Path of Exile: Ultimatum Improves the Game on the Way to Path of Exile 2

But I still need a PoE PhD to understand half the changes in next week's big expansion.

Path of Exile 2 looks like more than just a bunch of shifting numbers. That’s good news, as keeping up with the game has long been too much for my tiny brain. I like complex, loot-driven, ongoing games. But I’ve said it before: I often find Path of Exile inscrutable. I’ve put another dozen or so hours into the action-RPG (a free-to-play dungeon crawler in the vein of Diablo) since then. And I’m no closer to understanding the hundreds of currencies and crafting materials at play than I was before.

Certainly the description of Path of Exile: Ultimatum didn’t help. That’s the new batch of seasonal content — known as a “League” in the game’s parlance — that developer Grinding Gear Games was kind enough to show us. Producer and developer Chris Wilson ran down the new changes in exhaustive detail. The gist of what I understood is that this latest content, like the Ritual League before it, slots into the usual cycle of monster murdering. It sounds like a horde mode with just a dash of roguelike risk and reward. Players can choose to undertake escalating series of challenges, gathering more loot as they go, but will lose absolutely everything if they die.

Luckily the system is tied to tradeable items. That’s great if you’re too chicken to try a particularly challenging Ultimatum (the name for the horde challenges). You can simply sell the challenge to another player in exchange for more guaranteed rewards. That should also take some of the randomness out of the equation for high-level players with a build they really, really want to test. They might even reach a new super-boss if they survive long enough, but Wilson was somewhat secretive about what this endgame foe looks like.

All of that was well and good. The stuff that was absolute nonsense to me included various reworks to old content. You see, whenever a League ends in Path of Exile it gets rolled into the main game. Permanently. Only at a reduced rate of occurrence. These legacy activities previously had a five or 10 percent chance of appearing during regular play. Though that’s apparently being flatted to eight percent for all past Leagues. At the same time, the older content will receive massive overhauls to qualify-of-life and quality of loot for the time investment.

Wilson specifically cited a boss called Catarina that stood out to me. Plenty of guides online will tell you to ignore this criminal mastermind completely, since defeating her resets a board used to play certain content and farm items. Now the team is heavily incentivizing this final showdown by bumping up all the rewards you get from the rest of that League’s villains. Assuming you beat Catarina. Which sounds complicated on its own.

The changes being made in Path of Exile 2, by comparison, were much easier for me to grasp. The “sequel” will actually be available in the same client as the existing game. The two experiences will even include a shared endgame. Things like classes, weapon types, locations, and story are the big differences. And these gave me much-needed solid ground in the sea of update info.

path of exile 2

The presentation gave us a glimpse of the game’s Act 2: in which you’re based out of a constantly moving city across deep, red sand. This story conceit gives players the chance to pick and choose the order of areas they move through. Though it seems like all of them will be full of murderous bugs and zombies and other nasty things.

To deal with this, your new weapon types also have new abilities. The spear, for example, is designed with mobility in mind. So it was interesting that the first skill Wilson showed involved not moving. You can use it to launch a wave of fire forward through your foes. But if you hold in place for a few seconds, your character will fan the existing flames, and extend the fire out even farther.

It’s a touch of moment-to-moment decision making that seemed more concrete and engaging than “Do I want lightning damage or faster attack speed?” The latter style of choice is difficult for me as a Path of Exile neophyte. I can’t grok the relative benefits of something so abstract. Leaving myself in danger in exchange for a bigger attack, though? Anyone can understand that.

Path of Exile 2 will include other bells and whistles, too. There’s a more interactive environment. Monsters might shatter a cavern roof on your head, for instance, but standing in the light will show you where rocks can no longer fall. And the caravan city itself looked damn impressive. So impressive that the game will apparently only run on current-gen consoles (e.g. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S) when it launches. Besides the PC, of course. Wilson added that he would love to finally combine the two experiences with controller support for Path of Exile on PC.

However you play it, Wilson doesn’t actually recommend going back to the original campaign once the sequel is out. The two games share most of their later content anyway, so the only incentive would be “nostalgia.” Whereas the new campaign will hopefully be a better tuned experience from the jump.

Maybe that will finally be my one, true opportunity to soak in the numbers and jargon of Path of Exile. Until then, Ultimatum seems like yet another fun layer on top of an extremely meaty experience.

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Steven Strom

An obsessive writer broadcasting to you live from the middle of nowhere. Thinks cute things are good, actually.

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