Since I’ve been on an action RPG kick since Diablo III came out last year, I decided to check out Path of Exile, which is currently in open beta. It is a free-to-play game, which plans to sustain itself through cosmetic microtransactions and, as I quickly found out, through the goodwill of the extremely hardcore ARPG playerbase. This is the game the die hard Diablo II folks probably had in mind. Seriously, if you ever wanted to play a game while simultaneously talking about how much you hated Diablo III, Path of Exile is for you.
So what does this game have to offer? The combat feels pretty good, although it definitely is catered toward ranged characters, at least that was my experience with the few heroes I created. Your class choice doesn’t really matter too much, since all characters share the same, massive skill tree. Seriously, look at this stupid thing. The only difference between character classes is where you start on the tree, so, for example, the ranger starts near a cluster of dexterity and ranged DPS nodes. It’s a hell of a thing, although it comes with a major caveat: it is extremely difficult to respec your character. Currently, the only in-game way to change your build is to remove on node at a time, and you only get a few of points that let you do this through gameplay. Basically, you can tweak, but not totally redo, your character. So plan ahead, and hope that by the time you get to higher levels your build works. If it doesn’t, make a new character. You have a lot of character slots in Path of Exile, they want you to use them (and spend money to buy more).
You might have noticed that the skill tree is entirely passive bonuses. That’s because all skills in Path of Exile come in the form of socketable gems. It’s a pretty neat idea, made even cooler by the ability to link gems together using modifiers called support gems. For example, if I have a fireball skill gem and a multiple projectiles support gem, I can link them together on a piece of my equipment so when I cast the spell, I shoot multiple fireballs. Later in the game, you can chain up to five support gems on on skill gem, making whatever spell that is totally ridiculous. It’s a pretty awesome system that makes hunting for loot that much more exciting, although without any form of trading system currently implemented in-game, it can be pretty frustrating if you’re looking for a particular gem.
Speaking of the economy, Path of Exile doesn’t actually have money in it. Instead, the game works on a barter system. Merchants will sell you gear, but only if you are will to trade consumables, the rarer the purchase, the rarer the consumable. Of course, the reverse is true as well, and bartering actually serves as the game’s version of crafting too, as you can change what you’ll get by combing certain items in a single sale. These consumables are quite useful, from items that let you identify and portal, to ones that let you change the number of sockets on an item or even upgrade its quality. ARPGs are all about the loot, and the feels as true as ever in Path of Exile.
Like I said, Path of Exile is for the hardcore. It’s hardcore mode is actually somewhat forgiving, in that when you die, instead of your character being deleted, it is just demoted to the normal mode. But hardcore is where the action is at, unless a race is going on. Races are special leagues in which players rush toward certain goals for sweet, sweet rewards. It’s just another neat idea in a game full of them.
I still think Torchlight II is the best ARPG on the market, and that Diablo III is way better than people give it credit for. But those cost money. Path of Exile doesn’t, and it certainly hangs up there with those other two. And it’s not even done yet, it’s still just in open beta. What a cool time it is, that so many exciting games are out now in a genre that was basically dead not too long ago.