Path of Exile review
These extensive character development options are well supported by the skill system. Your character’s abilities aren’t unlocked on the levelling board, they take the form of skill gems that drop when you kill enemies and complete quests. You can use a skill in the field as long as you have the relevant gem slotted into your weapons or armour. Linked equipment slots enable you to use support gems to adjust your skills. For example, my Duellist’s area-of-effect Cleave ability is in a slot connected to a support gem that infuses it with extra frost damage. These crystals gain levels along with you, becoming more powerful the longer you have them installed.
The formation of slots gouged into each piece of equipment is as important as the stat boosts they convey to your character, but these can be rearranged with one of Path of Exile’s large selection of, wait for it, orbs. Orbs reshuffle the magical properties of an item, re-roll the number and formation of the slots it has and upgrade ordinary items to uncommon or rare ones. Orbs ensure that every piece of equipment that drops can potentially be useful to your build, and are the centrepiece of Path of Exile’s barter economy. There is no money here. You exchange items for orb fragments that can combine to make functional item modifiers.
The cleverness behind this rethink of staid action-RPG systems extends to your health and mana potions. No longer must you hoard them in hundred-high stacks. Instead you carry five magical flasks that refill with every kill. Inevitably, these flasks can have magical properties of their own, which increase the amount of health regenerated and the speed at which it regenerates.
Path of Exile strives against the influence of its recent competitors. The muted locales and exquisite claustrophobia of its dungeons reject Torchlight’s exuberant visuals. The intensive, detailed levelling options defy Diablo III’s relatively straightforward choices. Path of Exile is well placed to capture gamers alienated by Blizzard’s new direction, although like its controversial older brother it still requires an internet connection to play.
It also can’t match the visual splendour and satisfying feedback of Diablo III. The combat improves after the first few hours when you start fighting large and varied swarms, but occasional lag and dsync issues can send your slashes right through monsters, and the varied and plentiful attacks lack the apocalyptic thwunk of PoE’s big-budget competitor. That might be because the engine lacks the physics capabilities to render responsive ragdolls. It’s still entertaining to wade through PoE’s larger mobs, but the combat isn’t quite best-in-class.
The plain fields and character models look a little dated, and the gear design stays firmly within the boundaries of Path of Exile’s grimy medieval aesthetic. That suits the game’s deliberate lack of glamour, but limits the tactile pleasure of equipping ridiculously powerful kit. Extraordinary gear doesn’t look extraordinary here, but for those already put off by Blizzard’s famously enormous spiked pauldrons, that won’t be a bad thing.
If you play action-RPGs as a cathartic power trip, to slam into monstrous hordes and watch their bloody bodies ragdoll across the scenery, then Path of Exile will seem dry. It’s not a game about instant gratification, it’s about slowly forging an inventive character over three acts and three difficulty tiers. Once it has its claws in, Path of Exile is as compulsive as any other in the genre. After a few hours the combat becomes automatic. The objectives are moot, the quests, characters and creatures incidental. Every stab and slash is in service of the real journey across that vast levelling board. Every 500 to 1,000 clicks lights up another node, and the little warrior mannequin takes another step away from being a template and toward something that’s uniquely yours.
- Expect to pay free-to-play, £2 to £15 for cosmetic upgrades
- Release Out now
- Developer Grinding Gear Games
- Publisher In-house
- Multiplayer Up to 6, co-op
- Link www.pathofexile.com
An exceptionally generous free-to-play action-rPG. What it lacks in punch it makes up for in depth and value for money.