Loot-hoarding action RPGs and tower defense are two mouse-destroying compulsions that sound perfect together—despite how few games have tried. But on September 6, Path of Exile is doing just that with Blight, the next quarterly 'league' expansion for Path Of Exile, Grinding Gear Games' popular free-to-play dungeon crawl. Like all previous leagues, Blight is a free update bringing new systems to wrestle with, loot to hoard, and a weird hybrid tower defense mode—if you're willing to start a fresh character, that is.
In the upcoming Blight league, players will find a small tower defense mission in every zone. The latest plague to hit the cursed continent of Wraeclast is a fungal infection, and the only cure (according to new NPC Sister Cassia) is to attach a big siphon to the fungal cysts to squeeze out their mushroom oils. Yum. This process doesn't take long—just a minute or two per bloom—but waves of monsters will rush along sprawling fungal tendrils to stop you.
Talking to Grinding Gear head Chris Wilson, he explained that this is still Path Of Exile first and tower defense second. You'll still run around like a mad thing, hacking up monsters as quickly as possible. But there's just too many fronts to handle yourself, so you get to place a variety of damage-dealing and ailment-inducing towers along the tendril-paths the monsters travel along. The goal is to stall and weaken them using towers so that you can dash in to finish them off. As Blight encounters get more complex, you'll have to deal with more tendrils at once.
Why do all this? Loot and experience, naturally. Every tendril that you successfully defend against spawns a treasure chest at the end of the encounter, and the fungal extractor spits out a variety of special oils that Sister Cassia can use to anoint your jewelry. Two oils on a ring provides buffs to your tower defending abilities (a purely additive upgrade), and combinations of three oils anoints an amulet with a "notable" passive skill from the maze-like passive grid—even ones your character wouldn't otherwise be able to access.
On top of the usual range of new gear, the maddest loot-hoarders can hunt for a full set of unique Blight gear which can be anointed with extra skills similar to amulets. The potential for oddball character builds using cherry-picked perks from all over the skill tree is high, if you can harvest and blend the right oils. The Blight league extends all the way into the Atlas Of Worlds endgame, with some endgame Blights fully overgrown with monster-spawning tendrils, making them rich sources of loot.
While most PoE leagues put the previous update out to pasture, Blight is making the current league (Legion) a regular fixture. Players can beat up armies from Wraeclast's bloody past in Incursions and Delves, with plans to expand Legion's integration into the endgame some time after patch 3.8.0. Here are more details on what's happening to the Legion content and Grinding Gear's future plans.
Grinding Gear is also bringing the best bits of the divisive Synthesis league (I liked it, but it was practically a game unto itself) back as endgame maps. The complicated player-built dungeons may not be returning, but the gilded Synthesis enemies and boss fights will sometimes appear as random encounters, along with some of the unique Synthesis items as loot.
Of course, this wouldn't be a PoE update without them making some tweaks to what's already there. Summoners are feeling the love this time, with a trio of new support gems allowing you to give Attack, Defend or Focus orders to your swarm of zom-buddies and skellington pals. They've also rebalanced the Necromancer ascendancy class, letting players specialise in a wider range of minion types, along with a whole new minion. The Carrion Golem, for example, provides buffs to other undead friends, and is buffed in turn.
They're also returning to Poison Assassin characters, previously nerfed, with five new skills to pick from, a new support gem, and some tweaks to return them to their glory days. Mine Saboteurs have been given a rework too, right down to how mines work. Now thrown faster and further, mines can activate each other, and the longer a chain of explosions, the more powerful it becomes. There's some new types of mines to play with as well, if you just want to cover the battlefield with explosives.
Lastly, Grinding Gear is making a few tweaks to how the endgame's optional daily side-missions (Delves, Incursions and other previous leagues) work. Instead of having to do them as they're assigned, you can now save them up to complete when you feel like it. Definitely a change for the better—Delves in particular are far more fun when you're binging on them.
The Blight update lands on September 6 and is free.