Path of Exile: The Sacrifice of Vaal Hands-On Preview

For its first major content update for Path of Exile, developer Grinding Gear Games is focused on bringing new content into its action-RPG without necessarily ruining players’ progress so far.

The new update, called The Sacrifice of Vaal, is the first of the cycle of content drops Grinding Gear committed to before Path of Exile’s October launch, with a new “mini-expansion” set to come every four months.

The Sacrifice of Vaal doesn’t add things like new levels for players to grind up to. The developers said they thought that would unhinge the progress players have made so far toward finding the best builds and the best gear, especially those working at the game’s top levels.

“The thing that a lot of games do when they approach this is, they’ll add more new levels, or something like that,” Lead Programmer Jonathan Rogers said. “When you do that, it kind of corrupts everyone’s work that they did. Some people spend thousands of hours grinding for items, and what we didn’t want to do was make all that work useless.”

That doesn’t mean that The Sacrifice of Vaal, which is due on March 5, is all about end-game players, though. Instead, the nature of the expansion is such that new content is scattered throughout the game, so players at just about any level will be able to find and try it.

Rogers and Managing Director Chris Wilson showed off much of the new content at a preview event in Los Angeles this week. The Sacrifice of Vaal is all about the titular Vaal, an Inca-like ancient civilization that is resurfacing in the game and was big on human sacrifice. With their return to Wraeclast, the Vaal have brought with them strange artifacts and “corrupted” areas.

These are side locations that Path of Exile players can encounter as they work through the game, and entering them (and fighting whatever’s inside) is completely optional. The Vaal side areas themselves have some slick mechanics to vary them up — Grinding Gear applied the kind of modifying prefixes and suffixes you’d normally see on items to these places, which gives them strange properties.

Rogers showed off one such corrupted area, which was called a “Ceremonial Sunken Shingle.” The prefix “ceremonial” means the area will have a special attribute, even as the location and what’s inside are procedurally generated, like the rest of Path of Exile.

“What that means is it has a modifier that will affect the player or the monsters when they enter the area,” Rogers said. “When I enter this area, because it’s ‘ceremonial,’ it means this area contains many totems, which is a modifier. They (the modifiers) are all things like ‘monster damage increased,’ or there’s lightning or fire all over the ground, and stuff like that.”

Corrupted areas will appear roughly once an hour, Rogers said, depending on the randomness of procedurally generated regions through which players travel. Grinding Gear created some 60 new bosses to populate those areas, and players will work through them to find Vaal artifacts, including some rare ones that go toward the mini-expansion’s ultimate end-game.

Boosted Boss Battles

The bosses are of particular note, Rogers said. Each of the unique bosses will have their own special mechanics to make battles a little more complex than a straight stand-and-fight situation — they might drop explosives around the area to force you to keep moving, for example.

“Because this is expansion content, we kind of let our designers off the leash, if you will, to design challenging fights with lots of little complicated mechanics to them — so the monsters are quite clever,” Rogers said.

Since players can encounter corrupted areas at just about any level, the developer had to allow the bosses to scale to make their difficulty increase or decrease depending on the player. Encountering a boss in a corrupted area when you’re at a high level will mean the boss has more abilities than if you fought the same boss at a low level.

Players need new skills and abilities too, but as Rogers mentioned, Grinding Gear didn’t want to just add a new level cap and new, better gear to go with it. Instead, the developer added a new system and a new consumable item that allows players to alter their existing gear.

“Some people spend thousands of hours grinding for items, and what we didn’t want to do was make all that work useless.”

Already, crafting and customization are a big part of Path of Exile. Players combine gear with various gems that have different properties, so getting good gear is a combination of the item’s inherent properties and the gems players add to them.

In order to make players’ existing gear better, The Sacrifice of the Vaal adds “Vaal Orbs,” loot that can be found in corrupt areas that allows players to “sacrifice” gear to make it better. Currently, the game includes currency that lets players re-roll the properties of items to potentially get better ones, but Vaal Orbs go a step further.

Vaal Orbs allow for one final re-roll that can boost item and gem stats and properties significantly to make them more useful, or give them other properties that weren’t available to those items and gems previously. The catch is, items “corrupted” by Vaal Orbs are locked and can’t be re-rolled, and there’s a chance the orb might do nothing at all — or in worst-case scenarios, make an item worse.

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