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The folks at Grinding Gear Games have announced the next expansion for their hack 'n' slash action-RPG Path of Exile. Releasing December 8, 2017, the War for the Atlas expansion is focused on spicing up the endgame, and as such it will add new ways to interact with the Atlas of Worlds, expand it with 32 new maps, and add four new challenging bosses. Apart from that, the expansion will introduce new skills, items, and the Abyss challenge league.
Here's the official announcement trailer:
And a brief explanation of the new War for the Atlas mechanics:
Thanks to the recent GGG press tour, we also have a bunch of previews to check out. Most of them simply go over the new features, so, to avoid needless redundancy, here are just a few standout examples of the abundant press coverage:
Here's IGN with 9 minutes of gameplay and developer commentary:
And here's some more IGN footage, along with an interview with GGG's managing director Chris Wilson:
MMO Bomb also offers an interview with Chris Wilson, and this one you can read:
The “war” is between the Shaper, the original baddie who crafted the Atlas of Worlds, and the Elder, a being who lives in the Atlas and is attempting to wrest control of it from the Shaper. The map itself has been redesigned, with 32 new map nodes, “to take advantage of feedback and make sure maps are laid out in a more sensible way,” said Wilson. The war between the Shaper and the Elder changes it on an ongoing basis.
The Elder will encase some map nodes in a field bordered by writhing tentacles. “The Elder is living in the maps, in the same way that the Shaper is, and is trying very hard to gain control of the entire Atlas,” said Wilson. He showed me an example of an Elder-controlled map with enemies that gradually drained the color from the world – as well as draining the power of the player – rendering it monotone until they were all destroyed. “As you explore these various areas and fight these quite dangerous foes, you learn more and more about the Elder and what he’s doing within the Atlas itself.”
The Shaper isn’t just sitting there and taking it, though. He’ll surround map nodes in a non-contiguous starlike field. As with the Elder’s maps, the Shaper’s maps can also boast of a variety of dangerous effects, such as anomalies that drift around and explode, causing massive damage to players.
As players complete maps, they remove the influence of its controller – Shaper or Elder – allowing them to shape the war in whatever way suits them the most. “This is a thing that plays out over many weeks,” Wilson said. “So we’re not expecting players to immediately execute it on the first day.” So … two days, then?
If the Elder controls an area, there’s a chance – represented by a purple border on the Atlas – that instead of the boss monster in an area, you’ll fight a special guardian spawned by the Elder himself. That guardian is dependent on the “normal” boss for the area, which is dependent on the map, which is a reason for players to shuffle things around to influence who has control of what.
Another reason, of course, is loot, which can carry with them rare mods that “we wouldn’t normally dare put on rares, because they’re quite hard to craft onto these items,” Wilson said. “These are the rewards for getting very lucky in Shaper or Elder areas.” Some of the examples he gave me are items that make you immune to burning ground or that add poison effects to attacks where that normally wouldn’t be possible.
And then, there's a comprehensive preview with some more Wilson quotes on Massively Overpowered:
Expanding skills and other goodies
The expansion, while very focused on the war over the Atlas, has still more to offer players. Wilson noted that there are four new skills, six new support gems, and over 50 new unique items. The goal, he said, is character customization.
Plus, the new Necromancer skills aren’t just for Necromancers! Wilson showed off the new projectile skill Unearth, which does some damage and unearths a corpse from nothing. This can be combined many ways with other skills, like Cremation, which explodes the corpse in a fiery geyser. He also showed it off combined with the new skill body swap, which swaps the players position with a corpse and has an explosion of blood at both places. This can be used as a movement skill or as a non-stop attack.
“Corpses make a great resource in this game,” he said, “because when it’s going well you get more of them automatically.” The skill Volatile Dead turns corpses into fiery orbs that seek out other mobs to hit. A side benefit is you can use them as homing beacons to the next set of mobs! Couple that with the support gem Cast on Melee Kills and you get an unending supply of heat-seeking missiles instead of without having to manually cast each one.
Though it’s not necromancy flavored, Wilson also demonstrated the support gem Spell Cascade combined with the skill Frost Wall, which allowed him to place three walls to blockade and corral the mobs. All of these new skills and gems look like fun!
Into the Abyss league
And last but certainly not least, a new expansion comes with a new challenge league. This one is the Abyss League. It features fissures that crack on a map that players follow to holes where various creatures pour out. If players can defeat the mobs quick enough, the fissure will continue and more abyss holes will open.
“It is encouraging a risk versus return gameplay because it’s pushing you out of your comfort zone into harder and harder parts of the maps against more and more enemies, and the better you are able to do, the more stuff you will get,” Wilson explained. “It’s a bit reminiscent of the Breach League that we ran in the past, which had this type of mechanic and was our most popular league.” Apparently, players really like when they can interact with the map itself rather than solving something ion one particular location. He then noted that this mechanic can also show up in the new maps on the Atlas. Wilson then added that the team is working on as many random outcomes as they can before release.