Put away your credit cards, folks. You won’t need them for this game.
Path of Exile (PoE) is “a competitive online action RPG” from Grinding Gear Games, based out of New Zealand since the middle of the last decade. PoE does what few PC games can do, or even what few have attempted to do: it delivers on the big stage, with no money out of pocket. And while freemium options do exist within the game, I am having a ton of fun playing it without even considering spending a dime.
You can choose from 1 of 6 character classes, each of which uses, in some combination, 3 main attributes: strength, intelligence and dexterity. You can play through the game with up to 5 other friends (or strangers), which I highly recommend doing. The game is fun to play by yourself, but it is a very fun multiplayer experience.
Many would argue that Blizzard’s “Diablo” franchise is the benchmark for gaming within the action RPG genre. I would contend that this game does not change that, but that it does show that some very serious contenders exist. PoE looks very much like Diablo in many facets of the game, from weapon rarity, to the presence of elites in the battlefield, to the utilization of gems to customize characters and weapons. The Diablo franchise was definitely part of the inspiration of this game. It is not a clone of that series, but it does feel somewhat like a rehashing of this already successful franchise. With proper ongoing development, this game will have a shot to challenge the heavyweights at the top of this genre. The creators knew from the start they had to do something to put distinguish their brand from the field—and I believe they did.
That something, the passive skill tree, can be found here.
This is where the rubber meets the road for the franchise, in my opinon. If you need me to use a buzzword to describe the skill tree, then here it is: game-changer.
Path of Exile has absolutely blown me away with the depth and breadth lent to character build and development. I am by no means an extremely weathered gamer, but I have never seen a skill tree like this. If you and 9 other friends all started with the same character, I can guarantee that after a month of gaming, you would have 10 TOTALLY (note: the bold and all caps) different characters. The choices along your virtual journey through the skill tree can range from skill increases to totally changing the rules of how the game works—well, at least in regards to your character. One example: “life regeneration” buffs would be turned into “energy shield regeneration” for your character. So this would only be a good choice if your character utilizes energy shielding. You have to make the choice, and you have to stick to it…or at least for a while you do. There are opportunities throughout the game to refund some of the choices that you are not happy with, but the developers are extremely open and direct in stating that they want you to have to figure out how to play the game before creating your terminal character. They want you to fail several times before you get your build to perform the way you had intended.
Each class has its own skill tree, making each trek through the game a completely new experience. I have currently tried 3 of the classes, and hope to eventually try them all, but I doubt I’ll ever be an expert in any more than 1 of them.
Another very nicely implemented facet of the game is the use of gems. Gems can be found in one of three colors and can be placed into a matching colored socket on any of your items. Any gem in the socket of an equipped item will begin to build experience. Gems give both passive and active skills to your character. The more experience gained while a gem is equipped, the more experience the gem gains, thus increasing its level, As a result, your character will become more proficient at the associated skill, increasing the benefit of the ability, and thus making your character better. Gem sockets may be connected, allowing you to place passive gems next to active gems to increase the effect of the active gem’s skill. This aspect of the game also makes finding the right items more difficult since you may be limited, based on your style of play, to certain combinations of gem slots on each item. You may be faced, at times, with a dilemma: do you go with the awesome new helmet, which has a different set of gem slots, or do you continue to do what you were always doing?
If you are extremely into cut-scenes and graphics from Blizzard’s offering, you may want to look further. I have yet to see a cut scene, but as a person who does not tend to get into the backstory of a game all that much, this is a minor omission. The graphics in this game are not bad, but they are not quite up to par with Blizzard’s offering. The background music is quite repetitive and i have found myself humming it more than once However, these things do not make me enjoy the game any less, and with the recent update on 11/12/13, the game added some effects to weapons that I had not noticed in the past. This has me excited, in that it seems that the graphics and individual weapon development will be a continuing effort from the development team. Additionally, it seems as though there are many graphical and cosmetic changes available in the freemium store, but I tend to avoid real-money marketplaces at all costs, so I will leave that aspect of the game for you to explore.
All-in-all, this is a game worth buying. Lucky for you, no out of pocket expense is required for you to begin your own Path of Exile. You can find it on Steam as a free-to-play game today.