Happy Saturday, everyone! Let it be known that Saturdays are now Satur..game review..day here at The Daily Beard (or just continue calling it Saturday. It’s all good). Today, I have a partial game review. Partial because I haven’t finished it, but I want to review it while it’s still fresh from the oven. It’s Path of Exile. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s understandable. It only released about a month ago, with no TV spots, or big name pomp and/or circumstance. But, it’s worthy of such. Why? Allow me to fill you in.
Path of Exile is an Action RPG, like the Diablo series. If you’ve never played Diablo, or any ARPG, the basic gist is that you have a character – usually one of the standard fantasy roles like a warrior/barbarian, or a wizard, or a sneaky rogue – and you follow a story which takes you through dungeons and levels full of monsters and bosses and treasure and things just screaming “punch me in the face”. Path of Exile is no different. Featuring a top down, over the shoulder, off center third person camera placement, you’ll choose one of seven unique exiled characters, and progress through the story. Now, I’ve only made it halfway through act 2 (there are three acts), so I can’t comment on the ending or how it all ties together. But, so far I’ve gathered that each of the characters has been exiled to the land of Wraeclast for various reasons, and since you’re there, you might as well help the locals and battle evil. Why the hell not, eh?
As far as the gameplay, it’s your standard dungeon crawl, point and click and fight ARPG. You can control your abilities with every button on your mouse, as well as the QWERTY keys (and the 1-5 number keys are bound to health and mana potions). You move around by clicking and holding the mouse. There’s no targeting feature, such as locking onto an enemy and casting abilities that find their target like a homing pigeon. You have to run up to a monster, and hack n’ slash away until it’s dead, or manually aim your bolt of magic so that it hits the bad guy. And, just because you’re close enough, you will miss. The enemies dance around, retreating and fighting from a distance, in what is a surprisingly decent AI.
Now, the actual skills are gained from various gem stones that you’ll loot from mobs and from quest rewards. You socket these gems into your armor and weapons, and gain the abilities from each gem. For instance, if I socket a Dual Strike gem into a piece of armor, I will then gain the ability to use Dual Strike. This is different from other RPG’s, where you select and/or earn abilities as you level up. Path of Exile is much different. In what is possibly the most bad ass aspect of the game, every time your character levels up, you’ll gain a passive point to spend on the passive tree. Ok, it’s not really a tree – it’s more like a freaking star map. You spend points on your passive abilities, like increasing your dexterity, or your health regen, or making your spells cost health instead of mana. Those are a few out of probably hundreds of passive skills that you can unlock. Each skill is dependent on a previous. Say I want to unlock increased dagger damage. Well, before I can get there, I need to spend points in Dexterity boosting passives. Every passive skill is connected, allowing a character to, theoretically, unlock each and every skill on the entire tree. I’m guessing it would take something like two years, but hey, if you have the time, go for it.
Now, why is this form of leveling and skill spending so nice? Well, it allows you to customize your character in an endless number of ways. Each class already starts out slightly different from the other six (a Templar focuses on strength and intelligence, while a Duelist’s attributes are strength and dexterity, and a witch just loves her some straight intelligence). But, by using the skill tree passives, you can have 20 different Templars, and each one could be skilled differently, played differently, and experienced differently. One could focus on damage with staves, another could boost health and shield block, while another could focus on magic shield, and even raising zombies and then exploding them. The possibilities are endless. And the best part is that, so far, it all feels fresh. There isn’t a lot of cross over once you start skilling your characters. Sure, A Barbarian and a Templar may seem the same at first if they both have a weapon and a shield, but with just a few different passive choices, you’ll have two entirely different characters. It’s a lot to explain, and the best way to figure it out is to simply try it.
As with any newly released game, there are some hiccups. Connectivity issues were the biggest – and most annoying – negative when I first started to play. But, this seemed to be resolved after a patch. However, if it does happen, or you leave the game for whatever reason, you’re teleported back to a central hub, with no way to return to where you were just fighting, even if you have only been offline for ten seconds. If you were deep into the third floor of a dungeon, you’ll have to run back from the nearest waypoint and make your back. Even while you’re playing, the only way to get back to the quest town is to either loot and use portal scrolls, or find a waypoint. This wouldn’t be too huge of an issue, except your inventory space is fairly small, so you’ll either be leaving piles of loot behind, or teleporting every 30 seconds to sell off your inventory.
Another issue I have is the map. It’s just horrible. It looks like a third grader rage-scribbled a picture of her school’s hallways on the wall after she was sent to bed without dessert. When you open it, it fills the entire screen, and you can’t move it with your mouse – it’s just frustrating and horrible to look at. I’ve remedied the horribleness of the map by refusing to open it, and instead I just run around each level and area until I come across an entrance into the next zone. This is probably not what the developers had in mind, but I’ve adapted beyond their laws. I know, for being free and insanely robust, these complaints are somewhat minimal. But they’re still there, and they do cause some aggravation.
For the visuals and sounds, they’re fairly decent. The graphics are more “real” compared to Diablo. I actually prefer the illustrated look of Diablo for games like this, but you can tell a decent amount of effort went into making Path of Exile look pretty. The sounds are spot on as well. I haven’t heard any annoying music, or out of place combat sound effects, or horrendous quest dialogue.
As far as replayability, it would earn a 58 out of 10. Actually, a 2394 out of 10. With seven different characters, randomly generated dungeons, monsters, and loot, and the massive passive skill tree, you could potentially never play the same game twice.
Best of all, it’s free. Not “free until you get to a certain level”, or “free but you’ll need to pay to get the weapons and armor needed to play the best parts”. As far as I can tell, the only thing that costs money are the completely optional side features, like weapon effects, or vanity pets, or costumes for your characters. Features that have no effect on the actual gameplay. And that’s awesome. I don’t know how Grinding Gear Games can make money off of simply charging for a fiery glow for my swords, but if it keeps the game free, rock on I say.
Path of Exile is perhaps one of the most complete “free to play” games I’ve ever experienced. The gameplay is fun and entertaining, and and though I haven’t played it like a hardcore gamer just yet, I haven’t experienced any boring repetition or felt any instances of monotony. Which is saying something, because as a dungeon crawler, the entire game is running through room after room, killing enemy after enemy. Aside from the questionable travel system, a tiny inventory, and a horrible map, Path of Exile has everything going for it. Once I put more hours into it, and it works out the “new release” bugs, I’ll include an official grade and, of course, the Path of Exile beer review. For now, it earns itself a solid B+
Overall: 8.8/10 B+