Path of Exile stream reveals some of the biggest balance changes ever and teases a new class for its sequel

Every three months or so, we get a new challenge league for Path of Exile—its version of seasons. A fresh start with new characters, new items, new content, and another chance to roll the same Lightning Arrow Deadeye I did the first 30 times. What we don’t get, however, especially in the last few leagues, are balance updates that shock the metagame. With the Affliction league, which starts next week on December 8, it looks like we’re going to get just that.

In its stream yesterday, Grinding Gear Games released a ton of information. In Affliction, it’s done away with three separate systems: labyrinth item enchants (including helm!), alternate quality gems, and threshold jewels. These systems all did similar things by modifying the way a skill gem works in a substantial way. Instead, it’s replaced the equipment-enchanting Font at the end of the labyrinth with a gem crafting station which will allow you to power up, modify, or transfigure your gems. And these transfigured gems are wild.

These gems replace the current quality increases from regular skill gems with new bonuses. Just from a quick glance through the patch notes, we’ve got extra projectiles on a bunch of skills including Tornado Shot and Barrage, more damage multipliers on Boneshatter and Elemental Hit, a % max life multiplier on Bodyswap, and the list goes on and on. And those are only the ones that are huge damage increases—there’s also super interesting new ways that skills work. Take for example Raise Zombie of Falling, which summons a zombie in midair to drop on your enemies. In addition to dealing scaling minion damage, it triggers on death effects when the poor sod hits the deck, and leaves behind a corpse for you to explode or reanimate. Juicy.

Astute readers will notice that these gems are gated behind the labyrinth. This means there will be a new reason to collect those Offerings to the Goddess and make yourself immune to bleed damage, since we’re all going to want these spicy new additions. However, all of these gems are tradeable, so if you really hate labyrinth running, fear not. Also, this replaces the absolutely ridiculous system of trying to find a head enchant on your perfectly rolled seven-link Righteous Fire helmet, so we won’t have to deal with that any more.

You might also notice that one of the main reasons for running Heist missions has evaporated, which, as a diehard Heist enjoyer, I found quite alarming. However, Grinding Gear has said that it’s increasing the currency rewards from the end of blueprint Grand Heists and doing a massive overhaul of replica uniques and experimented base type gear. Anyone want a Simplex Amulet with a 20% increase to item drop quantity, 20% reduced mana resistance, and 178 life? ‘Cause I do!

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)

New league, new ascendancies

Gem changes aren’t the only thing on the horizon for Affliction, either. The new league introduces a mist-covered forest called the Viridian Wildwood that you can enter at the start of your maps, PoE’s endgame dungeons. By collecting wisps and exploring the forest, you can unlock new class Ascendancies to use in parallel with your current one, some of which have gnarly bonuses. The Warlock of the Mists ascendancy lets you reanimate spectres of boss monsters like the Hydra, and the Wildwood Primalist lets you gain abilities from other classes’ ascendancies, like the Juggernaut’s immunity to movement speed reduction.

Between new league content, transfigured gems changing the meta in a big way, and atlas maps changes, like replacing Metamorph monsters with Ultimatum events, the new league looks like a banger (Ultimatum is BACK, baby!) Grinding Gear wasn’t done there, though, as it also had a big reveal from Path of Exile 2 as well.

In the livestream it introduced the Mercenary, a class that specializes in the crossbow. Taking inspiration from shooters, there are a bunch of different fire modes and ammo types available. Long range power shot sniper crossbows, rapid fire crossbows you can shoot on the move, and bursty shotgun crossbows. Van Helsing, eat your heart out.

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)

In the time I spent with the PoE2 ExileCon demo, I got a feel for some of the starting classes. The Monk darted in and out of combat, Sorceress was your typical glass cannon ranged caster, the Warrior was an implacable tank. The Mercenary appears to be a prototypical gunfighter—ranged attacks to whittle enemies down, grenades to slow or stun them, and shotgun abilities to finish the job. As revealed in the PC Gaming Show yesterday, the game also has added a WASD movement scheme which you can use over click to move, a first for Path of Exile. It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on, and whether or not playing the Mercenary will be as fun as Enter the Gungeon (I’m guessing it will).

It remains to be determined if these classes will continue to keep their unique flavors after players get their hands on them, as game director Jonathan Rogers remains adamant that in true PoE style, anyone can use anything. Once we get our grubby little hands on it, maybe we’ll have melee Sorceresses, Druids with crossbows in their paws, and a Warrior who kills everything by running really fast. I guess this explains why Path of Exile 2 ranked highly in our Most Wanted list.

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