By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), Wraeclast Karui Seer
Oh I’ve seen the horrors of the Vaal. You thought they were merely a legend? Long lost civilization that destroyed themselves? Arrogant outsider. The creators of the Tears of Maji were not so simple as to destroy themselves with their own devices. Eternal life was always their goal. Their vision. Well, I shouldn’t say that goal speaks for all. Certainly not the countless souls sacrificed in pursuit of it anyway. But perhaps old Queen Atziri wasn’t so mad after all.
Countless disasters I’ve suffered in this lifetime. Countless Exiles I’ve watched march to their deaths in search of treasure and fame. Long I wondered why a crippled old man such as myself was spared a painful demise by the hands of the walking dead, rising demons, and power hungry emperors. Now I finally understand. It was to witness the horrors to come. And perhaps with my warning, give you a fighting chance in the battle that will soon reshape Wraeclast into a living hell. The Queen returns.
Vaal Content Update for All
Unlike most previous expansions and mini-expansions, Path of Exile's The Sacrifice of the Vaal update brings with it meaningful content for all players from those just starting to the maxed out end-game veterans. It’s been a challenge for Grinding Gear Games to implement such an update thus far without impacting the flowing storylines of each branching area prior to this, but with the clever use of dynamically spawning instanced portals, this is now a reality.
As players travel through the now corrupted lands of Wraeclast, they will stumble upon eerie red Corrupted Portals. These offer new option zones packing some seriously wicked challenges with sixty new bosses awaiting to challenge players to think critically. By utilizing the Exile skill building system, these bosses have been designed from the ground up to fight back just as another player would, using the same player skills you’ve used to crush so many foes prior against you. If that wasn’t enough, you can expect special rules placed in these areas to further complicate the situation and take you outside of your comfort zone.
Secrets of the Ancients
While any proud Exile would be happy to see these new areas just for the entertainment they provide, the glory of taking down the revived forces of the Vaal Civilization won’t leave you empty handed. New Vaal Artifact chests will drop upon successfully clearing the zones, offering plenty of sweet rewards for you to cash in on. But these all pale in comparison to the introduction of Vaal Artifacts, the revived Tears of Maji offering skill gems with unparalleled power to the game.
Vaal Artifacts are slotted into your equipment just like normal skill gems. Most in fact are just extensions of existing skills in the game, only buffed to hellish levels. This unbalanced power comes at a price though, and rather than extended cooldowns or massive mana costs, you will need to kill countless monsters to fill a soul charge on the skill. Once achieved, a beating heart icon will confirm the power is ready to be unleashed. Here’s a few examples I witnessed:
Vaal Frost Nova – Just list the AoE explosion of ice that normally spreads in a radius in all directions from your character. Only now every enemy impacted by it will generate a second circle of ice cold death that continues to spread and reactive down the line of foes.
Vaal Chain Lightning – Sure lightning can already jump between foes. But now it can jump between them sixty times! *Insert Evil Laugh*
Vaal Spark – Sparks everywhere. I mean everywhere. Nothing is safe so long as its within your field of vision.
Vaal Firearrow - Send a blazing arrow through the heart of the enemy's lines, exploding and adding burning status to everything even remotely in the way.
Vaal Detonate Dead – Exploding a corpse for damage is cool. But luring your enemies into a field of corpses before watching them blow up like C4 covered toppling dominos is better!
Vaal Fireball – Twirl your spirit stick as you unleash a Mario style fire chain in a circular pattern around your character. Sure to add some heat to any horde that dares surround you on all sides.
Vaal Cyclone – Relive the movie Twister as you spin to win with intense winds sucking all foes on screen into your cyclone of death. I actually saw an enemy survive this by getting stuck on an environment obstruction so it’s not 100% effective everywhere. Also beware doing this when low on health as the enemies can hit you just before getting diced in your living blender.
Vaal Molten Shell – Sure Molten Shell is alright I guess. But don’t you hate when you time it wrong and a trash mob wastes the explosion? With Vaal Molten Shell you will explode with vengeful flames each time you take damage for the duration.
It seems that these artifact drops are meant to be quite rare, though Chris Wilson and Jonathan Rodgers did tease that a method of crafting them was being tested. Unfortunately I don’t have further info on that.
Corruption Does a Build Good
Another interesting piece of the spreading Vaal corruption of the land is the ability to utilize corrupted artifacts to experiment on your armor. This can only be done once per armor piece and corruption isn’t always guaranteed, but when the gamble pays off, it can set you above even the Exiles parading around in end-game Uniques by creating normally unattainable mods on Rares or granting white skill gem sockets. Some examples I witnessed while scrolling through my inventory included culling strike on a sword, and life leach on a set of boots. And for those adverse to gambling, rest assured that there’s no danger of destroying your equipment during the corruption.
While on the topic, special support gems combining with corruption are now able to push the limits of gem levels up to an unheard of (but surprisingly Q&A tested) level of 29! If you’re one of the ultimate min-maxers, I wish you luck in the quest for discovering the method of recreating this.
A Tale of Two Leagues
More into the competitive scene than the story driven main game? Two new leagues are on the way as well to scare up some competition and push players to their limits.
The more casual friendly league known as Ambush hides special identifiable chests on maps for players to unlock. The odd part about it though is that you can reroll these chests and visibly see what modifiers, and dangers, lurk upon opening them. Thus where the name Ambush comes from as you’ll be faced with some pretty unusual and nasty battles to earn the right to acquire the loot within. I don’t want to spoil too many of the combinations, but a particularly nasty one to watch out for is freezing minions along with the chest that explodes upon activation, putting you at a nice health disadvantage right from the start.
Chests are typically themed as well, whether it be a weapon chest, armor chest, map chest, currency chest, alchemist chest, and so on, and each item dropped will carry the marked quality listed on the chest description. This adds a bit more tactics to the normally mindless looting prospect, and should give economically minded Exiles some interesting forms of currency based competition as this feature is expanded on in future Leagues.
Invasion on the other hand will test players’ ability to react and counter bosses from throughout the game appearing at unexpected locations. Interestingly enough, since the bosses are randomized and some may be too powerful for certain early levels, their skill sets will be limited and scaled based on the party’s level. As such facing the same boss repeatedly as you progress through the game may result in new tactics being thrown at you so never let your guard down. Facing them in certain cramped spaces as well will surely add some level of epicness to these fights.
PvP A Plenty
Those looking for more of a visceral unscripted fight can turn to the new Cutthroat system, in which memorizing battle tactics against PvE creatures won’t be enough to ensure victory in races any longer. That’s because your instanced battles can now be invaded by another bloodthirsty player looking to end your life, and collect loot from your corpse like any other fallen creature in Wraeclast. Should Grinding Gear add in an element of permadeath in future Leagues featuring Cutthroat, this could be an intriguing spectacle.
Casual players looking for quick pick up matches should also be thrilled at a new free for all arena portal appearing in the third town. This mode offers fast and furious matches for the busy Exile trying to sneak a bit of gaming in on work break or between bouts with the wife. Future plans are also promised to open up tiered arenas to allow players in different level brackets to fight it out against others in their power range.
Queen Atziri and the Vaal Relics
Perhaps you have been collecting them already wondering their purpose. The four shards that together seem to make a circular pattern? With Sacrifice of the Vaal their purpose is finally known, as you can open a portal to Queen Atziri herself to face the most intense raid Path of Exile has yet seen.
Upon placing the four relics on Atziri’s altar, arrogant Exiles will open six portals to her hellish world. Those seeing the end should either consider themselves gods, or travel in a group with plenty of synergy built up from repeated successes together. For inside you’ll face hordes of foes with regenerative abilities and maximum health bars beyond anything you’ve faced prior. And if you can withstand the onslaught, three powerful boss battles are ready to finish you off. Just be cautious, as each failure will take away one of your portals. And once they're all gone, you'll be out scavenging Corrupted Portals recollecting pieces for another shot at her.
The first boss’ agility may leave you confounded at first. You may wonder if you’re facing two entities as you futility chase the denizen of hell around the chamber, smacking legions of minions out of your way in the process. Finally it will hit you that you are up against a boss and its shadow. And defeating one will only feed power into the other, eventually reviving the first. Plan your attacks accordingly and take them out in unison to avoid a truly menacing finale.
The next triple boss combination will test your agility as a shielded tank, marauder, and giant witch fight as one to poison, cripple, and cut off your escape routes. Expect the grasping hands of the dead to reach from the ground to weigh you down as the marauder cyclones across huge distances of the map. Utilize the four pillars to your advantage to block the enemy’s advance while unleashing hit and run tactics whenever an opening allows for it.
This fight becomes a real nightmare as you fell each boss as not only will it open a portal to hell, unleashing an endless stream of minions fighting with a similar style to their fallen master, but the remaining enemies will grow in power and size. I ended up facing a marauder the size of a house that could cyclone halfway across the arena in two seconds, with tons of body blocking ghouls and ranged medusa looking witches offering support fire before finally ending the battle.
Queen Atziri's Chamber
The battle with Atziri though is on another level. Even with my advanced ranger, one accidently push of the menu delayed me long enough to kill me off. Atziri surrounds the entire arena in small and large circles that explode upon reaching their maximum expansion. Get too close to her and she’s not afraid to use all four arms to cut into you with her various melee weapons. And all her talk of sacrifice comes into play when she surrounds herself in an impenetrable shell before summoning minions from the four corners of the arena. Any that reach her are disintegrated and fed into her health bar.
Perhaps the coolest trick up her sleeve though comes from her division into four copies of herself, each holding a different weapon. The mirror self reflects damage back at the attacker as the other three blanket the field in fiery explosion. Focus fire one of the three weapon wielders quickly to eliminate them from the fight. Just be ready as just like the previous battle, whichever weapons you leave her with will only grow in might as the fight continues.
The battle for Wraeclast begins anew on Wednesday, March 5th. I’ve told you all I can to prepare you for the coming days of darkness. Hone your skills, sharpen your minds… and your weapons, and gather strength from your comrades. For the greatest wealth soon awaits those capable of standing against the Mighty Vaal Empire.