Path of Exile's April expansion lets you gamble for more loot

Path of Exile 2 isn't out until sometime next year, but Grinding Gear Games have a salve for our wounds: A new quarterly league expansion for Path of Exile is launching for free next Friday, April 16th. Called Ultimatum, this new Challenge League revisits one of PoE's most iconic factions, the Vaal, while letting players play a loot and monster-filled version of Double or Nothing.

During the Ultimatum league (which will run for around three months), any newly rolled character will frequently bump into the Trialmaster, a new NPC and emissary of the god of Chaos. He'll challenge you to initially simple arena battles, telling you exactly what prize you're fighting for. At the end of each round, he'll give you the option to take the prize and tap out, or pick a new modifier (faster enemies, additional obstacles, stat restrictions) and fight an even tougher round for a chance at the previous reward, plus a new one.

These fights look like they can get extraordinarily difficult, as all chosen modifiers remain in play until you either clear the highest difficulty, tap out, or die like a greedy fool. Still, the rewards look worth the pain. It's clear that Grinding Gear intends for players to really push their luck, potentially walking away with absolutely nothing while in pursuit of a fat sack of rare items.

Players that manage to hold on for a whole ten rounds get a 'special surprise' in the final bout. While the presentation video didn't show exactly what that means, as a veteran PoE player I assume that means we'll be facing some new Ultimatum-specific boss fights. Given that the quality of the game's boss design has improved markedly over the years, it's something I'm looking forward to. Boss fights are much more akin to what you'd see in MMOs these days, with different phases and complex attack patterns that have to be avoided (or mitigated).

For endgame players hacking their way through the recently-expanded Atlas Of Worlds, they'll sometimes find special key items to access even higher-stakes battles at the Trialmaster's personal arena. These fights will ask the player to ante up and invest something valuable—usually a rare currency item—with a chance at doubling their investment in a single-round fight against overwhelming odds. Naturally, if you lose this fight, you'll lose your wager too.

As always, there'll be a little bit more to this league that Grinding Gear Games is willing to reveal in the trailers. During a short Q&A session earlier this week, studio head Chris Wilson confirmed that there'll be a tough new final boss hidden deeper within Ultimatum's arena battles, along with some unique new items only obtainable through beating the odds and (presumably) the Trialmaster himself.

As the stunningly stat-dense Ultimatum content breakdown video (embedded above) shows, there's more to this league than just gambling. Grinding Gear have once again gone back to fix what wasn't working in Path of Exile. This time round, they've given the loot tables across the entire game (including nearly eight years of older league content) a shakeup. Players will have a chance to find a bundle of previously league-only unique items as they play through the main story, and most sources of loot have seen some improvements. Some items have even had their stats boosted to make them more desirable.

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)

Anyone who missed out on the previous league, Ritual, has nothing to worry about. While the Trialmaster's Ultimatum fights will take the spotlight, Ritual battles have been incorporated into the endgame Atlas, so you'll run into them occasionally. While largely leaning in the player's favour, there have been some nerfs made to the rewards of both Harvest and Talisman leagues, aiming to bring them more in line with other sources of loot. Naturally some players will be upset that an obvious path to victory has been closed off, but power inflation is very much a thing in Path of Exile. A level 70 character in 2021 is a vastly more powerful beast than one from 2018.

It's not a Path of Exile expansion without new ways to kill monsters, either. With Ultimatum, they're adding four new skill gems and four new support gems, all based around the classic Vaal themes of blood sacrifice and risk-taking. The Corrupting Fever and Exsanguinate skills allow you to literally use your own blood as a projectile. Reap allows you to invest health in sweeping magical scythe attacks that get more powerful and costly through repeated use.

Death comes quickly in Path of Exile—especially if you're literally hitting enemies with your own hit points—so there's some new risk-mitigation options too. The Petrified Blood spell makes the bottom half of your health bar "safer." With it equipped, potentially fatal damage will be dealt out over time instead of instantly, giving you a precious few seconds to chug a healing potion instead of instantly killing you.

Path of Exile: Ultimatum

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)

The new support gems lean into this theme as well. Arrogance lets you empower passive Aura buffs by reserving part of your health bar instead of mana. Lifetap lets you power any skill through health instead of magic, applying a buff to damage done if you invest enough HP. Bloodthirst provides damage buffs to skills used while on 50 percent or lower health. The last new support gem, Cruelty, stands out by being just a straight buff to damage done, but I suppose not everything can be fun, games, and blood sacrifice.

The last round of buffs that Ultimatum brings to the table is another wave of upgrades for Vaal skill gems. These double-function skills let you cast them normally, but also let you harvest souls from enemies to charge powerful smartbomb-like supercharged attacks. They've made some tweaks so your Vaal skills will recharge much faster just by hurting bosses, making players less reliant on filler enemies between phases. They've also run yet another balance pass on Vaal skills in general. While the exact changes won't be announced until closer to launch, I'd expect some more buffs.

While not quite as expansive as last season's bafflingly complex endgame overhaul, the Ultimatum league looks to bring a fun new way to ragequit Path of Exile, as well as a mountain of smaller tweaks and improvements to older content to the table. Where I expect the most fun to come is watching Path of Exile's many streamers losing big as they gamble their loot.

The Path of Exile: Ultimatum league launches as a free update on April 16th.

Dominic Tarason
Contributing Writer

The product of a wasted youth, wasted prime and getting into wasted middle age, Dominic Tarason is a freelance writer, occasional indie PR guy and professional techno-hermit seen in many strange corners of the internet and seldom in reality. Based deep in the Welsh hinterlands where no food delivery dares to go, videogames provide a gritty, realistic escape from the idyllic views and fresh country air. If you're looking for something new and potentially very weird to play, feel free to poke him on Twitter. He's almost sociable, most of the time.