Out of beta and into full release, Path of Exile developed by New Zealand game development company Grinding Gears Games has made headway in the PC gaming community with the promise that this is the game that Diablo 3 should’ve been. But the million dollar question is, is it? Will it bring you back to the glory days of blood and loot or is simply a lame rehash of an RPG legend?
For this review I think it is only fair to hold this game on its own merit and not on the success and failures of its idolized brethren. It’s very easy to compare the topic of that “other” game but it is not fair to grinding gear or their game. So let’s get started.
When starting my play through I was given a choice of seven “playable” classes: Marauder, Ranger, Witch, Duelist, Templar, Shadow, and Scion. One of the more interesting things about this game is the fact that class choice is rather unimportant. While each class has inherent advantages to a certain play style (Marauder for physical damage dealing, Ranger for range attacks) due to the passive skill tree a classes play style is pretty much dictated by however the player wants to play his/her character, at least until the game gets really tough.
As I had little previous knowledge of this game I decided to start easy and chose a minimal skilled character in the marauder. I enjoy battering things with weapons for heavy damage and don’t need that sissy magic stuff, so the imposing mace swinging behemoth fit me perfectly. After choosing your class, name, and league (I played in domination) your character gets thrown on a beach and its time to start killing.
After going through the tutorial you show up at the encampment site of the first of three acts in the game, Witch’s eye. There you talk to some people, get a back story, and then you're given quests to go and kill things I guess for the story progression, but really it's for the exp. and loot.
I’ll be honest, the story is completely irrelevant for the game. I’m well into the third act of the game on normal difficulty and I still don’t know what my character is actually doing in this world. What I can gather is that you are somehow the “chosen” one even though you see all the other “chosen” ones hanging around encampment sites looking for raid parties and stashing loot. As the “chosen” one you must save this land from an oppressive regime and blah blah blah evil man, etc. If you’re looking to play this game for some sort of deep lore and story, look elsewhere.
It took about a half hour to get into the full swing of things, but when I did it took me back to a gaming experience I haven’t had in a long time. Swarms of monsters coming at you at once, swinging my giant mace going full on Sauron mode blasting circles of enemies back into a bloody pile of mess it was flat-out fun.
Something I really think was brilliant was use of refillable life and mana flasks. Due to a lack of a reliable traditional in-game currency(no gold) you can't buy healing and mana potions, instead you get 5 slots to fill with either health or mana flasks, that will refill when you kill more monsters. This allows a character to have an endless amount of health and mana if they have the skill to pull it off, and in doing so, eliminates a lot of down-time a player has running between zones and level/item running.
Back to the currency topic, the lack of gold kind of sucks I’m not going to lie. After defeating a tough mob or monster I would like to see a big pile of money for me to pick up. But with the lack of traditional currency, Grinding Gears created an orb based economy that uses a variety of orbs to either sell, trade, or craft items that my or may not help your character. It seems as though the game prefers that you to trade items with other players instead of crafting, as the chances of actually creating a decent piece of armor or weapon using orbs seems to be a waste of money. The drops are usually average at best and many times simple magical items will fit your character’s build better than the rarer ones.
Power progression has also been well done in the game so far. When you first reach land, my character could barely take down a zombie without losing majority of my health. But before long I was blasting through droves of skeletons, squid people, and monkeys, lots and lots of monkeys(which surprisingly have some of the most consistently decent drops in-game). I’ve alway loved the traditional RPG trope of zero to hero and Path of Exile is no exception doing it exceptionally well.
From what I have gathered from other more experienced players, unless you go full idiot mode, any character you play and develop can reach endgame (on lower difficulties) without too many problems. If you do screw up your passive skills, you can simply refund them and try again. One issue I have heard about though is the unfair advantage players have grouping with one another versus solo play in the late game, making soloing late game extremely cost ineffective. Grinding Gears has addressed the issue during the beta in June but has yet to do anything about fixing the game for a more solo friendly experience.
I’ve been playing Path of Exile on a very basic laptop with very little problems, my frames have been pretty consistent and movement and action is fluid. But there have been server issues at odd times and many times kicking me out of the game when loading a new zone. This is a problem if you are dealing with a dungeon because when you're kicked, your town portal disappears and all the monsters you killed will then respawn making it a time-consuming endeavor to regain the progress you lost. One plus is that if you're kicked, you do not lose exp. or items you may have gotten during your journey, but it's still annoying to deal with. Another issue I experienced with the game was the d-syncing of my character after certain movement actions performed by your character, which sometimes leads to death.
Path of Exile is purely addicting. The story and graphics are nothing to write home about but the developers are unapologetically apathetic towards those qualms, they simply want an Action RPG that the hardcore fans of the genre can get behind. The game works well in the things that a game of this genre needs: A creative skill system, proper player progression, socketable item power ups and abilities, and non-stop fast paced action.
At times you don’t know why you’re playing as the repetitiveness of the game should get old quick, but it doesn’t. There’s just something inherently addicting about clicking, attacking, and getting rewards. I’m starting to expect my mouth to water every time I hear the click of a mouse and now I can’t tell if this game is fun or a psychological experiment, but some things are better off not known.