By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), Lord of the Labyrinth
Last year marked the beginning of a new promise from Grinding Gear Games to begin pushing out bi-annual expansions for their runaway smash hit ARPG, Path of Exile. The Awakening expansion kicked things off in July, but things have been quiet since as Grinding Gear did little more than send out confusing obscure wax sealed notes to 300 of their top backers. Well now the cat is out of the bag as they’re ready to go public with the Ascendancy expansion details. And while we don’t expect to see alpha testing till late January with the update live in February, we know from past experience that Grinding Gear is putting in work to make sure this will be one of the most fun and balanced content updates Path of Exile has ever seen.
Having covered MMO games professionally for over five years now, I have a hard time looking anything but passive as devs break down their latest update idea. But the core concept behind Ascendancy had me grinning big time in a ‘why the hell hasn’t this awesome idea been added yet, ya damn tease of a developer!’ See it’s all about the Labyrinth. But let’s give some context.
The Lord’s Labyrinth Awaits
Path of Exile reaches into their ever growing book of backstory to this time pull a tale that began roughly 200 years ago. Back in the day, Emperor Izaro called the shots, and he was worse than High Expectations Asian Dad when it came to his quality standards. So in his infinite wisdom, he decided that no heir to the throne would claim his place without a fight. But instead of going all Gaelic on the situation and dueling to the death, he had a far more Riddler take on the whole thing. Why not build a series of deadly trap filled tombs that the worthy would have to take on one after another, like the Tasks of Hercules, to earn a shot at completing the ultimate Lord’s Labyrinth filled with basically all said traps combined in even more horrifying form?
19 brazen fools of legendary aptitude tried their hand and, considering Izaro was still emperor, assuredly failed to complete the tasks. And then a far smarter bloke came along, threw Izaro into his own labyrinth in a hilarious twist of fate, and then claimed the unopposed throne. When genius strikes, you got to do what you got to do.
Luckily the Wraeclast exiles have screwed around with fate enough that the Labyrinth has unearthed itself once more, daring the greatest champions to once again throw themselves in harm’s way for unforetold secrets. As in you don’t really know you’re even getting out of this! Unless you read on… because…
It’s My Job to Spoil the Secrets!
This glorious expansion takes what ARPGs do best, and what Path of Exile does best, and merges them together at last. The six trials and Lord’s Labyrinth will reset into funky new challenges each and every day with another randomness that even the devs were having a rough time showcasing it with their beefy GM characters. See, first is the proving grounds. You will get a feel for what each of the six traps are like in isolated form, solving (sometimes) mind bending challenges to prove your worth and get through them. Once you’ve shown your mastery of all six trap types in six tiny dungeons spread throughout the world, you’re welcome to approach the statue of Lady Justice to test if your heart and mind are in balance in the Lord’s Labyrinth.
Speed up look at one of the six trials.
And yes, even this is randomized! And rogue-like on top of it. I.E. if you go in with a group, make a stupid mistake, and die, you’re out! The only way back in is to start from scratch, so step carefully. Better yet, the dungeon offers three levels of difficulty, and trap damage that scales on a percentage basis to ensure that no amount of legit gear is going to take you through it safely if you don’t have the twitch reflexes and problem solving prowess to navigate your way through.
From the demo I saw a variety of traps in action. There were both timed and pressure sensitive floor spikes. And I’m talking about long winding pathways filled with them, so don’t think you’re just going to bull charge through without a plan to reap the rewards. There are also tricky buzz saw traps traveling on defined visible paths that you can flip railroad style switches to alter the paths of. This combined with the above spikes makes for some nail biting moments that force you to think on your feet, or lose your feet from sluggish thinking.
Statues shooting timed poison darts were among the traps as well. While this seemed rather simple a boring, I was caught off guard when a hidden dart gun shot through me rapid fire. It took me a minute and a test to confirm that a loose stone on the ground was the culprit in triggering the bonus trap. I emphasize this because games are always awful at hiding those moving elements in a map, and Path of Exile blended the stone button in damn well.
Made so much worse when the monsters themselves are activating the stone floor buttons!
The fourth trap is a cousin of the moving buzz saw. An inbred fat ass cousin at that. Stone plates act like Roombas as they bounce along their alotted stone sidewalks. Only they have the buzz saws strapped to them on all sides. Despite their massive size, these tend to move even faster than their smaller counterparts, making them qualified as proper day-ruiners.
Think you’re safe? Not really.
Though even these fail to reach the magnificently awful level of the fire floors. Vast regions of the Labyrinth will turn up the heat slowly until reaching boiling levels. Meaning you will need to run from safe island to safe island, planning your route very carefully. This gets a bit tricky when RNGesus is displeased, as other traps may overlay portions of the fire floor to trip you up. Or if you have some serious bad karma hanging over your head, you might be lucky enough to face tar zombies that will explode to slow your movement speed. Yup, it’s a bitch.
The sixth trap isn’t all that bad, in theory. Just a pillar with sort of long spikes hanging off it, spinning at a moderate rate on a visible track. Yet the way the dungeon spawns tend to position them in combination with other traps makes them your worst enemy. You always think you’re out of range of the buggers, and then poke you every time… for a huge percentage of your health! Then they ping pong back at you before you realized what happen for a second quick jab for the lawls. I imagine this sixth trap is going to be getting the last hit on many an adventurer.
Especially when the dang thing moves ceiling to floor!
The Lord be Thy Name
Did you think this was Path of Exile’s equivalent of a jump quest? No, not quite. There be some intense new fights to give your fancy footwork a rest between bouts of bullet-hell. Turns out old Emperor Izaro didn’t take the easy route and just die in his own Labyrinth. Jerks like that never go away without a fight. And so he’s back, as the living embodiment of the Labyrinth, and wants to see if you’re worthy to face him in his final form. Meaning you have three battles with the same guy, thanks to his fancy elevator system.
The first battle shouldn’t be anything new to veteran Path of Exile players except for his statue system. Three statues form a right triangle around the central circular battlefield. One statue seems to give him an aura of flame that burns you for being too close. One seemed to let him summon three ghastly skeletons from a green exploding fireball. I’m not 100% on this but the third seemed to let him uproot the ground in a large delayed AoE attack. You can click these statues to turn them off, but it’s nearly a moot point. In the time it takes you to run to turn off all three, the first will be coming online again seconds later. After beating about a third of the health out of him, he retreats to his second layer with one of these statues.
The second layer gives you the benefit of only dealing with one of the three statue power-ups. But instead he’s not nearly invulnerable to damage, with the exception of three holy circles that weaken him. Unfortunately those circles aren’t on all the time. Sometimes only two are on. Sometimes just one. So master your kiting skills as you’ll have to quickly pull him to active circles without eating too much damage in the process. Oh, and the statue is elevated this time, meaning you can’t turn it off at all.
The third battle? I’ll leave it up to your imagination. Though if you don’t expect to have everything but the kitchen sink thrown at you by now, then you haven’t been paying attention!
Secrets of the Dungeon
There are some minor features of the dungeon you might not even notice the first few runs through. For one, there are some truly hidden rooms. And discovering them will only matter for that day, since the whole thing will reset come tomorrow. In these secret rooms, as well as other challenging locations to reach, you will find the altars of RNGesus himself! They pretty much look like giant hearts with a tombstone stuck through them. You’ll know.
These altars are a bit weird. They do random things. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. Most likely a little of both. There is a huge benefit to them though if you play with a circle of friends. Their benefits are the same every time you go through the dungeon on that day. In fact everyone will be playing on the same dungeon each day, letting the more hardcore players map things out ahead of time for their friends. So if you have that awesome cartographer friend, he can warn you which altars offer which affects, which might save you a serious headache in the end.
On that note, beyond secret rooms, the dungeon generator sometimes creates more than one path to victory. It might be through hidden passages, or other times through having two locked doors but only one key. But the odd part is the randomness is so intense, that these passages occasionally let you skip the first or second instance of the fight with Emperor Izaro. While in the next stage he will have more HP than before, this negates his ability to take his bonus skills with him to the subsequent battles as well. Could be worth it, depending on your class and build.
But the most important secret of the dungeon is, of course, the loot!
Super Magic Happy Sunshine Loot Room
What, is this epic challenging Labyrinth not enough to convince you to run it just for the pure joy? Oh you’re one of THOSE people. I hate you. OK, now that we’re past that, I can share info on what awaits those crazy enough to endure till the end.
Two primary goods of glory await you after the third and final confrontation with Emperor Izaro. One related to gear and the other skills. The gear reward is pretty simple to explain so I’ll start there. Completing the Labyrinth on standard difficulty will award you a skull token you can slip into your gauntlet/glove slot. Rather than stat related, this will unlock a variety of new skills/procs that, to say are insanely powerful, would be a grave understatement.
The example I was shown was a duelist upgrade that granted a random chance to proc a spirit sword summon. This sword darts out to attack enemies at range, a distinct advantage for this normally melee class. The part that blew my mind is one: these swords are pretty nasty with a rather fast attack speed and two: you can summon three of them to full on swarm your foes. Those interested in maxing out their DPS will need to find these amazing upgrades to keep up with the Wraeclastians around them. What’s more, defeating the Labyrinth on the two higher difficulties will grant you skull tokens for your boots and helm (I might be wrong on helm, fair warning. But it’s definitely a third slot of gear you can upgrade). Just imagine what you can do with three crazy power unlocks added to your existing bad ass!
The other reward is there to make you a unique snowflake in a game already prided with the uniquest of all snowflakes. Remember the 19 fools that thought they could defeat the Labyrinth? Well it’s time for you to harness their power! Upon defeating the Labyrinth on normal difficulty, you will be given the choice of three new passive trees to unlock. Even within these passive trees you will have hard choices to make, as between the three difficulties of the Labyrinth you will only gain 6 total passive points. The trees branch in a couple directions, and you’ll have to follow the typical paths from the normal Path of Exile passive tree to get to deeper unlocks in each tree. So even two duelists following the path of the Champion will have to make hard choices that might slightly differentiate them from each other!
You can catch a few samples of these skill trees in progress in the gallery below. Do your research and think carefully contenders for the Lord’s Labyrinth. You only have slightly over 2 months to prepare before the time of your trial is at hand!