Path of Exile's free new Ascendancy expansion looks roguelike-like

Where Path of Exile meets Spelunky's Daily Challenge

Path of Exile: Ascendancy

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Path of Exile’s largest-ever expansion, The Awakening, just released this past summer. So I was a bit surprised when Grinding Gear got in touch earlier this month wanting to show off yet another expansion to its excellent action-RPG, subtitled Ascendancy, arriving next year.

The Ascendancy name comes from The Trials of Ascendancy—six challenges you’ll first need to find and then (hopefully) overcome. Like a Zelda dungeon, each Trial revolves around one of the expansion’s new environmental traps.

Floor spikes, floors that turn into lava, elaborate spinning blades—it’s your usual “Crazy Person’s Guide to Creating Dungeons That Will Murder The Hell Out Of Intruders” gizmos. As I said, each Trial revolves around one of these traps. But the six Trials are basically just an extended tutorial.

The real meat of the Ascendancy expansion is The Lord’s Labyrinth a.k.a. Izaro’s Labyrinth a.k.a. Where Path of Exile Meets Spelunky. As you might expect, all six of the new trap types are represented in the Labyrinth, jumbled together with a mass of enemies to slaughter your way through. The most devious combination during my demo? A room full of easy-to-avoid spike traps...and monsters that spread movement-slowing tar. Suddenly that room didn’t seem quite so easy.

It’s all pretty dastardly, though. The Labyrinth leans heavily on the new traps, with complicated patterns that remind me as much of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time as they do The World’s Hardest Game. Here’s a good example:

Path of Exile: Ascendancy

Sure, the big towers of spikes are the obvious danger. What you can’t see is that some of the tiles are actually traps, sending volleys of arrows (the red streaks) your direction.

But the key difference is in how the Labyrinth is created. Part of Path of Exile’s appeal is the way it randomizes its dungeon layouts, enabling you to run and re-run content. Ascendancy uses the same system, but adds some structure.

The Labyrinth will change daily, for everyone. As in, every single player is given the same layout (which takes about an hour to complete) and has one single day to run that incarnation as many times as they’d like. Once 24 hours is up the Labyrinth disappears, replaced with a new seed.

It’s essentially Spelunky’s Daily Challenge mode, but in an action-RPG and with unlimited retries. And like Spelunky’s Daily Challenge, I think we’ll see an interesting community pop up around the Labyrinth—people posting secret rooms they’ve found that day, people posting highlight videos, et cetera.

Complete the Labyrinth once and you’ll gain access to new Ascendancy Classes, which slot into the very center of your skill tree. Speaking to Grinding Gear, they said a common complaint is that there’s little to distinguish the game’s classes at a certain point—since the skill trees are all combined, you could essentially start the game as a melee-heavy character and end up heavy into magic by the end, or vice versa.

Path of Exile: Ascendancy

(Click to expand)

Ascendancy Classes make that initial starting choice matter a bit more. Finish the Labyrinth and you’re given the choice of essentially three subclasses to tier into, each with unique abilities. I don’t have a full list, but we looked at the “Gladiator” Ascendancy Class for (I believe) the Duelist—mainly because the Gladiator can cause enemies to explode upon death.

You’ll get two Ascendancy Class points for each difficulty level you run the Labyrinth on, so people who only play through once will get some sort of reward while those who run it repeatedly will get a more specialized build, plus the option to Enchant one piece of gear per run with a special effect.

A pretty hefty reward for a pretty hefty dungeon, replete with a three-part boss fight against Emperor Izaro (namesake of Izaro’s Labyrinth), with aspects of the first two encounters carrying over into the final confrontation.

It’s altogether a much larger expansion than I expected, so soon after Awakening—and the game’s still free-to-play. Look for Ascendancy early in 2016.

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