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The Disgruntled Pony

Attempting to get his opinions across, one hoof at a time. Not guaranteed to be 100% honest and factual all the time and can be bribed with sugar lumps. Do not stand behind it.

Author: DarkPony

Path of Exile: a first, thorough look.

Posted by DarkPony Sunday May 13 2012 at 12:38PM
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I signed up for the Path of Exile beta some weeks ago after reading some positive posts here on the forums. It seemed Grinding Gear Games were already running a beta but sadly you could only access it by prepurchasing packs of ingame currency and/or other goodies to help fund the project. All the way up to $ 1000 "Diamond Packs" (0_0). That's pretty ironic, because Path of Exile is intended to be a completely free game apart from "ethical micro transactions".

 

 

Many people have been willing to support them so far, (they raised around 250k USD in the first 6 days alone) , but I am a terrible cheapskate and waited patiently for an opportunity on a free beta ride just like I did with GW2 and D3. That moment came this weekend with a public beta event for all sign-ups and I hopped on the beta train right away.

The fact that they are a loveable bunch of independent kiwis with an idealistic project "for the people by the people", doesn't mean I am going to treat them any differently than AAA developers though; no more mister gullible, nice pony in these times of sugar lumps being on a ration! Not even when the developers are on the list of endangered species.

That said, the hours just melted away for me while playing the PoE beta this weekend and I will kindly repay my debt with this blog on mmorpg.com.

Compared to my D3 beta experience the difference in sheer development effort is obvious: I bet the Diablo 2 sequel got around 10 more design passes on every single pixel and had a dedicated taskforce and an art-director assigned to it, discussing various aspects of said pixel in weekly team meetings and having to get approval from their appointed assistant lead-designer for every proposed change too.

In contrast; these guys, a bunch of hack & slash enthusiast from various walks of life, got together with a plan to make their own game, managed to keep it in development for nearly 5 years and did everything themselves with a company the size of a professional rugby team. But you'd be wise to not underestimate rugby teams ... especially not if they are from New-Zealand.

Here's the shocker:

Despite the huge differences in resources, funding and man power somehow PoE has much more in common with Diablo 2's core values than Diablo 3. And the things it does different ... are actually improvements on the formula. It transcends the hack & slash model at times and has some aspects in common with games like the original Guild Wars.

 

Of course, the PoE beta is a bit rough around the edges and there is a distinct indie odor to it; a smell you pick up as soon as you visit their website; "Eew ... 90's style frame borders!". This also is prevalent ingame with a similarly retro'ish UI design which feels a bit oversized and clunky at times. Also there are no voice-overs for the few npc's which can be interacted with and some minor bugs and glitches here and there, but none of those things really got in my way of becoming very compelled by this game and playing it non-stop for hours.

The good stuff:

- A more social hack & slash experience! (Even when just going at it single player style): Towns aren't private instances but shared hubs, similar to GW1. It also has a lively global chat (which can be hidden).

- Challenging gameplay! No more "faceroll your way through the first 10 levels". This game can be quite brutal and I found myself dying a few times as well as running away and employing kiting tactics to deal with some opponents. Even some of the normal mobs are just nasty: necromancers which try to sneak away from you to resurrect fallen undead, for example. Yeah, we've seen those before but in PoE, when you leave them unchecked, the buggers will merrily keep evading you whilst softly humming their incantations and revive the entire friggin' map!

- Open map design and world layout: Much more wide and open compared to what I saw in Diablo 3 so far. Also some maps have multiple adjacent maps: it's not so much of a linear experience like other hack and slashers, or at least they hide it well. Maps are randomly generated too. I think there's even multiple "zone paths" into the second Act but I am not 100% sure about it. (I got there through the "Cave of Woe" but the Act 1 map had other zones that seemed to be leading there that I didn't even visit yet).

 

- Smart mechanics:

+ Some monsters (as well as yourself) have an "energy shield" which functions like a short immunity buffer that recharges when you or the monster, doesn't get damaged for some time: neglect finishing the monster off and you'll have to rework your way through its buffer again before you can kill it.

+ Health and mana flasks are permanent items that recharge. But better yet: your flasks aren't generic: there's tons of better ones to find, some with extra modifiers.

+ Agro range beyond your screen: attack a monster and his friends will come to its aid from beyond visual range sometimes. This and the occasional difficulty makes it less of a tank and spank fest but urged me to play more carefully: you never really know what's around the corner.

+ Free to use the skills you want: like many hack & slashers, itemization is randomized with a ton of possible pre- and suffixes, but next to this, most items have one or more sockets for skill gems, these gems are precious quest rewards or rare drops and determine your character's special abilities. Using the associated skill will level the gem up and they can always be taken out of an item and even be traded. There's an interesting depth to mico managing your skills and gear in this game as it allows for a lot of freedom and choice. This micro management is part of the core of the game at any level and not limited to rare quest rewards or hard to get rune words.

There's no predetermined, linear skill progress in this game and skills don't seem class restricted: there's a myriad of choices to make and the list of skills available to you seems to grow exponentially when you level up.

+ Multifunctional currencies: there's no gold in PoE but a variety of multifunctional currencies adding more value to apparently secondary items and consumables; Your cookie cutter Portal Scroll is next to its obvious function also a bank note, able to buy your certain stuff at vendors. Selling loot nets you "scraps" of these currencies and the kind of currency you get depends on the kind of item you sell. Some currencies can be exchanged for one another too. Consequently, every item you find is worth selling. (Which does make your limited bag space kind of a b*tch).

- Grim and foreboding atmosphere: akin to the Diablo prequels. There's some blood and gore too.

 

- Visceral and tactical combat; you need "to work" your character to overcome foes and use the right skills at the right time. Combat animations are a bit glitchy sometimes but they feel real and "weighted". The most remarkable thing: due to skill, mana and health management as well as the level of challenge, combat overall feels much less simple and dumbed down compared to most hack & slashers (!)

- Client is very stable and the game runs like a charm on my mediocre system: I did have a few dc's but no item loss whatsoever. It's not much of a resource hog either.

Last but not least:

- Freedom in character development due to an absurdly bloated free for all passive skill tree. Next to the great "free to slot the skills you want" system I described earlier, this completely overrides the strict class restrictions which we are so accustomed to in this genre.

Very lastest but not leastest:

- It's going to be free. To download AND to play.

 

 

My list of negatives and concerns are mostly minor:

- Still needs some polish (beta + indie game, durr).

- You never know exactly how "ethical" micro transactions end up being in the launched game and since they have plans for massive pvp too (!) that suddenly kind of matters.

- No voice overs (they might plan to add them later, not sure). I hope so because the VO work and writing in the class videos are pretty damn good and gritty.

- The trading mechanics of the UI feel a bit awkward. (Separate menu's for buying and selling).

- Most of the UI and all pop-ups have "90's" written all over it.

- WTB more bags! (Plenty of in-town storage though).

- Sometimes mobs behave a little dumb and disregard you or shoot into obstacles.

- Visually decent but in Act 1 dull and grey and never really breathtaking. Things get much more sunny and attractive in Act 2 however.

- There's no character creation: just base class picking. Even gender is predetermined.

 

 

The bottom line questions you should ask yourself for each Action RPG:

Is it fun to play and is it compelling enough to keep playing?

To me that's twice a resounding "yes" and frankly I am pretty amazed by what this company has pulled off: a proper addition to my short list of hack & slash classics and taking the formula to a next level in combat, skill systems, utter freedom in character development and clever mechanics. Very curious how this game will shape up further along the line.

Thanks for reading <3

 

 

Alot writes:

Oh, I'm glad to see that environments improve in Act 2. Act 1 is a serious eyesore at times, making the game's graphics look like an extremely modernized version of a game which I will not mention.

Sun May 13 2012 1:14PM Report
DarkPony writes:

@Alot: Yeah, was a big relief for me too. It has some really purty, lush forests. They looked much more polished and immersive compared to those grimy beaches of Act 1.

Sun May 13 2012 1:22PM Report
spookydom writes:

Going to need an auto-bump for these blogs if they carry on like this DP.  Been playing T2 this weekend and haven't  really had a chance to play POE yet.  This is an intresting write up and is making me want to play POE right now. Going to be so sick of arpg's by the the time christmas comes though and no mistaking! :)

Sun May 13 2012 3:54PM Report
Aori writes:

Finally someone posts about PoE that isn't a direct attack on D3. I don't really like PoE myself mainly got turned off by act 1. That and its slow like combat.. just felt draggy.

Otherwise though good read, dispite a few of your comments.

Mon May 14 2012 2:23AM Report
Don-Quixote writes:

Is this a reviewette with vinagrette? Fantastic writing - an advice: stop writing free stuff on the internet and get yourself published.

Mon May 14 2012 7:27AM Report
DarkPony writes:

Thanks a lot for the compliments. Much appreciated!

Mon May 14 2012 7:39AM Report
Kyleran writes: Very good write up, in fact, I felt myself considering giving this title a shot, and I rarely play anything but full on MMORPG's. Mon May 14 2012 2:47PM Report
berlight writes: trading path of exile keys lol pm me if interested Mon May 14 2012 3:40PM Report
Zekiah writes: Nice review. My only issue with PoE is end game. As it is currently, end game is pretty boring but other than that, the game has a lot of potential and is off to a good start. Mon May 14 2012 4:16PM Report
someforumguy writes: Your blogs are very enjoyable to read :) POE sounds interesting. I like you wrote about the character development. Mon May 14 2012 4:25PM Report
43%burnt writes: Really liked it, but there is a lot of balancing to be done. "Cruel" felt a lot easier than "Normal", thanks to no negative base resists and the added passive skills from lvlups. Mon May 14 2012 4:28PM Report
Calerxes writes: Nice read Pony I played over the weekend and found the game enjoyable and smooth but not really being a Hack and Slash expert I cannot comment any further but I shall keep an eye on PoE. Mon May 14 2012 4:30PM Report
JeroKane writes: I just hate the UI. I am fortunate to have a 27inch IPS screen with 2560x1440 resolution and the UI is just taking up most of my screen. The shatbox takes up half my screen horizontal wise! I sincerly hope they gonna implement UI scaling sooner than later! As I lose way too much screen real estate right now due to the oversized UI elements! Mon May 14 2012 6:02PM Report
Senadina writes: I would like to respectfully point out that skill gems level up just by being socketted, whether you use the skills or not. Another cool thing I noticed this weekend was being able to simply sidestep a monster's charge. It was refreshing to not see a mob be a homing missile like in most games. Mon May 14 2012 9:57PM Report
FrodoFragins writes: The combat simply wasn't up to par with D3 and TL2. The lack of full respecs is a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned. They do have a long way to go to take me away from ARPGs that I'm willing to buy. I think a B2P model would be far better and feasible for them. A F2P game with micro-transactions that may become more nefarious over time is a concern. Timing is their biggest enemy though. They will absolutely be swallowed up by D3 and TL2. Lineage Eternal also looks to be excellent and the clips out there show what appears to be much better gameplay, combat and art direction. Mon May 14 2012 11:14PM Report
Bulkathos writes:

PoE is great game i enjoyed it soo far.

Mon May 14 2012 11:45PM Report
grinningmonk writes:

Nice write up. Been looking at this as  D3 alternative simply on price :) Budget is limited and I would rather put my cash into other things at this time. Hoping ot get into beta at some point as I missed the last public weekend beta (was playing TSW beta)

Tue May 15 2012 1:24AM Report
Webferret writes:

Have been playing the beta now for sometime and I am really enjoying it. The Devs listen to the community and work with them. I feel PotE is going to shine in teh MMO world. Can not wait for it to actually release to the public.

Tue May 15 2012 2:38AM Report
Lobotomist writes:

Here are my 2 cents

- Game is not that hard, even on hardest difficulty i was dying only when i fell asleep on keyboard. But I think it has lot to do with crazy elemental damage self healing build i have.

- Gameplay does not hold water to fun gameplay of its counterparts - T2 and D3

...

Otherwise than this - Awesome game !

Addictive and complex !

Tue May 15 2012 4:36AM Report
badgerer writes:

Kiwis? Wow. We have a small country but I hadn't heard of these chaps. I should get out more. Mind you, given that they code, they probably should too.

Tue May 15 2012 6:00AM Report
Golelorn writes:

Nice writeup Pony.

Sat May 19 2012 9:33AM Report
Eir_S writes:

Your blog rocks, DP.  Thanks for some well thought out articles.

Sun May 20 2012 12:38AM Report
Joreel writes:

For those of you that are complaining about the various aspect of the game, remember that this is still in beta so a lot of things can change between now and the final product. D3 was in production far longer than this game will be as well as having millions of dollars more thrown at it that these guys will never have avaliable to them. As for T2, I've been playing the beta and yes it looks and plays awesome, but like D3, Runic has had a lot more money and staff to work on their product. (yes I know that Runic is a small company as well, but most of their designers have extensive xp on other triple A games). These guys have been working on in buy themselves and the game still looks great. 

DarkPony...

Thank you for writing a balanced preview of PoE. I agree with pretty much everything you say about the game.

Sun May 20 2012 11:20PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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