I always love it when I can preview a game well, and Path of Exile has been sufficiently fun to tear me away from The Secret World long enough to acquire several characters around the level 20 mark. I love roguelikes, and it’s been a while since I’ve found a good one. Path of Exile is very much a good one. It’s impossible not to compare it to Diablo, but I’ve always loved a good Diablo clone. I do have to say that despite calling it a Diablo clone, I am enjoying Path of Exile more than I ever enjoyed Diablo. I normally begin reviews by providing a bit of my perspective on games, but in this particular case simply saying that I love roguelikes – I still play nethack – seems sufficient.
It has the trademarks of a roguelike, both good and bad – gender locked classes without any character appearance customization, loads of random effects on all the items, massive slaughter without the need to really pay attention to the story, multiple modes from casual to hardcore and nightmare, instancing that allows you to play solo or coop. Much like the early Diablo 1 and 2, it has scrolls that are used to identify magic items, scrolls that will create a portal back to town, and it even has a magic find stat. If this list of traits makes you groan or roll your eyes, then I’m pretty confident in saying this is not the game for you. If, however, you’re like me and love it (aside from the lack of appearance customization, although I believe they’ll be selling customization options in the cash shop), Path of Exile might be worth checking out. Click the button below for more details on the game’s features.
There isn’t much to say about character creation, other than it is over quickly. You log in to the game, select the class, enter your name, and play. There are no gender or appearance options, and all skills are acquired in game. If you want to be thorough, each class does have a description, however I’ll admit I skipped it all as I’d read the website while downloading the game. If you want to play in any mode other than the default, such as hardcore, this is where you select it.
There are 6 classes to choose from. The Marauder is your strength based character, based on pure strength, to make a devastating 2 handed weapon dps character or a more classic tank. The Ranger is exactly what you would expect from the name, a pure dexterity based archer. She does have fairly quick access to dual wielding passives as well, for the two weapon melee based rangers. The Witch is a pure spell caster, although I’ve seen some interesting dual wand wielding Witches. The two dexterity hybrids, Duelist and Shadow, are difficult to quickly classify. I’d call both “classic rogues” of different types. The Shadow is closer to what I’d call an assassin. His focus is on dexterity and intelligence, creating a blend of quick movements and spell casting. This is my favorite class, I’ve developed a hit and run style of combat that I quite enjoy. The Duelist is a strength/dexterity hybrid, creating more of a direct combat rogue. The final class is the Templar, who is something like a paladin. There are no healers in Path of Exile. Everyone relies on flasks and regeneration to regain their health. Quite a refreshing change, for all that I usually play healers. I’ve always wanted to see an MMO that eliminates healing. That’d be a great way to destroy the holy trinity, wouldn’t it?
Passive skills are gained at one skill point per level, with a few given out as quest rewards. This is perhaps the most overwhelming thing about Path of Exile – there are so many passive abilities to choose from, and the layout in the passive tree window does not display names unless you mouse over the skill. I laughed when I first saw the passive tree, it reminds me very much of games from the 1990s. You are presented with a huge screen of dots and lines, like a spiderweb covered with morning dew. You progress along the tree by selecting skills along the path. You are free to branch out however you like, although you always have to follow the path. When I first began playing, my eyes glazed over as I looked at the tree – it really is huge, and skill names only appeared when I moused over the sockets. I began just choosing blindly as I leveled, because I never could remember where the skills I wanted were, or even what all of them did.
Then I eventually discovered the passive skill section on the Path of Exile website. This is a website done well. It really, really is. When you click the passive skill section on the main page, you are presented with the entire skill tree. There is a drop down menu to select classes, since each class begins in a different place on the tree, and a search. So if I want to create a character who focuses on traps, all I do is type ‘trap’ into the search bar and it will highlight all trap-related skills. It will also highlight similar skills, and the shortest path from your starting point to the highlighted skill. You can save builds, link them on the forums, and click on each of your characters to see their current skills on the tree. All game designers should look to this as an example of a game webpage done well. It’s got all the information gamers need to plan out their characters, and is easy to share. And let’s face it, isn’t that what we gamers love to do? If we’re not playing the game, we’re planning out our characters and looking for advice, or giving advice.
Active skills are equippable gems that are placed in sockets on your gear. Anyone can use any active skill, so long as the skill requirements are met. These gems are acquired as drops from monsters, in chests, as quest rewrads, or purchased from other players. Simply get the gem, put it into a gear socket, and voila! You can now use it. Early on gear sockets aren’t as important, but as you level you’ll quickly find that an item might have all the best stats you could want, but it’s nearly useless because it doens’t provide the right sockets. If you look at the picture I put in the economy section to show off the various orbs, you can see what happens when gear has bad socketing for your build – most of the sockets on that character are empty, thus limiting the number of skills I can use.
Gear is pretty easy to figure out. There are different rarities of items, each identified by a different colored name; common (white), uncommon (blue), rare (yellow) and unique (gold). It is purchased from NPC vendors, or acquired by killing monsters, breaking barrels and opening chests. This is a roguelike, so the stats are entirely random, and range from movement speed to magic find to various combat bonuses. Like Diablo, anything blue and above must be identified before it can be used. Unlike Diablo, the scrolls that are used to identify items are also used as currency in the game.
One interesting feature is the flask system. Rather than consumable health and mana potions, you acquire equippable flasks. Each use of the flask costs charges, which are acquired by killing monsters. Flasks are never consumed, instead it’s a cyclical cycle of using them and killing monsters to refuel them. Like all gear in the game, flasks have different rarity levels and the magical ones offer additional stats along with healing health or mana. You have 5 slots for flasks, and can put any flasks in there that you want. Have a high regeneration rate? Put in all mana flasks. Using blood magic so you have no use for mana? Put in all health flasks. Or mix and match with both. My favorite flask thus far is one that grants me a movement speed increase while I’m using the flask – so when my health gets low I can beat a speedy retreat while I heal up.
For the number crunchers out there, the character sheet provides plenty of information. Far too much information for me to list, but the screenshot below illustrates some of it. So you can examine the full effect of any piece of gear when trying to figure out if it’s an upgrade or not. I like that it breaks everything down by main and offhand if you’re dual-wielding.
The game’s economy is one of the more interesting features of Path of Exile. Unlike every other game that I can think of – there is no gold. No credits, no adena, nothing that could even remotely be called cash. All trade with vendors, and other players, is done using a bartering system. Anything the vendors will ask for or give you in exchange for items is useful to the player, so while you will acquire more and more stuff over time, I haven’t seen much inflation yet because everything has value and is consumable. For example, the items most commonly used in trading are the identify scrolls. You need these scrolls to identify magical items before you can use them, so even if you aren’t buying anything with them, they are still being consumed for as long as yhou are acquiring gear. There are also items that will allow you to change the magical properties on a magic item, improve it, add more magical properties, and all of these are also used to barter with the NPCs.
One of the hardest things to deal with as a game ages is inflation; as the playerbase becomes top heavy, they accumulate so much currency that it loses its value. This is the problem I have with most crafting in MMORPGs – crafting tends to completely flood the market and devalues the economy. I’m very curious to see how this method of tackling the inflation problem works out.
I touched on this a little in the economy section, but crafting isn’t like crafting in a typical MMO. You don’t go out and gather materials to create items, instead you take an item that you’ve acquired and modify it using the various orbs in the game. And believe me, there are orbs for just about everything. There are orbs to add magical properties to an item, upgrade its rarity, add sockets, change the socket colors, and cleaning the properties from an item. If you’re a fan of the slot machine, you can also find orbs to completely randomize the upgrades – whether you’re trying to reroll the stats on it or take a stab at upgrading its rarity level or number of sockets.
Modifying gear is almost an art form in itself. I’ve seen people create some amazing items, and everyone seems to have their favorite method. I prefer to find an item that looks cool, and add sockets and stats, modifying it until it’s just what I want. Others prefer to find an item with the sockets they want, and then improve the stats from there. Still others hunt for items with the stats they want, and then work on improving the sockets and quality level. So far as I can tell, the orbs used to modify items modify all levels of items, so you can start crafting as soon as you acquire some, or hold the orbs and wait until you’re higher level.
Most MMORPGs split players up by server. Path of Exile uses Leagues. Leagues are essentially different modes of gameplay – default is what you’d expect from a standard instanced MMO server. The towns in the default league are open to everyone, combat areas are instanced. In some ways default league Path of Exile plays more like a co-op than an MMORPG. Each of the areas is instanced, so you explore the world alone if you’re not grouped. They’ve got a Hardcore league with an interesting twist – to encourage more players to give it a try, any character killed in the Hardcore league will be moved to the default league when it is killed. There are temporary leagues, currently there’s a hardcore leveling contest happening, at the end of two weeks all characters will be moved to the parent Hardcore league. There are plans for a wide variety of leagues in the works. Ironman, full on open pvp with items dropped on death leagues, even private leagues. Guilds or players can pay to create their own leagues, and select the rules they want within them. Only people invited by the “owners” of that league will be able to play on a private league. I’m very interested to see what leagues Grinding Gear Games creates – it seems a very fascinating prospect. Currently all of my characters are in the default league, simply because I didn’t notice the option to choose when I made them. I’ve always been a fan of Hardcore or Ironman play, so eventually I will settle into one of those.
The general chat is open to everyone in your league, so chat is usually pretty lively. A very common conversation (I see it happen at least once everytime I log in to play) is to debate on how much of a Diablo clone Path of Exile is. The general consensus seems to be akin to mine – it may be a Diablo clone, but it’s more fun.
I heartily recommend this game to anyone who enjoys roguelikes. I think it’s worth a try even if you don’t. Combat is quick and intuitive, the graphics are pretty to look at, and it will eventually have enough modes to please just about anyone’s gameplay tastes – and if it doesn’t have a mode you enjoy, you’ll be able to create it! My experience with the community thus far is positive, every time I’ve asked for help or advice, someone has been quick to help me out. I’m sitting here trying to come up with something negative to say, but all I can manage is a complaint about the lack of character customization, which is hardly something I expect from a roguelike. Well done, GGG! I’ll definitely be continuing to play this, and I hope it does well!