Path of Exile (PC) Preview
Path of Exile is a game that should have everything against it. First off, it’s a hack-and-slash action-RPG releasing in the wake of Diablo III and Torchlight 2, the two big names in the genre (though the former eclipses the latter by brand recognition alone). Second, it’s a free-to-play game, which has the negative stigma attached to it thanks to abuse from mobile companies & Zynga. And in spite of all this, Path of Exile is still a totally compelling product because, at it’s core, it’s an addictive title.
Path of Exile is a labor of love from Grinding Gear Games, a title that’s been in closed beta since 2011 but will hit open beta within a few short hours after this particular piece of writing hits the web. It’s an action-RPG in the most recognizable sense- you will left & right click to move around the map & attack respectively. You can pick up loot (lots of loot, tons of loot, a ludicrously large amount of loot) while you wander randomly-generated dungeons, caves & forests, attacking anything & everything that’s in your way. You can choose from one of six different character classes- Marauder, Witch, Templar, Duelist, Shadow or Ranger (I appreciated the sheer power of the Marauder & the speed of the Shadow best) as you are exiled (hey, that’s the title of the game) & washed up ashore a remote colony for criminals and other unwanted individuals. You must withstand the wilderness & forge your own path (sorry, it had to be done) to freedom.
The game plays exactly how you want it to play. Combat feels tight & rewarding- specifically cracking skulls with the Maraurder’s club- and there are plenty of active powers & abilities for each class to truly make the classes unique. Exploring the world to gather loot has never been more exciting & the game, top to bottom, looks gorgeous & runs with an incredibly smooth framerate, regardless of how many enemies are on screen at one time. Though I didn’t get a chance to try it out, I am told that there will be up to 6-player cooperative play, plus PvP modes (which seems like it could be a good amount of fun with the right people).
With that said, the most interesting mechanic introduced in Path of Exile is the gem system. Each item has gem slots that add passive abilities to your character & can be combined with another gem for another ability. For example, I used an ice gem which slowed down enemies with each attack. Theoretically, you could add a life-steal gem to slow down enemies AND take their health as well. This can apply to spells as well. Add a “split’ mechanic to a fireball spell & that fireball will spread into two when hitting a enemy. A totem spell (which acts like a turret) can be tweaked with a “teleport” gem which will make that totem teleport around the environment, attacking as it sees fit. The passive skill tree in the game is also impossibly flexible, where characters can start in one area of the tree (as designated by the class of the character) and end up somewhere completely different. Think of the Witch gaining the passive health & shielding abilities of a Marauder & you’d be on the right track.
I feel like I should be on an informercial when I say something like this, but here goes anyway. What would you pay for a game featuring everything I described above? $59.99? $29.99? $9.99? 4 easy payments of $1.49? Get this: Path of Exile will be available for free. Not “free” as in “free for a month, then pony up a subscription fee”. Not free as in “free for the first world, then purchase the game for a nominal price”. Not “free” as in “you will need to pay us money for microtransactions to beat the game”, but legitimately, honestly free.
As Jon & Chris from Grinding Gear Games assured me, Path of Exile is a fully-featured action-RPG experience that should & will stand on its own without the use of microtransactions. They wanted to create a game that people couldn’t “pay to win”, as it would send the wrong message to the fans who want to discover the game without feeling ripped off throughout. I kept on telling the folks at Grinding Gear that I couldn’t believe that the game was free. It has the polish & scope of a AAA project with the price of Angry Birds. Of course, you can absolutely help out the developers by shelling out some cash for microtransactions. Again, nothing that will boost your XP or give you extra health, as Jon & Chris said they will not put anything of that sort behind a paywall. If you want to add a cosmetic flame to your sword or a cute pet to follow you in your adventures, you can for a small fee. Some diehard fans have been donating by purchasing “early access packs”, with the cheapest donation ($10) getting you a closed beta key & the largest ($1000) getting goodies such as signed Grinding Gear swag, beta keys, 10000 credit in the microtranaction store, among other things. (And before you scoff at that $1000 pack, I was told that at least 100 people have purchased that pack. I wouldn’t scoff at $100,000, would you?) It’s a testament to the game’s goodwill that players will actively spend $1000 to support a free-to-play title.
Take a look at the open beta trailer if you’re too antsy to wait for the 23rd.
The closed beta of Path of Exile, and with that, the final character wipe of the game, will wrap up around the time this impressions post is uploaded & open beta begins January 23rd. It’s more than worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. It’s free, it has loot, it’s releasing in the dead zone of January, what else can you ask for?