Last year was a bit of a mixed blessing for fans of action RPGs. Although we finally saw the arrival of Diablo III, it’s hard to say that it lived up to everyone’s expectations for what they thought would be the game that heralded the new era of online adventuring. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a good game, just not THE game. Fortunately for PC gamers everywhere there’s always someone waiting in the wings to take up the mantle and offer something unique and intriguing. That’s where New Zealand based Grinding Gears Games comes in with their upcoming free-to-play title, Path of Exile and they’re going to prove there’s more to their home country than LOTR and Flight of the Conchords references as they take their game into open beta.
While PoE may initially remind players of Diablo and Torchlight on the surface there is much more going on for those willing to pry deeper than a few screenshots. Character classes are varied and dynamic thanks to a well set up passive skill tree. Basically, you’re presented with a map of orbs and each one leads you down a different path of abilities to augment your character with, such as mana regen or increased health and other such perks. But you can very quickly branch out from what you may consider traditional action RPG archetypes. You can make your avatar unique to your playing type by doing things such as giving your witch life boosts and opt for your spells to drain health instead of mana or augment a marauder in the exact same way and see what the results are. Folks who have played Final Fantasy X and used their orb skill system should immediately realize the potential here and be comfortable with the system.
You could easily lose a hefty chunk of time figuring out how you’re going to make your perfect character, but for those who just want to smash things, shoot lightning from their hands and collect loot, there’s six pre-made classes for you to choose from and you don’t have to derive from your skill tree if you don’t want to. The Witch, Marauder and Ranger are your standard RPG types, but the Duelist, Templar and Shadow offer a dual-class experience for those looking to check out the game’s expansive abilities.
Customization doesn’t end there though as Path of Exile gives you a chance to make some crazy ass spells as well. You don’t learn spells so much as you collect gems that are imbued with spells that you can inlay within armor and weapons in order to augment them. From there you can use other gems that have buffer abilities that juice up the original gem. You can take a fireball spell, equip it, then add a gem that gives it multi-shot or ricochet, or grows a tower out of the ground that shoots the fireballs for you, or you can have it do all of things and a few more. Up to six abilities can be chained together to customize your active skills.
The amount of control you have over your character and skills is extremely enticing, but this title isn’t a one trick pony. Backgrounds and enemies are wide and varied. The Slums resemble sort of a medieval version of the ghettos of Brazil in design while the warehouse district has sort of London-y Jack the Ripper vibe, and then there’s the temple area with the rivers full blood. One minute you’re smashing giant beetle demons that poop out smaller critters in the Slums and then you’re off to kill blood-blob men in the Temples, or giant Maws in the sewers. No matter how many times you journey to these destinations you’ll be treated to a new randomly generated dungeon, though you will probably run into the same enemies.
“Variety” truly seems to be the keyword for the guys over at Grinding Gears and hopefully that will be reflected when Path of Exile gets out of Beta. And unlike most F2P RPGs you will never have to pay for anything important in game. If you want a cute little Kiwi bird that follows you around and looks awesome, sure, you can pay for that, but none of the skills, armor, spells or other such accessories will ever cost you a single dime. You’ll just have to hunt them down in-game. Path of Exile goes into open Beta on Monday 1/21 and will cost you nothing to check out. If you’re a fan of these sort of clicktastic adventures, I suggest you check it out and sign up.