About the Author
Furty has been playing Path of Exile since the release of the Onslaught League in 2013, and has a deep and diverse well of experience within the game. Equally comfortable playing on Hardcore, Softcore, and Solo-Self Found Leagues, Furty finished the Betrayal League at Rank 186 on the ladder playing Elemental Hit. You can follow him on Twitter, or check out his occasional streams on Twitch.
If you have already started playing Path of Exile, you have doubtless already come to the realization that the mechanical systems that govern the game are about as intricate as they come. At the top of all these interlocking ideas is Path of Exile’s primary end-game: The Atlas of Worlds.
Once the main story has concluded, comprising dozens of quests and ten unique “Acts”, the real meat of the game is served. To continue to gain experience and seek out the best and most elusive items, exiles must begin their journey through “Maps”, and traverse the Atlas of Worlds.
As you read through this guide, you will doubtless feel countless questions spring to your lips. What exactly does Map Quantity do, and why is it different than Increased Item Quantity on my gear? How much currency should I invest into my Map? What exactly is the Atlas of Worlds?
Fear not — there are no foolish questions when approaching a network as vast and layered as the Atlas. Countless players before you have been frustrated by the same head-scratching quandaries. We only ask that you be patient — you have our solemn promise that all your questions will be answered herein.
What is a Map?
Simply put, a Map is a class of one-time use items that can be consumed to open portals to a new area. Maps have different base types, just like a standard item, and the monster level, area tileset, and final boss are tied to the Map itself. Here are a few example Maps:
As you have no doubt already noticed, these Maps differ in more ways than one. Not only does their base nomenclature differ — Estuary, Beach, and Atoll — but we observe several other key differences. Map Tier, Item Quantity, Item Rarity, and Monster Pack size all vary wildly on these three Maps, as do the modifiers that govern the Maps themselves. More on this later; for now, understand that, like any item in Path of Exile, Maps may be crafted and modified using Currency. Have a look:
Just like a piece of Armor, currency like the Orb of Alchemy can be used to add “stats” — properly known as affixes — to improve your Map. By the same token, Maps span the four main types of item rarity:
- White / Common
- Blue / Magic
- Yellow / Rare
- Orange / Unique
Map Rarity has a significant effect on the difficulty of your Map, as well as the rewards and experience that it will provide.
To activate a Map, it must be placed in a Map Device.
When Can You Start Running Maps?
Maps are only available as content for exiles who have completed all 10 Acts of Path of Exile’s story, as we touched on in the Introduction. In order to facilitate a smooth transition from the story to the end-game, however, you will almost certainly receive Map drops well before finishing the leveling process — completing the 10 Acts in order to reach Maps and the “end-game”.
Maps will begin to drop as early as Act VIII. The maps that drop from areas part of the leveling process, however, are only Tier 1, which is the lowest level and least valuable type of Map. Once Kitava is defeated in Act X, you will be given a quest to meet Zana, Master Cartographer in the Templar Laboratory found in the Epilogue area, Oriath. It is here that you will be given the first step in Zana, Master Cartographer’s questline: complete your first Map.
Basic Map Mechanics
Map Tiers — White Maps, Yellow Maps, and Red Maps
Map Tier governs the level of the monsters in the Map, as well as what Maps can be found as drops from within. There are 16 standard Map Tiers, with “1” being the lowest leveled, and “16” being the highest. These individual Tiers are segregated into three smaller groups; Low Tier, Mid Tier, and High Tier Maps — known by most players as White, Yellow, and Red Maps because of their in-game icons. Below you can see an image of all four Map denominations: White, Yellow, Red, and a Unique Map as well.
The difference between White, Yellow, and Red Maps is not only just monster level — the Map Tiers also have different degrees of difficulty when they have Affixes applied to them using Currency. As you might expect, the Affixes that a White map can roll are significantly easier to deal with than a Yellow map or a Red map.
|Map Tier||Monster Level||Denomination|
This is even easier to visualize using the in-game Map stash tab, which separates Maps by Tier and color:
The numbers at the top left of each tier are merely the amount of each tier of Maps in the stash tab, so pay no attention to them.
Additionally, the Tier of Map you are in governs what other maps can drop. Most monsters within a map will have the chance to drop Maps of an equal or lower Tier to the current area. Magic and Rare monsters, however, have the possibility of dropping a Map that is +1 Tier higher than the current area, and the Map’s boss has the possibility of dropping +2 Tiers higher.
Map Affixes, Pack Size, and Quantity — What Does it all Mean?
Adding affixes to a Map increases its difficulty exponentially from its base, unaltered state. The rules that govern crafting apply to Maps as well; a base map can be transformed to Magic quality using an Orb of Transmutation. Just like an item, a Magic map can only have a maximum of one prefix and one suffix, or two affixes total. Using an Orb of Alchemy on a base map will instead transform it into a Rare item.
Unaltered maps have no affixes, Magic maps have a maximum of 2, Rare maps permit up to 6 affixes, and using a Vaal Orb on a map has the chance to grant it up to 8 affixes total. But why do we want to add more affixes to our map and make it more difficult?
As you can see from the image above, these four Maps all have the same base; the Tier 16 Forge of the Phoenix Map. By crafting these Maps in different ways, you will see that they all have different affixes, but also varying degrees of Pack Size, Item Rarity, and Item Quantity. The only way to increase or decrease these numbers is by adding affixes to the map, or by increasing its Quality using Cartographer's Chisels. So, what does this do for us?
Most importantly, a Map’s Item Quantity is If you are using gear that has Increased Item Quantity, this has on Map drops. Only the quantity of the Map itself will affect Map returns.
Pack Size is next most important, as the number of monsters in a Map is a . The more monsters there are, the more total experience available in the Map, and the more total drops.
Item Rarity is typically the least important, as this generally only affects the chance for Unique items to drop within the Map. Since your main goal when Mapping is to find other Maps — especially higher Tier maps — to sustain your leveling, we are primarily concerned with the number when we are crafting Maps.
Quality is added by using Cartographer's Chisels on a Map. Quality can be raised to 20% maximum, and is a direct and equal increase to the Map’s Quantity Bonus. Just like with gear, the amount of Quality added per Chisel is directly related to the Rarity of the the Map — an unaltered Map will get 5% quality per chisel, a Magic rarity map will get 2% per chisel, and a Rare map will get 1% quality per chisel. For this reason, if you are using Chisels, you should Chisel the map before using an Orb of Alchemy on it.
When to use Cartographer's Chisels will be further elaborated upon in the How to Craft a Map section.
Unidentified Maps have a 30% Quantity bonus, and can only be obtained as drops, or by using a Vaal Orb on a Map.
What is the Atlas of Worlds?
The Atlas of Worlds is the holistic representation of Path of Exile’s end-game Map system; a spiderwebbing, interconnected behemoth that governs what Maps can drop, how you progress forwards, and a tableau of your achievement.
The Atlas of Worlds can be opened by pressing “G”.
At the center of the Atlas is The Shaper’s Realm, which contains one of the game’s final bosses; The Shaper himself. The four Maps at the corners of the Atlas are the Tier 1 Maps, and as they get closer towards the center they increase in Tier.
As you can see on the Atlas, the maps are tied together by connected lines, which progress through the tiers linearly. In other words, a Tier 8 Map will connect to specific Tier 7 and Tier 9 Maps, but never to a Tier 6 or Tier 10 Map.
How to Progress Through the Atlas?
When you first reach the end-game, your Atlas will be blank.
Your first Map will be one of the Tier 1 Maps on the corners of the Atlas. Completing a Map will unveil the Map on the Atlas, and as you progress towards The Shaper’s Realm in the center, more and more of the Atlas will be revealed.
All Maps can be found on the Atlas of Worlds. When you run a Map on the Atlas, — 4x weighting for adjacent maps, and 2x weighting for uncompleted maps, multiplicative with each other — than other Maps you have previously completed.
Once a Map is completed for the first time, it can then drop from Map, provided it obeys the rules we outlined above (Normal monsters can drop Maps of the same level as the area or lower, Magic and Rare monsters can drop +1, and Bosses up to +2). In practice, this means that a completed Tier 11 Map can drop from a Tier 9 Map’s boss, but not from a Tier 6 Map under any circumstances. The same Tier 11 Map, however, could drop from any completed Maps on the Tiers above it (12, 13, 14, 15, 16) when they are being run. This also illustrates why it becomes naturally more difficult to sustain higher Tier maps versus lower ones.
Visualizing the Map progression is easier when viewed in a more linear way:
Credit to Dmcdouga for creating and sharing this graphic.
In summary, if you have not yet completed a Map before, it can only drop from a Map it is connected to on the Atlas. If you have completed a Map before, it can drop from any Map on the Atlas that falls within the acceptable level range.
Completing Maps under certain conditions will reward you with an Atlas Bonus. For each Atlas Bonus you have completed, you have an additional 1% chance for Maps to drop 1 Tier higher than they otherwise would. When this bonus exceeds 100%, each additional Atlas Bonus instead adds a chance for Maps to drop 2 Tiers higher than normal. Each Atlas Bonus can only be earned once, and is permanent for the rest of the league across all characters. in order for the Map to be considered “complete”.
The Atlas Bonus can be seen just below the center of your Atlas. For example:
A player with an Atlas Bonus of 159 would have a 100% chance for Maps to drop 1 Tier higher than it otherwise would, and a 59% chance for them to instead drop 2 Tiers higher. A map upgraded by the Atlas Bonus still — the highest Tier of map that a Tier 12 Map could drop would still be a Tier 14 Map (+2 Tiers higher). What it does do, however, is make it possible for a standard monster to drop a Tier 14 Map, as Tier 12 Map that dropped would have a 59% chance to be upgraded to Tier 14.
This does not mean that all Maps will drop higher than the current Map. What it means is that when a Map , it has a chance (equal to the Atlas Bonus) to be upgraded to a new Map. A player with an Atlas Bonus of 159, as shown above, can receive a Tier 1 Map as a drop, because it has a 100% chance to be upgraded to new Tier 2 Map, and a 59% chance to be upgraded to a new Tier 3 Map.
As noted above, there are conditions to unlock a Map’s Atlas Bonus, which vary depending on the Map’s Tier. To unlock the Atlas Bonuses:
|Map Tiers||Denomination||Requisite for Atlas Bonus||Minimum Currency Used|
|1-5||“White Maps”||Complete the Magic version (or higher) of the Map||Orb of Transmutation|
|6-10||“Yellow Maps”||Complete the Rare version (or higher) of the Map||Orb of Alchemy|
|11-16||“Red Maps”||Complete the Corrupted Rare version of the Map||Orb of Alchemy + Vaal Orb|
Completing the Atlas Bonus encourages players to branch out into as many Maps as possible, as this greatly helps with sustaining higher level Maps.
Atlas Bonuses on Red Maps
Since a Vaal Orb must be used on a Rare Red Map in order to procure the Atlas Bonus, there is a chance for the Map to be modified unpredictably. There are several things that can happen:
- Nothing except Corrupted tag
- Make the map Unidentified with the same affixes
- Reroll the Map with 4-6 new affixes
- Reroll the Map with 4-6 affixes and upgrade it by 1 Tier to a new Map from the same Atlas quadrant
- Reroll the Map with 8 random affixes
If a Tier 15 Map is upgraded by 1 Tier, it has a small chance to become a Vaal Temple Map.
For this reason, it is occasionally prudent . If your build is incapable of handling more than one affix (e.g. Reflect), there is a good chance you will modify the map into one that is impossible for your build. It is safest to run the map as a Rare map first, and unlock it on the Atlas of Worlds as a droppable item, then Vaal it the second time you run it.
This is mostly a personal assessment of risk — if you can afford to buy replacement maps, or your build can deal with any affix, there is no reason not to Vaal Orb the map straight away. Remember that — if you Vaal a Tier 16 Guardian Map and it rerolls with 8 affixes, it might be impossible for you to kill the boss regardless of whether your build can deal with the affixes or not, as the boss will be so strong.
Atlas Objectives populate the Atlas of Worlds, and are regenerated every day at midnight UTC.
Running a Map with an Atlas Objective guarantees that the corresponding Master will be present in the Map. For example, a map with Jun in it will always have three encounters with the Immortal Syndicate, while running a map with Niko guarantees that there will be three deposits of Voltaxic Sulphite.
Certain maps are marked with a little golden halo, which is a special type of Atlas Objective called a Shaper Stronghold with no Master. These areas are always Shaper Influenced, cannot be Elder influenced until created, and guarantee the player valuable Rewards, such as Shaped items or Currency when the boss of the map is slain.
Shaper and Elder Influence
The Shaper and The Elder are Path of Exile’s two “final bosses”. They will periodically appear throughout the Atlas and vie for control of various maps. At first, the player will only encounter the Shaper, who’s influence is denoted on the Atlas with a celestial sparkle. After encountering the Shaper five times, the Elder will make himself known, and from then on they will constantly fight for influence of the Atlas of Worlds. Elder Influence is shown with an inky opaque cloud.
Influenced maps contain extra monsters that are themselves a natural Quantity increase to the map. In Shaper and Elder maps, items have a chance to be dropped as Shaped or Elder items, respectively, which have unique and powerful affixes not found on standard gear. For these two reasons, it is virtually always better to run influenced maps when possible.
You, the player, have a degree of control over how their influence can spread across your Atlas. If a Shaper influenced map is adjacent (or in other words, connected) to an Elder influenced one, completing the Shaper influenced map will reverse the influence, and it will become Elder influenced. This is also true in reverse — completing an Elder influenced map will then award control of the area to the Shaper.
Shaper influence can be spread out in different areas around the map, occasionally affecting only a few isolated areas. Elder influence, however, must always be connected to itself, and spreads across the map in a connected amalgam. If you are able to spread Elder’s influence to at least 20 Maps, the Elder and his four guardians will spawn on five of the maps that are part of the Elder cloud of influence.
Completing the circled maps would result in their influence shifting to Elder, further growing the Elder cloud displayed. If you were to run one of the Elder maps, however, it would erase the influence, or turn it back over to Shaper. For this reason, if your goal is to spawn The Elder and his guardians, you run Elder influenced Maps until after the Elder has spawned on the Atlas. You would instead always try to run Shaper influenced maps adjacent to your Elder cloud, which would force these maps to become Elder.
The Shaper was Path of Exile’s first real “final boss”, and was introduced with the Atlas of Worlds system itself. The Shaper can only be directly engaged on the pseudo-Tier 17 Map “The Shaper’s Realm”, which is located at the direct center of the Atlas itself. In order to fight the Shaper, players will need the four fragments obtained from the Tier 16 “Guardian Maps”, which have bosses that are far more difficult than any other Map from Tiers 1-15.
The Elder is Path of Exile’s newest “final boss”. Unlike The Shaper, however, the Elder can be engaged far earlier in the game, and has multiple difficulties. The power level of the Elder depends on which “color” map he spawns on, which is random out of the maps in the Elder cloud. The Elder’s four guardians also spawn, and must be defeated before the player can fight the Elder directly. The four difficulties of Elder are:
- White Elder: Encountered if the Elder spawns on a Map from Tier 1-5
- Yellow Elder: Encountered if the Elder spawns on a Map from Tier 6-10
- Red Elder: Encountered if the Elder spawns on a Map from Tier 11-16
- Uber Elder: Encountered after completing certain parts of Zana’s questline and spawning Elder on The Shaper’s Realm — this is the “Final Boss” version of the fight
The mechanics of the fight, as well as the Unique items that drop, vary between the four difficulties.
Shaped Maps and Memory Fragments
What is a Shaped Map?
Despite the name, which is confusing to some players, Shaped Maps are not related to Shaper influence directly. By proceeding through Zana’s questline, players can “Shape” old maps, which by raising their Tier by five. To do this, you need to obtain Memory Fragments from Zana’s questline, which she will exchange for Shaper’s Orbs. Using the Shaper’s Orbs, you can raise a Tier 1 Map to a Tier 6, a Tier 10 to a Tier 15, and so on.
How to Obtain Memory Fragments and Shaper’s Orbs?
The very first Memory Fragment you acquire will be the first time you meet The Elder. This happens after running your fifth Shaper influenced map.
After this first Fragment, all additional Memory Fragments are found on Elder influenced maps — one of the reasons why spreading your Elder influence regularly is so important. Memory Fragments are marked with a blue circle around the Map on the Atlas, and correspond to the Tier of Map they will upgrade. For example, a Memory Fragment that rewards a Tier 1 Shaper’s Orb will always be found in a Tier 6 Map. This is because it will upgrade a Tier 1 Map by 5 Tiers, turning it into a Tier 6.
The last 5 Memory Fragments can only be obtained from Red Elder and his four guardians.
There is a special type of upgrade orb called the Elder’s Orb, which is a reward from Zana for obtaining all 15 Memory Fragments and Shaper’s Orbs and then defeating The Shaper. Unlike Shaper’s Orbs, which upgrade a fixed Tier of Map by 5 Tiers, the Elder’s Orb will upgrade , as long as it is not a Shaped Map.
How to Craft a Map / Basic Mapping Strategies
There are several currencies which are frequently used when crafting maps:
If you can handle the additional affixes that using an Orb of Alchemy adds to the map, . The difference in Map Quantity and Pack Size between a Map that has been transformed with an Alchemy versus an Orb of Transmutation is so extreme that you are if you are Transmuting your maps.
The two Maps shown above are the same; neither has had their Quality modified by Cartographer's Chisels — the only difference is that one has been upgraded with an Orb of Alchemy, while the other was upgraded by an Orb of Transmutation. Despite the fact that the Magic rarity Map has the maximum number of mods (2) and the Rare map has the minimum number of mods (4), the Quantity, Pack Size, and Rarity values are nearly double for the Rare map.
The Orb of Alchemy is not a particularly valuable unit of Currency. For the small cost of one Alchemy, you are effectively the amount of Map drops, Currency, Experience, and Rarity of your map. This will virtually always pay for itself, and usually much more.
When to Use Cartographer's Chisels?
This question can vary, depending on your current league (Trade or SSF) and level of wealth. In general, however, you should not use Cartographer's Chisels on any Maps that are not Tier 11 or higher. If you are extremely wealthy, you may opt to use Chisels when running Yellow Maps, but this is relatively uncommon.
Many players will chisel their Tier 11 and 12 Maps when they are starting to break into Red Maps for the first time, in an effort to increase the chances of receiving more Red Maps as drops. If you already have a fair number of Tier 11 and 12 Maps, but have limited quantities of Currency or Cartographer's Chisels, you may opt instead to start fully Chiseling maps that are Tier 13-14 or higher only.
There are also strategies, particularly for Solo Self-Found, that involve “half-chiseling”. This is using 2 Cartographer's Chisels on a Map before crafting it, in order to give it a reasonable boost to Quantity, but without committing to much Currency to any one Map.
Remember to chisel the Map before using your Orb of Alchemy on it.
What Are Zana Mods, and When to Apply Them?
Using Zana’s Map Table grants the player the option to apply Zana crafts to a Map, in exchange for Chaos Orbs. These mods are typically mechanics from previous leagues, which apply a natural Quantity bonus by adding additional monsters to the Map. The number of mods that can be manually selected depends on your relationship level with Zana and your progress in her questline, which can be increased by completing her Map objectives. The player will always have the option to boost Map Quantity for free by a value equal to your relationship level with Zana (1-8%).
Fortune Favors the Brave allows you to select a random Zana mod, even ones that are not available to you yet.
You should start Zana modding every map that is Tier 13-14 or higher. These maps are already worth several Chaos Orbs by themselves, particularly early in the league, and you want to maximize your chances of getting Map returns. Harbinger and Beyond mods are the absolute best for Map sustain, however, Fortune Favors the Brave is a cheap and effective mod to rely on early on, when many of the mods are locked to you.
What Are Cartographer’s Sextants, and When to Use Them?
Sextants can be applied to Maps on the Atlas of Worlds to add additional affixes and bonuses to Maps within their radius. There are three types of Sextant, matching the colors of the map tiers:
- Apprentice Cartographer's Sextant (can be applied to Tiers 1-5)
- Journeyman Cartographer's Sextant (can be applied to Tiers 1-10)
- Master Cartographer's Sextant (can be applied to Tiers 1-15)
Using Sextants is very contextual. Typically, you want to hold on to most of your sextants until the extreme end-game, when you have your Elder’s Orb. Most players opt to upgrade Maps with extremely high densities and good layouts to Tier 16, such as Underground Sea and Haunted Mansion. Since these are originally low Tier Maps, you can actually use Apprentice Cartographer's Sextants and Journeyman Cartographer's Sextants on the Maps surrounding the newly upgraded T16 to boost the quantity of that map.
Master Cartographer's Sextants are usually quite expensive, and are either sold, or used to boost the Quantity of Tier 16 Guardian Maps. The number of sextants you can apply to the Atlas is based on your Atlas Bonus.
Your active sextants and maximum number of Sextants are displayed just below your Atlas Bonus. All Rarities of Sextant have 3 charges before they disappear from the Atlas and must be re-applied. By default, you may have 1 active sextant, but a player with a fully completed Atlas of Worlds may have a maximum of 5.
How Much Quantity is Enough on a Red Map?
If you are using Cartographer's Chisels on a Map, you do not necessarily want to run it immediately after using an Orb of Alchemy on it. Certain Red Maps are so rare and expensive that it is often worth using Chaos Orbs to adjust the affixes to your liking until you have a good Quantity and Pack Size roll. For Maps that are being Chiseled and Zana Modded, we recommend (78% is also fine — this is a fairly common value due to the way several affixes combine).
The higher the tier the Map is, the better chance you want to give yourself for “sustainable returns”. For example, it is not worthwhile for a Level 97 player to run Tier 12 Maps when they could be farming their Tier 16 Elder’s Orb Map, however, Tier 16 Elder Maps are significantly more uncommon and valuable than Tier 12 Maps. For this reason, every time this player runs their Tier Elder Map, they will likely have given themselves every chance to produce a return — getting at least one Map back of the same tier (or higher, for Maps that are not Tier 16).
Conclusions: The Strategy Behind the Atlas
The Atlas has a lot of moving pieces, from the warring influence of Shaper and Elder, to the Shaper’s and Elder’s Orbs that allow you to remake the Atlas to suit your preferences. Many of these systems can be manipulated to achieve a variety of ends; to sustain one specific map so that it can be farmed in perpetuity, to maximize your Atlas bonus — there are many possibilities to consider. One of the best things about the Atlas of Worlds, however, is that one of the best strategies is .
Simply mapping as you please can offer competitive rates of experience and great overall map returns when contrasted with some of the most intricate and targeted Atlas strategies. Newer players are encouraged to simply experience as many maps as they can and learn the bosses and their mechanics, as this will provide far more value to you in the long run.
If you have a specific goal in mind for your Atlas — say, to exclusively farm the Shaped Burial Chambers Map — you should consider adapting your strategy to a more tactical one. Fortunately, we have a guide just for you: here is our Advanced Atlas and Map Strategies Guide.