Path of Exile is a multiplayer Action Role-Playing Game (ARPG) developed by Grinding Gear Games (GGG) out of Auckland, New Zealand. In a genre almost dominated by Diablo and Torchlight fans, this new ARPG begs you to lend your hacking, slashing, loot-grabbing, and character building skills to a new world. GGG is comprised of long time RPG players dedicated to giving you an experience that current ARPGs do not deliver. GGG claims Path of Exile is “an addictive action RPG with visceral combat and a complex item economy.” Unlike its ARPG brethren, Path of Exile was crowd-funded through GGG’s website to finance the game. Using “gentle micro-transactions” and offering in-game currencies in exchange for real-life cash pre-launch, GGG was able to fund this game and release an open beta on January 13, 2013. Over 2 million players dabbled in the open beta, and it led to a full release on their website, as well as on Steam on October 23, 2013. GGG has also announced that they will be supporting the game for 10 years, and releasing free content and updates frequently. Fully free-to-play, Path of Exile is the ARPG you should be playing.
Personally, I feel that the story in an ARPG is kind of like the stereo in a nice car. Everyone knows that it’s there and some people are more interested in it than others but the bottom line is that driving the car makes you kind of tune it out. There are pieces of lore scattered about the land of Wraeclast in the form of rocks and statues that you can read to buff up on your worldly knowledge. Additionally through quests and pre-boss fight rants, you kind of get the gist of “the goings on”. The story is linear, and like any RPG, the further you quest into the world the more you discover. I personally found the story a bit forgettable, but let’s get serious–Path of Exile is an ARPG designed around gameplay, and that is where this game shines.
It is dark. It is gritty. It is gory. Take one look at Path of Exile, and you would have a hard time believing that this is not an AAA title. The textures are every bit as smooth as its competitors, and overall has a level of sheen you would expect from an AAA title. The environments are all very detailed, down to the flora and fauna that seem to be flourishing in this world, alongside the hordes of baddies waiting to rip you to pieces. Overall the graphics are very polished, and the fact that it is on the PC means you can custom tune the game to best suit your system.
The environments in this game are absolutely gorgeous. From a desert to a forest, you can really see the effort put into making these areas stand out from one another. The rays of light that break through the canopies of forest areas and the shiny, moist stalagmites in the cave areas really give you a feel for the environment you are in.
The environments are matched by the music flawlessly and, like every good RPG, you get a healthy dose of boss fight music during big encounters. The sound effects are done quite well; use a bladed weapon and you hear a nice slashing noise, use a spell and you get an elementally associated sound byte, and using a heavy blunt weapon rewards you with a satisfying crushing-splatter noise.
Oh and by the way, did I mention this game comes from New Zealand? Expect to hear a lot of that “down under” style accent, because every NPC speaks with it, and you know what? I dig it. None of the performances are over the top, and all in all, are well done.
Here we get to the meat of the game. Graphics, sound, story–who really cares? This is an ARPG! What you want to do is smash baddies and level up, gaining new abilities all the while grabbing every piece of loot to make your character look like a cosplayer’s dream. Smash? You will. Level? You will. Get awesome looking gear? Well, let’s just say your character will look…different.
When you first wash up on the shore of Wraeclast, you will be rewarded with a garbage beginner’s weapon and your first skill gem. You see, characters aren’t awarded skills just from gaining levels; they gain them from socketing skill gems, [think Materia from Final FantasyVII. Weapons and armor will drop with sockets in them. These sockets can be colored blue, red, or green, which correspond with the colors of the skill gems. Skill gems can only be socketed into a slot of their color. The sockets will also be randomly linked to each other on pieces of gear, which allow support gems to modify skill gems. Support gems are gems are gems that, when put into a piece of gear with linked sockets, can augment the original skill. For example, I have a piece of armor with a green socket and a red socket, which are linked. I can take my green “Poison Arrow” gem, and my red “Added Fire Damage” gem, socket them in my armor and voila! I now have the “Poison Arrow: skill, with added fire damage tacked onto it. In total there are over 100 skill gems total, with more being added pretty frequently. With end-game armor having up to 6 sockets, there are a vast array of gem combinations.
Overwhelmed yet? Well it doesn’t stop there, this is the passive skill tree.
There were 6 classes planned at launch: Templar, Duelist, Shadow, Witch, Marauder, and Ranger. However GGG added a 7th class, the Scion, to round out the already staggering amount of variation in class combinations available. Each class starts at its corresponding class node, with the Scion starting in the middle, and uses passive skill points accrued from leveling up and some quests to begin their personal descent into the madness that is creating a viable endgame build. These skills flesh out your character helping you with anything from adding stats, to powerful skills like Blood Magic, which enables you to no longer use mana, instead using your health pool for attacks. This all may seem like too much at first glance but, upon some study, it makes your possibilities endless. Want a spell-casting shieldmaiden? Go for it. Want a sword throwing, light armor wearing ranger? Check. Want a heavily armored summoner with 15 minions to do your bidding? Done. The range of builds available is sheer madness, and only adds to the games intrigue.
Another interesting aspect of Path of Exile is the currency system it implements. There is no usual gold-like currency in this game. This begs the question of how I buy all my phatloots? Simple, you don’t. Instead, various orbs and scraps are awarded for vendoring loot, and also dropped, that can used to modify pieces of armor. There are orbs for all different types of things such as upgrading item quality, changing the amount or color of sockets, upgrading rarity level, adding stats, or erasing stats to “rebuild” an item. This makes for a rich trading economy that is in a constant state of flux.
Enough about the theory-crafting and mechanics, how does the game play? Well, like most ARPGs, it starts off slow. Really slow. Like a swing every second with no real skills or flavor slow. This starts to change upon receiving some skill gems, which can be dropped like any other loot, offered as quest rewards, or even obtained from other players. Once you start slotting skills, gameplay picks up and becomes much more bearable. For quest rewards, you are usually given your pick of a few gems, so you have a little more control over your build.
Path of Exile uses the standard left mouse click to move and attack, while right clicking and middle clicking can be mapped to certain skills. The QWERT keys are also mappable, allowing you to use up to 7, and if you need, you can even remap the left-click, for a total of 8 active skills. I found the gameplay to be very fluid, fun, and highly addictive.
Not really an MMO, the multiplayer in Path of Exile is there–but you will not be sharing it with other players all the time. All of the world’s areas are instanced to you, except for the towns, which can be shared by multiple people. You can use your social menu or the bulletin board in towns to join or create groups, or if you have players friended, you can group with them through your social menu. PvP is an option once your character reaches Act II, allowing you to compete in various instanced PvP matches of capture the flag and deathmatch. You can also challenge any player to a duel at any time.
Another interesting aspect of Path of Exile is the different League modes. Of these you have your Permanent Leagues, and then your Challenge and Race Leagues. Permanent Leagues consist of a standard league, and a “Hardcore” variant. Hardcore leagues give you one life and upon death the player is placed back into a standard league. Characters are specific to leagues like they would be to a server.
Next you have your Challenge Leagues which rotate every 4 months or so and have specific rules, and award prizes for high performance. Currently there are two challenge leagues:
- Invasion league, which allows unique bosses to “invade” maps they usually should not inhabit
- Ambush league, which features boxes that spawn groups of monsters, but award treasure once the spawned monsters are defeated.
Last there are Race Leagues, which are started randomly and offer account-bound prizes for objectives such as first character to make it to a specific level.
The Verdict: 9 out of 10
Path of Exile simply is a game you must try if you fancy yourself a hard-core ARPG player. Aside from not owning a decent gaming PC, you really have no excuse not to give this game a try. With new leagues starting and interesting events happening often, you always have an excuse to try a new build or character. It has all the features of competing ARPGs with the added benefit of being COMPLETEY FREE. It’s even on Steam, so any PC gamer worth his salt needs only press literally one button to install it, that’s it. Did I mention it’s free?