Conquerors of the Atlas was the third major endgame update to Path of Exile's complex endgame, following War for the Atlas (which introduced the Elder) and Atlas of Worlds (which introduced the Shaper) before that. However, unlike those two updates, we were not simply adding a story or augmenting an existing story, but progressing it, and examining the consequences of those events from an outsider's perspective. How did it come about? Well I'm glad you asked me!

We knew we were doing some endgame changes about 6 months ahead of the launch of Conquerors. What we didn't know was the scale of those changes, or what would happen to the existing Atlas and its associated storylines. And ExileCon was coming up quick, where we would be announcing not only this expansion, but the Metamorph league and the sequel to Path of Exile, which was also actively being worked on.

We looked at our array of story elements, and at the current Atlas storyline. We considered replacements and changes to campaign elements, but ultimately, what appealed most was this idea that the community often echoes anyway: The Exiles have finally gone mad farming the Atlas.

Now, it's one thing to have a cool hook like that. It's very different to turn that into a cohesive narrative. For one, which Exiles? It can't be the player's character, because the player's character is the one who has to go fix this mess. So it's a different set of Exiles, but they have to have access to the map device (and Zana).

We spent a while working out the exact timeline of events. There were going to have to be changes (after all, for a lot of players, they WERE the Elderslayers!), but we wanted to keep them to an absolute minimum.

If you read my post about integrating a league's story into the campaign, you might remember that we often bump up against the cyclical timeline of each league's launch. In short, it makes it difficult to 'progress' the narrative past the end of the campaign or maps. But with Conquerors, we were doing exactly that.

We established characters fairly quickly. As is often the case, we knew what they would look like before anything else. Art tends to be months ahead of everything else in the pipeline. I wanted each character to stumble into a different type of madness, though early versions had them far more mad at the time the player found them than they ended up being. It was important that each character have a reason for their exile, even if it wasn't always spelled out, that set them at odds with Dominus and the Templar.

It took a little while before the exact Atlas mechanics were nailed down, which meant that what those characters were doing, why the player wanted to pursue them, and how exactly the story developed was in flux for a while. When designing a narrative for an expansion like Conquerors, it is integral that the player's motivation line up with the character's motivation, which hasn't always been the case (I'm looking at you, War for the Atlas), and that can take a lot of time and discussion. And since we were also ramping up to ExileCon all this time, working on getting Path of Exile 2 into a reasonable state, including recording all of Act 1 for PoE2. It was... busy.

Unfortunately, because it was so busy, not all of our storytelling tools were implemented in time. The journals, which filled in the gap in time between the slaying of Kitava and the player's first forays into the newly-conquered Atlas, were in the game files but wouldn't drop at the end of fights as they were intended to. This left the Elderslayers feeling a little more "mysterious" than we really wanted, especially as we had some exceptional voice performances for them.

It also meant that Sirus, a character that featured prominently in the journal entries, appeared seemingly out of nowhere. This was made worse due to the cancellation of mechanics that would have him invade your map in place of one of the other Conquerors.

Before I leave you, here's a fun little fact you might enjoy:

Zana has a fairly wide variety of mission types, and has different voice lines for each one. She even has special voice lines for Shaper and Elder guardian missions, as well as the Synthesis unique maps. In fact, for Conquerors of the Atlas, we ended up recording about 21 pages of dialogue for Zana alone!
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Grinding Gear Games

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