By the time you read this you’ve probably already heard that the next “challenge league” for the online action RPG Path Of Exile by Grinding Gear Games is named Sentinel. This new league launches on PC and Mac on May 13th and on Xbox and PlayStation on May 18th of 2022.
Several days ago, Grinding Gear Games held a preview event for a group of select media outlets followed by a roundtable Q&A session. Later in the day the development team also held one-on-one sessions with a handful of media outlets to talk about this new league. Luckily mmorpg.com was one of the few that had the opportunity to sit down with producer and developer Chris Wilson for a “few” questions.
In this article we’ll focus on the details of the preview event which was an early discussion of the presentation the rest of the world saw earlier today. In the following days we’ll talk about the Q&A Session and the one-on-one interview we were invited to. Grinding Gear Games continues to amaze me with their creativity behind these challenge leagues and the Sentinel league is no exception. So, if you missed today’s reveal, or any part of it, or you need a refresher than you’ve landed on the right website!
“Tempt Not The blade, All Fear the Sentinel”
Producer / developer Chris Wilson, as usual, led the meeting. Chris started off by playing the new league’s trailer. After playing the trailer Chris explained what “Sentinels” are, which is a big focus of this new expansion:
“Sentinels are ancient constructs that have been unearthed across Wraeclast. In this league, you will collect these Sentinels and attempt to harness their great power. But this symbiosis is not without risks. Once deployed, a Sentinel follows you, watching and waiting for you to enter combat. “
My first reaction, at this point, was that Sentinels were a form of a pet class. My thoughts were squashed as Chris continued,
“As you encounter enemies, the Sentinel will fire a beam that doesn't damage an enemy, but rather empowers them. This not only amplifies the difficulty of the foe, but also the rewards that it yields.”
These sentinels are drops that you pick up and they act like an electric eye, mini-satellite. They have their own classes, attributes and capabilities as well as having their own leveling and progression scheme. Their “effects” are manually deployed, via a button press, by you the player at the time of your choosing.
There are three classes of Sentinels that you will pick up as you kill mobs in this new league. “Stalker Sentinels” (red) will follow you around for approximately thirty seconds, empowering dozens of monsters before they dissipate. This is the poor man version of creating your own “breach” or “delirium effect”. But you control what monsters you're fighting because you decide when to deploy the Stalker.
Pandemonium Sentinels (blue) are designed for mass area-of-effect. Their one shot is highly effective as it causes a chaining effect between monsters so that the one shot could affect an entire screen full of mobs at once. This class of Sentinel can potentially be very dangerous to the unprepared player because if not used carefully it could empower an overwhelming number of enemies at once.
The final class, Apex Sentinels (yellow), can only empower rare or unique mobs. They fire fewer shots but have a much larger impact on the mob’s difficulty and hence the resulting reward.
Player Interaction with Sentinels
Players will start with a single slot to equip a “Stalker Sentinel”, but as you progress through the league, you can eventually unlock two more Sentinel slots. Once this happens then you’ll be able to equip one Sentinel of each class. Each class of Sentinel can only be deployed once per map area. Keen players will eventually develop strategies on when to deploy these “buggers”. This feature potentially allows the player to ramp up the challenge level especially in the early game!
As far as Sentinel longevity is concerned, Sentinels cannot be damaged in combat, but they do gradually deplete their internal power supply each time you use them. The good news is after you’re left with a Sentinel “husk” (depleted Sentinel) those husks can be combined to create new Sentinels with different properties. Unfortunately, they are incompatible with traditional Wraeclastian crafting techniques.
As was mentioned earlier these Sentinels have their own attributes so finding magic Sentinels is a certainty. These Sentinel attributes will typically augment the base properties of a sentinel. So, for example, you could find one that has an extended duration, or one that empowers monsters faster, or has an increased capacity of the number it can empower. All of these affecting both their difficulty and resulting rewards. Some modifiers will also add specific drops such as currency items, essences or unique items to monsters empowered by the Sentinel. But magic, as they say, has its costs, in this case typically increasing the difficulty to defeat said empowered monsters.
You’ll occasionally find “rare” Sentinels that have more than two modifiers on them. In some cases, these are more powerful than normal or magic Sentinels especially with the right combination of modifiers.
The Sentinel Controller
You’ll be able to upgrade the behavior and properties of Sentinels through your handy dandy “Sentinel Controller”.
Chris best described the Sentinel Controller as “a runic circuit board”. It's the mechanism and interface that allows you to customize and power your Sentinels. There are specific nodes for each of the three types of Sentinels. You’re given the freedom to customize the properties and behavior of one, two, or all of them. So, you could focus on buffing up your favorite type(s). Choosing to not power a particular Sentinel type at all would free up more power for specialization of another type. This level of customization the developers continue to provide is just fascinating.
The Sentinel Controller gains power (top circular power gauge with the teal lamps) as you naturally progress through the game in the normal course of killing mobs. You start with four units, which is enough to power your first Sentinel Slot and first Runic Node. By endgame, you should be powered up to about 30 power units. This should fill almost half of the controller’s power gauge.
Nobody Nodes It Better
Powering runic nodes is reminiscent of many of the circuit board puzzles you’d find in adventure games. You power up nodes by connecting them together with “filaments”. Power flows from the top of the circuit through the filaments until it is all in use by the nodes you have connected. One cool feature about this power up mechanic is you can set up filaments in advance and they'll automatically be used as more power becomes available while you play.
Moving filaments around has no cost, it's a planning tool that gradually gets activated as you gain more power playing through the league. It’s a neat system because you're not locked into a specific plan, and you can re-specialize your properties at any time for free.
This comes with some challenges in how you allocate filaments as well. For example, some of the more powerful runic nodes require two filaments and hence allocate more of your power when activated. Some sentinel slots, for types like Pandemonium and Apex Sentinels, require three filaments and hence three power units.
The development team advises that it's almost always best to have all three slots powered so that you can use three sentinels per area but there are certain strategies where you might want to not power specific sentinel slots to have more power for additional runic nodes. Or for the scenario where you can fully specialize in just one or two sentinel types.
Some of the most powerful Sentinels are ones with special properties that can only come from the process of assembling new Sentinels by combining depleted ones. Depletion happens with continued use of Sentinels in combat. They don’t need to be trashed though as depleted Sentinels can be re-used. You can find Power Cores that let you assemble a new Sentinel with a full charge by disassembling two existing Sentinels. Once combined the two create a hybrid of themselves, with their properties combined. This process takes place via a Sentinel Assembly screen.
Multipurpose Sentinel Assembly… New End Game Currency
“Recombinators” are a new type of end-game currency item being introduced in this league. Recombinators allow you to apply the Sentinel assembly process on two pieces of equipment of the same item class which combines them together in unpredictable ways. This process also has the capability to empower your items with exclusive modifiers that don't normally spawn on that type of item. Recombination can be a risky process, but if successful, you can combine the best parts of two rare items together, maybe get a lucky exclusive modifier spawn, and end up with one of the best item pieces in Path of Exile.
Atlas Endgame Improvements
This expansion further improves on the new endgame introduced in the prior expansion, specifically the atlas-wide passive tree and associated pinnacle boss fights.
Sentinel will introduce twenty powerful keystone passives to the atlas tree. As you can imagine, keystone passives will typically be dramatic and build changing. Of course, many will have both positive and potentially negative effects.
The second big change being introduced is a set of passives that grant you even more control over what endgame content you want to play. Currently, you can encounter many different types of past league content randomly within maps. These new passives allow you to prevent content you don't enjoy from appearing randomly, while simultaneously causing other content to spawn at a higher rate.
Lastly, this expansion will introduce incredibly difficult and rewarding uber versions of seven pinnacle boss fights which can be accessed via six new keystone passives. These fights are designed to challenge the absolute best Path of Exile players or plainly stated they're brutally difficult.
As you’ll see in our follow-up article with Chris Wilson, Grinding Gear Games is putting a nice chunk of their ongoing development cycles into endgame improvements. More and more it seems like they are striving to make their hardcore players happy and leave them wanting not.
New Endgame Unique Items
Previously Grinding Gear Games hosted a competition that saw players racing to be the first to kill Path of Exile's pinnacle bosses in hardcore solo self-found mode. The main prize for doing so was the ability to collaborate with them on the design of a unique item that would drop from a boss in Path of Exile's endgame. Five of these unique items have been designed so far and will be included in this expansion! The sixth one will be released once the winner has time to design it with Grinding Gear Games, very likely for the 3.19 release.
Game Balance Changes in Sentinel
Simply stated, None! The developers are trying something different with character balance this go around. They are intentionally making no changes to character power. That means no nerfs, no buffs, nothing. Every single build and build guide made for Siege of the Atlas will work the same in Sentinel. You can start planning your league starter toon right now. For a non-numbers guy like me this is great news! Chris stated this state of making no balance changes will not always be the case, perhaps ever other release, they’ll have to see how it goes.
The Challenge System
This system has remained untouched through the last twenty-one leagues! Sentinel will retain the model of forty challenges with rewards that unlock as you progress through them but will provide substantially more challenge and rewards to end-game players.
This expansion will squash down the easier challenges so that the first reward unlocks after only six and the second at twelve. These are equivalent in difficulty to twelve and twenty-four challenges from the old system, respectively. Doing so provided a lot more space to ramp up to some incredibly difficult challenges towards the end. There will now be ten different rewards you can unlock.
PC Controller Support Added
This also means Path of Exile will become fully Steam Deck certified.
The new Sentinel challenge league looks poised to provide the advanced Path of Exile player a great way to tailor their in-game difficulty experience. With Grinding Gears Games’ evolving focus on endgame those same advanced players should be able to control and tailor the end game more to their personal liking.
Come back in a few days for a follow-up article where Chris Wilson answers several post-media event questions as well as questions presented by mmorpg.com.