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Path of Exile Preview: An Alternative to Diablo 3
Last week I wrote a piece about Diablo 3. I went over how the game has evolved from its prior brethren and moved on to become its own game. Blizzard may have broken free of the old-fashioned lootfest chains but that doesn’t mean you have to. If you look at the comment section in that article you’ll find a very outspoken person. Well, you’ll find a couple of those but one in particular spoke of a game I had not heard of: Path of Exile. After checking out the game’s site and finding out all I could, I was able to jump in on this past weekend’s Public Stress Test. Beyond the weekend, you’ll need a beta key or one of the site’s random invites (sent out every 5 minutes) to keep playing. Downloading the less than 4gb client didn’t take long and the log-in is simple enough. So what exactly is Path of Exile? A conservative’s dream.
The lands of Wraeclast and the gameplay attached to it screams Diablo 2 and Titan’s Quest. From the control scheme to the viewpoint, those who attempt to derail Blizzard’s work to move on will find a shrine here. Alternatively, anyone who enjoyed Diablo 2 or any of its “clones” will have plenty to like here in Path of Exile. Grinding Gear Games have been working on the game since 2006. They’ve just entered closed beta last year and are looking forward to open beta soon. It has been a long road but the product thus far shows a lot of promise.
Path of Exile has plenty of differences from past games to keep players interested. First off, it is being marketed as a free-to-play online rpg and not just a dungeon crawler. You will log-in and select a character just like an MMO (or even Diablo 3) and enter a selected world. Think Guild Wars 1 here. The towns are populated by players but when you take to battling in the wilds, you are placed inside an instanced version of that map. Only you and your party can access this instance. That leaves plenty of monsters to kill for yourself if you wish to play solo. You won’t have the problem of someone kill-tagging your quest target. As for the populated towns, a few of them feel a bit small to be player hubs but they are designed to move players out quickly. You’ll find your quest givers and shop keeps but once that is done, you’ll have nothing else to do but ship out and kill. Unless you are waiting for a friend, filling up your stash, or standing idly to show off your gear, there is little reason to chill in town. The online aspect of Path of Exile brings this genre into a new area where gathering people to play is more of a visual experience instead of just chatting in a lobby or setting a game to public and hoping.
Path will feature six classes to play. You can choose from the Witch, Marauder, Templar, Ranger, Duelist, and an unannounced class yet to be shown. Each has its own primary attributes and style of play but don’t expect your simple cut-and-dry Diablo classes here. Grinding Gear has plenty of game mechanics put in place to make each class as customizable as you want. Think of the classes as starting attributes and then a near free slate to make what you want. This is possible due to the skill and gem systems. You don’t have skill trees in Path of Exile. Instead you are given a gigantic Passive Skill Tree to plan out your character’s growth. With every level you can dump a skill point into one of the notches on the tree and gain a passive skill such as +10 to intelligence or +6% increased health. If you click on that last link, you’ll be taken to the game’s website and an interactive version of the Passive Skill Tree. You can see just how huge it is with plenty of ways you can grow your character. A melee-focused Witch perhaps? I think so!
Another system in place that shows Path’s strengths is gemming. Most gear you can find will have different colored sockets. You can fit either Skill Gems or Support Gems in these sockets to gain abilities. This replaces the normal skill tress from other games. Instead of placing a permanent point into, say, Ice Nova, you can find the Skill Gem and socket it into an item to gain the ability. You can be given gems from quests or find them on monsters. Aside from Skill Gems, you may be lucky enough to find a Support Gem. These enhance certain Skill Gems when placed in linked sockets. For example, if you have the Fireball gem and you find a Multiple Projectiles support gem and link them, your Fireball will shoot out more than just one. The many ways of combining gems for different abilities that tie in with your Passive Skill Tree makes Path of Exile an extremely customizable game. At one point I was playing a Witch using a two-handed hammer that froze enemies with Ice Nova and smashed them with Glacial Hammer.
One other system that is worth mentioning is the game’s currency. You won’t be selling items for gold or platinum here. When you go to sell items, you’ll be trading for goods. Every item has a “worth” and when you place it into the selling window, you’ll see what you can get for it. If you agree to the trade, you accept and a swap occurs. You can be given shards that can be combined into identification scrolls or portals and even more items. The developers said they tried out the gold method but it didn’t play as well as this. I can see how this may increase a wanting to trade with other players since money is no factor here.
Of course you’ll find plenty of unique monsters on your travels. Grinding Gear Games has done a wonderful job of doing this by adding Auras to Path of Exile. This not only increases your chance of finding more powerful enemies but also more way you can find a challenge. There are auras like increased damage, resistances, and regeneration but the real threat comes in combinations. Certain unique monsters can have multiple auras that make them a tough fight. I fought one monster that gained resistances when attacked and had toughened armor. That effectively made my Ice Nova and Glacial Hammer near useless.
You’ll find plenty of game modes to check out depending on what you want your character to be involved in. These are represented by Leagues. Leagues determine what kind of server you are on. You’ll have your default, normal Leagues but also be able to choose from Hardcore to Ironman. Each League has its own ruleset and Grinding Gear is even talking about letting players purchase a League and pick its own rules. I imagine these would still be run by Grinding Gear so it wouldn’t be like you own your own server of the game.
There will be a cash shop in the game but before you get your pants in a bunch, the devs have already announced that nothing will be sold there that gives players an advantage. They have a list of what may be available for purchase such as PvP taunt animations, server transfers, armor dyes, and social pets.
The website for the game is extremely helpful to players. They’ve done a great job of incorporating certain things to make sure you have a reason to visit the site. You’ll be able to log-in and view your characters. There you can check out their equipment, stash, stats, and Passive Skill Tree. You can even view a database of items or plan out a Skill Tree for future characters and link the build out. The forums are linked to the site and you can check your private messages out at any time. A very cool site that actually helps you out and makes you want to visit it.
One really important thing I wanted to talk about is how involved the devs are in this game. Aside from actually making it, they took the time out to play the game with the players during the weekend. I spent time chatting alongside other players to Rory and Chris who were doing their best to answer as many questions and help players out. They were chatty, too! This wasn’t like a one question every five minutes deal. They worked off of each other and answered many questions. It is refreshing to see that kind of commitment to your player base.
Path of Exile still has no planned release date but they have mentioned a “soon” date for open beta. Grinding Gear Games has also talked about free updates and expansions to the game. It was sad to see the public test end as I was having a blast playing it. For those who enjoy the old, traditional style of loot fest games you’ll have a haven here in Wraeclast. Blizzard may be trying to evolve the genre but Grinding Gear is attempting to perfect it. Here’s hoping that both succeed!