Four years ago Path of Exile launched hoping to do justice to its spiritual ancestor Diablo II, and hoping to enjoy a similar kind of success. Today, with numbers rising (a million players signed on in December alone) the Indie RPG is on track to achieve that ambition. Building on last year's momentum, this summer Path of Exile launches for Xbox One and releases its biggest expansion yet—The Fall of Oriath.
The guys from Grinding Gear Games come to L.A. last week to show us the game, and the amount of new content promises to be staggering. The heart of the expansion, fictionally-speaking, is the long-awaited return to Oriath. A last, players get to come back to the center of Templar power and give those corrupt scumbags a taste of Exile justice.
Producer Jonathan Rogers fired up an Xbox One dev kit to show us the different new areas including the slave pens, snow areas (high on the community request list) and the Templar Courts.The latter gives players a glimpse of a living, functioning metropolis—as opposed to the ruined, rubble-filled cities featured in the game thus far. And evil though they may be, the Templars have a real flair for design. The stately Romanesque furnishings and gorgeous painted floors make the Templar Courts some of the most beautiful areas in the game.
Act V begins in the slave pits of Oriath and moves on through five more Acts, all of which elaborate upon the game's already-extensive lore. Players get to explore areas old and new and discover the agendas of a varied Pantheon of multicultural gods. The narrative details are thin at this point, but Grinding Gear says the story involves in-fighting among the gods. Certainly the boss fights we saw hint at that. During the demo, we saw Tukohama, the Karui God of War and his insane rotating totem attacks and faced the cunning magician Shavronne who's used her thaumaturgic arts to resurrect the beastly Brutus. We also very briefly saw a boss called Avarius who becomes a Romanesque god called “Innocence, God of Eternity” and “The Brine King” (a giant hermit crab!) who hangs out fittingly enough, at The Brine King's Reef.
Not surprisingly, the game looks fantastic on Xbox One. While the more add-heavy boss fights are currently clocking at 30 fps, Grinding Gear is confident they'll hit 60 upon release. The biggest console-related question mark could be the controls. It'll no doubt take time for PC players to adjust to the button-trigger setup, and the jury's definitely still out on how it'll be using the left thumb to control the left thumbstick and press the directional pad to use potions.
Control concerns aside, the expansion's Gods theme not only means twenty-four cool new boss fights, it also means new, upgradeable god powers. (“Soul of the Brine King” for instance, keeps you from being repeatedly stunned or frozen. Pretty handy if you're facing a cold-themed boss.) The new Pantheon system gives players a useful new skill with every god they defeat: minor god skills having one upgrade, major gods having three. It's a good thing too because with six new Acts on the table, your work's cut out for you.
There's plenty here to explore, and though Acts V through X have you revisiting some old haunts, you'll notice they've become unrecognizable. Thanks to your previous efforts, places that were rank and ruined have been cleaned up, and places that were dead are seeing new growth. We got to see how the Fetid Pools were coming along and found they'd turned into a sunny green veldt called the Verdant Pools. They're still packed with hostile creatures ready to eat you of course, but man are they pretty!
With so much new stuff to see, it really sucks you can't unlock it until you've played through Acts I-IV three times. In fact, Grinding Gear agrees and so they've done away with Cruel and Merciless difficulty!
Yep, you read that right. The community's been clamoring for Grinding Gear to nix one of the harder difficulty modes and the developer's done them one better by getting rid of both. There's now only one difficulty mode which means six new Acts (ten if you're a new player) chock-full of fun new content are free and yours for the taking! It also means the end game content, The Atlas of Worlds, is much more accessible.
While we'll have to wait till “mid-year” (the actual date is TBD) for the expansion, come March 3 we'll have plenty to keep us busy with the release of the new Legacy League. Legacy lets players access all seventeen previous leagues with League Stones found throughout the game. So if you've spent the last few years lamenting that one piece of seasonal gear you missed out on, next month you can finally get your hands on it.
2017 promises to be a big year for Path of Exile, starting March 3 with the launch of its new Legacy League and The Fall of Oriath's closed beta some time in April or early May. (Details re: how to get into the closed beta are still forthcoming.) After that, its mid-year launch on Xbox One, its biggest expansion ever, and its Chinese release. With all this in the works, Path of Exile proves it's moved beyond Diablo II to become its own distinctive brand of RPG; the kind with mass appeal and staying power.
For more information about Path of Exile: The Fall of Oriath, visit the official Path of Exile website.