Ten minutes into Path of Exile and I'm throwing ice magic at a god. He seems unimpressed, tossing back orbs and bolts of crackling energy that can kill me in one or two hits. Then he brings towering statues to life and they lumber after me, swinging giant swords that I dodge in a half panic.
Luckily I have an ace in the hole: a totem I can place that aggros the boss and his mobs, giving me a few seconds to glance at my health, pop some healing and mana flasks, and lay on the damage. Ice flies from my hands as fast as I can clickclickclickclick. When the boss goes into full-on bullet hell mode, I can hide behind one of the immobilized statues for a couple key seconds of safety. I finally land the killing blow… to his first form. Avarius becomes Innocence, and my hands start sweating.
This was a hell of an introduction to Path of Exile, but according to lead programmer Jonathan Rogers, Avarius is something like the fifth or sixth most impressive and elaborate boss of The Fall of Oriath, Path of Exile's new expansion. There are 24 new boss battles, and most of them are gods, which ties into the expansion's biggest gameplay addition, the Pantheon system. Put simply, as you slay your way through the gods and demigods of Path of Exile, you'll earn a new buff from each that can be equipped in the new Pantheon menu. It's essentially a mural of all the gods you've murdered in The Fall of Oriath.
If you're into fantasy game lore, I can't think of a better treatment of gods than a painting that reminds you of your deicide every time you equip a new power.
The Fall of Oriath is most definitely designed to please Path of Exile's hardcore fanbase, but Rogers and managing director Chris Wilson pitched it as fixing the game's biggest problem for new players, too. The last big update, , buffed up the end-game. The Fall of Oriath instead focuses on the main campaign, doubling it in size and following through on story beats set up in the first four acts. The new expansion adds Act 5, set in entirely new areas, and Acts 6-10, which take players back through the places they visited in Acts 1-4 with new paths, stories, and bosses.
Grinding Gear Games is calling Acts 6-10 "Part 2," promising they'll feel plenty different from your first time through. Some areas will be more heavily changed than others. Rogers ran through a swampy morass from an early act, explaining to me how the land was corrupted by a boss, then loaded up what that same area looked like in Part 2. With the boss dead it had reverted to a verdant field, with new not-so-zombieish enemies to fight through.
In some areas of Part 2 players will take a different route through a previously explored region, while in others retreading the same ground will be dramatically different. In Act 1, players fought through the swampy Fetid Pool against appropriately zombie-like shamblers. When they return in Act 6, having killed the boss who was poisoning the place, it's changed tilesets into a lush forsest. In a prison, players will be able to pass through a previously locked door and climb Shavronne's Tower, where a tricky dual bossfight with some familiar faces awaits.
Winters also excitedly loaded up the city of Oriath, explaining everything that's happened since players were exiled from the city at the start of Act 1. For players who care about the story, this will be a big moment: returning to a place they've heard so much about, ready for some good old revenge.
With this expansion to the campaign Path of Exile now seems like a truly massive game. Regular players will likely say it was already—infinitely replayable because each act's maps are procedurally generated, with a deep end-game and regular "challenge leagues" that give you reason to roll a new character and play through the campaign with new mechanics and special item drops that will only exist for a limited time.
In addition to the big story update, The Fall of Oriath will bring Path of Exile to version 3.0.0 and entail some big changes to underlying systems and game balance. Rogers called out one that the Path of Exile diehards will likely have strong opinions on: Grinding Gear Games is eliminating , a key element in most of the game's optimized high-end builds. Removing double dipping will have a huge impact on players who currently take advantage of it, but in the end they say it will let them introduce more viable, better balanced builds.
There will be other changes big and small the Path of Exile faithful will be able to pick out of patch notes when The Fall of Oriath launches later this year, but in the leadup they'll still have plenty to play. Grinding Gear plans to launch a "Legacy" league in the coming months, while The Fall of Oriath is in beta, which will bring back every challenge league—and their unique items and mechanics—for a last hurrah. Players will have a last shot at rare items they missed a year or two ago while they wait for a crack at Act 5's new bosses.
I haven't spent much time in the world of Path of Exile, but if there are half a dozen bosses just in this new expansion even harder and more complex than Avarius, I'd say it's going to be a good year for action-RPG fans.