Path of Exile: The Sacrifice of Vaal Hands-On Preview
New Challenge Leagues
The procedurally generated gambling aspect of Vaal Orbs and corrupted areas extends on to the game’s new Challenge Leagues. PoE’s leagues are offshoot versions of the game that are refreshed with each cycle: The leagues have their economies reset with each new content drop, and they allow Grinding Gear to experiment with new mechanics and create new challenges for players.
The Sacrifice of Vaal’s standard, or “softcore”-level, league is called Ambush, in which players come across special chests at random in the game. These chests have varying properties and potential drops, but they also come with a challenging fight, or ambush.
Rogers and Wilson said the chests are going to be a part of the game players will have to experiment with to understand. Like corrupted areas, chests will have special properties, and those properties will have to be uncovered using identify scrolls players normally use on items. Once a chest’s properties are uncovered — like what it drops, its likelihood of giving off rare and unique items, and the monsters you’ll have to defeat to get at the loot –you’ll be able to use other consumables that are normally used to re-roll items to actually re-roll the properties if the chests themselves.
“There’s two different layers here — the player has the first choice of whether or not they even want to open the chest,” Wilson said. “Sometimes they don’t want to risk having a fight at their current level of life and so on. And the second choice is, once you’ve committed to opening it, how hard do you want to be. It could be that the character is in a really good state to try a really tough fight and get some good rewards for it.”
And because the ability to alter ambush chests’ properties is something that isn’t explained to players, it adds an element of discovery, Wilson said. Players who aren’t far enough into the game to really understand the depth of item crafting and re-rolling can still enjoy the chests just by encountering them, opening them, and having a fun fight.
Players who know a thing or two more, though, will have to discover just how they can alter the chests themselves.
The “Hardcore” Challenge League is called Invasion, Rogers said, and lets players take on Path of Exile as normal — but adds in random boss spawns that can draw unique bosses from other areas of the game to places they’re not normally seen. Since bosses are universally tough and usually require some preparation on the player’s part, their invasion of other areas is going to add significant challenge.
“Our goal with Hardcore leagues is to kill the player,” Rogers said. “We don’t necessarily want to be fair — there’s a certain kind of player that likes that kind of thing.”
Victory Over Vaal
Though the current item system gives players a lot of customization and versatility for their abilities, Rogers said Grinding Gear recognized that in Path of Exile’s initial release, there weren’t any tactical, high-level “ultimate” skills with long cooldowns, which players could use to great effect in battle, but would need to budget.
In The Sacrifice of the Vaal, that situation has been altered with Vaal versions of existing skills that seriously amp them up. Rogers and Wilson showed off a few, like “corpse explosion,” which allows players to detonate enemy corpses to deal damage to living bad guys. The standard corpse explosion effects a small number of corpses; the Vaal version detonates huge numbers by chaining corpses into more and more explosions, provided they’re close enough together. Other Vaal skills saw similar chains that are great for large groups of enemies, or just larger, screen-filling versions of familiar skills (such as the Vaal fireball ability seen above).
Using those Vaal skills will require patience, though, because they’re powered by the souls of killed enemies, in keeping with the mini-expansion’s theme of sacrifice. You’ll need to kill bad guys to charge up your Vaal skills, and Rogers said you’ll likely only use them once or twice in a level. What’s more, being economical with Vaal skills is key, because when you have more than one skill on a player, the soul of each killed enemy is assigned to only one skill. That means it’ll take a lot longer to charge five Vaal skills than just one or two. Rogers said the expansion will pack “12 or 13” new skills when it launches, and more will be added with content patches through the course of The Sacrifice of Vaal’s run.
Those skills are going to be useful when players make it through enough corrupted areas to attack The Sacrifice of the Vaal’s end-game content, which is opened with four rare artifacts. Having all of them (and in the right pattern) opens six portals to the final dungeon, and those portals are single-use — which might encourage players to bring parties smaller than six to the battle, since anyone who dies won’t be able to rejoin the group once the portals close.
Rogers showed off the final dungeon and its myriad bosses — there were three boss encounters in all, divided by huge groups of regular enemies — and said players can expect it to be tough.
These boss fights also come with their own devious mechanics: For example, in one fight against a pair of bosses, killing one meant the other got significantly stronger, and players might have to forego their usual strategies of focusing fire in favor of something new. In another boss fight against three unique bosses, dropping each individual boss monster meant the remaining ones changed tactics. The Vaal Queen, the expansion’s final big bad, has four arms that each have different powers, and during our fight with her, she split into four parts at various points during the fight, which meant dealing with all her lethal abilities at once. It’s worth noting that even with super-charged characters, we didn’t make it to the end.