PoE Logo

Game:  Path of Exile

Genre:  Action-RPG

Developer:  Grinding Gear Games

Publisher:  Grinding Gear Games

Platform:  PC

Score:  Did you want to pay LoD again but different?

Lately I’ve been playing a little F2P Hack-and-Slash RPG called Path of Exile.  It’s an action-RPG MMO in the vein of Diablo II – Lord of Destruction.  And when I say in “the vein of” I mean it’s directly channeling the damn thing in the most correct way I’ve seen so far.  Since it’s impossible to avoid comparison to Diablo, I won’t.

For those not familiar with the Hack-and-Slash genre a brief description:  The bread-and-butter of gameplay is right-clicking.  You right-click to pop loot piñata enemies.  You right-click to cast spells.  Sure, you can bind other abilities to other keys but the point is to keep it minimal and keep the highest click:fun ratio possible.  Every click of the mouse should be directly wired to the pleasure centers in the brain.  Click.  Instant serotonin.  You’ll farm a lot, you’ll level, and your reward is leveling itself and wearing sweeter gear.   The simplicity of gameplay is the hallmark of the genre.  Depth comes from stories, questing, style/art, and the fun of each ability.  Path of Exile is free to download and free to play.  The developers intend to make money off microtransactions.

I have a separate rant on microtransactions.  I’ll annotate here:  I don’t give a shit if you buy stupid hats for your stupid robots.  If microtransactions are kept cosmetic, there will be no problems.  No one should ever be able to pay money for in game advantages over those that don’t pay.  The rich rule reality, they don’t need to rule my virtual escape too.

As it stands there are very few microtransactions in Path of Exile.  We’ll see how they turn out.

The style of Path of Exile is not Lord of Destruction but it’s sincere and not cartoonish (unlike other LOD successors).  It doesn’t do that overly realistic thing either.  It has some artistry to it.  Things look grim and desolate but I feel the dial could’ve been turned up to eleven on the grit.  The weapons and armor could benefit from some extra spikes and shit.

The questing and story are solid enough.  You’re an exile on the island of Dr. Moreau… Hell is on the island with you.  You kill the undead and some monsters.  Sometimes you have good reasons to via quests.   The story never hits that self-awareness that endeared me to LOD.  The voice-acting is overall good and many NPCs are characterized well.  I consider it a success; not a homerun.

The gameplay is where PoE separates itself from the teeming masses of soulless Diablo clones.  The talents and abilities are numerous.  Overwhelming would be another synonym.  Your average game using a talent point system has 30 points to allocate.  PoE has 111.  I enjoy spending 30 talent points; I would love to spend 111 provided they don’t feel arbitrary. The greatest success of this game is that most points spent do feel significant.  You play one of six classes that each starts on its own portion of the Final Fantasy X sphere grid (called The Passive Skill Tree) and spend the points accordingly.

Abilities involve getting skillstones (through quests or drops), equipping them to items, and watching them evolve as you gain experience.  It’s like materia from Final Fantasy 7.  I liked both of these things in their origin games.  Not everyone did.

Combining the two leveling systems can be intimidating to the uninitiated.  Play the game a little bit, do some planning and you’ll get the hang of it.  Eventually someone will post a guide online to tell you what 111 points to spend.  For those of you that want more customization and enjoy min-maxing, you’ll be in Candyland.

The robust leveling system in PoE is directly opposed to the generic and casual direction D3 went. Neither is perfect; true greatness lies in the middle. Between the two I choose the needlessly complex system over mind-numbingly simple.  In the end it comes down to tastes though.  Drafting army lists in 40k, spending feats and selecting obscure multi-class combinations in DnD, and deck building in MtG… these are aspects that I relish in my games.  I liked the skill trees and abilities as implemented in PoE.

The animations for abilities look good but show the game’s lack of budget at times.  I can forgive an explosion not being big enough.  I cannot forgive unresponsive controls.  Attacks (the clicking) feel a little clunky.  The large weapons especially are on a weird delay.  It’s like the devs used animation lag to compensate for the in game DPS mechanics.  “This huge club should have 100 damage every 2.5 seconds, so we’ll start the animation after one second.”  Earlier builds of beta featured some serious server issues that exacerbated things.  They’ve dumped a boatload of early microtransaction (and donation) money into the servers and cleared up half the problem.  My greatest hope for this game is that they polish the fluidity of controls by the end of beta.

My enjoyment of the animations will diverge from the average player who just wants to swing a big thing or stab with a pair of things.  I come from a line of Lagromancers from LoD.  We won duels by having a better connection than you, filling your screen with a bunch of crap, then tossing a curse on you that punished you for miss-clicking.  Our grinding gameplay consisted of eating a sandwhich with one hand and touching the mouse only to loot.  Our Hell Mode playthroughs were… different.  Good news brethren.  Summoned minions and wand attacks (if you feel like doing that) look awesome.  On the bad side, the witch character sounds… off.  Hopefully there will be a microtransaction to pay for a penis and better voiceacting for my character in the future.

PoE’s greatest flaw is that it tries to be too much like LOD and makes rare attempts at innovation where needed. A quest log, the stash, town portals, and identifying things are just a few of the areas that needed improvement.  I don’t take issue with having an identify system.  It’s like Christmas I want to wait until I unwrap my presents to be disappointed.  Using inventory space and costing me a resource made precious by the NPC-based barter system breaks this one.  The lack of Deckard Cain hurts the most.

Since I’ve mentioned it, the barter system with vendors is pointless.  Proponents will shout “immersion,” I say “cumbersome gimmick.”   I do feel that the player based economy is more important though so ultimately the argument is moot.  As far as the player economy, it’s beta.  Time will tell on the community and economy.  The microtransactions don’t apply to loot (yet) and there’s no real money auction house so I’ll consider it better than D3’s.

When I installed PoE, I just wanted to click things and watch them explode while optimizing a build and collecting loot forever.  In that respect I consider Path of Exile a success.  It ended up being the hack-and-slash RPG I’ve enjoyed the most this year and the best spiritual successor (ripoff) to LOD. If only it tried a little harder to be its own game and had a sideways eight for a budget…