Path of Exile: Beta Review
I had never really heard much about, let alone followed Path of Exile until their recent beta weekend. I had heard that the game was some sort of Diablo clone and that was about the extent it. A bunch of friends were talking about this in vent Friday, so on a whim we all decided to hop in and take a look at this upcoming free-to-play hack-and-slash action RPG.
There are two things we need to establish before we go any further. First, Path of Exile is clearly heavily inspired by Diablo. Second, Path of Exile is different from Diablo in many ways. This being established, comparisons to Diablo are inevitable. There are a lot of gamers out there anxiously waiting for Diablo 3 to come out, and this game clearly will appeal to a lot of those same gamers. I hope as we go forward here that you will understand that I will make many references to Diablo because it is a standard that I think most people recognize and understand.
The game starts out with you picking from a class from one of the five options. This is pretty standard for this type of game. One beef I have is that the various classes all have their gender already selected. This means if you play as the witch or the ranger you will be forced to play as a female, conversely playing as the Marauder, Templar, and Duelist will have you playing as a male. It's not a huge deal honestly, but it would be nice to have the option to change gender.
The gameplay is pretty much the same as what you are used to in Diablo. You hack your way through hordes of monsters from a top-down perspective through randomly generated areas while collecting randomly generated loot. One difference from Diablo however is the fact that when you enter town, you actually see other players who don't know going about their business. Once you leave the town you will be on your own or with friends you invite to your party. So while the town is seems to be a shared instance for sorts, the game outside the town is private unless you bring along people you know.
The biggest single aspect of the game for me that made it stand out from Diablo was the skill system. Path of Exile features a single skill tree that is shared by all classes. Tree probably isn't the right word though, it's more like a skill galaxy (Click to see interactive map). I simply can't emphasize how absolutely massive this thing is. I literally got lost in it and had to back out to find out where I was. Each of the five classes all use the same system, but they all start in different spots. Everytime your character levels up (and completes certain quests) you are awarded a skill point that can be placed in the tree. As you start leveling up and spending points, you literally are exploring this tree by skilling up a path through it to reach desired passive abilities. This to me is by far the biggest selling point of the game. This system gives massive amounts of customization and freedom for the player to branch off into whatever parts they want which enables them to create a character tailored to exactly what they want.
While the skill tree covers all passive abilities, your special attacks and spells are obtained and handled in a completely different way. Unlike Diablo which grants you new attacks when you reach a certain level, Path of Exile's abilities are obtained through finding gems through drops or quest reward. These gems come in a variety of colors and must be socketed to a piece of gear that has the matching color socket. Once socketed, the ability can be hotkeyed and used as long as it remains equipped. While fighting, the gems themselves have their own experience bar that can level them up, which in turn increases their damage and effectiveness. Gems can be taken out of armor at any time and placed in a new item or stored with no penalty.
It gets deeper. Many of the items in the game also have multiple sockets that are connected together. As you go farther into the game you will start finding support gems. Support gems are specifically designed to be paired up with your other gems in order to grant a bonus to the gem it is connected to. As an example, a support gems could be attached to on your melee attack gems to add some bonus elemental damage effect to that attack to bolster its strength. Factor all of these things together and it gives the player a lot of freedom and customization when mixing and matching various gems. It's also worth noting that gems are not class specific, so it becomes very possible for different classes to use some of the same gems. Some players may or may not like this as it blurs the lines between classes a little bit, but it is quite a different system compared to what you will see in Daiblo.
Another gameplay difference between PoE and Diablo include the potion system. In Path of Exile the player holds flasks in a seperate hotbar which contain healing potions. Once you use a flask, the entire potion is not consumed. You can drink from the same flask several times before it is drained. Once a flask is drained out, it will refill over time by killing monsters forcing you to drink from one of the other flask slots. Flasks are dropped as loot though like any other item in the game, and some of them do have magical properties. Whether you like this better than Diablo is again personal preference, but I found it to be a pretty cool approach to something that has always struck me to be a mundane part of these types of games.
One aspect of the game that I found odd is the lack of gold or an in-game currency. Killing monsters yields no money at all, in fact nothing does. There are shops that you can buy and sell at, but apparently for whatever reason PoE stores use some form of barter system. Selling loot to the store gets you little component items, and purchasing is done via the same way. These items alone don't really do anything, but when you get enough of one, they combine into items that can be used to modify your gear. These can do a wide variety of things like changing the socket colors on your items, rerolling item stats, or even turning normal items into magical items. It's interesting in the fact that it all feeds into more options for tweeking your gear, but not having a gold currency or anything in the game takes a lot of getting used to.
Just to quickly gloss over some final things before I wrap this up. The game does seem to have varying difficulty levels. After clearing the entirety of what beta allowed us to, we were kicked back to the beginning of Act 1 on the next difficulty up. Also present right out of the gate was the inclusion of a "hardcore" mode. If you played Diablo you may be familiar with this in that it pretty much means that when your character is dead the game is over....sort of. In PoE there looks to be a completely seperate server for HC characters, and a death on that server automatically removes the character off of the server and on to the normal server. There is a ladder and ranking system leaderboard for HC characters to see who can get to the highest level. Speaking of which, I believe the max level is upwards of around 100, maybe higher. PoE is also promising PvP right out of the gate in some form (Diablo 3 apparently will not until later) and a cutthroat mode, although these were not present in the beta weekend.
Overall I would say my imrpession of Path of Exile left me very surprised in a good way. I haven't seen or heard a lot about this game on a lot of the major sites and it looks to be quite a solid game. Will it stack up against Diablo 3? For some people I think it will, but I think it does depend on what you want from a game like this. I think Diablo 3 probably offers more in the story department and has a crafting system, but it is also a $60 game where Path of Exile is completely free to download and play. It's definitely a game that deserves a look especially if Diablo 3 is something on your radar. You may end up liking PoE's variation on a solid formula that gamers have come to love.
Co-Leader of Inquisition