Path of Exile first impressions

Path of Exile just recently entered open beta. It’s an online hack n’ slash RPG, made by a small team of “hardcore gamers” in New Zealand who swore to make the kind of game that they would like to play themselves. Indeed, this production feels very much like a fan-boy, evolved version of Diablo 2 or like a militant corollary against Diablo 3. By no means though should it be dubbed a dumbed-down copycat; while it doesn’t have a decade of tinkering of Diablo 2 or the blockbuster power of Diablo 3, it certainly holds its own ground.

I entered the world of Wraeclast, while the servers were struggling with patching the latest newcomers. I promptly created my witch, a pure intelligence caster.  Characters are governed by strength, intelligence, and dexterity, specializing either in one attribute or a combination of two.  Thus, the Witch Frumwa was born.

"They were right to fear me. If only they'd listened to their cowardice."

“They were right to fear me. If only they’d listened to their cowardice.”

Washed up on a shore, a dying man gave me my first weapon.  He spoke with a voice, and a good one at that. Thank you, dying man. I was given a blue gem, “Fireball.” My wand had a blue socket, and voila, now I know fireball because my wand knows it. I killed all the surrounding walking corpses with fiery-red, burning right-clicks, collected more trash by highlighting it with the ALT button, and slowly composed my poor-(wo)man’s equipment. Near the end of the shore level, a giant with a club awaited, and to my surprise, I had to use potions. “Potions can have properties.” Wow – that’s right, a mana potion is more like a refilling flask that has a few additional, random properties. It won’t disappear and it refills after killing a few mongrels – ingenious.

Leveling up means getting skill points for a skill tree, not getting new skills. You start out on a huge skill point map, depending on what class you are, and activate a node with each level-up, forging a path that offers a dynamic quality to the character. My witch can elect to get more mana, more damage, be better with minions, or get some valuable strength, maybe even stepping onto a warrior’s path a little. This traditional return feels good, and while respecs are possible, it does feel more committing to the character that you wish to play. And skills, those only come from skills gems, and Frumwa, if she desires so, can also throw knives, set up explosive traps, or hit with hammers of frost. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll stick to casting fireballs, ice spikes, and cold novas. What’s great is that items can have connecting sockets, so a fireball can eventually be split into multiples with an appropriate skills gem attached to the original jewel. It felt very rewarding to be able to start building my character from the get go, making choices that matter drastically at each step.

Inventory screen, gems fall into almost any piece of equipment.

Inventory screen, gems fall into almost any piece of equipment.

I found everything that I expected in the town, but the well-voiced NPCs surprised me. Another thing – there is no money in the game. There is no gold. Lowest quality items give back scraps, and five form a scroll of wisdom, which is used to identify any magic and above items. More expensive things give orbs that can change or upgrade equipment. In other words, instead of currency, players get crafting scraps to further customize their own stuff. I feel an influence of Minecraft here, even though there aren’t any borrowings. Path of Exile seems nearly sand-box, and yet it isn’t. It truly offers vast customization options for the players while maintaining the myriad of selections impactful. Kudos.

Getting a quest or two, I set out to the next area, which pleasantly surprised me with the number of enemies to freeze. There was even a dangerous situation where a unique enemy would continuously cast Rain of Fire, making me dance constantly, until I made the bastard run out of mana. A cheap way, sure, but I’m glad the creators trust me to send me into the deep water and throw something difficult. There’s not much babying or leading by hand – which could change in the final release. I died when I ran into another unique who used a freezing projectile, mercilessly freezing me in a spot in succession. Nevertheless, I had fun using what spells I acquired and mowing through small hordes.

Path of Exile feels like a game made from hardcore players, to hardcore players. Only time will tell if the game system holds up, how the end game looks, and whether the grinding or looting will sink fast. But for now, there’s no reason not to try this solid production and delve into a meaningful hack n’ slash experience.

The game is in open beta for now. You can sign up for free. Characters won’t be deleted when the game is finalized. The game will be free-to-play, with transactions only for cosmetic things (at least for now). Ask questions here or head on over to the website!



the author

A young man hailing from the distant lands of Poland, Europe, Luke started his video game writing career with school publications and is continuing it with GameNTrain. When not putting in hours into Blazblue or other fighting games, he enjoys kittens, helping old ladies, and lifting weights. Follow Luke on Twitter: @LukeShooty

  • Eric Hoff

    Excellent preview. I love when true game fanatics create a game of their own that they would truly love. Happy to hear you are enjoying the Beta.