Path of Exile update 3.20 has been revealed by Grinding Gear Games, and it centres around a new roguelike dungeon coming to the RPG game called The Forbidden Sanctum. In addition, the update is reworking several big systems including the Atlas Tree and Eldritch altars, as well as providing some big buffs to underused unique weapons. It will also see the introduction of new Path of Exile monster mods to replace the controversial Archnemesis system, and the full rollout for a Ruthless mode aimed at hardcore Diablo 2 veterans.
Path of Exile: The Forbidden Sanctum centres around the titular roguelike dungeon. Much like many previous PoE expansions, this dungeon is designed to integrate nicely with the Path of Exile leveling experience – meaning you’ll be able to dive into its deadly depths early on in your adventure, though it’ll likely take you many attempts to make it all the way through. With every new area or map you explore in the main game, you’ll be able to enter the Sanctum.
Your journey into the Forbidden Sanctum is determined by a new resource called Resolve – producer Chris Wilson explains that the team wanted to differentiate your progress from player health, which can fluctuate wildly from moment to moment. Getting hit by monsters or environmental hazards will reduce your Resolve – in some cases, more dramatically so than they actually impact your character’s health. This means that it’s possible to lose a run in the Sanctum without actually dying, which is probably welcome relief for those on hardcore characters.
As with many of the best roguelike games, you’ll plot out a course as you go, choosing between different room types that each have different effects on your run. Some rooms will give you Afflictions that will apply debuffs that accumulate as your run progresses. You can even run into Major Afflictions at certain points, which can have very dramatic effects such as halting your Resolve recovery altogether. On the flipside, you can find Boons – and Major Boons – that provide you with benefits to counter those detriments.
At certain points, you’ll run across Fountain rooms that can replenish your Resolve, in the vein of games such as Hades (which Wilson cites as a key influence for the mode, along with the likes of The Binding of Isaac, FTL, and even classics such as the original Rogue itself). Afflicted Fountains can restore even more resolve – but at a cost. As you progress, you’ll also accumulate a new currency called Aureus coins that can be spent at merchants, but aren’t carried over between runs.
In true roguelike fashion, you’ll sometimes be offered the option to take an Accursed Pact. These will offer you three powerful boons, but with heavy costs such as losing hefty chunks of your Resolve or taking on multiple negative Afflictions. You can pick any one of them, though Wilson reassures us that you do have the option to pass them up altogether if the risk sounds too great for its associated reward.
As for what you can expect to get out of the Forbidden Sanctum, there are three key takeaways. Firstly, you’ll be able to get regular item drops from monsters in the Sanctum much like you would in regular play, so there’s still a good chance you’ll find some decent upgrade along the way. Secondly, some rooms will offer a currency reward with a twist – you can choose to take it immediately, or gamble it for a higher payout should you clear the current floor, or an even greater reward if you can beat the whole run. Wilson jokes that the initial rewards are very generous, but that the team hopes the temptation to gamble for even bigger payouts will prove too strong to ignore.
Finally, you will find Relics over the course of the run that act as a meta-progression of sorts and can be placed into a special altar to make your future Sanctum runs stronger. Eventually, you’ll come across a special Sanctified Relic with mods that can directly affect your character’s build – these can’t be crafted or modified through conventional means, but they can be altered by certain rooms you’ll encounter while exploring the Sanctum, as a reward for those who conquer its challenges.
The Forbidden Sanctum is certainly the most exciting new feature coming in the Path of Exile 3.20 expansion, but it’s far from the only one. There’s also a revamp to the Atlas Tree, allowing players to focus more on specialisations, and changes to Eldritch Altars to be more explicit about which rewards you’ll earn from them.
This particular change reflects the aforementioned introduction of a new monster mods system set to replace Archnemesis mods. As discussed in the pre-update balance manifesto, this aims to replace mods that have multiple different effects with ones that each have one specific, clearly stated effect, helping to improve on-the-fly clarity for players to quickly recognise what a monster can do and what might make it dangerous.
Also introduced with Path of Exile 3.20 are several new skill gems – Volcanic Fissure is a fiery slam attack that can chase enemies around corners before erupting, while Frozen Legion summons a ring of icy statues around your character that all attack in a big sweeping cleave with your currently equipped weapon. Frozen Legion builds up multiple stacks, which are all consumed on use to summon that many statues simultaneously for huge burst damage across multiple overlapping hits.
There are also new Vaal melee skills, which continue the trend of Vaal skill gems. These allow you to collect souls as you kill enemies, unlocking a special Vaal variant of the skill that can be used once enough souls have been collected. Vaal Flicker Strike flickers dozens of extra times – it’s a risky manoeuvre, as you’re vulnerable during the process, but if you survive until the end then you’ll unleash huge damage against every enemy hit.
Meanwhile, Vaal Cleave has two unique buffs: one that triggers when you kill a rare enemy that allows you to temporarily steal its mods and use them as your own, and one that triggers when you kill a rare or unique enemy, buffing your regular Cleave dramatically. With smart usage, Wilson suggests that players should be able to keep this Cleave buff up almost indefinitely with repeated uses of Vaal Cleave.
Along with a range of new unique items – some from the Forbidden Sanctum, and others simply found in the base game – Path of Exile 3.20 also introduces some heavy buffs for certain unique weapons. In most cases, these are items which are generally underused, and Wilson tells us that the focus is almost always a big buff to their damage stat, with “around ten iconic underused unique weapons” being targeted.
There’s also some rebalancing for Curses to make them stronger against unique monsters and pinnacle bosses, and previously announced updates to Jewels that should make them a better source of ailment mitigation for players to make use of. Players can also expect some nice quality of life changes – energy shields are now shown as a separate bar above your character, rather than overlaid on your health, and Beastcrafting recipes that add mods to flasks will now actually say exactly what the mod will do.
Finally, the much-touted Path of Exile Ruthless mode, which is an additional character toggle that enables far more item scarcity, will become available to all in 3.20. Wilson says this optional mode is targeted at old-school Diablo 2 players and those who really want to make sure every upgrade feels meaningful, but notes that the team will be aggressive in rebalancing it during this initial, experimental rollout.
You can watch the Path of Exile: The Forbidden Sanctum reveal below:
The Forbidden Sanctum certainly sounds like an exciting addition, and we can’t wait to try it out when Path of Exile update 3.20 The Forbidden Sanctum releases on December 9.
It’ll be interesting to see what other updates follow this as Grinding Gear Games continues its march towards Path of Exile 2, which Wilson tells us is making good progress. In the meantime, we’ve got more of the best games like Diablo that you can play on PC.