Path Of Exile’s endgame expands yet again next month in War For The Atlas

Path of Exile: War for The Atlas

Path of Exile is already a very big, very demanding game. Ever since its first public beta debut, the free-to-play action RPG has grown steadily, layering new content and mechanics onto an already complex design. With the release of the massive Fall Of Oriath expansion back in August it grew into one of the largest action-RPGs ever made, ballooning from four acts (played three times on escalating difficulty settings) to a single ten-act campaign taking you all the way from opening to endgame.

As well as more than doubling the length of the game’s story, Fall Of Oriath escalated from fantasy horror into a frenzy of apocalyptic God Of War-esque bloodshed, with you personally offing the majority of the world’s deities over the course of the story. This December 8th, Grinding Gear Games hope to give successful godslayers a fitting endgame experience with their next expansion, War For The Atlas. I got to talk with producer Chris Wilson, who was eager to show off some of the new features and content in action, as well as share some details on what War For The Atlas brings to the table.

Path of Exile has always offered something for players to do once they’d finished up the main story arc (and difficulty loops). In earlier iterations of the game, it was a largely directionless romp in which players collected magical maps to parallel dimensions – the maps being items with their own random traits, as varied as any piece of armor – and used them to generate remixed, semi-randomised versions of familiar environments to rampage through in search of new monsters to kill, bosses to bother and loot to hoard.

Last September’s Atlas Of Worlds expansion radically overhauled the endgame, bringing context and direction to it via a self-contained story arc, almost a second game in itself. Your journey through these randomly generated worlds was now charted on a grand Atlas, each potential zone type represented by a node. Your progression spiralling gradually inwards through increasing tiers of difficulty towards a final confrontation with The Shaper, a former Oriathan scholar somehow turned into a world-crafting god among gods.

Even as a regular Path of Exile player I’ve never beaten The Shaper. It’s a long road to victory, capped off with the lengthiest and toughest boss fight in the game, but after talking with Chris Wilson, I don’t feel nearly so bad about my failure. He admits that he’s only ever managed to do it once. Path of Exile pulls no punches, not even for its creators.

As if things weren’t rough enough, War For The Atlas raises the stakes, bulking out the endgame to encompass all the tilesets, bosses and monsters from Fall of Oriath, added to the Atlas’s pool of random worlds and spread out across 32 new nodes. There’s even a few new unique areas that will be only accessible via the Atlas, such as the Pillars of Arun, an obstacle course requiring the use of a movement skill in order to hop between platforms, a twist never before seen in Path of Exile. Some areas include Atlas-exclusive new bosses to encounter, designed to be on par with the more complex, multi-phase fights that defined Fall Of Oriath

Path of Exile

The biggest new wrinkle comes in the form of The Elder, a secondary ultimate antagonist and one somewhat more Cthulhoid in nature. After you’ve explored the Atlas for a while, this new enemy will make their presence known and start taking over parts of it, indicated by a wiggling tentacled outline around one or more map nodes. When you attack one of these maps you’ll find it not only harder than usual, but overrun with The Elder’s minions, which tend to be weird, squid-like and actively sucking the colour out of the surrounding area. Clear them all out, and the area is restored to normal, revitalising the Atlas node.

Later still, The Elder himself begins manifesting directly inside these corrupted nodes, highlighting them with a purple mark. In these locations he’ll make a show of killing off what would normally be the end-of-map boss, using their soul to fuel one of his own elemental-themed guardians, leading you into a significantly longer, tougher fight. I was shown The Eradicator, which is some sort of lightning mage in a multi-tiered arena where there seems to be as much threat from the arcing tesla coils scattered around as the boss’s own attacks.

The Shaper won’t just be sitting around while this newcomer messes everything up and eats perfectly good boss encounters. Eventually, he’ll join the fight, establishing direct control over regions of the Atlas (indicated with a starry background), filling them with his signature gimmicks previously only seen during the climactic final battle against him, such as star-filled tears in reality and exploding space-time anomalies. His influence also increases the difficulty and loot quality of the area, making it a potentially lucrative intrusion.

Path of Exile

Which of these two factions wins the titular War For The Atlas will be determined largely by the player, with each sortie into a map effectively signalling the end of a turn, allowing the Elder and Shaper to make their next moves. Chris Wilson hinted that there’ll be strategic reasons why you might want either faction to win the war, and that there will be multiple possible endings depending on what choices you make over the course of exploring the Atlas.

Being Path of Exile, War For The Atlas brings the usual new pile of loot and gear that you’d expect, but also a new class of equipment rarity. Elder and Shaped items can be found only in areas of the Atlas belonging to that respective faction. Functionally identical to regular Rare items, their icons have tentacley or starry animated backgrounds, and have more slots for random traits than regular gear. Shaped and Elder items may also have perks that are exclusive to their respective faction, potentially making them a valid alternative to Grinding Gear’s own hand-crafted unique items.

Not everything in War For The Atlas is for endgame players, thankfully. There will be ten new skill gems available even from relatively early levels, with an unusual focus on corpse-manipulation magic. Chris showed half of them in action, starting with the Unearth spell, a ground-moving projectile that causes a corpse (of the regular dead kind) to erupt from the ground under the target. He also showed how this synergises with the Cremation spell, which converts corpses into miniature volcanoes, dealing damage over time to a small area.

Path of Exile

The demonstration continued with the new Body Swap skill, allowing the player to teleport into a corpse, exploding out of it in a cloud of damaging gore in classic Quake telefrag style. I was shown a clip of this being used very aggressively, with a player warping wildly between targets, each kill creating a new corpse, and a new valid location to target. Yet one more option for desecration is Volatile Dead, which converts dead bodies into huge seeking orbs of magma, similar to the Volatile perk that some monsters have. On a less corpse-mangling note, a new support gem called Spell Cascade looks fun to use. It amplifies ground-targeted AoE skills, casting them in triplicate; once at the target point, once in front of it and once behind it.

Also launching alongside the expansion is the Abyss league, the latest in Path of Exile’s (roughly) quarterly seasonal events. Similar to the previously popular Breach league, you’ll find strange fissures scattered throughout the world, packed to the gills with horrible undead monsters. Kill them fast enough and a crack will spread out from it, leading you to another fissure full of even nastier monsters, escalating until the encounter times out or something too big to handle emerges from the ground and forces you out of the running. You’ll want to at least give it a try, as higher-tier Abyss monsters have a chance of dropping Abyss Jewels that allow you to further customise your characters and items.

The War For The Atlas expansion will be released on December 8th. As with all previous Path of Exile expansions, it will be completely free, although likely accompanied by a slew of expansion-themed cosmetic items in the premium store for the adventurer that loves to accessorise.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Geez, I remember PoE being a fairly somber, almost standard experience. Granted I played it back when it first had an ending.

    Now it sounds more like superheroes in Planescape-mixed-with-Spelljammer.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Yeah, the story escalates hard and fast after you return to Oriath. The apocalypse kinda happens while you’re there and you spend the rest of the game hanging around with NotSatan on a quest to kill a boatload of gods.

      So having kicked the arses of an entire world of deities, it stands to reason that the next step is infinite worlds, and the endgame is *huge*.

  2. njury says:

    If I ever break up with my SO I’m gonna start smoking joints full time again and waste my life away playing this game.

  3. Splyce says:

    I tried PoE, I really want Ted to love it, too. At least because having an alternative to D3 would be nice, and Grim Dawn didn’t grab me after the first Act or so. I just couldn’t get down with the vendor recipes from the beginning. I was vendoring junk without realizing that I needed to sell it in special combinations to get anything useful, and then after looking up all the combinations, was not particularly interested in memorizing them for all the possible opportunities, or having to look them up out of game. Would be a great QoL improvement to have some sort of in game compendium for those things, much like the Cube in D3.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      I think you might have been trying to put the cart before the horse there. And the cart might not have had wheels.

      Vendor recipes are something you only look into much later into the game if you absolutely need something super-specific. You’re much better off just rolling with what drops, and using the crafting tables in your hideout later on to upgrade gear as you see fit.

      • Ghostwise says:

        I think it was a reference about vendoring potions with quality adding up to 40, paying attention to items that sell for a chroma, keeping Vaal duplicate Vaal gems to sell them in set of 7, etc. Which is indeed useful knowledge.

        Vendor recipes can also be important in the early games, such as resist rings or +1 gem level elemental sceptres.

    • Faldrath says:

      The new help system in the 3.0 patch does list the most common vendor recipes ingame, but yeah, as you level up the only ones you should bother with are the one for chromatic orbs (any item with R-G-B sockets linked) and maybe the one for weapons, depending on your build. All the advanced ones will only start to matter once you’re level 60+

      • Dominic Tarason says:

        Yeah, a good general tip for Path of Exile is not to overcomplicate things for yourself. You don’t need to understand every tiny quirk or memorise vendor recipes at first, and only very rarely need to know any of that later on.

        Just roll with things and go with gut feeling. It works surprisingly well.

        Once you’re on your fourth or fifth character and trying to assemble a super-specific gimmick build? Maybe then, but maybe not even at that point.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Do let us know if Ted ever comes around.

    • BlackPaw says:

      the great thing about poe is you never have to memorize, vendor recipes – even if there are 100+ you only need to know a few, and even those are a waste of time when you could be slaying mobs and farming currency, just sell all crap to vendor and never worry about recipes.

  4. Faldrath says:

    This is a very exciting expansion, PoE sorely needed an endgame revamp after 3.0 fixed most of the issues with the leveling experience. If they manage to balance the endgame rewards so that there’s actually a choice to be made instead of simply following the more efficient/profitable route, it will bode very well for the game.

    (incidentally, after more than 2000 hours in the game I did kill the Shaper for the first time this league, because spectres, man. Spectres are amazing.)

  5. Mungrul says:

    While I still prefer D3 for my slice of ARPG pie, I admire PoE for what it is:

    It’s the exemplar of how F2P should be done.

    You don’t have to spend a penny, yet the full game, including expansions, is available to you for free. You don’t progress at a different rate if you never choose to spend money, and those who do chuck some cash the dev’s way get no gameplay advantages.

    And yet, they seem to be incredibly successful; so much so that they’re able to keep pumping out content.

    I tip my hat to Grinding Gear Games.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Successful seems to be an understatement. I was keeping an eye on the concurrent player stats for the game when the last expansion launched. It was sat very comfortably as the 4th biggest game on Steam at the time and stayed there for some time, not even counting the 30-40k players logged in direct.

      Hell of an achievement for an independent little New Zealand studio that are effectively giving the game away for free.

      • BooleanBob says:

        I think it shows that there are a lot, as in a LOT of a lot, of people who for whatever reason are attracted to free games. They’ll play a shittily monetised free game if they can’t find anything better, but if you make a reasonably monetised one they’ll happily play that instead.

        I do wonder if, as a dev, you make more money from a game stuffed to the nines with gacha crates and freemium mechanics and only a moderately-sized player base, or from an enormous playerbase who have much less incentive to spend on the regular.

    • percydaman says:

      As a longtime D3 player, I decided to give POE a try again after I just couldn’t will myself to start another pointless season. After I got past the clunky animations and rather drab aesthetic, I really started enjoying it. I don’t know if I’ll ever equal my D3 playing time with it, but I don’t plan on going back to D3 for a very long time.

  6. malkav11 says:

    Hmm. All that god-murdering stuff sounds cool but the early game was such a dreary trudge that I couldn’t stick with it. But that -was- several expansions ago. Maybe that’s gotten better. I suppose there’s no harm in giving it another go…

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      They’ve revised the earlier stuff several times over as well. Bosses are more interesting, enemy variety is a bit better and you can get into the interesting mechanical bits sooner. The game introduces support gems a lot sooner now, and you can get a good range of skills from NPCs in town too.

      Still, there’s a bit more they could do with it. The game really picks up after act 3 (the original end-point of the game back in the early days). Act 4’s bosses in particular are much more complex and involved, and act 5 is where the game starts getting downright tough.

      • Premium User Badge

        Qazinsky says:

        Yeah, one change I really like is that now you can actually buy skill gems, whereas in the beginning, you got them as rewards or drops. I remember when I first unlocked the scion as a class, and she started the game with spectral throw, a ranged attack for melee players! I made ton of new scions, stole the gem, junked the character.

        Nowadays you can plan out a build and get the gems without being lucky with drops or have a stash filled with earlier gem drops. Just go to town and buy from a large selection of gems available to your class, jump into another class if you need another gem, or wait for act 3, go to the library and be able to buy all gems, except those super rare support gems that you still have to be super lucky to get.

  7. Bing_oh says:

    So, are they still re-making that massive skill tree every time they put out a new expansion? I played from beta through the first major expansion…I gave it up after I had to re-create my go-to characters multiple times because of the devs “tweaking” the skill tree every time they released a new addition to the game.

    I appreciate the time and effort GGG puts into their product, but it got old when I had to either alter a play style on a character that was working for me because of changes to the skill tree or re-map a character by memory to get my primary skills back after an update.

    • Slabs says:

      They’ve made a few very necessary tweaks in the past few patches to encourage build diversity.

      It definitely fucks over folk who tend to play in the Standard leagues, but personally I prefer the reset every few months for the gimmicked leagues.

  8. AJ says:

    After being a diehard D3 player for many years i jumped ship to PoE once i realized how little Blizzard cares for their product and how much GGG do for theirs.

    A vast majority of things my old friends in the diablo3 forums whine about – customization diversity trading blah blahblah – has already been in place on PoE for years. D3 players are just too hardcore blizzard fanboys to open their eyes.

    Enough ranting, back to PoE !

  9. Chaoslord AJ says:

    It’s a great game but really really long. I only managed to get to the third difficulty with a lot of grinding and was still a long way from the level where the magical maps dropped.
    This and all the starting from scratch with another build and hero also the leagues which take up time.
    Now with the 5. act it’s an even longer task. Sad.

    • Gus the Crocodile says:

      Even longer? It used to be 3 difficulties x 4 acts = 12 acts. Now it’s 1 difficulty x 10 acts = 10 acts.

      Still, yeah, it can be a bit of a slog at times, especially since the story in the last 5 acts is pretty macguffiny.

    • njury says:

      I don’t think this is a game for you.
      It’s meant to be grindy – hell, the devs are called Grinding Gear Games. That’s what the game is.

      Also would you rather have a level cap and be able to reach it in 10 hours of playing? I don’t really get what the problem is.

      As soon as you get a hang on the game leveling is *super* fast. Before that it’s super fun to level, it’s an exploration and you get to see everything for the first time and all.

    • percydaman says:

      I just came back to the game after trying it waay back when it was only 3 acts. I finished act 10 after only a few days. And I didn’t really skip over anything. I do kinda miss leveling up like with Adventure Mode in D3. Would love it if they did something like that.

  10. Jack_Empty says:

    I really tried to get into this. My brother and I just got so bored of wading through the early levels, killing everything with one attack, fighting over who actually get to kill stuff. After a bit I had to stop using ranged attacks so his melee character got to hit something.. They need to work out a way to rebalance the start so it’s not so painfully pointless. I hear it gets going eventually, I was kinda tempted to carry on but my brother wasn’t and it got even duller without another, just wading through several hours of no challenge. I got the Diablo fear that the whole actual game was just a levelling up area and I was supposed to be getting all hot for the endgame but it seemed hours off into the future with just grinding to get there.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Trust me, the difficulty ramps up hard after Act 3. Act 4 has bosses that can wreck you in 2-3 hits, and Act 5 starts getting into one-hit-kill territory for even tanky builds.

      Acts 6-10 are genuinely tough and death comes very quickly if you’re not watching out for big attacks.

      If you found yourself lagging behind as a melee character, you need to slap some AoE augments onto your melee attacks and maybe a movement skill. Don’t lament you lack of projectiles. BE the projectile.

  11. pelicans says:

    My wife left me