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Creator of the Hell Gates games. Likes blogging and also gaming, of course.

Fans of Action RPGs are a lucky bunch. Not many genres can boast such an impressive number of high-quality games with surprising longevity. In my last article I presented you The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, which was a great game. Now it´s time to kick it up and go from "great" to "absolutely fantastic" with this gem here. Are you ready to exile yourself to the unforgiving land of Wraeclast? No, seriously. Are you ready? It is scary and dangerous out there.

  • Game Title: Path of Exile
  • Created by: Grinding Gear Games
  • Genre: Online Action RPG
  • Platform: Microsoft Windows
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Multiplayer: Yes
  • Special Note: It is a free to play game, real money is only spend on cosmetic microtransactions.

1. Combat: Oldie But Goldie

This game is heavily inspired by Diablo 2. It is immediately noticed when engaging in combat. You mercilessly slay hordes of monsters by clicking around and unleashing a barrage of attacks. It is quite a solid foundation to build upon. But it has to be noted that the flow of combat shows signs of aging. In comparison to recent releases that sport visceral and satisfying combat (Diablo 3 and Grim Dawn come to mind), Path of Exile feels stiff and slow. If your internet connection is slow too, it will become even worse since this is an always-online game. In its defense, the slow feeling is mitigated considerably as your character racks up attack and movement speed. Check out my video for a quick combat demonstration.

Talking about active skills in Path of Exile would be enough to fill up an entire book series. The developer Grinding Gear Games tirelessly adds new ones to the game. They come in the form of gems that you socket into your equipment. At the moment we are sitting at 182 different active skills. From the conventional Double Attack to more extravagant contraptions like a totem pole that creates a projection of your weapon to attack nearby enemies, there are tons of mechanics to explore and try out. If that isn´t enough for you, just modify your active skills with support skills that alter their behaviour in significant ways. It is possible to add extra projectiles or convert your attack into a trap that activates when an enemy walks over it. More information on skills can be extracted from the Path of Exile Wiki.

A spell that shoots skulls in every direction while the skulls leave a trail of frozen ground? Sure, why not?
A spell that shoots skulls in every direction while the skulls leave a trail of frozen ground? Sure, why not?

2. Character Creation: Whoever Built This Skill Tree Was Seriously Overcompensating For Something

Ah, Path of Exile´s infamous Skilldrasil, probably the biggest skill tree of any game in existence. How to describe it best? Imagine a road map of your country, with all Highways, side streets and a lot of twists and branching paths. With every level of your character you are allowed to advance a little bit further on one of these roads, collecting a huge variety of passive bonuses in the process. Fans of Final Fantasy X will recognize it as a successor to the sphere grid. Note that all bonuses here are passive while active skills are found in skill gems that drop like ordinary loot or are handed out as quest rewards.

I think the picture speaks for itself.
I think the picture speaks for itself.

The skill tree and the huge selection of active skills, further modified by support skills, allow for limitless combinations and character builds. In fact it is so much that it can intimidate novice players. Coupled with the fact that the difficulty is very high and it is easy to end up with an underpowered character build, this is clearly a game for the dedicated player. For some quick and accessible fun it is probably better to stick with Diablo 3.

This game wouldn´t be a proper Diablo clone if there was no loot to be dropped by monsters. Path of Exile is a bit weak in that regard. Loot drops are plentiful, but exciting or powerful items are ridiculously rare. It is clear that the intention was to encourage trading between players, after all this is an always-online game. In consequence, it is highly unlikely that you will find good item drops that suit your specific playstyle. But that is where crafting comes into play.

So much loot, but nothing interesting.
So much loot, but nothing interesting.

There are no currency drops in Path of Exile. Instead you will find lots of different orbs that serve as crafting reagents and allow you to alter your equipment in many different ways. Grinding Gear Games has added lots and lots of crafting options over the course of the game´s lifespan. Finding a somewhat okay item and tweak it in do-it-yourself fashion is the name of the game if you want to even the odds against the overwhelming enemy forces.

3. Exploration: The Many Paths of Exile

The developer Grinding Gear Games stated that they were not satisfied with the trend towards brighter and more colorful games and aims at a more realistc, grim look. They certainly delivered on that. Wraeclast is a dark and disturbing place with great atmosphere. Scattered around the ruins of ancient civilizations you will discover writings that tell about the many tragedies this land had to endure.

This game is also without any doubt the most content-rich Action RPG out there. The developer ceaselessly enriches the core gameplay with new features. Path of Exile´s challenge leagues are a great example on how the game is ever expanding. Every few months, a new league starts where all players can participate with fresh characters and earn some cosmetic rewards. Each league features a new gameplay mechanic that is tested and tweaked throughout the league. If the feature is a fun one, it will be incorporated into the standard league and become part of the core game. This makes exploring Wraeclast ever exciting. You never know which strange encounter or mysterious object you may find during your travels. Just pausing for a few months and you are bound to stumble upon something unknown again.

The Essence League introduced trapped monsters that you can release in exchange for powerful Essences that can upgrade your equipment.
The Essence League introduced trapped monsters that you can release in exchange for powerful Essences that can upgrade your equipment.

Path of Exile does a thing that I usually detest when playing other games. It forces you to play through the game three times on different difficulty setting. But the game gets a free pass on this because Path of Exile also sports an impressive endgame system. Once you progressed far enough into the highest difficulty setting, you get access to the map endgame system. Maps are randomly generated areas and can drop from slain enemies just like conventional loot. And just like conventional loot, you are able to craft and alter the properties of a map. Map properties usually make enemies more dangerous while improving the loot drops. It is up to you to decide which properties your character can cope with. At first glance, map drops appear to be random. But there is a method behind it. All base types of maps are interconnected, forming the so-called Atlas of Worlds. It looks a bit like the world map from Super Mario World. You start in the corners and try to work your way into the center maps to fight a mysterious evil.

Sounds like a lot of hurt. I think I´ll pass on this one.
Sounds like a lot of hurt. I think I´ll pass on this one.

I should also mention that player housing exists in this game. This means you can earn your personal hideout and decorate it. Unfortunately, I am not a very creative person in that regard and my hideout looks pretty boring. Grinding Gear Games´ hideout ot the week series on YouTube showcases the more creative hideouts. Maybe you want to take a look for yourself:

Conclusion:

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