Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Path of Exile

I first played (and wrote about) Path of Exile (PoE) about a year ago during the early phases of the beta process. Recently I stuck my toe back in to test the waters. One of the nice things about free-to-play games is that it's easy to jump back in after a hiatus. After a big client patch, I was back in and running. My original characters were all there, but wiped back to level one, not surprising given then were created during a beta weekend. I wrote up a long list of info for my friends to see if I could incite some of them to give the game another try, and after rereading it, I realized it was a pretty good summary of the starting experience, so, here it is:
What is it? PoE is a free-to-play action role-playing game (ARPG) with a server-based structure.
  • It's been described as 'more Diablo than Diablo'. After my less-than-stellar experience with D3, I agree.
  • There's a cash shop, which is mostly convenience / vanity stuff (no pay to win that I've seen).
  • There's both party and solo play. All zones are instanced outside towns, so no player-killing unless you want it.
  • There's PvP, but I haven't tried it.
  • There are leagues and races (more below).
It has a couple very interesting mechanics:
  • All characters use the same passive skill tree, but start at different points.
  • The skill tree is HUGE and perhaps overly complex: http://www.pathofexile.com/passive-skill-tree.
  • All active skills (spells and attacks) come in the forms of gems.
  • You use gems by putting them in socketed items.
  • Gems / sockets are color-coded (red gems only work in red sockets).
  • Gem sockets can be linked, which allows you to connect support gems to active gems.
There are the usual selections of items (mundane, magic, rare, legendary, beyond-legendary).
  • The item system is similar to most ARPGS, with prefixes and suffixes defining magic effects. There are the usual tiers of items: normal, magic, rare, legendary, super-awesome-special.
  • There are also currency items that allow you to alter items or turn mundane stuff into magic stuff.
  • Why? Because... sockets! A white chest piece with 6 linked sockets is awesome. Make it a rare and its super awesome.
  • All human all the time.
  • Classes are Marauder (beef), Witch (caster / summoner), Ranger (shooty), Duelist (fast melee), Shadow (roguish), and Templar (priest with annoying voice).
  • BUT, it's very possible to run a melee ranger, or a shooty duelist, or a melee witch, because...
  • All characters use the same passive skill tree.
Zones I think there are currently three acts (at least I haven't gotten past act three yet.
  • Act I is mostly coastal stuff, with a bunch of sea caves and a prison.
  • Act II is woodland and abandoned ruins.
  • Act III is mostly city and sewers.
  • All zones are instanced and randomly generated.
Monsters are mean.
  • Octopus monsters that summon swarms of octopii.
  • The usual variety of undead. Lots of undead.
  • Spiders and snakes (that breath fire).
Leagues and Races.
  • Leagues are basically relaunched economies that run for a specific length of time.
  • There's also a standard league that characters roll down to when a league ends.
  • Races are one-off events that you start with a fresh character. They're arranged in seasons, and there are points that net you prizes at the end of the season.
  • You win points for completing goals in races.
  • Race characters that die (always?) roll over into the standard league, meaning they're a good way to farm basic gems and quest reward items.
  • Races are hard, but really fun, and they provide an easy way to try out different classes.
The tone is grim-dark.
  • Characters are all prisoners who washed ashore from a shipwrecked transport.
  • Art is quasi-realistic with a grim-dark style. Sadly act I is, IMO, the worst of the three for showing off art.
  • Story is weak, but who cares? Action is the thing.
Lastly, some bad stuff:
  • There are some ongoing issues with desync, which seems to be a known issue.
  • No character customization, a la Diablo II. All marauders are big dudes, all witches are wispy chicks.
  • Do not read to global chat. The horror. The horror.
  • The passive tree is very intimidating (but there are build guides for all classes on the forums).
  • The Templar voice over is like a really bad Braveheart accent. Cringe-worthy.
And that about wraps it up. Overall a positive experience, especially considering the price! I'm having a good time with the game, and the races provide a nice, metered experience for those of us who get sucked into games for way too long. I give the game a B+ to A- rating, dinging it for the desync issues, the weak voice acting, and lack of story. If you like ARPGs, it's worth a look.

And if you're just starting, one of my gaming buddies wrote an awesome new player's hints and tricks post on the official forums.

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