I really enjoy investing my time into a game and having a long time persistent character. I’m indifferent about whether or not the game is designed to allow everyone to hit level cap or be difficult or grindy enough to make it so only a small amount of the game’s population will hit level cap. Path of Exile (PoE) falls quite squarely into the latter category, where not a lot of people actually get to the cap of level 100. You get the same level accomplishment hitting 80 as you would getting to Paragon 600 in Diablo 3. I have invested several hundred hours and played back when the game was first being developed in it’s Beta Stages. If you haven’t heard of this game yet, I’ll fill you in with a short list:
- It’s difficult. Maybe not Ninja Gaiden/Dark Souls level of difficult, but it’s still fairly challenging.
- It’s dark. It’s based around what Diablo 3 should have been originally, so there aren’t really bright colours and rainbows.
- It’s got immense levels of customization for character progression, which lends further to being heavily re-playable.
- Truly Free to Play with no Pay to Win. Not many games stick to this concept, but Grinding Gear Games (GGG) does an amazing job sticking to it.
- The Developers take lots of customer feedback and put it into the game. As such, they’re constantly patching and improving the game with patches every couple weeks or every month adding new skills and/or balance changes with a respectable sized expansion every 9-12 months.
- While I don’t pay huge attention to story lines in MMO style games, the game does have an interesting story that has even branched into a comic book.
PoE started out a very different game than it is today. It isn’t a bad thing that it’s changed and evolved so much, because it’s truly changed for the better with every patch that I’ve seen. The game started out much more difficult than it is now, but I think they’ve worked their way into making the game more accessible while still finding a degree of comfortable difficulty. It’s not intended to be frustrating or rage inducing, but it’s not a game where you’ll spend a single full day and get to level cap either. They’ve hit a middle ground that makes it completely accessible to both crowds of people, the Hardcore and the Casual alike. With the level cap at 100 and three difficulties mirroring the old Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 style of progression, most people can fairly easily get through the Normal difficulty and get above level 30. It’s also pretty reasonable to assume that most people can easily get through the second difficulty, Cruel, and reach roughly level 50. The final difficulty, Merciless, is where you go from level 50 to 100 through various means. Dedicated players will get to 85, where Hardcore players will get above 90. I’ve been playing PoE off and on and haven’t reached level 90 yet with a single character. The last element of the difficulty of PoE revolves around items and skills mostly, so I’ll get into this more later, but they went an interesting route and decided to apparently follow Newton’s Third Law of
Motion Balance; for every action positive, there is an equal and opposite reaction negative. The better a stat bonus is on a unique item, the worse of a detrimental stat it also applies.
There’s so much to enjoy if you want a game that goes back to the roots of Diablo’s dark nature as well. During the course of the game, you’ll see a relic that literally blacks out the skies, a quest NPC gets tortured to death and you can hear his screams of pain as ambient noise through the start of the area, and you follow that up with the depths of a temple where it’s literally filled with pools of blood where people are drowning in it forever.
I know that most people are just going to be interested in the degrees of customization for characters and levels though. Imagine the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy 10 for passive updates, mixed with a skill system based around combining gems in your equipment and linking them together to have outrageous effects. When your character levels, you gain points to apply into the passive skill tree. You can only input points to nodes that are connected with your previous nodes, and some nodes have greater effects than others but are less common around the tree. Each character from the start of the game has access to the same entirety of the skill tree but has a different location to start from, and each area of the tree tends to have a certain type of node. When starting a Marauder character, you start around a lot of strength nodes, health and armour nodes, and lots of nodes to effect your weapons and physical damage. A witch, on the other hand, starts with nodes that improve your Energy Shield, Mana, and Elemental damages. The only semi-exception to the tree is the Scion, who was the focus of the first expansion of the game. In the tree the first 6 classes started in points that would form a hexagon around the center of the tree, but the Scion released and her section was right in the center. This gave her access to every section of the tree someone quickly, and allows her to excel anywhere she needs to.
There are also three different node sizes in the Passive tree that range from the basic node, which makes up a majority of the tree, to a Keystone, which is a sizable passive increase, but typically also a detrimental effect. As an example, there is the “Vaal Pact” Keystone which makes Life Leech apply to your character instantly, but you can no longer Regenerate Health. Or “Resolute Technique” which guarantees that you will always hit, but you can never land a Critical Strike. Some interesting combinations can come together to form some amazing builds, especially when combined with the variety of Skill Gems belonging to the game.
Skill Gems are a little more simple than the Passive Tree in that skills are either Red, Green, or Blue, and can be placed in sockets of their respective colour on your weapons and armour. However, Grinding Gear Games decided that it’d be interesting to add a second type of Skill Gem to the game, the Support Gems. These are gems that strictly modify Skill Gems to apply different effects and also match their own colour sockets. Items have gem slots and gem slots can be linked together. Linked slots will allow Support Gems to affect Skill Gems that share attributes.
As you can imagine, the combination of skill gems, support gems, and the passive tree will make for some outrageous combinations for character builds. You can search YouTube and find builds where someone rapid fires a wand with high crit chance to trigger spell casts of Fireballs and Magma Orbs, another that will trigger abilities when taking damage with potion flasks that are self damaging, or even simple melee characters that just attack really fast with AoE skills. There is a ton of freedom to do what you want, and the Developers are always listening.
Of course, who would want to pay money to a Developer that didn’t listen to them anyway? Grinding Gear Games has to listen to their fans because otherwise they’d never last as long as they have. They’ve also made sure that when they promised everyone that they’d never do Pay To Win as a Free to Play model, they have kept their promise. There is nothing in their game shop that effects combat, leveling, experience gain, or anything that allows you to skip content or access content that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. All game content is free as it should be, while all cash shop items are cosmetic or non-essential in nature. Most of what you’ll find available in the Microtransaction Shop in the game is cosmetic skins for weapons and armour. The closest anything comes to effecting the game is being able to buy Stash tabs. This solely increases the amount of storage your entire account has for hoarding all those items and currency.
On the note of currency, Grinding Gear Games had an idea to try and prevent the notorious gold farmers from ruining their game by removing a monetary currency from the equation. You don’t have gold, gil, zenny, silver, copper, platinum, or anything of the like. Everything is based off a barter system using “Orbs.” As you sell items to vendors in PoE, you’re granted shards and orbs. Shards will stack up and automatically convert to Orbs, and Orbs provide essentially a crafting service to the game. Orbs of Transmutation turn a common item into a magic item, a Regal Orb will turn a magic item into a rare item, and an Exalted Orb will add new attributes to rare items. This allows players the freedom of creating their own items, even from a very early point, and using their currency to directly impact their character.
Selling certain groupings or patterns of items to a vendor can also yield specific rewards. GGG has utilized this to make super rare recipes, and there are even recipes that are unknown to this day, as they don’t announce all of them up front. They recently made a unique item that could be upgraded by vendoring it’s previous parts, and you’re only hint to the recipe was a riddle in the flavor text of the item. The final piece of the item took 4 months before the first person figured out the recipe for The Goddess Unleashed, I particularly enjoy the part where the creator reveals his timeline of the recipe’s discovery. This is the sort of fun stuff that I admire GGG for doing, even after several years of pushing this game forward.
As I mentioned in the beginning, GGG is constantly evolving their game and taking it to new heights. They make patches for bug fixes almost weekly, sometimes multiple times a week depending on severity, and larger patches roughly every month. As of writing this article, they’re scheduled to release their next content update “Prophecy.” This will add several new skill gems, upgradable uniques, new uniques, new variations to game progression and gameplay, modifications and improvements to the end-game labyrinth system, and more. This is following the most recent expansion called Ascendancy released in March, just 3 months earlier.
If you haven’t taken a minute to head over to their site (Path Of Exile, or Steam) to check out the game for yourself already, I encourage you to do so. Especially if you’re a fan of Diablo-style RPG’s or MMO’s in general, you may find it to your liking. If you don’t get into it or maybe it’s not your cup of tea, you don’t have to spend anything to give it a shot, so you lose nothing but a bit of time.