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Path Of Exile gets a bit Shadow Of Mordor in the Betrayal league

That which kills them makes you stronger

Path Of Exile's next league - Betrayal - is set to be the largest expansion to Grinding Gear's free-to-play action RPG since its story doubled in length last year. The Forsaken Masters, four NPCs who gave you minor side-quests as you progressed through the game, have disappeared - no great loss, really. In their place, the past three league quest-givers are returning permanently, plus one more. Betrayal adds a Shadow Of Mordor-ish board of assassination targets with a twist; your marks won't stay dead, which is a problem. The league starts December on 7th. Below, the trailer.

While the Betrayal league runs, new NPC Jun Ortoi will get the lion's share of the attention. She's investigating the Immortal Syndicate, an alliance of villains who have found a way to cheat death without going the usual necromantic route. Your goal is to unmask and kill the mysterious boss behind it all, and you'll do this by hunting and manipulating their underlings into providing info on the organisation's four branches. Each branch provides its own distinct missions (caravan raids, fortress assaults, assassins hunting you), and each of the many targets has plenty of new dialogue.

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Betrayal may just be a new side-quest, but it has a complex web of systems. Depending on whether you catch them alone or with an ally, targets will behave differently. Kill one (temporarily) to get them out of the way and the other will perhaps be willing to offer info. By bumping off targets, you shuffle them into different positions on the organisation's hierarchy. Among immortals, dying can be seen as a show of loyalty too, pushing your victim higher up the ladder for you to hit again later, and assigned better, more specific gear for you to loot off their bodies when you do.

On top of this, there's going to be a lot more to do as you progress through Path Of Exile's main story. The short little quests given by the Forsaken Masters have been permanently replaced by 2018's leagues - Bestiary (like Pokemon, but with murder), Incursion (time travelling Aztec-murder) and Delve (infinite dungeon, infinite murder), introduced by their respective NPCs. They're tuned to make them satisfying side-adventures that break away from the usual format of the game. After the Betrayal league ends, Jun's assassination board will remain as well in similar fashion.

The Immortal Syndicate. Who to stab first?

While not quite as dramatic as the Fall Of Oriath expansion's escalation into serial deicide, this is easily the biggest change to Path Of Exile this year. The Forsaken Masters were never really that good. Their side-quests felt like busywork, tied to reputation grinds that didn't really fit the game's formula. Replacing those with larger excursions offering more intrinsic rewards should help freshen up the main game. The Atlas Of Worlds endgame is getting some love, too, with new environments from the Delve league, and missions from the four new Masters available there too.

There's plenty more interesting changes brought about by replacing the Forsaken Masters. Crafting has been streamlined, now only requiring a single crafting table in your personal hideout. New crafting recipes are unlocked through completing objectives in the now-permanent returning leagues, instead of through reputation grind. Hideouts have also been overhauled, with more environments (unlocked through completing rare bonus side-areas), more options to decorate them, and your customised little base persists between leagues instead of needing rebuilding.

A Syndicate transport convoy - kill the guards quick.

It wouldn't be a new Path Of Exile league without new loot, new systems attached to it and a bundle of new skills, too. While they'll return to life later, Betrayal targets drop rare and unique gear with 'veiled' modifier slots. By taking these to Jun and having them identified, you get to pick from one of three options to fill in the veiled blank with, letting you partially customise new gear. Any chosen veiled mod is also added to your crafting bench as a recipe, allowing you to apply it to any piece of gear in future. Repeatedly picking the same type of mod to unveil increases its power, too.

Skills-wise, they're increasing the options available to more passive players, and those who like traps but would rather play a more magic-oriented build. Among the new skills are Winter Orb, which summons a freezing ball that floats above you and shoots targets within range with exploding ice bolts. Storm Brand introduces a new skill type - brands. This one creates a shocking rune that sits on the floor until an enemy is near, then latches on and begins zapping them plus adjacent enemies. If its 'host' dies, it hops to another if available, or returns to the ground otherwise.

The four new Masters. Plus Zana on the left, who isn't going anywhere.

Each of the past three leagues was its own tangled mass of systems that can either just be enjoyed at face value, or manipulated and gamed to pay out better rewards. Betrayal and its assassination board seems no different, with different enemies rewarding you with different items depending on where you nudge them into their hierarchy. For casual players it's just more bad guys to stab (even if they refuse to stay dead), but combined with the returning year of leagues and their systems, Path Of Exile will be a significantly more complex and interesting game this December 7th.

Path Of Exile's Betrayal league begins on December 7th, replacing the current Delve league. Path Of Exile is free to play and available direct from Grinding Gear or on Steam here. You can find the official Betrayal announcement here.

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