Path of Exile’s new expansion lets you build your own endgame

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Path Of Exile, like football, is a game of two halves—its lengthy main story campaign and its sprawling, non-linear Atlas Of Worlds endgame. I’d probably watch more football if the first half involved deicide on a massive scale and the latter was a dimension-hopping hunt for loot and glory, but I digress: the important thing is that Path Of Exile’s latter half is due for a shake-up, and Grinding Gear Games aim to deliver that with the free Siege of the Atlas expansion, landing on February 4th.

Path of Exile’s Atlas Of Worlds is a multidimensional nexus where all things can and will happen. In gameplay terms, it’s a second campaign, less structured than the first, but throwing all the content from the main game (and a sack of new stuff besides) into the mix for nigh-endless replayability. First introduced in 2016, it has seen three major expansions since, each with their own story arc and a slab of new content. Siege of the Atlas is the fourth, and one of the biggest shake-ups mechanically.

One of the big things defining Path Of Exile is its quarterly ‘challenge leagues’. Every three months, a new side-story or gameplay modifier is thrown into the mix to help freshen up the experience of getting through the main story for new characters. While a couple of the oldest and least popular leagues have recently been retired, the vast majority are still playable through the Atlas. A major focus of this expansion is letting you create your own endgame experience by letting you pick and mix past league content into the Atlas as you progress.

While PoE’s main story has remained largely static (balance tweaks aside) since 2017, the Atlas has been a much livelier place, going through several story arcs, each introducing new extradimensional villains to beat up and loot. Siege of the Atlas introduces two more, each one set on devouring all of existence.

The Searing Exarch is fire-themed, planning on burning reality to a crisp, and the Eater Of Worlds is an all-consuming Cthuloid sort that prefers its universes rare. Each one also has a similarly themed second-in-command that you’ll have to take down before you can think of challenging the big bad.

None pizza with left beef

Rather than lurking in specific locations, in each Atlas excursion you’ll be able to pick which of the two new villains to pursue. Their influence will increase on each hunt, eventually leading to their respective boss battles. The Atlas had grown a bit overcomplicated in previous expansions, with unlocking new areas being gated behind collecting Watchstones and slotting them into the Atlas itself. Now progression is simpler and more freeform, with each of the four current ‘pinnacle’ bosses (the two new ones, plus the Maven and the Uber Elder) dropping Voidstones which you can use to raise the level of all content in the Atlas, or disable if you want to take it easy.

If that sounds too simple for Path Of Exile—it is.

Every single map on the Atlas has a bonus objective, and completing it earns you a point to spend on a gigantic skill grid of Atlas modifiers. Rather than alter your character, it modifies the content encountered across the Atlas. Liked the big battles of Legion? Pick upgrades that boost the chances of Legion content appearing anywhere in your Atlas, along with some perks to increase the quality of the loot you’ll get from it. There are only so many points to go around and a huge number of potential unlocks, so each player should end up with their own personalized endgame, with their favorite monsters & loot sprinkled into every environment type.

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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)
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Path of Exile Atlas tree

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)

New content means new loot, too, and new ways to tinker with your existing items. Each of the new bosses has a chance to drop their own unique gear, and monsters in areas under their influence have a chance to drop new Eldritch currency items, which will let you imbue regular items with new perks of varying strengths. Items can hold one perk each from the new flame and abyss-themed pools related to the new bosses, giving you incentive to go after both and opening up new min-maxing options.

And if it seems a bit strange that I’ve gone all this time without talking about the new challenge league, it’s because there’s not much to talk about. The Archnemesis league scatters four petrified mini-bosses into every area in the game. They can be woken up and fought by modding them with various perks and loot modifiers that drop from regular enemies. Each successive miniboss fought in an area has the mods from previous ones already activated. 

Fighting all four means you’ll get the rewards from the first modifier 4 times, the second modifier thrice, the third twice, and the fourth modifier once, potentially giving early-game players mountains of extra gear. You won’t even need to sacrifice extra inventory space for these monster modifiers, either. The Archnemesis league introduces a new league-specific inventory panel specifically for them. It’s a cute quality-of-life improvement.

Gross prophet margin

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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)
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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

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Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)

Not even Path Of Exile can grow infinitely, and with Siege of the Atlas, Grinding Gear Games are retiring yet another older challenge league. This time it’s the Prophecy content, so you won’t be collecting silver coins to trade in for tiny sidequests anymore. I don’t think many players will miss it, but we will be saying goodbye to Navali and her spooky monkey friend. 

Beyond that, nothing else is getting axed. The previous story bosses in the Atlas are still accessible (albeit via obscure means, in some cases), and Grinding Gear Games even found time to tune up the difficulty a bit on Act 2 of the main story, so you can put those FOMO worries to bed.

It all seems to be positive growth with this expansion. While there’s been a couple minor nerfs thrown at a couple of game-breakingly powerful character builds, the developers have mostly been focused on buffing up some underpowered archetypes. 

The only concern I have with Siege of the Atlas is that it requires players to get through the main game to access the majority of the new content. When I talked with studio head Chris Wilson, he admitted that a completely new player going in blind and figuring everything out as they go is looking at dozens of hours of play to finish the main story. Still, knowledge is power in Path Of Exile, and those who look up guides and recommended character builds will have a much easier time. Even running in the punishing Solo Self Found mode (disabling co-op, trading and stashes), players frequently clear the story in a single afternoon. 

The Path of Exile: Siege of the Atlas expansion launches as a free update on February 4th. A new character will be needed to join the Archnemesis league, but the Atlas Of Worlds changes are available to all.

PCGamer.com