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Grinding Gear Games has officially announced Atlas of Worlds, the latest expansion pack for their popular action RPG Path of Exile, which will launch in less than three weeks, on September 2nd. This time around, we'll be getting an add-on that introduces an "atlas" map system mechanic, expands the monster landscape with 19 new bosses, features performance enhancements, tweaks the end-game, and more. Before we delve into a bevy of developer commentary-laden previews, we'll begin with the announcement trailer:
And then we'll begin rounding up the online previews, starting with Game Revolution:
With Atlas of Worlds, the developers have introduced their most ambitious gameplay feature known as, well, the Atlas. For the uninitiated, Path of Exile features items known as Map tiles which are a part of a comprehensive map system. These tiles can be taken to a special device that will create portals to procedurally-generated levels that house new challenges and loot. Similar to the Nephalem Rifts in Diablo III, these are micro dungeons that are high risk, high reward. During our demo, we saw the developers use a brand new map tile which transported us to a level known as Vaal City, a mixture of forest and urban areas that are both of course filled with some bloodthirsty foes.
There are four maps you can find initially, each starting in a different corner of the Atlas. As you play on any map, you have a chance of finding maps adjacent to any of the ones you’ve already completed. The Atlas has a bunch of different winding paths that all eventually connect up to each other in one way or another, and finally end in four larger circles around a compass rose in the center. Each of these inner spots has a special boss that will drop a key. Collect all four keys and you can fight the boss at the center of the Atlas, which is being left as a surprise for players to find for themselves.
Additionally, though the players will have to figure it all out (and no doubt then share it on the Wiki), Chris and his team have made items drop from specific regions on the map. One such example is the Bone Helmet, which now drops in the graveyard maps only. Grinding Gear wagers it’s only a matter of time before people catalog all their favorite drops and put them on the wiki, but that’s part of the fun: figuring out where things drop, discovering, and then farming it for profit. You’ll also loot things called Shaper’s Orbs, while playing the maps. These are used to upgrade each map on the Atlas by five levels. Grinding Gear knows that eventually a map may be useless to you and where your character’s progression is at, so this mechanic allows you to take an older map and increase its difficulty and level so you can still use it. As always, the Orbs are tradeable and shareable.
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.
Although Atlas of Worlds focuses on the end-game, Grinding Gear Games is also catering to other players by adding a new set of Challenge Leagues, where players create a new character and start from the beginning in an isolated economy with a major new gameplay aspect introduced. The new Essence Challenge Leagues feature monsters trapped by essences that can be freed by the player clicking on them, at which point they will naturally start attacking. These essences, such as the Wailing Essence of Sorrow, affect the subsequent battle, this particular example adding totems that give off slowing and water effects. There are twenty-five essence types (Sorrow, Horror, etc.), with seven potential degrees (Wailing, Murmuring, etc.).
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.
Other loot that players will find are called Shaper’s orbs. These items can be used to upgrade map areas to five levels higher. This will allow players to continue using their favorite maps and still be able to progress by getting better XP and better items in the higher versions. Since not every player will upgrade the same maps let alone unlock the same maps, grouping up can give access to other/higher-level areas than you’d have access to alone. On top of the orbs, there’s also the cartographer’s sextant. When when applied to the atlas, this will grant a specific buff to all maps within a circular area for a total of five runs. These sextants can be applied on top of each other, super buffing particular maps.
Players will rarely find Shaper’s Orbs, which can upgrade a map by five levels, increasing the challenge and also the loot rewards. There are also Cartographer’s Sextants, which are centered on a map node and draw a circle on the Atlas itself, granting additional random properties to the maps contained within and its denizens. So if you have a necromantic character, you might choose to apply these map upgrades to the graveyard area for greater risk and the possibility of greater loot that suits your build.
“We want there to be multiple different things that people see as the endgame,” Wilson said. “I’m sure there will be a place on the Atlas that people will upgrade and will feel more rewarding than the actual boss fight because of the way the balance works out.” That’s fine with Wilson, who likes that players will be able to choose what they define as Path of Exile’s “endgame.” As with most loot, nearly everything, including the key fragments you get for beating the four central bosses, is tradeable, giving players the option to do the content they want to and buy or sell things they need or have an excess of.