The Path Just Got Longer
Gearing up for its late October release on Steam, Path of Exile is finally exiting it long-running beta with a host of new features to bring in new comers and keep existing players on their feet. With a new class, expanded PvP options, and substantial content updates promised every four months there is quite a lot that will be added in time for the official launch of the free-to-play title.
For those not quite up to speed, Path of Exile is a F2P hack and slash title that takes character customization to the next level. While gold and weapons appear here, the main game changer is the skill gem system, which consists of gems that can be attached to items to change their attributes and more importantly how the character plays. The ways items can be customized are vast and it's very easy to create an attack that no one else has created (at least at this point in the game's infancy). To give an example how the skill gem system works think about this: you can put a skill gem on a spear that activates a circle of thunder when attacked, and when used in tangent with another gem that summons fireballs from the sky when that attack hits more than two enemies.
Taking the extensive customization to the next level is a character skill tree upgrade system similar to the paradigm Crystarium from Final Fantasy XIII. Choosing a class doesn't restrict what you character ends up becoming, but rather what your character starts off as, so a tank character will start off at the defensive part of the skill tree. Gaining levels grants the player skills points to upgrade their character from that section, and it’s up to the player what their character will end up being like as they continue to play. Previously all character classes started far from the center of the character skills tree, but the new class, the Scion, starts off at the center and is actually locked until the game is completed once before she can be selected.
With the Scion being locked until the end of the campaign, this means that Path of Exile has something that resembles an actual ending, and accordingly there will be a horrifying end boss to defeat too. Progression doesn't end here, however, as the title offers multiple unlockable difficulties in true Diablo fashion, and there are a host of PvP modes being added on top of the ones already available. Matchmaking has been improved, and rare loot is being offered as prizes in official tournaments, giving players incentive to try the modes out.
Having played a demo with a few high level characters, Path of Exile is definitely something to behold once you get your mind around how deep yet accessible the skill gem system and skill trees are. The skill gems are used with almost any item in your inventory. The most novel use I saw was skill gems being used with a map to enhance the difficulty and awards of the bonus dungeon it's to travel to. It was also fun seeing just how switching skill gems on equipped inventory can drastically change the player's main attack. One character had a hammer that called down fireballs on the screen as he constantly called an AOE attack wherever he spun the hammer.
The future of Path of Exile is looking pretty bright, and while all of the promised four month patches won't be as huge as the one launching this month, don't think that Grinding Gear isn't constantly evolving their game subtly over time. With a at least a decade of upgrades planned, the developers are in this for the long haul starting in late October.
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