Risk vs. reward
Wilson shared with me that while some gamers may think of blood sacrifices or lost temples when they think of the Vaal civilization, he thinks of risking items. Just look at Vaal orbs! And this time around, the entire main focus is on risk vs. reward. Ultimatum boasts an all-or-nothing gameplay style where players choose how far they are willing to go.
In each area, players will run into the Trialmaster, who happens to be the emissary of the Vaal entity Chaos. He will offer the player a connected series of trials that escalate in both difficulty and reward. Easy enough; you start off in the first trial, and if you succeed, you are offered an ultimatum: leave with your earned goodies or continue on into a harder trial. If you succeed at the next trial, you are offered the same choice, but this time with better loot. And the cycle continues until you either choose to leave with your reward or you die and leave with nothing.
The trials themselves are not just a rehash of the previous with slightly more powerful mobs. First, the objectives can completely change; each stage has its own objective. The way they will become progressively harder is that at each stage players will have a selection of difficulty modifiers they can add to the encounter. And these modifiers stack! As in, at stage two you have two, and at stage five you have five, and so on. Players who complete the objective under the constrains of the modifier(s) will receive the reward they picked at the start — as long as they don’t lose everything by failing later on in the chain! Just how far can you go? Wilson noted that the longest Ultimatum run in endgame maps can sometimes have up to 10 fast trials in a row, with a special surprise in the last one.
Friendlier to friends
A personal bonus for me is that the Ultimatum league will work better than many previous leagues when it comes to playing with friends. People in your group get their own ultimatum, so they can cash out and leave with their goods or keep going. If anyone in the group dies and forfeits, it does not affect the trial for the others who can still survive and obtain their riches. It’s even more of a shared experience as the person who owns the instance doesn’t have the last word on what modifiers are picked in each trial; every group member gets to vote on which are installed. (If the vote ends in a draw, the modifier will be chosen at random.)
Occasionally, players will get the chance to travel to the Trialmaster’s domain for an additional challenge by finding the rarer Inscribed Ultimatums in maps. These Inscribed Ultimatums are inserted into the map device to open the gateway to this domain. Be sure you read the inscription before you go as it will tell you the offering you must bring to do the trial! The fact that it also gives you the information you need about rewards and the possible modifiers is also helpful. The rewards here, Wilson says, are approximately twice the value of your sacrifice. For instance, if you are risking on Exalted Orb, your reward would be two, or a stack of five risked would have a stack of 10 as reward.
These Inscribed Ultimatums can definitely be traded, so players can pick and choose which Ultimatums they want to run.
If you listen to Wilson, POE players are always wanting new ways to slaughter enemies! He isn’t wrong. And every league has introduced new skills and has special uniques that are special unto it. The first Unique revealed today was the Glimpse of Chaos Vaal Mask. This item provides powerful benefits to maximum life, mana and energy shield — but at the cost of having severely reduced elemental resistances and absolutely no chaos resistance. Yes, you can corrupt this item (many times, even), and it has its own unique corrupted outcomes. You might just remove a random modifier, or you might actually change the helmet into a different random corrupted unique helmet that just retains its corruption implicit mod.
The second Vaal unique to join in Ultimatum is Mahuxotl’s Machination. This item grants the player six keystone passives at once. Wilson noted that combining all of these keystones will result in some very unusual outcomes. Oh, and it also has an entirely unique new keystone as well.
Now let’s look at four new skill gems and four support gems, which are all focused on blood in keeping with the Vaal theme. Spend life, not mana! The low life mechanic was also adjusted, changing the threshold to 50%. Your new bloody skills are: Petrified Blood (low life builds use life pool to absorb hits), Corrupting Fever (consumes life and grants buff that makes hits apply Corrupted Blood), Exsanguinate (spend life to shoot tendrils of attack blood), and Reap (conjures a giant bloody scythe). As for support gems, Blood Magic Support was split into two, Arrogance Support (reserve life instead of mana) and Lifetap (skill cost becomes life instead of mana). Additional supports are Cruelty (buff increases DOTs) and Bloodthirst (adds a percentage of your life as physical weapon damage while low life).
Speaking of league rewards… you know how past leagues all had their own rewards? Well, they are getting tweaks to work better in the present Path of Exile. Wilson explained that “the core drop pool of just items that drop when you kill regular monsters just wasn’t really compelling enough.” So not only were previous league rewards changed, but the core drop pool was altered as well. This all happens in the Standard league as well as Ultimatum.
Changes include two additional currency drops: Orbs of Binding from the Harbinger league, and the new Veiled Chaos Orb (more info to come). The team has also added five new Atlas Base Types. One example showcased is Energy Shield Recharge Amulet, which drop in specific regions of the Atlas of Worlds and have some powerful new implicit mods. Another change is making boss runs more profitable. To achieve that, Wilson explained, GGG has ensured that “Final Act Bosses now drop more and better items, giving you a much more satisfying close to a difficult act, and a more item-focused approach to getting ready for maps if you prefer.” On top of all that are new vendor recipes.
Did you think that was all? Wrong! The core drop pool also has a new type of Reliquary Key that can be obtained form any mob or chest. Put that key into the map device and you are granted access to a vault where a special foil version of any possible Vaal-themed unique item waits for you. If that sounds pretty impressive, well, it is — but it will also make this the rarest key in the game.
Even more fun for those who missed getting a desired item in a specific league is the addition of league-specific uniques into the core drop pool. These valuable — and powerful — items can drop from any sufficiently high-level monster without players participating in specialized content. Wilson offered these examples: Badge of the Brotherhood, Assailum, Pledge of Hands, Maloney’s Mechanism, Brutus’ Lead Sprinkler, and Headhunter.
Wilson told me that more changes relating to items that you earn by playing past leagues and expansions are coming too. The twin goals for the studio are to add and improve items so that all past content has a compelling set of rewards and to ensure that the best way to get any reward is to play the content associated with that reward. This includes tweaks to rewards for Queen of the Vaal Atziri, labyrinth changes (enchantments, removing unique jewels for fastest daily labyrinth runs, adding portals to random trials, and new items), more uniques from Perandus, and so very much more. Fair warning: There is one nerf to talismans. Check out all the details in the video below!