By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW)
Every six months or so, an exciting email comes my way that offers a burst of adrenaline amidst the sea of less interesting gaming news. Tis a bi-annual tradition in which the great designers of New Zealand’s Grinding Gear Games take the legendary flight across the near full expanse of the Pacific Ocean to visit LA, bringing with them knowledge of the next true game changer to Path of Exile. This week, the event has once again happened like clockwork.
However, unlike the usual tradition of Grinding Gear demonstrating the continued construction of their Tower of Content Babble, they choose a different route for Atlas of Worlds. The tower has grown too tall over the years, and its base needs fortification and restructuring to maintain the course. Atlas of Worlds is a revisit to the end-game map system, turning a one-off interesting (though very addicting!) mechanic into a fully fleshed world.
For those not in the know, the Map System was the original end-game design brought to Path of Exile following the conclusion of the first story arch of the exiles washing into the Hunger Games on steroids world that is Wraeclast. Players could travel to a variety of maps utilizing runes to experience challenges worthy of players who had been through the hellish gauntlet and sought something greater, with loot to match.
Maps get…. A Map
The biggest change to maps is that they no longer exist in an imaginary world known as end-game instance scenarios. No Grinding Gear has taken inspiration from their iconic passive skill tree to create a world map existing in the ether complete with four starting points, and an ultimate goal of battling to the center for greater and greater rewards.
As you wind through the maze of maps, you will notice a few things. First of all, just like the passive tree, there are routes that will connect you with the primary roads of the other starting points. Strange they would do that I thought to myself. If the goal is the center, who cares about routes that lead to other routes I could have started at? Also I certainly don’t remember this many scenarios available in Path of Exile’s Maps system before.
As it turns out, yes this is more than an aesthetically pleasing map. Atlas of Worlds has not only added 30 new maps to the set, they have examined which of the existing maps were shoddy and lower quality than the standard expectations of quality, and rebuilt those maps from the ground up. They’ll still carry a similar theme that you may recognize the original from if you’re a hardcore enough player, but the enemies, map generation, and bosses will be a totally new experience.
The Story behind the Maps
It was there, in the void between worlds
Where the seeds of creation swirled before my eyes.
It was there that I truly awoke.
Path of Exile loves the dark spin on the Cult of Personality. It’s been a theme in nearly every expansion since the start. So it should come as no surprise that all these new things aren’t just being written off as a love letter from the developers to entertain you. No of course with all good things, the threat of global annihilation and bending the fabric of reality is the accompanying footnote.
See, those portals you traveled through to the maps was taking you to artificially created worlds designed by the Shaper. Who is the Shaper? How has he found himself in the ether and learned to bend it to his will? Why is he practicing building worlds? How is it a threat to Wraeclast and beyond? To answer these questions, you will have to seek the truth at the center of the Atlas, the Crucible of the Void, beyond the four guardians.
The Crucible of the Void
The four guardians are no joke either. Bring your a-game and your a-gear. Represented by the Phoenix, Hydra, Minotaur, and Chimera, each brings gameplay elements and challenges never before witnessed in-game, complete with build-up dungeons that would make Bowser cry tears of respect for their beauty. Although most of the guardians are still a work in progress, I got to see a quick demo of the Phoenix in action. Oh and spoiler alert, the four guardians are humanoid to an extent, but still pretty awesome representations of their spirit animal.
The phoenix resides within an industrial themed fire and brimstone map. Lots of grates. Lots of pipes. Lots of heat and burning foes. This theme ties directly into the mechanics of his battle, as pushing the phoenix causes him to heat up in reaction. The entire room’s aura will slowly begin to glow a faded red representing his heat as the pipes wrapping throughout the room struggle to contain the fire. One by one the pipe vents will burst open, unleashing flame (that after my suggestion, the developers decided it would be a good idea for the flame to damage players). From these flames, small phoenix will burst forth, raining more moving fire through the arena to keep you hopping. The pipe vents are separated enough from each other to make melee characters rage, and the heating up boss can’t be ignored either. He gets pretty intense and pumps out enough damage to almost bring the demo GM character down.
For the record Jonathan Rogers is one of the most hardcore members I’ve seen in action from the Grinding Gear Games team. He can play through most of Path of Exile blindfolded. So when you see him have to pause his spiel to focus on healing and dodging on a GM badass account, you know the challenge meter is at 11.
Real Steel – The Power Up Game Evolved
“But random internet press dude,” I hear you say, “how can we compete against such insane challenges without spending two dozen hours praying to RNGesus for equivalently good GM gear?”
Oh ye of little faith, you should know where there is new end-game content in an MMO, there is equivalent gear power-ups awaiting to reward your grind. Remember how I stated that the Atlas of Worlds is inspired by the passive skill tree? Well now you can think of the Atlas as your passive skill tree for customizing your character’s gear!
See each map now has unique item drop types. These are armor pieces with a guaranteed boon connected to them, meaning you can plan your build around being 100% sure your armor will have said boon on it. For instance, around the graveyard sector on the North – North-East side of the map, there is a scenario that drops the Bone Helmet. The Bone Helmet always features a boon to your minion’s damage, which I’m sure is making a few niche witch players drool just thinking about it. Many of these unique items were designed base on community feedback to ensure that a variety of favorite and niche builds are addressed and properly represented so everyone will benefit from the update.
But then another issue arose in development. Not all maps are equal. The outer rim features tier 10 maps, then tier 15 as you progress deeper, and so on. Well Grinding Gear thought of that too.
As you progress through the Atlas, you will slowly usurp the power of the Shaper in the form of Shaper’s Orbs. These orbs act like the Jewel embeds on the skill tree, except adding an aura of effect to maps within range on the Atlas. Utilizing these you can amp a tier 10 map up to 15 and so on, bolster difficulty, add weird changes to both yourself and monsters on the maps, and impact the drop items. Best of all, if you play with a guild you can coordinate with each other to spec your Atlas in a variety of ways, and then all benefit from them as the party leader can share his Atlas’ boons when choosing a map. And yes, the Atlas sockets are close enough that, just like the jewels, you can turn a few points on your Atlas into Venn Diagram uber maps. So if you find a unique item type that’s ideal for your build, you know what to do…
The OP Gear Challenge League Arrives – Essence
As with most expansions, you can expect a new wild League concept to be on the way. This time around, Grinding Gear wants to see what chaos will happen when players have access to the most powerful crafting customization items ever released in-game. Combined with the new Atlas system, the Essence League is sure to see some of the most powerful characters Path of Exile ever has.
In Essence League, roughly once per map you will come across a Frozen Essence Prison. Before unlocking the prison you will be able to see which essence is held within, allowing you to plan for the coming battle against a boss creature and minions packing the power of said essence. There’s 25 base essences and four rare essences total so don’t expect this to get boring!
In the demo we came across a trapped Porcupine Goliath empowered with the Weeping Essence of Hatred. This allowed them to passively spawn ice storms all over the damn place as the battle raged on. It got pretty intense as what was a rather open field was suddenly a death trap with few safe spots to stand.
Upon defeating your foe, you will claim the Essence – a modified version of Skill Gems that always carry the same base benefit. The trick though is that the benefit differs depending on which socket of gear you slide it into. The benefits are very powerful but can be rather character specific, such as a gem that might give a beefy health bonus if inserted in your chest plate, but a ranged damage buff if inserted in your arm. You’ll need to collect a ton of Essences to create your perfect custom build rare build in this league!
To make rares great again in a League dedicated to building the ultimate rares though, you will have to roll the dice of fate as well as bring a level of patience to the field. Collecting multiple versions of the same essence will allow you to combine said essence for a massively improved version. Every essence has three tiers total, with the third variety only obtainable through combining tier 2 essences. To push the envelope even further, you will need to inject Remnants of Corruption into the Frozen Essence Prison.
Remnants of Corruption are truly random. They can be nothing but beneficial, adding bonuses to your drops such as upgrading the tier of the imprisoned essence or reducing the challenge of the Frozen Prison fight. They can be a mix of positive and negative, such as adding a second obtainable Essence to the creature resulting in a much more challenging battle but getting you double the drop as a result. Sometimes though they just screw with you, instantly initiating the battle with an insanely increased difficulty setting with no additional bonus for having used it. Be sure you are ready before messing with corruption magic…
Remnants of Corruption are crucial though to obtain the ultimate power. In very rare instances the essence will be corrupted into one of four ultra rare essences. Those are boss fights you can’t afford to lose!
Such Corruption. Many Effects. Much Mobs. Performance Improvements. Wow.
After everything I’ve laid out here, along with the newly designed spectacular maps featuring crazy perspectives, new tiles, and background effects like none you’ve seen before, people playing on low-end PCs are likely cringing. Such an awesome expansion awaits, and my PC is going to slow to a 15 FPS chug and get me killed so I can’t experience it.
Never fear, multi-threading is here! Grinding Gear is at last pushing Path of Exile into the technology of the 2010s by implementing Multi-threading. I won’t get all tech savy on you as I’ve already been log winded, so I’ll keep it short. You won’t even notice this most of the time. But when the chips are down, the effects are flying everywhere, and forty minions are crowding your personal space, multi-threading will see your standard FPS doubled if not multiplied by 2.5 times!
Of course disclaimer… if you’re gaming on something older than Path of Exile itself, your CPU likely can’t utilize multi-threading. So this won’t be a quick fix for all players, but a good bulk of you will be enjoying Path of Exile like never before. You might even be able to make Youtube videos with a solid frame rate with this expansion! Oh and more good news on the horizon as Grinding Gear has set the goal to implement Direct X 11 by update 2.5!
The End of the World Begins Again
Your showdown with the Shaper fast approaches. Buckle up, start planning a shady deal and insider connections to battle your way into the beta, and prepare. The Atlas of Worlds arrives in Path of Exile on September 2nd!