Game Review: ‘Path Of Exile’

Felipe Cabrera

“Path of Exile” is a poor man’s “Diablo,” and I mean this in the best way possible. While most free-to-play titles ape popular franchises in order to bait players into a pay-to-win scheme, “Path of Exile” offers the quality of a retail indie title and adds some new twists in the way we play action-RPGs.

“Path of Exile” washes you ashore (quite literally) on the gothic fantasy world of “Wraeclast” that smells like “Diablo.” There is some kind of evil a foot, because evil does not do vacations. NPCs have names, are nicely voice acted, and give you quest which I believe are a part of some kind of story that makes up three acts. Point me to a gamer who claims they pay attention to the plot of an action-RPG and I will point you to a liar. The story establishes the bleak, gothic atmosphere, and that is where it runs out of relevancy points. The game could have been called Path of Pinata set in a fantastical Mexican fiesta; none of this matters when you are slaying enemies, gorging on loot and allocating skill points.

There are seven classes to choose from who embody the three attributes: strength, dexterity and intelligence. The Marauder plays the strength role, the Ranger plays dexterity and the Witch plays intelligence. Then there is the Duelist who mixes strength and dexterity, the Templar who mixes strength and intelligence and the Shadow who mixes dexterity and intelligence. The Scion is a blend between all three attributes and is unlocked after beating the game.

Have I mentioned I can not believe this is not Diablo? All the staples are there; holy blue town portals, transparent map, slaughtering zombies and heretics by the masses, it is all accounted for. The crucial differences presented itself the first time I leveled up my Ranger, and it is in the skill system.

Instead of receiving a skill point to plug into a skill tree, you are met with a massive sphere grid called the Passive Skill Tree that every class shares. Every class is located based on their home attribute. You can keep it simple and stay within the bounds of your grid. I wanted my Ranger to be proficient with bows, so I followed the path that increased her accuracy and bow damage.

Eventually you will meet a Keystone that grants you a massive stat bonus and a special passive ability to complement your play style. But say I want to my Ranger to have a magic touch. I can choose to crawl up the tree towards the Witch’s sphere and gobble up intelligence bonuses. The level of customization has depth I have never seen in an action-rpg before. The possibility for unique and creative builds are endless.

Active skills are handled with just as much creative flare. Skill Gems will grant you active skills when socketed into armor and weapons. You can only add Skill Gems to sockets of the same color. Red represents strength, green for dexterity and blue for intelligence. This creates a cool tactical dynamic. Not only are you looking for the best weapons and armor for your character, you are actively looking at the number of sockets they have and if you can use your Skill Gems with them. This is important because Skill Gems level up with use, so you will want to carry your best skills to your next armor set. The Skill Gem system also allows you to experiment with skills outside your class’s attribute, opening new options in your play style.

My Ranger uses a set of bow skills, like burning arrows or raining arrows for decent AoE — area of effect — damage to bring the pain. Since I also like to play solo (you can party up with other players in town hubs, but I do not bother), I picked up a blue Skill Gem that gives me the power to create zombie minions for the fodder while I hang back and rain hell upon my foes.

My only gripe is with the game’s trade based economy that abolishes gold as currency. If you want to buy a new sword you better make sure you have three scrolls of identify, 15 scrolls of wisdom, one town portal scroll and your first born child. Deciding on whether or not you should buy new armor that cost some whetstones that can simply upgrade the armor you already have forces you to think carefully about how you want to spend, I understand that. I am just the kind of guy who likes stacking up on town portals and identify scrolls. Also, I can not discern the value of any of these orbs and trinkets. Shopping should not have to be a guessing game.  

As far as general gameplay goes, it is about what you would expect from a “Diablo” style action-rpg. You find NPCs in town who give you quest that vary from finding something or killing something. You will run around clicking at monsters to death and picking up various loot. The towns act as hubs where players can shop, barter and party up for some good old questing. Multiple difficulties, as well as community events, will keep players making different characters and coming back for more. Hardcore mode’s permanent death system will keep the masochist entertained.  

Graphically the game holds up well for its modest specs, so anyone’s rig will hold up fine. There are plenty of great animations about. Zombies will crawl up from the mud, and arrows actually remain in your fleshy targets. Enemy designs and environmental designs hold up the dark fantasy atmosphere well, even though it is nothing you have not seen before in another franchise I will not mention again.

“Path of Exile” is one of the best free-to-play games out there now. Grinding Gears studios have been working on their passion project for seven years. Their devotion to creating unique experience in a genre they love is apparent. The tried and true action-rpg gameplay is addictive and the unique skill system is stellar. This game is absolutely free to download and play on Steam; there is no excuse not to check it out.