Path of Exile 2 is building on a decade of action RPG depth, but it's the no-cooldown dodge roll I'm really psyched about

Since the dawn of time, or probably for a while at least, many an action RPG enthusiast has asked: why can I not spam the dodge button in [insert favourite ARPG]? It's a question I asked when I first clocked to Diablo 4's dodge, which has a cooldown so interminable (five seconds) that I never bothered to use it. Dodging feels good. Games should let you dodge, genre orthodoxies be damned.

Path of Exile 2 is doing it. The dodge in this long-awaited sequel has no cooldown whatsoever so you can spam the crap out of it. I recently spent a while with the ExileCon build of Path of Exile 2 and you better believe I spammed the crap out of that dodge. Even the druid's bear can do dodge rolls. Path of Exile 2 is shaping up to be the least uptight ARPG I've played.

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During a recent visit to Grinding Gear Games' Auckland studio, director Mark Roberts assured me that Path of Exile 2 is still a game "where you get to obliterate screens and screens of monsters and have a lot of fun doing so," but the dodge, in my view, evolves the genre away from click-click-click passivity. Dare I say it: POE 2 feels almost Souls-ish. I had to slightly rewire my reflexes to accommodate it.

The decision to implement the roll was more complicated than 'it feels good'. "The dodge roll actually came about because we really wanted to find a way for skills to have more differences between them," said Jonathan Rogers, game director and Grinding Gear Games co-founder. "We wanted to try having some skills that took longer to do than other skills, but the problem with that is that skills feel really terrible if you start them and then you can't get out of them, so interruption is really important. So we needed a way to make that interruption be possible."

The dodge roll is that interruption. Everything in the game is dodgeable, and Rogers notes that it's definitely going to affect both balancing and the way encounters are designed.

Rebuilding builds

A related—and newer—development is that Path of Exile 2 will support WASD movement, allowing players to directly control their exile rather than point where they want them to go. While there's no intention to make POE 2 a reflex-oriented action game, it's definitely going to appeal to people who prefer to play ARPGs that way.  "When I suggested hey, maybe we should have WASD controls for all our characters, as well as point-and-click to move, people were like 'what are you doing? We can't change that!'," recalls Rogers. "But being willing to make those kinds of changes to actually make the game better I think is going to impress existing players as well as new players."

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It's in keeping with the general philosophy guiding Path of Exile 2. In Rogers' words, "there's a big difference between depth and complexity." It's an attitude that has seen the gem-slotting skill system in POE 1 given a comprehensive overhaul, for example, without reducing the variety and experimentation possibilities. It's just eliminating superfluous busywork.

Lead designer Rory Rackham, whose area of specialisation is skills and progression, bears that out. "We really want to keep the mechanics from Path of Exile that are great, but we now have the opportunity to rebuild them or restructure them in a way that is easier to understand and much more accessible for someone coming at it for the first time while keeping that depth." While socketing gems into a handful of different gear types will be a thing of the past in POE 2 (to the great relief of me, at least), that won't make the choices any easier to make. "Once you really understand the systems," Rackham said, "once you've played for a while, you can really take advantage of the complexity, without it being a barrier to stop you getting off the first area."

Rogers adds: "Everything is still there as far as what I do to build my character, it's just that it's easier to do because you don't have to be worrying, for example, that when you're changing your items you're going to break the way your skills are working, and things like that."

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Roberts—whose theorycrafting impressed Grinding Gear so much they employed him in QA before he eventually climbed the ranks to game director—agrees. "If players feel like they must do something because it has the clear advantage… I'd say that feels like a failure on our end. Ideally there are many, many options and many, many ways to accomplish a thing. To be good at the game, to be able to complete Pinnacle content, to complete whatever your standard of achieving or succeeding at the game is, there should be many, many ways of doing that and not just one option. And I would say we've become very, very good at doing that."

In a genre that struggles to escape the long shadow of Diablo 2 and all the orthodoxies that entails, Path of Exile 2 could prove to be a genuine disruption—perhaps even more so than its predecessor. It's there in the huge aesthetic range of the environments, which depart from the usual goth 'n' grime of dark fantasy ARPGs. It's there in the more literal take on the "action" in action RPG. And if you don't like it? You can just keep playing Path of Exile, which will remain a going concern. Path of Exile 2 is still on track to hit closed beta in June 2024.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.