“Path of Exile” functions as yet another alternate to the throne of the action role playing game (ARPG), which was until now occupied solely and securely by Diablo 2. Currently contending with the somewhat-maligned “Diablo 3,” and the small-yet-successful “Torchlight 2,” “Path of Exile” heralds back to the darker, more twisted and disturbing roots of the dungeon crawlers of old.
“Path of Exile” is, in short, Diablo 2.5. The player is dumped unceremoniously from a ship on an island populated equally by exiled criminals and horrible creatures. It certainly forays into the unknown more than enough in its own way. Nevertheless, it looks, sounds and plays with such extreme reverence to its forebears that, to the eyes of the uninformed, it would probably be a more likely candidate for the title “Diablo 3” than would the actual “Diablo 3.”
Enough about other games, though. Grinding Gear Games, the studio responsible for “Path of Exile,” has not simply made some sort of fawning, flailing nostalgia-bait. Instead, they appear to have inspected each aspect of the game individually, shed the chaff and overhauled some of the more archaic mechanics into more usable, functional forms.
Ultimately though, little of an ARPG’s success depends on its history, its design, its art or its numbers. They contribute, and without them, the games would surely fall flat, but they are extraneous elements to the core gameplay. It relies on how much fun it is to click on something until it dies and explodes into loot. In “Path of Exile,” that quantity of fun is “quite a bit.” The sounds, the animations and the effects are all of stable quality; they are both sufficient and appropriate
Also of great importance is the game’s longevity. The skill tree is massive. That’s one of the game’s selling points. It’s flabbergastingly large, galactic in scale. However, all of those skills are small, passive boosts to things such as attack speed, damage or magic power. The active skills — fireballs, cleaving swings, ice traps, zombie raising and so on — are actually stored in small gems that can be found or rewarded for quests. These skills, which have few limitations on who can use them, level up alongside the player when enough experience is gained from using them. This means that character builds are a lovely combination of experimentation, optimization and customization.
Some issues do plague the game, though. “Free to play” means “Full of Terrible People, Children and Idiots.” Mind you, the massive skill tree and some of the stylistic choices will hopefully turn away the lowest gutterscum of the Internet, but there are sure to be some unfortunate angry souls who find their homes here.
PoE stands on its own as a thoroughly polished and enjoyable game, even in its pseudo-launch state. Moreover, it finds the rare balance between respecting for its impressive and somewhat intimidating pedigree and having the guts to ditch dead weight such as gem combinations. The result is a complex and surprisingly sophisticated work that will hopefully stand the test of time and microtransactions. Give it a download. What harm could it do?