New Zealand studio Grinding Gear Games has done a good job maintaining Path of Exile with updates since the free-to-play action RPG released in late 2013. Soon, they’ll be putting the biggest set of weapons, skill jewels, levels, and other stuff to date in an expansion called The Awakening, "Act 4" of PoE. Grinding Gear stopped by our office earlier this week to show it off.
Path of Exile: The Awakening is making significant additions to the base game’s core systems and story. You’ll wade into Highgate, exploring the home of “The Beast,” a big bad who’s awakening could trigger a cataclysm. Within Highgate, Grinding Gear showed me levels that were constructed from the dreams of characters in Path of Exile lore. There was Daresso’s Dream, a muddy area that had the look of WWI trenches mixed with a Roman arena. The level itself culminated in an arena-style fight, a reflection of Daresso’s history as a character. Grinding Gear says there will be nine “act boss-caliber” boss fights in The Awakening, some of whom will be against legendary figures from Wraeclast’s past, like Voll, Kaom, and Daresso himself.
More exciting, maybe, are the changes you'll be able to make to existing characters and the new builds that The Awakening's new items should inspire. Path of Exile is known for its ludicrous skill tree, but instead of simply making that sprawling web of icons more enormous, Grinding Gear are adding new socketable jewels that have interesting effects over a radius within the skill tree—see above. They’re adding AOE effects within the skill tree, essentially. One jewel they showed me, Eldritch Knowledge, gave +1% increased chaos damage per 10 INT from allocated passives in radius. So if you could find a spot in the tree where you’d already allocated a lot of intelligence bonus-granting skills, you could stack a bunch of chaos damage atop that. Other jewels I saw are more mechanical than stat-driven: Selfless Leadership applies bonuses from passives within the radius to your minions instead of you, and Intuitive Leap grants you the passives within a radius while being able to ignore their requirements.
Grinding Gear’s goal is to give players exciting tools and ideas to play with. “We love it when the community comes up with a build that we've never seen before,” producer and lead programmer Jonathan Rogers told me. Partly because the possibilities presented by this new mechanic are so great, however, Grinding Gear will run a beta for The Awakening beginning April 20. You can sign up for it here.
The Awakening will also add new equipment (Maraketh weapons) and more than 70 new unique items to bring against now double the number of different enemies. I saw Empire's Grasp, a pair of Goliath Gauntlets that reversed knockback damage—the item would essentially pull enemies toward you, which is especially useful against some bosses, Grinding Gear told me. There was also Sire of Shards, which caused socketed gems to fire their spell in a nova, encouraging you to get right into the middle of enemies so your spell could erupt from all directions.
Grinding Gear says they’ll also be touching up other details of the game, like UI presentation and gameplay options, in the expansion. PoE’s also being rebalanced for new players to make their entry into the game a bit smoother. I'm surprised that a new character class isn't part of the bundle, but otherwise this seems like a massive wave of new toys and new content for hardcore left-clickers to play with.