Path of Exile Sanctum is coming to an end. Grinding Gear Games has announced that Sanctum will not be going core, not yet, anyway. And with the revelation of POE 3.21 Crucible League later this week, before Sanctum becomes history, I wanted to talk a little about the potential of Sanctum as a core league mechanic. Because, in my opinion, Sanctum is one of the best League mechanics they’ve ever done, from a gameplay standpoint. But it has some issues that really do make it difficult to just roll it into the core game.
On March 16, 2023, GGG released a statement titled “Will Sanctum League Go Core?“. I think what GGG wants to express should be that the Sanctum League will become the core content someday, but the time has not yet been determined. They feel that it needs some work, and they specifically call out several aspects of Sanctum that they feel need improvement.
These are a general rebalance, more content, a better way to integrate it into the gameplay loop, and figuring out how Relics would even work in the core game. I’m going to go over each of those areas, and give my thoughts on them, and what I’d like to see when Sanctum ends up going core.
First up, is the need for a “general rebalance”. I say this because Sanctum League has two major problems right now:
The first is that the Resolve/Inspiration balance is way out of whack, and the second is that many players simply found Sanctum too difficult to enjoy.
But it seems the design intent for Resolve is that it’s supposed to allow you to clear easily, but not consistently, at the cost of having to visit Fountain rooms. Unfortunately, it turned out that Inspiration was just better than Resolve in every aspect.
My hope is that GGG just gives some straight buffs to Resolve recovery. I could see all the Relic affixes getting buffed, and even see Fountain rooms go from 25% recovery to 50% recovery. It even gives those Afflicted Fountains 100% recovery!
It sort of doesn’t matter how powerful the effect of Afflicted fountains are. It will always be correct for a veteran player to skip them, as the risk of a run-ending affliction is simply too great.
GGG could leverage this, to make Afflicted fountains a way to make runs significantly easier for the average player, without touching the current skill ceiling of Sanctums for veteran players.
In fact, not only would buff to Resolve recovery and Fountains not affect veteran players min-maxing Sanctum rewards, but it also wouldn’t affect the top-end Challenge Runs, where Resolve recovery is disabled, anyway.
I really hope this is the direction GGG goes in. Of course, some changes to monster skills to make the Sanctum a bit less punishing for melee builds.
Next up is the issue of “Mapping Flow”. It seems like GGG thought for some reason, players would want to run Sanctums one room at a time, once on each map. Absolutely nobody wanted to do that, however, everyone opted to instead save up rooms to run the Sanctum a floor at a time.
This led the mapping flow to feel very clunky. Every map you would have to enter the portal, run up to the Sanctum map, and select to bank the room on the UI.
Ideally, this whole “banking rooms” thing would be cut out entirely. Perhaps we simply gain rooms as we run maps, or gain floors, or perhaps entire Sanctums should drop as some rare POE Currency Items, like Blueprints.
Regardless of how they go about it, one room per map is probably a bit too slow, as well. Hopefully disconnecting room acquisition from maps allows them to boost that somewhat.
Now, GGG also talked about wanting to add additional content to Sanctum. This is really exciting to hear. As much fun as Sanctum is, it really falls flat when compared to most roguelikes, as far as having enough variety to keep things fresh.
One major thing that most roguelikes do is have different enemies on each floor. Starting off with easier ones and then ramping them up over time.
Sanctum, however, has the same enemies on all 4 floors, and doesn’t really get harder as you go deeper, which feels really strange. Adding more enemies – harder ones for later floors, and easier ones for Floor 1, would greatly improve the feel of Sanctums, as well as make it a lot more approachable for people trying out the mechanic for the first time.
Other than enemies, the big thing that sticks out to me is the complete lack of variety in room layouts. You end up learning every single room layout very quickly, as they aren’t randomized at all. This is different from pretty much all other content in PoE. Even Heists have randomly-generated layouts!
If GGG either added a tone of new rooms or, even better, made room layouts randomly-generated, it would make the gameplay of Sanctum feel a lot better.
Those are the two big things. But of course, if GGG went ahead and added more trap types, room types, alternate bosses, all of that would go a long way to greatly improving Sanctum.
However, Sanctum has a much bigger issue than balance or a lack of content. And that’s the question of rewards.
The primary reward from Sanctum is raw POE Currency. This poses a bit of a problem when it comes to integrating Sanctum into the core game. Either Sanctum is more efficient than other league mechanics that give raw currency, in which case it feels mandatory, or it’s less efficient, in which case it feels completely worthless.
This is why most league mechanics have some reward that is unique to that mechanic, instead of just giving out raw currency. This allows each mechanic to have its own niche.
Now, Sanctum does have its own reward, in the form of Sanctified Relics and Invocations. However, GGG was very clear when they announced Sanctum that they didn’t intend for Sanctified Relics to go core. And Invocations are the only tradable reward specific to Sanctum and they don’t function without Sanctified Relics! So, how does GGG go about addressing this problem?
If I follow my thinking, I think GGG actually has many options to choose from. The first is that they could give Sanctum its own rewards, other than Sanctified Relics. This could be something taken from another league mechanic, like when the Fracturing Orb was added to Harbinger and taken from Harvest. Perhaps Alt-Quality gems from Heist? Or Recombinators from Sentinel?
Alternately, Sanctum could just be given generic “Reward Types” like other league mechanics, so that it awards more than just raw currency.
The next question is what to do with Sanctified Relics.
While GGG did state that they don’t intend for them to ever go core, I think they ought to re-evaluate that stance. Most Sanctified Relics aren’t that powerful on their own and the few modifiers that are extremely powerful are also extremely rare and untradable.
The risk of this is that this might end up making Sanctum feel mandatory. However, I’m not sure about this guess. Most people could grind Sanctums throughout the entire league and not find the one modifier they want for their build.
I think that makes Sanctified Relics more of a perk for people that like Sanctum, than something that the average player will feel compelled to do. Beyond that, I’d really like to see them add a few more of those “chase” modifiers to the pool for Sanctified Relics. While some builds, like stat-stacking builds, had great options, other builds like Minion builds had really nothing exciting in the pool.
In my opinion, the biggest problem with Sanctified Relics in the core game isn’t the Sanctified Relics themselves. It’s the Invocations. Giving every single character in the game an extra item slot that can give you an additional Keystone, from anywhere on the passive tree, would be a huge boost to player power.
Having said that, Invocations are a really cool, unique reward, the only tradable one associated with Sanctum. And it would be a shame to take that away. So what can GGG do?
They could make Invocations significantly rarer to offset their power. After all, it’s totally fine that a Mageblood is broken. It’s so rare! And perhaps GGG wouldn’t even have to make any changes to accommodate that.
With only a subset of players choosing to run Sanctums if it goes core, the supply of Invocations should be a lot smaller, raising the prices of the valuable ones. And some of them were already pretty pricey, even in Sanctum league!
They could also make Invocations rarer, but give players who are running Sanctums a way to have Sanctified Relics with random keystones drop. This would make the Keystone Invocations expensive to purchase, but give players who want one for themselves a way to farm one out, without having Sanctum be strictly mandatory.
I’m not sure which of these approaches is the correct one. Personally, I think that it would be okay for Sanctified Relics and Invocations to exist in the core game in some capacity.
GGG just needs to hit that sweet spot, were Sanctum feels fun and profitable for people who want to run it, but not mandatory to fill an item slot that gives a ton of character power.
GGG also made a mention of figuring out how Relics fit into all of this. Personally, I think the meta-progression of grinding up Relics and coming up with Relic loadouts is fun, and I’d be happy to do it again in each league.
Having said that, the progression rate as-is might be a BIT slow for that, so some buffs to Relic drop rates would probably help it feel a bit better.
As for the Challenge Runs, these are something that absolutely needs to be preserved although a few of them could use some tweaks. The No-Hit and No-Recovery runs are perfect.
Original Sin is a powerful and iconic reward, and having the No-Hit run continue to exist will give a small subset of players a challenge to go after every league, which is much like how some players choose to build characters specifically to Deep Delve.
The Hidden Rooms Challenge Room is awful, however. I think it ought to be changed so that instead of simply obscuring all information about every room, you start the run with a “you can see 2 rooms fewer” modifier. This would effectively be the same thing, but would allow for counterplay with Relics that reveal rooms, and Boons.
Additionally, some of the Challenge Run rewards should be buffed. Piles of Unique items and some extra Sanctified Relics just don’t feel very rewarding. Perhaps that would be a good place to add Sanctified Relics that drop with a random Keystone?
And as a small last note, having to shuffle your Relic altar after every single run to fit in your new Unique Relic doesn’t feel great. Perhaps Challenge Runs would be better available through some other means?
If Sanctums were itemized, we could simply have unique drops of that item. Or, the Unique Relics could function as a new POE 3.21 Currency that can modify those items to make them a Challenge Run Item.
Overall, while I’m sad that Sanctum will go away for a while, I think that GGG is making the right choice here. I feel that Sanctum has a ton of potential as a part of the core game, and will probably feel even better in the core game than it did in a league, much like Blight did.
Making it optional means that players who dislike it can just ignore it, and being able to invest in Atlas Passives will just make it more fun for players who want to chain-run Sanctums!
I’m glad that GGG is taking their time to do it right. Keeping us waiting too long is not a good thing.