"A Hidden Gem with Paths Aplenty"
In the world of action RPGs, most games tend to cower before the beast known as the Diablo franchise. While many of us spent hours upon hours lost in the world of Diablo I and Diablo II, Diablo III left a lot of us feeling a little, well, wistful for the return of Diablo II and the sheer amount of options it provided along with an economy and item system that were both simple yet extremely open-ended. It would seem that the folks behind Path of Exile —created by New Zealand’s Grinding Gear Games— almost foresaw the current gap in the ARPG market.
Path of Exile is almost everything that Diablo fans wish Diablo III had delivered. It features a class system that lets players customize their character’s skill set and gear set entirely. Want a heavy-armored Ranger? Go for it. Want to build a tank-y dual-wielder with trap skills? Have at it. The only non-aesthetic difference between the classes in Path of Exile is the position where each class starts on the gigantic in-game passive skill tree. And yes, when I say gigantic, I really mean gigantic. We’re talking 1350 nodes on this sucker.
Think Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid, if you will. Players can choose to go down any path of their choosing and customize their statistics and passive abilities entirely to their liking. This is one of the hugest draws of the game if you’re the type that loves creating custom builds. It’s also one of the reasons Path of Exile is, in a way, much more difficult than Diablo III. There’s not nearly as much hand-holding, and there are literally a ton of options as far as character builds go. Not all options will work well in the later difficulties of the game, and for many ARPG fans—that’s part of the fun.
The skill system in Path of Exile is also very customizable. Active skill gems are slotted within sockets that are found on gear and the skills become usable after that gear is equipped. Skill gems level up as your character does, and can also be improved upon by linking support gems to them. This, of course, gives the term “gear hunting” a whole new meaning. Not only do you ideally want high-quality gear with awesome stats, you want high-quality gear with just the right number and colors of sockets and linked sockets. And the right gems, of course.
To help out with this task, players are able to collect a wide assortment of orbs and tokens that can be used to alter the stats, sockets, links between sockets, and quality of gear. These orbs and tokens also make up the currency of the game. There is no gold coin whatsoever in PoE. Players must barter and trade goods with one another (there’s no AH) similar to the days of Diablo II. Even selling items to vendors will reward players with various orbs, tokens, and scrolls that all have uses. The rarest tokens drop very randomly, which gives them value. It’s a cool system, and works surprisingly well.
Path of Exile also has all the standard stuff you’d expect from a Diablo II-style ARPG made in the modern era. There’s a noticeboard players can use to find parties, PvP gameplay options, a customizable chat system, shared stash storage between characters (except for characters across game modes), an cool-yet-not-amazing story, three difficulties to work your way through, and two game modes—standard and hardcore. Hardcore, as you’d expect, deletes your character if you die. There are also two leagues for Path of Exile which run for four months and give players a chance to compete against other players for taking part in challenges that run for those four months and reward unique goodies.
Combat is fun in PoE due to the customization options, but it’s also fun because it’s well-designed. Some of the boss encounters can be quite the challenge and will require players to run or leap through spell effects or kite a bit and make use of smart mobility. The UI is simple to learn and the flask system—which is the game’s potion system—is fantastic. Instead of having to lug around potions that take up bag space, your character chugs health/mana flasks that refill as you kill monsters. It’s a simple change from what most of us are used to, but one that’s awesome.
Now, as a completely free F2P game, Path of Exile’s community is pretty hit-or-miss, but besides that, the F2P system in PoE is actually very well-balanced. All cash shop items are cosmetic-only except for the ability to create guilds and obtain additional stash storage. GGG will presumably release additional content in the future that may be gated by the cash shop, but for now, anyone can hop in and experience everything the game has to offer for free. It’s a sweet deal.
As you’d expect from a free game, there's a slight amount of bugs to contend with as well as periods of the day when the servers can seem a bit laggy. GGG has been pretty awesome when it comes to fixing said bugs, however. The graphics and music in Path of Exile are solid for an F2P game and offer some great sights and sounds to the dark fantasy ARPG genre. There are no fancy Blizzard-style cutscenes, but hey—ARPGs are all about the action, right?
For a completely free game, Path of Exile has a lot to offer. The myriad of customization options alone makes this a solid contender in the world of ARPGs, and if GGG plays their cards right, this hidden gem in the messy world of F2P games could stick around for years to come.
GameDynamo's Score for Path of Exile (PC)
Laura is a freelance video game journalist and sci-fi/fantasy LGBT author who's equally passionate about the games she loves and the stoof she writes about. Stoof is a word, right?
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