out all its permutations and are clamoring for the next huge expansion.
Betrayal comes out Dec. 7 on PC, mid-December on consoles.