I think I should name this “Super Early Review” instead, as Path of Exile is still in beta and I played it for only one hour (reaching the 3rd waypoint of the first act). And, so far, I have only one thing to say: WOW! But let me expand that.
Don’t Cross the Streams
Before going into the game, let me clear some misconceptions that are floating around: Path of Exile is not a Diablo clone. Sure, both are action RPGs, but that’s were the similarities end.
The graphical style is much closer to Titan Quest than Diablo (any Diablo).
There is huge selection of skills and they are all passive. Obviously, this is not Diablo 2 or 3.
Thinking this was a Diablo clone actually hurt my gameplay. But I’ll get there.
Remember Your Colors
The first thing you must learn about Path of Exile is that there are three basic stats, each one identified by a different color: Strength is red, Intelligence is blue and Dexterity is green. This is important ’cause the colors will guide and follow you around the game, from your skills, to spells, to your class. For example, a Marauder is a pure strength character, much like you would expect of other games call a Warrior. There are “mongrel” classes, which mix different stats, like the Templar, which uses Strength and Intelligence.
For me, this is a blessing. I’m a “melee with spells” kinda of guy, so picking a class was damn easy: Templar. No more “Oh, do I want to play as a Paladin or a Druid? What’s the difference?”. You like casters, you pick the Witch, which is a pure Intelligence class; you like a ranger class, you pick the pure dexterity class, Ranger; you like to go fast into melee, you pick the Duelist, which is the mixed dexterity and strength class (although I must say it’s not that obvious at first).
But everything will revolve around those 3 colors.
The thing that made me look at Path of Exile with interest was the huge skill tree. Or, should I say, trees.
The trees follow the basic stats: One spreads through the Strength line, another through the Dexterity and another though Intelligence. And you have the mongrel trees.
There is nothing stopping you into picking, for example, Dexterity for your Templar, but that also doesn’t make sense.
And all skills are passive. All of them. You get skills like “+10 Strength” or “Increase melee damage in 6%” — and you get those more than once sometimes, as you can’t put more points in the same skill. There is no skill that will give you a spell.
With all skills being passive, were the spells come from? I found that in the hardest possible way.
You see, everything have a socket in the game. Ok, almost everything, potions don’t. But every single piece of gear have it. And I was, ingenuously, thinking that the spell was attached to the socket combination or that sockets and gems worked like they work in Diablo. But the spells are, actually, the gems you get after completing missions (or maybe you can buy them later but, again, I only reached the 3rd waypoint).
And sockets and gems come in 3 colors: Red for Strength-based spells, Blue for Intelligence-based spells and, obviously, Green for Dexterity spells. So, for a Marauder, a piece of gear with only blue sockets is almost useless, even with better stats. Almost ’cause you can get Chromatic Orbs, which will re-roll the colors of the sockets in the piece.
This causes a weird rush for gear: Not only you want gear with the higher stats, but you also want the gear with the right sockets to hold your gems/spells.
As any classic ARPG, there are potions. But, again, Grinding Gear Games, the creators of Path of Exile, decided to change the way they work. In a good way.
You can find potions scattered all around the world. They come in two different forms: Health potions and Mana potions. So far, it’s the same, right?
The difference is that the potions you use do not simply go away after consume — or get completely consumed, by the way. What you get are actually vials (vial of health and vial of mana). When you need health, you drink a vial partially: On my templar, using a minor vial of health would consume half of it; a medium vial of health, about 1/3.
But that’s not were the differences stop: After each killed enemy, the vial would regain a bit of content. Again, half minor vial of health would require about 5 or 6 enemies to go full again.
Not only that, but Vials also have special stats: My medium vial, besides healing more and holding more, also increased the speed my health regenerated after drinking and reduced stun duration after drinking.
Basically, Vials turned the common health potions into another piece of gear — sans socket.
Some ARPGs decided to use a single bar for spells and potions. Some ARPGs decided to go away with potions completely, so you cast bar is simply your spells. Path of Exile have two bars: One for potions and one for spells.
The potions bar is accessed pressing 1 to 5. The spells bar is accessed pressing Q to T. This way, your hand is always in the same position and everything is readily accessible. There are also binds for right button, left button and middle button, all for spells.
There are a couple of small things that are worth mentioning:
Hovering your mouse over an item in the ground will display all details of the item. This is nice for quickly deciding if you want to take the item or not.
Also, you have a stash, which is shared between all your characters. And it’s huge.
Currently, because it’s beta, there is no way to sell your items yet. You can buy items, but there isn’t an unified currency in the game yet. You see, currently the vendors are requesting the small items that may be useful to you in other ways, like the Scroll of Wisdom (which identifies items).
That kind of mixture between useful, small items and purchases makes the game really interesting. Should I use this and identify that item or should I keep it to buy better gear?
There is no way I can’t root for the guys of Grinding Gear. While other companies are dumbing down their games, making skill trees so simple you can be wrong in any turn, those guys come with a game that will completely wreak you apart with doubt. “Should I pick this skill or that skill?”, “Should I identify this item or use the scroll to buy a new item?”, “Should I reroll the colors of my gear or should I use it the way it is?” are some of the questions you’ll be asking yourself all the time. And that’s good! Nobody likes a game that takes your hand and show you what you need to do, but there is this bad idea that developers can take away every single decision point in the game and that’s ok ’cause the game is not “holding your hand” — when the game is actually putting things in front of you so you don’t realize that they are not just holding your hand, they are holding both hands, your shoulders and your head and pointing you exactly where they want you to go.
On that hour of gameplay, I didn’t notice any glaring bugs or inconsistencies. The game wasn’t so hard I died every minute or so easy I was steamrolling everything. The only thing I would like to see is a minimap option, as the map currently covers all the screen. But, then again, it’s a personal preference and I can work fine with the overlay map.
Then again, I only played in the starting zone, which probably was checked and rechecked and re-rechecked over and over again by previous beta testers.
Even if the game runs fine right now, I bet this is not a good time to release the game. With Skyrim just out of the doors, every single RPG aficionado is playing this game and releasing it right now would only be shadowed. And this is a game that doesn’t deserve be in the shadow of any other game. After I complete my current plans for my HoM points, this will probably be my time sink till Guild Wars 2 is released. And then, maybe after that too.