Last week, I got to take an early peek at Path of Exile's upcoming War For The Atlas expansion, set to release free for all on December 8th. As impressive as it looks, it is geared heavily towards the more hardcore end of the playerbase: those who have conquered the main story and hunger for more challenge.
For the less experienced or dedicated among us, there is a sizable chunk of new content on the way focused around the Abyss league, their latest game-changing seasonal event. Grinding Gear Games have just announced exactly what the new league is all about.
Building on the theme that Wraeclast is the most absurdly haunted continent in any fantasy setting, the Abyss league is all about dealing with nameless undead horrors from a time long forgotten that are only now burrowing up to the surface. What this means is that you'll frequently stumble upon big cracks in the ground - yes, the post title is a pun. Getting close to them will cause the gap to open further, letting a swarm of new (or reskinned) Abyssal monsters out.
Killing them quickly enough and following the line of the crack will see it spread further across the map, leading you into further encounters. This repeats until the crack either seals itself, or leads you to a deep chasm, from which you'll have to contend with increasingly dangerous waves of monsters. Clear them all out before the (hidden) time limit expires and the crack continues to spread, eventually leading you towards a final, potentially rewarding encounter.
Among the rewards you can get for completing these chains of combat encounters are a new class of jewel, which can be slotted into either your passive skill tree's neutral slots, or into special abyssal equipment, most of which can only be gained from going deeper underground. Later in the game, these chasms can open up further still, becoming entrances to Abyss sub-dungeons packed with dangerous enemies and capped off with a boss fight against a Lich. Kill the boney git and you'll have a chance of receiving one of the unique Abyss artifact items.
If any of this sounds familiar to veteran players, that's because the Abyss league is largely building on the foundation set by the previous fan-favourite Breach league, wherein players rampaged through expanding extra-dimensional rifts. The longer they kept up the killing, the longer the rift stayed open and the tougher the monsters got.
During our chat about the War For The Atlas expansion, Path of Exile producer Chris Wilson talked a bit about how risk/reward systems like this have become especially popular, and Abyss will build on what they learned with Breach by forcing players into a more aggressive and reckless playstyle, navigating the map quickly and risking stumbling into additional unplanned encounters if they want the best possible rewards. It's like a slot machine that's actively trying to beat you to death with every spin of the reels.
If nothing else, the Abyss league should give you something fresh to do on your way to the expanded endgame. On that note, Grinding Gear released footage of one of the new endgame bosses, seen above. Looks like a tough fight with a nasty quicksand mechanic seemingly forcing constant movement lest players be overwhelmed by scorpions and maybe even drown. It's a complex looking fight. Those put off by the relative simplicity of the early bosses can expect this sort of thing as standard later on in the game.
You'll have to roll a new character to get into the Abyss league once it launches on December 8th, but this'll put you on a fresh leaderboard, with a whole new set of achievements to chase, with several milestones rewarding you with permanent cosmetic upgrades. Once the league ends (3+ months later, most likely), all characters will be transferred back to standard mode, along with the entirety of their stashed loot.