As Marty McFly and Captain Kirk could tell you, time travel can be messy. You do something in the past, it changes the present, and suddenly you were never born. Or you’re your own grandfather. Or the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. Wait, that last one actually happened. But should it have?
Path of Exile‘s next update, the Incursion League, sends Exiles into the past to fix the future. And by “fix,” I mean “maximize their loot gains,” because, really, isn’t that why you do anything in PoE?
As usual, I got a chance to chat with Grinding Gear Games’ Chris Wilson to talk about the next update, which he called part league and part expansion. If it hasn’t gone live yet, though, how does he know what’s in it? Maybe he’s a time traveler, come from the future to tell us. Sure, we’ll go with that!
Time: The final frontier
The main focus of this update is the Temple of Atzoatl, the jewel of the Vaal Empire, which reigned over Wraeclast a thousand years ago. It’s rumored to be filled with the treasures of the Vaal, which have been lost to the ages. Players will team up with a relic hunter named Alva Valai, who will send them back to when the temple was first being constructed a millennium ago. These time-traveling jaunts are called incursions.
When Valai sends you back in time, she’ll present you with a randomized layout of the temple, arranged like a pyramid of rooms with various connections. Each incursion will send you to a different room, and you’ll have to make “around 11” – a number Wilson said was in flux – incursions into the past to pinpoint the location of the temple in the modern day.
Once in an incursion, you’ll have 10 seconds to murder as many baddies as you can. That’s not much, but every time you kill one of the ancient Vaal soldiers, you’ll get a few more seconds added to your time limit. Wilson called it “very similar to the Breach League,” which you’ll recall had players chasing a crack in the ground to kill the monsters that spawned along it as quickly as possible. Thankfully, all loot you earn during an incursion is plopped at your feet when you return to the present, rather than having to deal with it as the bodies hit the floor.
That’s pretty basic PoE – kill stuff quickly, get loot just as quickly. But there has to be a greater point to it, right? That’s where the map of the temple’s design comes into play. By taking certain actions in the past during an incursion, you can change the nature and the layout of the temple in the present, “like any good time-travel story,” Wilson said. In all, there are about 70 different temple rooms in total, so you never know what you’re going to get every time one is generated.
You can find a key during an incursion that lets you create new links between rooms, though you won’t be able to go through right away. “That means that if there are some especially valuable rooms that aren’t connected, it’s going to be your priority to connect those rooms,” Wilson said.
And what determines how valuable a room is? That’s tied to rooms’ basic design, which is influenced by the architects who built them in the past. Each room has two. In some, one of the architects is dominant when a room is generated. Kill him, and the other architect takes over and changes the nature of the room, say from lightning to fire. Kill the fire architect in a room that’s already lightning-influenced, however, and the lightning architect upgrades the tier of the room, making it more difficult but offering greater rewards. In some rooms, neither architect is dominant at the start, and killing one grants the other power over the room.
Remember, though: All this room-manipulating and door-opening has to be accomplished with a strict time limit, and the temple you generate won’t always be the one you want. “At face value, you can just go in there and smash the monsters and not worry too much about what happens to your temple,” Wilson said. “But then, as you learn the cycle, you can start to care about upgrading and swapping rooms. It’s advanced behavior for when you’re ready for it, but it’s certainly not mandatory.”
Back to the future
After 11-ish incursions into the past, it’s time to reap the rewards of your time-traveling labors. You’ll discover the temple in the present day, and the traits you assigned to rooms in the past will have a global effect on the monsters in it in the present.
As Wilson explained to me, if you upgraded the Weaponsmith’s Room, monsters will do more damage throughout the temple. On the plus side, when you get to your high-tier Weaponsmith’s Room, you’ll have a better chance of finding rare loot, maybe themed toward the type of room. (Wilson explained in a follow-up email that the team is still working out exactly what kind of rewards will be offered, hence the “maybe” qualifier.) The same goes if you upgrade the Poison Garden room; you’ll find poisonous plants throughout the temple and, at the highest tier of room, (maybe) a poison-themed piece of gear. If you’re good (or lucky), you manage to open a door to the Central Chamber, where the big boss lurks, with challenge and rewards to match.
Since Alva Valai is located in every zone, Wilson estimated that playing through all 10 acts of the game should net you about 10 temple runs by the time you get to the end. Like the Bestiary League before it, the Incursion league is temporary content that may or may not return at a later time. Unlike the Bestiary League, Wilson is optimistic about its prospects of returning. “I’m sure we’ll find a place for it in the future, because it is a whole lot of fun to play,” he said.
At this point in the interview, I brought up the Atlas of Worlds which, at its core, sounded similar to the Incursion league: Go to maps, modify them to suit your combat style or the loot you want, and then kill, kill, kill. As Wilson said, a map in the Atlas is modified with an “all or nothing” item that produces random changes you hope you can live with. “Here, they’re gradually building up their challenge, piece by piece, so this one has a more iterative accretion cycle of difficulty, and they only get to play the content every 11 areas, so it gets to be more meaningful and rewarding.”
A Vaal-uable addition
That’s the bulk of what the Incursion League is about. Grinding Gear Games has also been disseminating info on various new skills and changes to existing skills, Wilson admitted that they were typically less interesting to players than the cool new gameplay, so we won’t go too in-depth about them here.
One thing that I thought was cool, however, was the revision of Vaal skill gems – a natural, given the Vaal-centric nature of the league. They’ll be combined with their regular skill gems, offering both skills with just one gear slot, to take advantage of your support gems. I’ve always had problems with finding space for Vaal gems, so this is a nice way to make them more useful.
The Incursion League goes live on June 1. If you like, you can support the content by purchasing one of four Supporter’s Packs, two priced at $30 and two at $60.