Path of Exile is quite possibly the most difficult game by far that I have reviewed here at MMO Fallout. Up until now, I could probably review most ARPGs with a single paragraph since fans of the genre already know whether or not they’re going to play it. There isn’t much story, you travel through randomly generated dungeons, kill a nation’s worth of minions and bathe in the oceans of loot that they drop, slowly leveling your character and improving your equipment and abilities, chugging potions while taking down giant bosses, and playing cooperatively with your friends. You are either a fan of the genre or you aren’t, and tastes may vary depending on feature changes or art style. To sum up Path of Exile in this fashion wouldn’t do the game justice, so let’s dive in and see what it has to offer.
Let’s start with story: Path of Exile takes place on the grim, dark, and gritty continent of Wraeclast, the land of the doomed filled with nothing but evil. You are an exile who has been sent to this land for varying reasons, and wash up on shore after your captors lovingly throw you overboard with the simple message of “sink or swim.” Each class has its own personality and a story that is both simple and rather endearing. The Witch, for instance, was exiled because she murdered several children in retaliation for their parents burning down her house out of fear that she might, oh say, murder their children. The duelist murdered a lord who threatened his honor, and intends on staying true to his beliefs. The ranger was exiled for living off of the land, and sees Wraeclast as just another land to live off of. My favorite class personality, the Templar, truly believes that his betrayal by the other members of his order and subsequent exile is part of God’s greater plan to use him as a tool to cleanse the world of evil. So strike that down as positive number one: I never thought I would see an ARPG with a story that I would find moderately interesting.
Path of Exile seems to have taken the best of all worlds when it comes to gameplay mechanics, with enough left standing that players from the Diablo and Torchlight games should be right at home. The game is full of your standard fare, you go around slaughtering thousands upon thousands of mindless shambling minions for experience and loot to upgrade your character and level up. There is your standard and hardcore modes, as well as temporary races and leagues set up with additional challenges. In place of the usual gold system, Path of Exile trades in items like identification scrolls and augmentation gems. Much like its predecessors, the vendors in Path of Exile don’t have much worth buying that can’t be easily replaced with something found in the field, so the game essentially does away with the accumulation of useless wealth entirely. So far, my only use for the vendor has been to purchase higher tier potion flasks.
Which brings me to another positive about Path of Exile: No health orbs. Path of Exile offers up five slots to fill with potions of health, mana, speed, etc. Being able to fill your potions through the simple process of laying waste your enemies is a massive improvement over Diablo II’s system of chugging potions and Diablo III’s system of mostly relying on health orbs. In this system, the potions are only as good as you are, although the idea of suddenly finding yourself with empty potions and low health can be mitigated by opening a portal, stepping back into town, being instantly refilled, and popping back. Overall you need to give in order to receive, and skillful players should find that they still allow for a brutal massacre, each kill fueling the next.
Leveling and abilities is where Path of Exile truly stakes a name for itself. In other ARPGs, you gain levels and receive points to invest in unlocking active and passive abilities on a skill tree. In Path of Exile, you are awarded points to invest in a massive network of buffs, ranging from boosted stats (strength, intelligence), better armor or health, increased damage, resistance, speed, etc. Your active abilities, on the other hand, are determined by gems socketed into your armor and weapons. There are three different colors of gems to coordinate with your equipment and they can be easily added and removed with a simple mouse click. The gems gain experience as long as they are socketed and can be leveled up much like your character. Leveling gems is a task in and of itself as with each level the requirements to carry the gem increase. It is very likely that your gems will occasionally require more to level up than you can give, halting their progress until you raise your base stats (strength, dexterity, intelligence, etc).
The passive tree, on the other hand, is massive to the point that it is intimidating to new players. Take a look at the image below, and then understand that only about half of the full tree is showing. You start off at one end and branch out as you see fit, taking in bonuses along the way. The benefit of this system is that buffs are stacked in an order that the casual player should be capable of finding his way around without gimping his character, while allowing any class to take on any role. Want to transform your witch into a tank? Your Ranger into a healer? There’s an app for that, and a calculator to help you do so as efficiently as possible.
So the game looks great and has enough appeal for the less attuned and the seasoned veterans alike. So now let’s talk about the cash shop. Generally I can rip a cash shop apart in two seconds flat, but honestly I don’t have much to say here. The worst that this game has to offer is extra character slots, extra stash slots, and guild slots (default 30), which I don’t think a large portion of the population will make much use of. Otherwise, everything is cosmetic, and I do mean everything. Vanity pets, cosmetic item effects, alternate animations, and dances for some reason. You can’t obtain any of the cash shop items without paying for them, but you won’t find any detriment to your experience by not buying a vanity item. They are on the expensive side, but they’re just vanity items. This is the system that most players can only dream of having in their games.
And now it’s time to talk about the bad parts of Path of Exile. Before we get to that, let’s look at this turtle enjoying a raspberry.
That’s a happy turtle. In the case of Path of Exile, I tried to ask myself the damning question of what would ultimately be the cause of my quitting the game, and the answer is desync. Not latency issues, desync. I play on a desktop connected via ethernet and my internet service is Fios Quantum, which offers a stable 63ms connection on Path of Exile. Desync in Path of Exile isn’t so much lag as it is your client synchronized with the server, meaning the character locations on your client reflecting their location on the server. This is a massive problem since it can make the game confusingly difficult. At its best, desync might cause you to think your attacks are missing when in reality the creature isn’t actually standing there, at worst it will get you killed.
The worst desynchronization I have seen involves creatures dying a full two seconds after they were hit, other mobs simply vaporising out of existence or into existence, and finding myself suddenly surrounded by a group of mobs only to be hacked to death. Desync is especially terrible in creatures who are capable of blink-movement (teleporting around), and those that either suicide bomb you or explode upon death. I have also experienced the frustration of attempting to retreat from attacks only to find myself randomly yanked back twenty yards with the creatures that had previously been about fifteen feet behind now encircling my avatar. Naturally the problems with desync only seem to affect you considering mobs have no problem targeting and attacking your character while you flail around trying to figure out if the problem is your accuracy rating or if you really just missed a special attack four times in a row.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
I had a lot of fun with Path of Exile. It is a great looking game with an excellent soundtrack and solid gameplay that keeps the genre back in its roots while pushing it in the right direction. This game has a lot going for it, and can only get better as time passes assuming that GGG doesn’t fall down the cash shop rabbit hole. You won’t find many games that offer as much as Path of Exile does for free, or go as far as getting rid of the idea of pay for convenience. I’m sure Grinding Gear Games could make a lot more money in this genre by selling experience tokens and similar items, so the fact that they refuse to is an excellent sign of the company’s dedication.
That said, nothing hurts like losing a hardcore character to desync, or being booted out of the nemesis league because of some poorly coded anti-hack mechanic. With that in mind, I have to give Path of Exile an 8.5 out of 10 on MMO Fallout’s meaningless point-o-meter. The game is 100% free and available on Steam, you should try it out for yourself.