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Path of Exile's new Heist update is basically fantasy Ocean's 11

(Image credit: Grinding Gear)

Path Of Exile is a game constantly reinventing itself. Seven years in, Grinding Gear Games still regularly reimagines major features with quarterly expansions. The Heist update, launching on September 18th, might just be their biggest since 2017’s enormous Fall Of Oriath. Operating out of a whole new town, players will plot high-risk, high-reward heists alongside a cast of all new recruitable NPC criminals. And they say crime doesn’t pay.

Heist is practically a whole new game operating in parallel with Path Of Exile’s regular story campaign. Early on, players will unlock access to the Rogue Harbour, a hive of scum and villainy that they can truly call their own. Over the course of the normal game, players will collect two new types of items, Contracts and Markers. Contracts are the papers you need to begin plotting a heist. Markers are a form of criminal currency that you’ll use to pay your co-conspirators. You can’t just run into a vault, kick down the door and grab the treasure here. You’ll need to hire professionals.

There’s going to be a fully voiced cast of 13 new characters in this update. Four of them run the Harbour, but the other nine you can recruit, level up, equip and bring with you on heist missions. The treasure vaults are located behind complex security systems, and you’ll need experts in lockpicking, engineering, demolitions and more to bypass these defenses. Plus, it seems like a fun excuse to hang out with a bunch of new, fully voiced characters in a game otherwise focused on wading hip-deep through thousands of monsters.

Heists will play quite differently from normal Path of Exile runs. For once you’re not trying to scour the place clean. Every fight you get into, every treasure chest cracked open and every noise made increases the security level of the building. If you max out the security gauge, a countdown begins until they permanently seal the treasure vault and flood the area with guards, so your goal is to get to the target relatively quietly. You grab the goods (and anything else you can carry) and then try to escape. Outside of Hardcore mode, Path Of Exile is usually quite forgiving of death, but not so much here. You only get to keep your stolen goods if you can safely extract them from the building, and you only have so much space in your inventory, so you'll have to carefully pick what you pilfer.

While Path Of Exile always had summonable minions, Heist is the first time that players have been able to hire and work alongside customizable NPCs, and should be an interesting test-bed for how Diablo-style Hireling AI might work in future updates, and perhaps in Path Of Exile 2. While some might fear the addition of AI party members might turn into a frustrating escort mission, Grinding Gear explained that during heist missions, your hired help cannot be killed. Their work can be interrupted, however, so it’s up to you to provide cover if they’re trying to pick a lock or blow a safe door off its hinges. At least for the time being, I like to think of them as mobile objective points that you can (as with everything else in the game) customize over time.

While most of the loot you bring home from a heist is for yourself, the target artifact is something that you’re attempting to acquire for someone else who will reward you. The payment from these regular snatch-and-grab missions will help you fund and plan your own Grand Heist, a much more ambitious mission for personal gain. Once you’ve found the blueprints to a Grand Heist target you can plan to assault a larger, more heavily defended multi-wing building. At the planning table you can spend resources to reveal new areas, shortcuts and potential rewards.

There's a fun twist here: You can’t carry these maps into the mission. As with every good heist movie, you’ve got to memorize the plan. Forget part of it? Improvise.

As a longtime Path of Exile player, the rewards look very tempting. Each vault in a Grand Heist contains several possible final rewards for yourself, but you’ve only got a few seconds to pick, and you only get to keep one of them. Escape with all your limbs intact and you’ll find yourself with a replica of one of Path Of Exile’s coveted Unique items, which I reckon is a prize worth going out of your way for.

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Love it when a plan comes together.

Love it when a plan comes together. (Image credit: Grinding Gear)
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Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! (Image credit: Grinding Gear)
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This seems like a hard situation to pick a lock in.

This seems like a hard situation to pick a lock in. (Image credit: Grinding Gear)
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Hiring the right NPCs for the job will be critical to pulling off a heist.

Hiring the right NPCs for the job will be critical to pulling off a heist. (Image credit: Grinding Gear)
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If the alert level hits max, you won't have long to get your loot and run.

If the alert level hits max, you won't have long to get your loot and run. (Image credit: Grinding Gear)
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Grand Heists deliver some rare, special loot.

Grand Heists deliver some rare, special loot. (Image credit: Grinding Gear)

Path Of Exile’s Unique items are the rarest and by far more interesting gear in the game. Every single Unique has a quirk that can be found nowhere else in the game, and many character builds are structured around one or more specific Uniques, so a chance to pick one from a shortlist as a mission reward is tempting. The replicas you’ll be liberating from the vaults are every bit as powerful as their original counterparts, but have picked up some twists as a side-effect of the replication process. For example, a powerful bow that previously used your Dexterity stat might use Strength instead, allowing beefy warriors to branch out into ranged combat.

There are more than 100 of these Replica Uniques to be found, as well as 900 variant skill gems, some new experimental equipment base types for crafters to tinker with, and gear with powerful new enchantments. Among the possible rewards are also Heist Trinkets, an all-new type of item that can be placed in a special new inventory slot. These increase and modify the kinds of rewards you’ll receive from your next heist, allowing you to really zero in on what you want to bring home. While trinkets cannot be modified through Path Of Exile’s extensive crafting system, heist contracts and blueprints can, letting you pick and choose your targets well before each mission.

The Heist update looks to be an extremely complex and involved side-game, and considering all the work, voice acting and new systems that went into its creation, the developers seem confident that it’ll be sticking around in some capacity come the next update. I’d not be surprised if heists are still a major fixture when Path of Exile 2 launches in 2021.

Still, as ambitious as all of the above sounds, this is a Path Of Exile update, so there’s still more to go, including a bunch of expanded and reworked skill gems. Debuff-applying curse spells in particular are getting much stronger, with their effects becoming more pronounced over time if you cast them manually (as opposed to being autocast as a secondary effect). The Impending Doom support gem adds an explosive kick to the end of any attached curse spell. Explosions make everything better—that’s a science fact.

Grinding Gear has also expanded the Steel skill range. A largely forgotten subset of magic, these have been overhauled and look like they'll be much more interesting to use. Players can summon shattered, orbiting swords from the ground and use shards of these blades as ammunition to skewer and impale enemies with projectile attacks. The fun part comes in the Call Of Steel skill, which recalls thrown shards from enemy bodies, doing additional area-of-effect damage and refunding your spent ammo. Brutal.

The last of what seems like several cherries on the top of this enormous crime-and-loot sundae is a whole new set of players. With the release of the Heist update, Path Of Exile will also be gaining MacOS support, giving our more artistically inclined pals a chance to join us. As always, none of this will cost a penny. You could say it’s a steal.

The Heist update launches on September 18th.