Path of Exile Review
Pros: The dark atmosphere is perfectly captured, extensive character customization options, NPC voice overs for quests, high levels of exploration
Cons: Combat encounters can get a little repetitive, characters are gender locked
We recently took out the time to check Grinding Gear Games' grim-dark action roleplaying game Path of Exile, a free to play MMO that puts players in the role of a doomed prisoner aboard a ship destined for the cursed continent of Wraeclast; a place of horrors, savages and untold ancient evils. For our foray into the depths we put aside a few hours to see what some of the early gameplay offers and whether the game gave us enough to keep on going.
Starting out we had to choose from a small handful of characters, exiles that each had committed their own sins that have brought them to Wraeclast, cycling through the choices and listening to their tragic stories it was the somewhat sinister Witch character and her talk of raising the dead to work for her that piqued our interest. The classes are all gender locked to a specific character, generally in MMOs we're not big fans but with the ARPG genre, especially a game like Path of Exile, we'll be a little more forgiving, as we delved into the game it became clear that our character had their own story that we'd uncover and NPCs reacted to her and her dark ways slightly differently.
The combat is almost instant as we washed up on the shore, thrown from the prisoner ship to see if we could survive; other than ourselves there was only one other survivor on the beach, the rest were swollen bodies face down in the sand. Our conversation with the other survivor was brief, cut off quickly as one of the bodies affected by the taint of the land rose from the dead and attacked us, a few magical shots fired put a quick end to it but as we travelled the beach all the other bodies that had washed up on shore, the "Drowned" gave us some target practice as they swarmed us in number.
Fights, for the most part, are pretty similar and revolve around overwhelming numbers trying to swarm you; for our early experiences and the first few map instances the enemies weren't too challenging and died pretty quickly, though our equipped gems played a big part in this (see below). Every once in a while we'd come across a boss type creature that would give us a run for our money, their nameplate emblazoned in orange signifying they weren't your normal mooks and they hit considerably harder. The first we faced was a giant zombie, slow enough for us to keep a distance and fire at range and so provided little threat or challenge, the second was some sort of witch herself and summoned down flaming fireballs from the sky that caught us completely off guard. Up to this point we'd barely taken a scratch, not enough to reach for our health and mana potions (that constantly refilled as you killed more monsters), and so the quick and sudden death screen from the AoE attacks was unexpected to say the least. It was a breath of fresh air (in an otherwise death stench of a locale) that the game actually provided a challenge and there were enemies that could kill us; so often early level content in MMOs you can sit and take everything that is thrown at you without much thought, definitely not the case in Path of Exile.
The reason for our survivability we put down to our Gems, throughout the game we were rewarded with (or could purchase) new socketable Gems that had a wide variety of abilities. They come in three colours to match up with the three main stats; Green (Dexterity), Red (Strength) and Blue (Intelligence), as a Witch the Blue/Int based gems offered more spells, which we had more of an affinity with. Gems are equipped into your gear, practically every weapon or armor has one or more sockets in it, colour coded to match the type of gem that can be put in it; again these can be purchased but they also drop frequently from most creatures, so many in fact that our inventory was quickly filled with how much gear making it obvious that we had to be more selective about what we picked up. Some blue socket gear equipped we were able to socket our first blue gem, a Fireball attack, that once equipped gave us a new spell on our hotbar and gave us some AoE as well a % chance of fire damage over time on enemies. After handing in a quest at a settlement outpost we got a choice of different gems and we were drawn to the "Raise three zombie minions", this seems to have paid off as they were the ideal tanks due to their decent amount of hitpoints and any time one of them was killed we were able to raise another from any fallen corpse. If we didn't have the zombie tanks we're not sure how difficult the combat would have been in fairness, potentially a lot harder given the squishy nature of our chosen class.
Fighting through enemies granted not only us XP, but also our Gems, which in turn would level them up and make them more powerful; levelling up gems and trading them with other players seems to be one of the main ways to acquire better gear. We're avoiding saying buying and selling because the game doesn't have any standard monetary currency and works on a barter system where players and NPCs trade useable items; our early NPC traders would sell their items for Scrolls of Wisdom (scraps of which could be acquired as loot drops and put together to make a full scroll) and some Transmutation Orbs; both of which are items a player might also want to use (we used Scrolls of Wisdom to identify the magical properties on unidentified loot items). Presumably, as you advance through the game, different NPCs have different items they want to trade their wares for; it's a cool system that crosses over to players, it's not about how much an item is worth but what someone has available to trade themselves and is willing to part with.
The XP we gained for ourselves levelled up our character and gave us a point to spend per level on the EXTENSIVE Passive Skill Tree, a huge network of skill nodes that were interconnected for all different types of abilities and buffs. Each class uses the same tree, however, the choice of class determines where you start on the tree and surrounds you with iconic skills and abilities suitable for that class, such as being able to increase the strength or number of our minions, however, by spending enough points it's possible to start as one class and unlock nodes to reach those of another class and start making some cool hybrids. As a Witch it would be possible to head towards the Shadow class and potentially pick up some stealth and evasion skills to make us more agile in combat, or towards the Marauder and become more of a tanky spell caster. There are a staggering number of options, further increased by the amount of gear available as well as all the different sockets and combinations; players can make a truly unique character based around their own preferred style of play.
Overall Path of Exile is an extremely good free to play ARPG, for those that like a game such as Diablo then in our lay person's experience there isn't that much separating them and both are equally as fun, but Path of Exile is completely free. The immersive environment create a particularly desperate and horrifying atmosphere, enhanced with the pieces of lore you discover and stories from character interactions; Wraeclast is a grim and terrible place to survive. The main drawback, from an early game point of view, is that the combat with so few attack options can get a little samey fighting wave after wave of the same kinds of enemy; but the fact that you have to keep on your toes and concentrate on staying alive at least removes a major element of grind that other ARPGs have failed to do. The game is definitely worth a go, even for an older title the graphical revamps have made it an enjoyable game to experience and one we look forward to delving back into soon.