Path of Exile is back in its biggest and darkest update yet: The Fall of Oriath.
It’s dark, gory and brutal with an interesting story to back it up. In short: It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Path of Exile, except the dosage is bigger than anything else they’ve ever provided. The Fall of Oriath includes six entirely new acts, which is hours of content, as well as the new Pantheon system to explore. Having to kill gods to unlock it, these are rewards that the player must earn and encourages players to explore levels completely.
How well does all of this new stuff play out in practice though? Quantity isn’t really quality after all. Rather well it turns out; the content in Oriath is at least at the same level as the rest of the game. The bosses are challenging, the maps are big and there’s a few side quests to distract the player without detracting from how dark Path of Exile really is.
The sheer amount of content in this update is the biggest attraction. Completing the base game is an endeavor that can be completed in two-three days at most, but Oriath will more than double the length of the game without sacrificing any quality to achieve it. Four acts become ten, and the game is divided in two parts now; basically the existing content and the new stuff. That’s a lot of enemies to kill, bosses to fight and huge new maps to explore.
As we’ve come to expect from Grinding Gear, it’s a very dark and gruesome world to explore. One mission literally involves acquiring the eyeballs of a senior Templar to gain access to their fortress. Later in Act 5, you’ll find the streets of Theopolis defined by huge piles of corpses. Such dark touches really reinforce the sort of world Path of Exile exists in, instead of pretending Oriath is some peaceful and clean exception from Wraeclast.
There’s some really weird and new enemies populating the world as well. Infiltrating a Templar building has you attacked by floating marble busts that become bizarre monstrosities once things fall apart in Oriath. The first major boss in The Fall of Oriath, the High Templar Avarius, is also one of the of the most interactive and challenging bosses in Path thus far; with multiple different attacks to dodge. With how brutally lethal those attacks are, it’s a real challenge to take him down. The other bosses encountered thus far (which we won’t spoil) aren’t quite on this level, but they did feel a lot more engaging than previous bosses.
Returning to Wraeclast is how Grinding Gear Games manages to create so much new content. Acts 6-9 are all done in the same areas as Acts 1-4, at a ratio of about 50:50 between new areas and old ones. This should get a touch repetitive past a point, but Grinding Gears balance the old areas with new ones, and even the old areas have new sections and enemies to liven them up. Given that Path is a free to play game, concessions like this are fine.
Fall of Oriath is a lot more challenging than the the earlier parts of the game as well. Up until about late Act 4, you don’t really need to grind and make sure you have good equipment (and have leveled up enough) to sweep through an area and take on bosses. By Act 5 and onwards though, it’s basically a requirement to grind your character to get anywhere without dying constantly.
Having a challenge in normal mode is nice, since Path lacks a difficulty setting as such, but I’m not convinced that this is the correct way to go about it. Needing a player to spend hours farming experience from lower level monsters isn’t challenging, it’s tedious. A few tweaks should hopefully address this, but the amount of grinding it takes to finish the expansion in the Alpha is a touch too much.
The Pantheon system is basically a persistent reward for beating mini-bosses and bosses throughout the storyline. Each unlocks a different buff that the player can then choose from, which is fairly basic. They can also be upgraded to an extent by killing specific legendaries monsters in the game (thus rewarding or punishing the player for completing or not completing side missions or exploring the map properly).
There’s no penalty for switching between any one (it can be done at any time even) so its a lot more flexible than the skill tree. The changes are also fairly impactful as well (like healing up to 8 health a second if stationary) so they’ll either shore up weaknesses with a particular build or make them even more OP. The best part is that they don’t really have an investment cost; just play the game to get access to them.
The main drawback of The Fall of Oriath is that Grinding Gear Games hasn’t taken any steps to alleviate the problems the game already has. Expect reused enemies throughout the expansion (A necromancer in Act 6 is the same one as in Act 1, the Karui warriors in Act 6 are the same ones as in Act 4). The loot system is just as frustrating, because despite the huge amount of loot you’ll come across barely a fraction of it will be relevant for your character.
The plot for the The Fall of Oriath is also fantastic. The story of Oriath is divided into two parts; Act 5 sees the return of the Exile to Oriath in the middle of a slave riot against the Templars running Oriath’s society. Acts 6-10 are Part 2 of the Path story and see the Exile returning to Wraeclast to escape the grasp of the main villain for The Fall of Oriath: Kitava. Kitava is a powerful Karui god and intent on consuming the world and bringing an end to all things. Of course, it falls to the Exile to slay the god (shades of God of War 3) and save the world.
Oriath itself has a very unique and interesting style as well. Up until this point in the game, Oriath is merely a place mentioned and even then only sparingly. In actuality, Oriath (with its capital Theopolis) is a society run by the Templar Order. It captures the style of a Roman-esque city (which fits very well with the gods returning as well) with a nice subplot of the oppressed islander race of the Karui. A contrast with the Maori (or black oppression in the United States even) isn’t unreasonable.
It also touches on theology and how humanity is better off without gods than they are with them. The Beast was created by Sin, another god, so the people of Wraeclast could be freed from their ‘tyranny’ as he describes it. The Path lore has always been something that’s worth reading (in addition to the awesome gameplay), but the return of gods is at least an interesting direction to take the story.
We can’t go too much more into the plot without spoiling it, but suffice to say it’s done very well (even catching me off guard with some great plot twists).
The Fall of Oriath stands up as a huge content installment that is both fun and challenging, while introducing new mechanics to help keep the player interested in the game hours into a playthrough. The gods are a big shakeup. Returning to Oriath, the city that cast the player out to start this entire story is a great hook for the story of the entire expansion.
At the end of the day, Path of Exile is a free to play game, so the only thing this new expansion costs is time, not money. It’s most certainly worth the time. Even without pointing out that Path is free though, The Fall of Oriath has so much depth and content available to it that it is on par with (and superior of) its pay-to-play peers.
The Fall of Oriath is due to release mid-July 2017. The Closed Beta is available now.