Of all the free-to-play games currently available, Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile is arguably the best, especially if you’re a fan of action RPGs.
Launched way back in 2013, Path of Exile quickly became a haven for those left disappointed with Blizzard’s Diablo 3. Not only did it look great, have mountains of loot and deep character customisation, but it was also free-to-play; and not the kind of free-to-play that begs you to spend money at any opportunity. With Path of Exile, Grinding Gear Games simply presented a quality action RPG which players could support by buying additional stash space or cosmetic items.
Fast forward nearly six years, and you may or may not be surprised to hear that Path of Exile is going from strength to strength – in the past 18 months, its playerbase has doubled. It’s perhaps because of Grinding Gear Games’ proactive approach of refining the game’s content; adding in what it needs to make it more fun while modifying, or even removing, aspects that detract from the experience. And the studio works fast: 10 expansions for Path of Exile have been released to date, each and every one of them adding a slew of meaningful content. If you’re a Path of Exile player, you simply don’t have time to get bored.
There are no signs of Grinding Gear Games slowing down, either. It has a new expansion for Path of Exile on the way that introduces tower defence features and a hell of a lot more. The Blight expansion is set for a PC release on 6th September, and will land on consoles just a few days later on the 9th. It integrates two old leagues – Legion and Synthesis – into the core game, creating more boss fight and end-game opportunities, and plenty of new items have been introduced, too. The main draw of Blight for many players, however, will be the new challenge league that it brings to the table, as well as the three revamped balance archetypes that come with new skills and support gems.
Central to Path of Exile‘s Blight expansion is Sister Cassia, a new NPC who informs you of the Fungal Growths that have appeared throughout Wraeclast. They’re somehow able to control the minds of monsters nearby, and therefore must be destroyed. Luckily she has just the device for the job, but in order for it work you’re going to have to defend it. But you won’t really mind, as it means slaying monsters and collecting loot – two things that any Path of Exile player surely enjoys. Only this time, there’s a slight tower defence angle to it all.
Every area has a Blight Encounter for you to discover, which is kicked off when you decide to attack. You then need to fight off monsters which move along the Blight’s tendrils. Defeat all monsters moving down a tendril and you earn yourself a chest full of rewards. Ergo, the more tendrils there are the more challenging a Blight Encounter is, but the rewards are also greater. Don’t expect any Blight Encounters to be cakewalks, though. The infected nature of the monsters thrown at you during them mean that they are unusually tough. To succeed, you’re going to have to make efficient use of towers to help in the task.
You can build many types of tower. If an enemy is weak to a certain element, for example, you can build a tower that does elemental damage to capitalise on that. You can also build towers that slow enemies down, buff other towers or spawn minions. It’s up to you to build the right towers to get the job done, and where you place them is also important. If you can place a tower to slow the enemies moving down two tendrils rather than one, for instance, do it. Strategy, along with might, is the key to success.
Your reward for completing Blight Encounters will include special Oils, which have 12 tiers of rarity. Three Oils of one type can be upgraded to the next tier by visiting merchants, and by visiting Sister Cassia you’ll be able to combine Oils to create a variety of properties that can be added to rings or amulets. You need two Oils to add an enchantment to a ring, and they modify the functionality of the towers you build, such as increasing their damage. Three oils are needed to add an enchantment to an amulet, but the benefit is likely to be much more appealing to players: amulet enchantments grant the full properties of a Notable passive skill on the skill tree.
There are other uses for Oils, too. Four Blight unique items are available, which can also be anointed with notable passive skills, just like amulets. And there are Blighted Maps to find that can be anointed with oils to improve their properties. Just like normal maps they can be used in the Map Device, but they take you to a different version of an area devoid of monsters. Instead, there’s just a sizeable Blight Encounter for you to overcome, but the rewards are likely to be great.
Moving on from Blight Encounters and Oils, three revamped archetypes will hopefully introduce more build variety in Path of Exile. The Necromancer class has been made more powerful, now capable of controlling the behaviour of its minions by using three support gems. Meat shield summons such as skeletons, zombies and spectres will become more powerful as gems level up, too. The Poison Assassin, on the other hand, has been made viable once again thanks to the introduction of five new skills and a new support gem. And the Mine Saboteur will be more useful thanks to mines being thrown at a range, as well as being much faster to deploy and detonating in sequence. All three archetypes have other improvements, too.
You can find out more about the Blight expansion via the Path of Exile website, including more details about the archetype revamps. Path of Exile players should also look forward to ExileCon, the first Path of Exile fan convention, taking place in Auckland, New Zealand later this year. A two-day event taking place 16th-17th November, just weeks after BlizzCon, it starts with a keynote which Grinding Gear Games stresses anyone who has an interest in Path of Exile won’t want to miss. Of course, it will be streamed online, so if you can’t travel to New Zealand you don’t have to miss out. Just watch it, whatever you do.