Grinding Gear Games (GGG) has further cemented their dominance over the ARPG market with the release of their newest and chart-topping expansion, Echoes of the Atlas. Path of Exile sees a new expansion once a year and about four new leagues a year, some being hits while others not so much. What typically causes poor player retention for Path of Exile is unnecessary complexity and hoops to jump through. This time around, however, GGG has knocked it out of the park with their newest expansion and league that launched alongside it; a spectacular start to the year and, hopefully, an idea of what is to come.
Echoes of the Atlas, the newest expansion, is a continuation of last year’s expansion. In Conquerors of the Atlas, we saw a massive overhaul of the game’s endgame system, the atlas. Not only did it reinvigorate the endgame experience, it made it significantly better and more accessible. With Echoes of the Atlas, it has only strengthened the success of its predecessor.
The endgame goal is still relatively the same: complete maps, fill out your atlas, defeat the conquerors, Sirus, and previous pinnacle bosses. However, the atlas has been made more rewarding and fulfilling to complete with the game’s newest boss addition, The Maven. Beings of celestial origins, The Maven and The Envoy have made their way into our world as a means to, seemingly, find entertainment. Through The Envoy’s poetic and uncanny, yet inviting dialogue, we have learned that we have disrupted a pantheon of something much greater than we can imagine. The Elder, one of the game’s pinnacle bosses, was a servant to these greater forces. Our victory over The Elder has left a silence — a hunting ground now left without its hunter. Maven has come to test us for her own personal gain. She seeks not of being a replacement for her fallen “companion”, but for amusement that will help ease the boredom brought on by eternity.
As you complete maps, The Maven will witness your battles against bosses. Once she witnesses enough battles, she provides you with an invitation to her arena where you must fight all the bosses she witnessed at once. Upon victory, she will provide loot and talent points to empower your atlas, resulting in a better yield of rewards from future map runs. After providing her with enough entertainment, you will eventually be welcomed to try your hand at besting her. All of this happens naturally while you are progressing your atlas and allows you, the player, to just play the game. And not only does the new expansion allow you to play the game without performing a circus act to reach the goal, so, too, does the new league.
While the new expansion offers a great new way to experience the endgame, it is accompanied by one of the game’s best-received leagues yet, Ritual. Unlike Heist, the league that came just before this one, Ritual does not require the player to go out of their way to play a different game. Ritual’s greatest strength is in its simplicity and how it allows the player to, just as the addition of Maven has, play the game the way it was intended to be played. Toss aside the spreadsheets on the second monitor and take Path of Exile off your Harvard application; this league is about as stress-free as it gets.
Ritual places a certain amount of totems in a map (3-4) that will have a horde of enemies within its radius. Once you kill those enemies, you click on the totem to activate the ritual and kill them all over again. By killing these enemies, you gain “tribute”. Once the ritual is complete, you can click on the totem again to spend your tribute on a variety of rewards. All the monsters you killed during a ritual will carry over to the next one in the zone, offering your slightly greater difficulty and greater tribute gains. That’s it, that is Ritual.
When my friend was telling me about the league before its launch I was a little… underwhelmed. Path of Exile is loved and hated for its complexity, and this league seemed like it was going to lean a little on the boring side. While it may have been lacking if it launched without the expansion, it has allowed me to enjoy the game in a way that I necessarily haven’t before. It also reminded me what makes ARPGs so fun. It isn’t the spreadsheets or the calculators, it’s the mindless fun they provide when they allow you to just play the game, slay the hordes of bad guys, and get better loot. Echoes of the Atlas and Ritual have come together to create one of the best experiences that Path of Exile has provided since its inception.
Simplicity coupled with meaningful depth is a hard balance to strike in ARPGs. It is often missed on both ends of the spectrum; some games going too deep down the rabbit hole of choices and options, scaring off the casual side of the market, while those that tend to cater to the casual side often offer very little depth. The genre has had a huge void that many have tried to occupy, but none with lasting success yet. Even if fleeting, Path of Exile has taken a step back from its typical pace and nailed it.
A chord has been struck with this launch, one of an appealing nature. Veterans are singing praises and new players are discovering the game for the first time (welcome to the dark side, friends). It is without a doubt that complexity and meaningful choices are needed in RPGs, but there is also room to offer a reprieve from the sometimes “part-time job” feeling that Path of Exile gives off. GGG has hit a perfect balance with this content release which leaves me excited for the future of the game as we move closer towards Path of Exile 2.