With our announcement of the 3.13.0 endgame expansion on the horizon, today we thought we'd take a look at past endgame expansions, and give you a narrative developer's reflections on the lore of each Atlas-focused expansion. This post is written from the point of view of Nick, our senior Narrative Designer.
Atlas of WorldsThe first true endgame overhaul since the introduction of Maps during Path of Exile's beta, Atlas of Worlds was intended to provide a visible framework and very high-level goal for player's to pursue. Atlas of Worlds introduced the Shaper as an adversary, and turned the Forsaken Master Zana into your ally and guide for this storyline.
This expansion was relatively light on narrative and contained the 'twist' that the Shaper was Zana's father all along. It introduced the "Shaper Quotes" read out by the Shaper himself as you entered new maps for the first time. It was a reasonable foundation for a story, but with only 7 little memory fragments and a few little updates from Zana, it did not contain much other than the core mapping experience to keep players moving forward. The Shaper was also strictly endgame content, with only occasional appearances on the way to the final encounter.
One thing I liked a lot about Atlas of Worlds was the 'random' nature of finding the memory fragments. They felt a little more special as something you stumbled across than as something presented at the end of a boss encounter.
War for the AtlasThis took the successful parts of the Atlas of Worlds and built on them, introducing the Elder as a new foe, and positioned the Elder and the Shaper as opposing forces. War for the Atlas changed the Shaper's origin somewhat, and revealed his relationship to Zana much earlier, giving the player (and Zana!) a larger emotional handle to grab hold of.
The Elder and the Shaper each had their own 'influence' on the Atlas, which allowed them to be much more present than in the Atlas of Worlds. We took careful steps to introduce the Shaper in increments, positioning him as an entity to be wary of, then introduced the Elder as something even the Shaper is afraid of.
Slightly counterintuitively, you were able to fight and defeat the Elder much earlier than the Shaper, though you were unable to seal the Elder away until you'd completed Zana's storyline and reached very high tier maps.
Of our three major endgame expansions, I would argue this was the most narratively complete, but it had the advantage of using the Atlas of Worlds as its foundation, letting the players wrap their heads around the Shaper for a good long while before the Elder was introduced. It had 15 different memory fragments to find and more Zana guidance. We also later introduced the 'Uber Elder' fight, in which the player witnesses the Elder defeating the Shaper and whisking him into his own realm.
Conquerors of the AtlasOur most recent Atlas expansion at the end of 2019, accepted the sealing of the Elder and the defeat of the Shaper as canon, but was handled by a different group of Exiles than yourself. The Elderslayers were hired by Zana to do exactly what players had done in the War for the Atlas, but in the Conquerors of the Atlas, the player instead witnessed the effects of long-term exposure to the Atlas (and the Elder in particular) on these Exiles.
Conquerors introduced the NPC Kirac, as well as 5 characters to pursue through the Atlas incrementally -- Baran, Veritania, Drox, Al-Hezmin and Sirus. Each had a series of story glyphs to help fill in their back-stories and motivations, but due to the lengthy structure of mapping to reach Sirus, as well as some time constraints, Sirus seemed to more or less come out of nowhere.
I quite like the themes explored in Conquerors, but it lacks the clarity of the War for the Atlas, and having the story glyphs appear in such a systematic way feels a little too sterile to me (and they are easy to miss!). The Conquerors as foes are also more mundane than the Elder and Shaper, which makes their presence feel less threatening, even despite their more regular appearances and dangerous effects on the map.
What's Next?With the above in mind, in 3.13.0 we're looking to achieve a few goals:
We want to reintroduce some of the ominousness that came with the eldritch feel of the Shaper and Elder. We also want to inject more story into regular mapping with an element of unpredictability.
We also want to address some of the omissions and gaps in the Conquerors of the Atlas storyline, and build upon what was already there. Although it's important to note that the new storyline exists in addition to and parallel to the existing Atlas content.
Finally, we want to provide narrative hooks for the future. This means some questions will remain unanswered for a little while, but if you're a fan of speculating, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Make sure you check out the announcement at 11am January 7th (PST) at www.twitch.tv/pathofexile
on Dec 29, 2020, 6:44:47 PM
Grinding Gear Games