In Path of Exile's next quarterly league expansion, Scourge, the cursed continent of Wraeclast is coming under siege by a demonic army from a parallel timeline. And, naturally, you'll also be able to venture into this extra-doomed parallel world to smash demons so you can reforge your weapons in their blood. At this rate, Path of Exile's Wraeclast is never going to make a Top 10 fantasy island getaways.
Like all of Path of Exile's seasonal expansions and leagues, players will need to roll a fresh character to encounter a new NPC—a refugee from this parallel, doomed timeline where demons have rudely taken over and redecorated with a lot of fire and eldritch tentacles. This survivor entrusts you with a demonic artifact, the Blood Crucible, and tells you to keep it safe by embedding it in your flesh. Which of course you'll do because nobody on this continent has ever backed down from a bad idea.
The Crucible works a bit like the Horadric Cube from Diablo 2, only fueled by murder. It allows you to re-forge already rare items with corrupted demonic upgrades, offset by penalties. These 'scourged' items can go through the process multiple times, re-rolling it with higher tiers of positive and negative traits each time. You just need to grind up some demons to make it work.
After charging the Crucible with spilled monster-blood, players can press a button to warp to a parallel hell-version of the area you're in for a quick rampage. It looks very cool (in a red, glowy, lava and tentacle-filled kinda way) and is populated with thousands of demons. Beat them up, harvest their corruption and pump it into the equipment you want to upgrade. Rinse, repeat, and maybe harvest some new 'tainted' currency items in the demon universe that'll let you reconfigure the skill-gem slots in your freshly profaned gear while you're at it.
The Crucible also gains experience and levels up, letting you pick from a variety of perks to alter how it behaves, giving you additional incentive to keep using it and experimenting on items you might have otherwise discarded. And of course there's more to the league, with three distinct factions of demons to fight, each with their own bosses and special loot. Scourge content extends well into Path Of Exile's sprawling Atlas Of Worlds endgame, which is also where this expansion's other major slab of content lies.
Interdimensional travel: abridged edition
As seems typical with the last few expansions, Grinding Gear Games have once more reworked the Atlas, the dimension-hopping adventure players go on after completing the main story. Rather than being a major overhaul (that's coming in the next expansion), it feels like they're tightening it up and turbo-charging it a little. There are now fewer map nodes to work your way across, split across four regions, down from the previous eight. Grinding Gear say this will halve the grind to reach the final round of endgame content.
Even though the grind is reduced, that's not to say there's less to do in the Atlas. Far from it. Scourge brings a whole bundle of extra tough 'Uber' challenges to the table, including optional ultra-hard versions of the Breach, Blight, Legion, Delirium and Delve leagues. There'll be bigger fights, remixed and more frequent boss fights, and some new rewards for players with builds min-maxed enough to tackle these challenges, which will reward players with some extremely powerful new unique items.
And oh, what builds they'll be. Scourge also brings a revamp to the game's intimidating-looking passive skill tree, adding a major new feature: masteries. All notable (see 'build-defining') passives are linked to a similarly themed Mastery slot on the grid. After claiming that notable passive, you can spend additional skill points to pick additional, related perks from the mastery slot. Simply put, there'll be less skill points spent on reaching cool perks and more on notably upgrading your character.
Wanted: time management skills
It wouldn't be a Path Of Exile expansion without a bundle of new active skills, too. There's a handful of fun skills that could create whole new character builds. Energy Blade lets you channel your energy shield into a powerful lightning-element melee weapon. Temporal Rift lets you rewind time by four seconds, returning you to your previous position with whatever stats you had at the time. Take a big hit or cast something that drained all your mana? Just rewind!
Tornado is an especially fun looking skill. It summons a big, slow-moving homing tornado that does damage over time. The Tornado also picks up the properties of any projectiles you fire into it, just in case you want to create your own all-consuming fire twister. Be honest, you do. Poisonous Concoction adds another skill to the growing alchemist archetype, letting you throw the corrupted contents of your health flasks to deal some beefy AoE poison damage, with damage scaling with how potent the healing flasks are.
There's also a whole new set of six Link skills designed for co-op. These link two players with a visible tether that allows them to share various defensive or offensive buffs, with the thrilling trade-off that if one linked player dies, then their partner does too. Anyone who loved the dynamic of the Heavy and the Medic in Team Fortress 2 is probably going to have some fun here. These new skills should help offset the coming nerfs to Aura skills, which were previously the go-to buffs for co-op players.
These are just the big-ticket features of the Scourge expansion, which is easily one of the largest the game has seen in a while. There's also been some sweeping balance changes, some quality-of-life improvements to guild hideouts, and a major rework to how personal hideouts work. Now players are free to decorate their personal space however they see fit, untethered by the old Favor system where you had to buy decor items. Perfect for fans of The Sims or Animal Crossing that woke up and chose violence.
While I'm excited to dive into Scourge and the new Atlas endgame, there are a couple small flies in the ointment of this expansion. Scourge marks the first expansion where Grinding Gear is removing big content from the endgame. To make room for a slightly revised set of Expedition events on the Atlas, the Perandus league from early 2016 is being retired. Studio head Chris Wilson also confirmed that this will become standard moving forward—the weakest and least liked leagues will be tapping out to make room for new content in the Atlas.
As Scourge is such a major expansion (featuring a league, an endgame rework and some major passive and active skill tweaks), Grinding Gear also had to put on hold their plans to revisit and upgrade the earlier acts of the campaign. Chris Wilson was keen to assure me this was a temporary shift in priorities, and they'll be looking at ways to update Act 2 onwards with the start of the next season. Act 1's extra enemy variety and meaner bosses made for an exciting time at the start of the last league. It seems we've got plenty to look forward to before the release of Path Of Exile 2 next year, which will be rolling out as a gigantic free expansion to the game.
The Path of Exile: Scourge expansion launches as a free update on October 22nd.