Path of Exile: Sacrifice of the Vaal preview: absolute power

The fallen Queen of the Vaal has arrived to take her bloody revenge in the upcoming Sacrifice of the Vaal mini-expansion for Path of Exile. While some MMO expansions will focus on adding to the endgame scenario, Grinding Gear Games will spread out the content throughout the entire game, for both veterans and newcomers alike.

The story is that the Queen Atziri of the long-dead Vaal civilization has risen again and is bringing corruption to the Wraeclast continent. The exiled must bring the corruption under control, while also sending Atziri back to the underworld from whence she came. As one might imagine, Wraeclast has become an even more dangerous place.

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Wraeclast will now feature various portals that will lead to new corrupted areas. In addition to the standard minions and unique dungeon layouts, these corrupted areas are where players will find Sacrifice of the Vaal's 60 new bosses. All will have their own unique attack patterns, such as an undead soldier that throws dozens of daggers at a time and a lava totem that fires numerous bursts of fire that will follow you relentlessly. Players that survive these ordeals will be rewarded with some of the game's rarest items, including new Vaal skills and Vaal Orbs.

Vaal skills are incredibly powerful attacks and, as such, will require intense charging time. Each skill starts off with a zero charge, but can be powered through the souls of downed enemies. Fully-charged Vaal attacks are immensely powerful to the point that players may want to consider them as a last resort, given that it comes with a large cooldown timer, but will often clear hordes of enemies in a single go. One example of a Vaal attack hits dozens of foes in a large chain. Another attack will cause all surrounding corpses to explode, causing massive damage to nearby foes.

Vaal Orbs can be applied to player items, in order to give them an extra boost. These items will offer rare and special mods to weapons at a very high price. Namely, the items modded with Vaal Orbs cannot be modded any further. Like many of the mini-expansion's additions, it's a high-risk, high-reward proposition.

Although one of the riskiest propositions can be found in Path of Exile's new Ambush League. Ambush Leagues will offer special items in new containers called strongboxes. However, strongboxes will come at an extremely high price, as noted in their individual qualities. Most strongboxes will spawn in high-level enemies to guard their prizes. Other strongboxes are noticeably much nastier. One example I found was one that would spawn in three rare monsters that I would have to take down. However, I would also be immediately frozen upon opening the strongbox, which would essentially leave me a sitting duck. Ambush League's rewards are high, but only the strongest players dare take its challenge.

This all paves the way for the rush on Atziri's stronghold called the Apex of Sacrifice, which will undoubtedly offer Path of Exile's greatest challenge to date. The lair will feature many rare drops, but it will also be filled to the brim with minions and a number of upgraded bosses. Should you survive this gauntlet, Atziri herself will likely destroy you by summoning arcane circles of death and splitting herself into four parts, in order to surround you at all sides. She'll also summon minions to not only dispatch you, but also to help her regain health.

All that sounds difficult in itself, but parties will only have one crack at the Apex of Sacrifice. Party members that fall at any point during the dungeon run cannot be resurrected at all and will respawn outside of the stronghold. Players attempting solo runs will only get six lives. As one might imagine, parties will need to be at the top of their game in order to survive. And survival is indeed worthwhile, since Grinding Gear Games is promising a very special drop for the first 50 standard league players and first 50 hardcore league players to defeat Atziri.

This is scratching the surface for what Path of Exile's Sacrifice of the Vaal mini-expansion will offer. It's also slated to include a new Invasion League that will see Wraeclast monsters and bosses invading different regions of the continent and a new free-for-all PvP Arena mode, which offers a less rigid structure than the PvP modes currently in place.

Sacrifice of the Vaal will hit Path of Exile for free on March 5.