Home > Action, PC, RPG > Path of Exile [PREVIEW]

Path of Exile [PREVIEW]

Path of Exile: release date TBA
Developer: Grinding Gear Games
Platforms: Windows

[NOTE: THIS PREVIEW IS FOR THE CLOSED BETA VERSION OF THE GAME!]

Path of Exile is still being worked on, and the fine folks at Grinding Gear Games are constantly updating and making changes to the very fabric of it’s existence. The version played for this preview was 0.9.5, and there are still many plans in the works that have yet to make their way in to the game. That said, the core of the game is there and I feel confident that my impressions of it thus far will undoubtedly carry over to the final product once it finally makes it’s debut.

When I recall my history as a gamer and think back to the titles I played growing up, the important ones, the ones that really shaped who I am as a gaming enthusiast, there are a handful of names that will always stand head and shoulders above the rest. Of course there are the more obvious gaming staples such as Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, which you’re likely to find on almost any veteran gamer’s all-time favorites list, but another franchise that truly left it’s mark on me was that of Diablo. The thrill of unlocking new skills and hunting down rare loot was something I had never really experienced before, and to this day it’s that very same formula that keeps me coming back to the series.

After doing a few years time in the land of Diablo 2, I began to crave something different. I wanted that same loot based, dungeon crawling experience, but with new settings and characters. Some might argue that the Forgotten Realms titles (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights) appropriately fill that void, but let’s be real here, those games are nothing like Diablo. I still loved them to death, but I missed the addictive qualities of randomized dungeons and looting. It’s taken some time, but we’ve recently started seeing some real forward momentum with the Diablo-style of game design, and today I’d like to talk about a particularly promising title called Path of Exile.

Incase it wasn’t already made terribly obvious from the intro, Path of Exile is what some people may refer to as a “Diablo clone.” You move your character by clicking the ground, initiate attacks by clicking on your foes, and cast spells and drink potions on the fly by utilizing customizable hotkeys. It doesn’t end there though as Path of Exile’s user interface is absolutely unapologetic in it’s theft of the interface used in the Diablo games. It’s not the first game to do so of course, nor is it something I see as detrimental. I merely wish to point out that referring to Path of Exile as a Diablo clone is actually an acceptably astute way of describing it to newcomers. Dig a bit deeper though, and you’ll find that Grinding Gear Games has done quite a lot to set itself apart from the series that so clearly influenced it.

You start off by choosing what class you’d like to use. In the version I played there are currently five playable classes, though it’s been announced that a sixth is on it’s way. My choices were between the Witch, Templar, Ranger, Duelist, and Marauder. At this point you’d think to be looking for what types of unique skills and equipment each character has access to, but this is where Path of Exile starts to mix things up. It’s implied of course that the Witch is a magic user, the Ranger uses bows, the Templar uses staves and faith magic, etc, and by all means they most certainly can, just not exclusively.

Traditionally in class based RPGs (not just Diablo), the various spells and abilities you had access to were wholly dependant on what class you chose at the start of the game. In Path of Exile your skills are determined by various gems that you’ll happen upon as you play. Each gem has a certain skill or support ability associated with it, and you can find these gems the same way you obtain the rest of your loot, such as random drops and completing quests. You make use of the gems by inserting them in to the matching sockets on your weapons and armor (the sockets are color coded to match the gems they’re compatible with). For instance let’s say I opened a chest and it contained a blue gem with the skill “Cold Snap” on it. So long as I’m wearing something with a blue gem socket on it, I could pop the gem in to the socket and BAM! Now my character can cast Cold Snap.

Thankfully your gems aren’t permanently locked in to an item once you socket it, as you can take the gems out and re-socket them in to other, more desirable pieces of equipment at any time, granting you the freedom to mix and match gems however you see fit. Another interesting facet of the gem system is that the gems actually gain experience and level up while you have them equipped, so your abilities continue to grow stronger at the same rate you do. All in all it’s a very liberating system once you wrap your head around the fact that your Ranger can specialize in ice magic as well as archery if you really want them to.

You have to ask though, if this nifty little gem system makes it so any class can learn any skills, what difference does the character I choose at the beginning make? And since you just had to ask, I suppose I’ll just have to answer. The reason is, that each class starts off with a specialized group of passive abilities that they can spec in to. Each time you level up, your character gains a skill point that they can spend on their skill tree. Since all of your actual spells and abilities are granted via the gems, Path of Exile’s skill tree covers passive buffs such as increased base stats, higher accuracy, more damage with two-handed weapons, etc. Remember how the Witch specialized in magic? Well, technically you can give her some melee skill gems and go that route, but the passive buffs you’re most likely to find in her early game skill tree are going to be for things like increasing intelligence or buffing fire damage, so you’re probably better off sticking to gems that grant offensive spells in the early game. Don’t take that to mean that the Witch can’t also effectively spec in to melee weapons though! The thing you need to realize is that no matter what class you choose, it’s always the same skill tree! The different classes just start in different areas. Areas that they specialize in. If any of you remember the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, it’s almost exactly like that. So, your Witch can still rock a mean bastard sword if that’s your hearts desire, you just gotta know where to go and plan your path accordingly.

While we’re on the topic of things that really set Path of Exile apart, I’d like to touch on a feature that I find especially wonderful, which is the in-game economy. Have you ever played an RPG and gotten to the point where you were accumulating so much extra dough that you didn’t even look at the costs for things anymore? You’d just throw a few truck loads of gold at the shop keeper and take your new armor home for a swim in your pool of gold, Scrooge McDuck style? Well, I can guarantee you that not a single person will be able to accomplish that in this game. Want to know why? Simple, because Path of Exile doesn’t have any gold or monetary currency to speak of!

It’s really quite brilliant when you think about it. The people on this island are exiles, thrown off a ship in to the ocean and left to die. Why would any of them have, or even care about, money? The important things are goods, such as food and tools for survival. You wanna buy that amulet? You’ll need to trade some Scrolls of Wisdom. Need a Scroll of Wisdom? That vendor over there is willing to trade a few if you offer up some goods, and that’s the beautiful thing about the economy here. You’re trading goods, for other goods. It’s like an actual marketplace! This logic applies to the player to player economy as well. Most of the time when trading for equipment or some kind of goods in an online game, you’ll be bartering with equipment of your own. This sword for that shield, my helm for that ring, etc. You’re trading goods, for goods. It’s a smart system, it’s a logical system, and it’s a really refreshing change from the inevitable gold hoarding that occurs in most RPGs with an in-game currency.

One more feature I’d like to bring up is something that’s comparatively smaller than the previously mentioned game mechanics, and that is the flasks. I don’t know about the rest of you, but in the Diablo games I always thought it was a huge pain having to keep my belt stocked with potions, and then having spares take up space in my inventory to replace them when necessary. Instead of having individual potions in Path of Exile, you get health flasks and mana flasks of differing sizes. Each one has a certain number of charges, and when you use it, it spends some of these charges. Then as you gain kills, you get the charges back, so you’re actually able to just continue using the same containers for health and mana replenishment. It’s so simple and yet so effective. Then take in to account that different flasks can have different attributes, such as extra charges or increasing your armor rating while healing, and it just takes the idea to a whole different level. Grinding Gear Games took a frustrating gameplay mechanic and transformed it in to something fresh and effective. I honestly don’t think I could ever go back to the old ways of potion management.

On the technical side of things I just can’t help but gush about how fantastic the game’s visuals are. They’re not the absolute best graphics out there, but they look damn good. The textures in particular were very impressive. The second area you venture through is a mud land and the ground really looked like wet, goopy mud. In fact I’d really like to commend Path of Exile for having some of the most impressive wet surfaces I’ve seen in quite some time. The lighting is effective, wet surfaces look genuinely damp, and throughout my experience with the game I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals.

Also impressive was the excellent art direction. I know many Diablo fans out there are a bit miffed with the brighter, more cartoony visual style that’s being taken with Diablo 3, and if you happen to be one of those people, have no fear, Path of Exile is the exact opposite of this. Admittedly, I enjoy the visuals of Diablo 3 myself, but after having played Path of Exile, I feel pretty strongly that this is the style Blizzard should have gone with. If I had never seen Diablo 3, nor heard of Path of Exile, then somebody showed me a screenshot for this game and asked me what I thought it was, I’d say Diablo 3 in a heartbeat. It just looks like what you’d expect a successor to Diablo 2 to look like. It’s dark, it’s gory, it’s moody, it’s gritty, and it’s just plain effective. The prison levels were especially outstanding in their presentation and I am really impressed with the atmosphere that Grinding Gear Games has pulled off here.

Path of Exile is going to be a free to play game with outstanding visuals, great load times, a brilliant in-game economy, and flexible character builds. The loot system is absolutely on par with Diablo, the dungeons are all randomly generated, there will of course be co-op so you can form parties with your friends, and everything I could ever possibly have hoped for in a Diablo clone has been packed in to this beast of a game which isn’t even finished yet! The only real complaint I have is that the story isn’t really explored in much depth, which is a shame because the dialogue that is there is actually quite good. I genuinely enjoy reading what the NPCs have to say and I’m interested in the background of this place. Not to mention the fascinating backstories of the characters you play as! Remember, each playable class is an exile, someone who got expelled from their homeland and abandoned in the ocean because of something they did, or were at least accused of doing. The potential stories here are all very intriguing and I think it would be a terrible shame if they weren’t properly explored.

Lucky for us though, this is only the beta! As I understand it, not only will the game’s story be fleshed out far beyond what is currently present, but there will even be voice acting for all the dialogue! So I suppose once it’s all said and done, I really won’t have any qualms with Path of Exile.

It’s still undergoing constant changes, but the core of the game is there, and if you’ve ever had even the remotest interest in Diablo or anything resembling Diablo, Path of Exile is a MUST play. It is truly hard to believe that a game of this quality is going to be released at absolutely no cost to the consumer. The Diablo franchise will forever remain an important staple in my life and development as a gamer, and you can bet your ass I’m still highly anticipating the full release of Diablo 3, but after having spent some quality time with Path of Exile, I can say with absolute confidence that this game will undoubtedly be on par with Diablo 3. Final verdict is still out until the full releases are made, but this could perhaps be a Diablo clone that actually surpasses Diablo. Now wouldn’t that be somethin?

If you’re interested in participating in the closed beta for Path of Exile, head on over to http://www.pathofexile.com/ and sign up for an account! They’re constantly sending out invites to random members of the website so jump on it!

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  1. hiptanaka
    January 11, 2012 at 2:11 am

    Nice preview. I’m a beta member and I can only agree.

    • January 11, 2012 at 2:29 am

      Nice. I know a lot of people who are still unable to get access to the beta, so I suppose we are a lucky few.

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