A look at Path of Exile Open Beta
Before I start this review I would like to say that Path of Exile is currently in beta and is not necessarily indicative of what the final product may be. That said, I will focus my review on the general aspects of the game that are likely not to change once they officially go live. They recently went into open beta as well meaning anyone can try the game out for no initial buy in and there will not be another character wipe, meaning once the game goes live, you will keep your progress.
The Action RPG market has boomed in the last year with the release of such big titles like Diablo III and Torchlight 2 as well as others on the horizon like Grim Dawn. However, many people ended up unhappy with Diablo III for several reasons I shall not get into and some people are put off by the cartoon style of Torchlight 2. Where Path of Exile stands out from this crowd besides the fact that it will be free-to-play is that it has a great theme, an amazing leveling system, and the limitless potential of customization for your character's skills.
Some people were disappointed in Diablo III because they felt that it was no longer such a dark game as its predecessors. Path of Exile really feels a lot like how Diablo II was when it comes to theme and may even be a bit darker. From the very beginning of the game you enter a world of despair and violence. You start out as a prisoner left to rot on an island and you are merely trying to stay alive. This is reflected in your gear, as the majority of the gear for any armor type in act one looks like bits of banged up metal strapped together. Throughout the game you will often find bloodied dead bodies strewn about in a rather eery manner, or perhaps even find freshly used torture equipment in dungeons and as you progress the monsters you fight become more and more gruesome, some even being abominations of mangled body parts and a few blades thrown in for good measure.
This is the aspect of Path of Exile that really shines. Their skill system is probably one of the most massive trees you'll ever see. Although there are six classes their only major difference comes down to where they start in the skill tree. If you've ever played FFX, you may recognize that the skill tree is very reminiscent of the sphere grid. Besides each class having a predetermined start on the grid, players are free to branch out in any direction they desire. This leads to a huge amount of customization for your character. For example, a Witch could completely ignore spell related skills and focus on wand damage or a Ranger could focus on a melee build and still be competitive. I also found it rather exciting to map out my course in the grid and to see what goodies I could pick up on the way as there will always be more than one way to reach a certain skill in this massive tree.
The abilities you get are also not taught on a class to class basis but are rather gems which you insert into color coordinated sockets in armor and weapons. Each gem gains experience as you use it and will rank up, which also increases the prerequisite stats required to use it. The beauty of this gem system is that any class can use any skill, as long as they have the gem and the required stats. Of course, blue gems are intellect based, red gems are strength based, and green gems are agility based, meaning you will have to pump points into the base stat if you really wish to use it. On my ranger I stuck to agility and this typically means I'll only ever use agility based ability gems but I could of easily subbed some points into strength in the skill tree to reliably use both ability types, it is really a personal preference only.
Skill Tree Seen From a Distance:
Another unique aspect to Path of Exile is that there is no gold/money system. Instead when you sell items you get various components used to create several different tools that are used to identify magic equipment, turn white items into magic items, or to even reconfigure an item's stats just to name a few. When purchasing items you use these various scrolls and stones you gain from either selling or looting off monsters. This system makes your various currencies in the form of these items feel a lot more valuable and you tend not to waste them. For example, identify scrolls are typically used to purchase the lower to mid-range quality items from stores and I find myself not mindlessly identifying items like I would do in most other action-rpgs and typically will save them only for items I think might be an upgrade. However, the downside to this system is that it clutters your inventory rather quickly with all the various parts and scrolls and leads to a lot of unnecessary micromanaging.
Screenshot of the Inventory:
And this is probably one of the most attractive aspect of Path of Exile is that the end game focuses on pvp. This is a pretty rare stance for an action-rpg to take, instead of focusing on an end game gear grind it comes down to pvp which may make game balance incredibly hard to handle with such a wide range of builds. Grinding Gear Games has even said they plan to sponsor pvp tournaments and try to make it into a real competitive experience. Besides the occasional events that will change pvp up a bit, the main pvp areas are arena-like solo or team death matches that take place in very small maps.
MMO Style and Business Model
As I said earlier, Path of Exile will be a free-to-play game with a micro transaction model. So far the store seems to just sell cosmetic items, pets, character slots, and a few other things that are not pay-to-win. And with no money system, it does not seem like one would be able to gain a ton of currency through the cash shop like some f2p games end up doing. The game also feels a lot more like an mmo than other action rpgs. Although while you are out in dungeons you are running solo or with anyone you invited to your group, in town you will see other players and can interact with them. There is also a global chat system always going on, so you never feel alone in the game.
Even if you are remotely interested in action-rpgs I highly recommend giving Path of Exile a try. It costs you literally nothing to start playing so what is there to lose?