When I saw this game in beta, it had my attention. The skill tree alone had my attention and my curiosity due to it’s size. However, I generally do not like to play betas these days. I had my fill of the games going online/offline at will to be patched and fixed and the server-wipes removing my character in the process from Darkspore alone. So when this game officially launched, I knew I was diving in. It had been a while since I played a good ARPG, and a game that promised to be one without costing a cent was simply something I had to see for myself. I think I can safely say, believe the hype about this one and get ready for a good time.
Story: Path of Exile begins with your character being exiled from their kingdom. As obvious as the title makes this, it is the key-essential point of the whole story. How or why does not matter so much, but for those interested, the reasons vary depending on which character you choose to play. For example, in my play-through, I played the Duelist, one of the six classes you can play in your initial run. In his case, he was tried and convicted of murder for basically getting into a duel (and winning) against someone of stature. As a result, he was sentenced to banishment and being shipped out.
However, not all goes according to plan, as the ship you are on shipwrecks on the shores of Wraeclast. This was the destination you were supposed to reach, but you found yourself one of the few survivors rather then just being dropped off, left behind, and forgotten about. And soon after, you find yourself facing off with the corpses of your fellow exiles who did not survive, fighting for survival and reaching the first town which will serve you as your homebase for the 1st third of the game.
Ultimately, this will evolve into a story in which you will chase after a single character as she basically screws with sciences that mankind should never go near, but it never really makes things clear as to what they are trying to achieve or why or really much of anything. It is just a standard “these guys are bad and you happen to be the only one who can save the world” style plot that video games can be very fond of. If you expect anything resembling depth, you have come to the wrong place.
Graphics: Despite it’s free to play origins, a lot of people will be stunned at just how gorgeous this game is. From the moment you start the game on a small shore with the waves lapping at you and the guy dying on wreckage nearby right through to the final scenes of decayed ruin where the final boss resides, every scene is rendered with the kind of care and detail you would expect form a AAA high budget multiplatform game.
And these scenes vary tremendously, from shores to jungles to rich marble palaces to the depraved mad scientist labs, to even what can only described as an artificially created Hell, there are plenty of places you will travel to with lots of variation before it’s all over.
Nor is there any slack with the look of the enemies you will face. Right from the first soulless shambling undead hoard you face, nothing is lacking the art to look it’s best or out of character to the areas you will find it in. However, that is not to say this does quiet as well as the world itself. If there is any weakness here it’s that you likely won’t find more then 3 or 4 types of enemies in any given map at max, and there are a few enemies that are simply recolorings of older ones you previously fought.
And while enemies look good, the interesting details are left for your character. Much like the game it was clearly modeled after, everything you gear up with that is big enough changes their appearance. This means armor, helmet weapons, shields, or boots all get placed on your character’s model in real time, allowing you to show what you have to every other player playing. And if you are willing to throw a little cash at the game, you can further enhance your image by adding features (purely cosmetic) to your gear, making it that much more yours.
And all of this comes together for a very complete and solid looking package, both for the character and the world. VERY well done.
Sound: Being an isometric Action-RPG, you can expect Path of Exile to have all the normal phantasy sound effects. Steel clangs against steel and hard objects as you would expect while arrows thwip effectively, and magic booms and zaps as appropriate. Monster roars are also in the same adequate realm as the other sound effects, but also like them are pretty much as we expect for standard. They do not come out above and beyond.
Sadly, the same can be said for the music as the sounds. It sounds great and fits the themes of the areas and even the moments you are in, but there is nothing that stands out as exceptional and for the most part you will forget it as soon as it stops playing. There is however, one exception to this as completing the game will earn you the chance to hear a power-metal ballad called Exile by Other View as the credits start to roll. With all the joyous cheese this breed of music can offer, I can not imagine not enjoying this song, and hope more people get to hear it.
But as with most games of this type, the real way this one separates itself from other games to your ears is the voice acting, and sadly, this too is a little lacking. This is more due to the lack of time any given character has, however, as in any act there are maybe 5 characters that will talk, and maybe 2 of them will have more then 2 things to say before you move on. For a game that is over 20 hours, this makes for a tough time to make any lasting impressions.
Gameplay: Path of Exile is an action RPG for fans of one of the biggest classics of the genre: Diablo 2. If you have played this game, you have a good idea of what to expect, though it will still surprise you with the details. If not, the game is an action RPG played from an Isometric birds-eye view. You will spend most of the game running around maps and killing everything that moves on your way to reach the right map (and area within it) to complete whatever quest you are currently trying to finish. As you complete these missions, you will gain experience that will ultimately lead you to level up and get stronger so you can take on bigger missions until you finish the game and (if you desire) start again on a harder skill level.
All of this action is controlled mainly by mouse click. Click a spot and your character will go there. Click an enemy and you will do a standard attack with the weapon (or weapons) you have equipped. However, in combat you will also find yourself using skills you assign to your right and middle mouse buttons as well as the QWERT keys. These skills will vary greatly both in what they are and the effects you place on them. However, you will not gain these options by a skill tree like most such games use.
Instead, they come in the form of gems you can place in the sockets of your gear to make them available to you. In addition, these gems level up, making the attacks more powerful as you have them equipped in battle and can be plucked and moved around as you see fit, making them still very easy to carry with you through the game as you desire. The only limitations to this are that you need a socket available that matches the color of the gem you are using. These gems come in 3 colors (red, green, and blue) and between this balance and the fact that not every piece of gear has the same number or color sockets, this becomes a whole new mechanic you need to keep in mind when picking the gear you want to have equipped to go to battle.
And these battles themselves will be varied every time you play. Just like the game that inspired it, Path of Exile randomly generates the map you are about to play on when you are not in a town. This is great in that you will not play the same game twice, but it also can be a bit of a pain in that your instanced copy of the map you are playing will only exist after you and your party are not on it for about 15 minutes. If you need to go back, you will have to re-explore the map all over again.
Between your times on the field, you can go to town to do the usual talking to NPCs, turning in quests, getting new quests, and selling/buying gear, but this last part is going to also be a little different then you are used to. In Path of Exile there is no money. Instead, you will be buying in selling gear via a barter system in which NPCs will ask you for and offer shards of orbs (used to adjust your gear if you choose to use it yourself instead) and scrolls to trade with. As a result, you may find yourself concerned early on that you will spend all your “wisdom scrolls” for new gear, but there is little fear. By the time you finish the first act, you will likely be swimming in them and have plenty for everything you will do with the rest of the game.
And finally, we get to how leveling works in this game, as it is very different then most other games of this type as well. Instead of the game upping your base stats for you and/or offering you points to do this, you get a node each time you level. This node goes into your passive skill tree anywhere you have built a path to. On this tree, you will find nodes that add a set volume of points to one of your 3 basic stats (strength, dexterity, and intelligence) as well as passive abilities such as faster attacks when using one handed weapons or life regeneration.
This tree is actually 1 complete tree for all seven classes (you can play a Scion once you have finished the game once should you desire) so it is possible to bleed into the traits of other classes. However, this tree is huge, so if you think that your class no longer matters because no one has their own separate one, you could not be more wrong. If you made it your goal to prove a point and did nothing but branch to one of your neighbor’s abilities, you would spend your first 13 levels doing so, completely missing the abilities you might gain to actually help you play well AND stat upgrades you might need in order to use some of the better gear you will find and buy in the game itself. It is simply not worth it.
Should you choose to build from your tree, you will likely not need to stray much your first time. As I write this, I finished the game at level 39 on my first time through and found not only did I not need to stray from the duelist section, but I didn’t need to being selective of the passive abilities I chose to work for. (I went with a regen dual wielding melee build and got nothing that did not serve that.) This game simply has a ton of space to customize your character and create the build you want to build, using your chosen class as a launching point to begin.
Bugs: While playing this game, I ran into exactly two bugs… one common, and one I can only imagine is exceptionally rare:
- Desync: Path of Exile is kinda notorious for this, but it is not uncommon to be fighting a group of enemies and one will suddenly be somewhere else nearby or you will be a few feet in-game off from where you were. In short, it is relatively easy for this game to desync from the server and need to resync. This is not going to be an issue for gamers playing the main story line since while it isn’t an uncommon issue, it happens rare enough to just be annoying. People playing competitively will likely take issue with this, however.
- Can not parse byte: The game actually crashed on my once, freezing me on the loading screen until I forced the game to shut down and saw an error window with the above message. This was caused by a login issue. Since the my account became unavailable mid-login, the game did not know what to do with it. This is EXCEPTIONALLY rare and may well have only been possible because I was trying to play a Steam copy of the game (which merges accounts, and relies on steam’s login to run) and Steam went down for maintenance for about 30 minutes while I was selecting my character to play. This game is online, so while breaks in the chain to the server are rare, they can happen.
Overall: Path of Exile is an exceptional game. It was clearly inspired by the best games of the genre and was made to take those classics and bring their gameplay to modern gamers. If you are a fan of Action RPGS you really need to spend some time with this game. If you are a fan of Diablo 2 who was disappointed with Diablo 3, you are really lucky. With this game, you got a mulligan and get to play the game you actually wanted…. without dropping so much as another dime to do it.