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Preview: Path of Exile

Marcus Estrada

Back in 2000, Blizzard Entertainment launched Diablo II. The sequel to their successful Diablo brought back old fans, added in new ones, and turned out to be a truly incredible gaming experience for all those who loved it. Unfortunately, it seemed that they were unable to reignite those feelings with Diablo 3. Although Blizzard may have been unable to craft another highly satisfying experience, players may get something close with Path of Exile.


Grinding Gear Games began working on their game back in 2007, when there was an obvious drought in action RPGs (ARPGs). They worked on it in silence for three years before announcing it publicly in 2010. Finally, after three more years, the game entered public beta (just this past January). With all that time put into Path of Exile, it should be expected to be a fairly comprehensive package.




As it turns out, the game feels very much like a complete experience. Well, as long as you aren’t interested in adventuring offline. There is no single player offline mode, however; this is because it was never planned. Of course, you can still go through the game solo, but it is primarily intended as an online multiplayer experience. Viewed that way, it’s mostly successful. Parties work well and scale enemy difficulty and density accordingly.


What really makes Grinding Gear Games’ title interesting is their gambit of releasing a “full” product at no cost. Yes, it is a free-to-play game in that already very crowded marketplace. There is no locking up certain skills, areas, or levels to paying customers, though. Instead, everything required to play the game is available to players who have never spent a penny. What sorts of goods are purchasable? You can only pay for aesthetic items which, aside from looking pretty, have no effects.


It is an incredibly bold move to allow a game to be completely free to download and play, especially when the experience is so good. Although it did not bring back those incredible times with Diablo II, it felt closer than other games have gotten in a long while. There is something to be said for a game which can get down an ARPG just right. Then there is the fact that it manages to change up the formula in neat little ways.




Crafting the perfect build for your character is an overwhelming experience at the start. Take a look at any of the huge passive skill trees and it’s easy to see that Path of Exile is pretty free form as far as how you want to spec your character. The intent is to have the most pertinent upgrades for characters closer, but if you really want then it is possible to go out in weird directions with any class. Unfortunately, trying to respec is a bit of work as there are only a few points given for that. Afterwards, you’ll have to buy more if you really messed up building the character.


Similarly, a gem system is in place which grants characters access to a wide variety of active skills.. Gems are collected off dead enemies, treasure chests, or bought and come in three colors. The colors correspond to the type of skill they are, and these correspond to the sockets found in armor and weapons. Once socketed, the character is granted access to a skill which will level up as long as the gem remains in place. Unlike Torchlight, there is no cost to socket and unsocket gems, which gives room for further exploration of builds.


Skills primarily use mana and you can only have nine skills active at a time. However, one of those is a default attack, so it may be better to say that there are eight skills you assign available. Each keybinding can be reassigned easily which allows some granularity of control. Skills range from fireballs to ice blockades to the summoning of various beasts. The hardest thing about trying out all the available skills is that you will probably run out of available sockets after a while. Then the game becomes stressful as you try to manage better armor but still retain all the socket types you need.




Of course, gems aren’t the only way you’re going to be attacking. Then there are a massive amount of weapons of all sorts. Bows, swords, daggers, hammers and more will routinely pop out of dead enemies. Although classes have their own affinities, you can still get away with trying a variety of weapons without worrying too much. Really, it depends more on how the character is spec-ed than their class. Many weapons offer bonuses such as healing upon hitting an enemy and are fun to collect. As with many other ARPGs, you can have two weapons set up and switch between them easily.


There is so much depth to the game that it really doesn’t feel like something from the F2P market. I’ve only scratched the surface of what is offered and it is already starting to get complex. For example, I have yet to even discuss the orb or bartering system, both of which are innovative. Basically, Path of Exile is a very big, complex product which is already making tons of players appreciate its existence.


That’s not to say the game is in a perfect state right now during open beta. While playing through the game for the first time, I managed to run into multiple glitches regarding quest completion. They all occurred while in a party where one member would have a quest marked complete but the other member didn’t. The only fix is to simply have the player complete the quest again, which is an annoyance. There are other smaller issues, but quests not marking as complete sometimes is a big one.




The other issue is one to be expected of games in the F2P realm. Server stability is far from perfect and that will probably continue to be the case for a while. Thankfully, the developers are very vocal about when there will be downtime. Still, there are periods (weekends mostly) when lag ranges from being a small to big issue. In a game that is purely online you can expect that this issue is a big bother when it flares up. Grinding Gear Games have quickly accommodated to survive the initial beta load but it remains to be seen if they will be able to handle more incoming players.


When it comes right down to it, Path of Exile is a hugely entertaining ARPG held back only by a few things. Aside from a handful of glitches, it stands as a great project. Then again, how many triple A titles release with many more grating glitches than this small effort? As long as they can manage their servers and make the online experience smoother, it is a game which will looks poised to please players for a long time to come.

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