Path of Exile Open Beta Impressions

Path of Exile is a free to play, Hack ‘n’ Slash, RPG created by New Zealand based studio Grinding Gear Games. It is currently in open beta and I’ve been playing it quite a lot since it was made available to everyone on the 23rd of January. Here are my thoughts so far:

Setting:

Path of Exile’s world is really interesting. It’s set in a dark, fantasy world, called Wraeclast, that seems to have a bit of lore behind it. I’m just past Act 1 and there is a story, but it is a bit confusing at the moment. I’ve been bombarded with all these terms and places, but I don’t know what any of it is in relation to the lore of the world.

It’s not just the story that’s dark and fantastical, it’s the enemies and environments too. In an early dungeon, you have to travel through a prison (think the catacombs from Diablo 2). I was literally freaked out by the prison. It was quiet, too quiet, and the soft score playing in the background added to the suspense and eeriness.

To help create such a great, dark, setting, Grinding Gear Games have created some great animations and character models, as well as the aforementioned beautiful environments.

At the moment there are 3 Acts to play through, but, being a free to play game, I expect they’ll continually add more story content.

Classes:

There are six classes to choose from in Path of Exile; Duelist  Ranger, Marauder, Witch, Templar and Shadow. All six classes are based around three attributes: Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence. My character, DaenrysTargaryen (from the Song of Ice and Fire book series), is a Ranger, which is a dexterity based class. However, I’ve started turning her into a Strength/ Dexterity hybrid (But more on that later). You can’t tell which classes are focused on which attribute from the class select screen, but you can find it out from the official website.

If you love customising your characters so they have a distinct look, you can forget about that with Path of Exile. All classes only have one look, and one gender.

Abilities and levelling:

In Path of Exile, you can’t unlock Abilities by levelling up. Whenever you level up, you are given a point for your passive skill tree. This tree is massive and all 6 classes are located on the same tree, they all just start in different spots. The tree is more of a web if you ask me. It sounds complicated, but any class can unlock anything on the skill tree (as long as you can get to it in 100 points). I really like the passive skill tree because I’m not always deciding whether to increase my strength or upgrade an ability, instead I’m deciding which path I should take to build my character. Should I head towards increasing my character’s health or should I give them increased attack speed? There are so many builds you can make, just by going down different paths (and there are a lot of paths). But be wise in spending your points because you can’t get them all back. Throughout the game you can earn respec points which allow you to remove one unlock, but so far I have only received a couple.

That’s probably the only bad thing about the passive ability tree, you kind of have to have an idea of how you want to build your character beforehand.

What is interesting is that there is a 7th spot on the skill tree. An additional character class maybe?

Now, about abilities. Abilities are acquired by socketing your armour and weapons with skill gems. The gems come in 3 colours, Blue (for Intelligence), Red (for Strength), and Green (for Dexterity). Gems have to fit into their corresponding sockets, so you can’t put a red gem in a green socket. The way the abilities are set out is that you can only have about 7 or 8 active per weapon set, but even so, you have to make sure you have the right coloured sockets on your armour.

Gems level up as you use them, although I’m pretty sure they only have to be placed in the armour you are wearing to gain experience. By levelling up your skill gems you make them stronger, but you may need certain stats to level up certain gems at higher levels.

Some gems can be paired with other gems to provide buffs to your abilities, such as additional ice damage or increase attack speed. Those gems happen to be called support gems. I have a spell that sends arrows raining down on enemies and I have paired a support gem with it to make the arrows hit quicker. There are also auras which give you buffs when they are active.

Gameplay:

Probably the most important part of a hack ‘n’ slash is the gameplay. Path of Exile’s gameplay is on par with the likes of Diablo and Torchlight. The maps are really big and there is a constant stream of different enemy types to keep things fresh.

The potion system is a bit different from other games in the genre. Instead of having a certain amount, you only have 5 potions (you can choose if you want all healing potions or some mana as well). However, potions have a certain number of charges. So you will always have potions left as long as you kill things so the potions can recharge.

There isn’t much to say about the gameplay, it really is exactly like what we’ve come to expect from the genre- which isn’t a bad thing. One thing I noticed is that you can’t remap any of the skill buttons. I was trying to change one of the buttons to my fourth mouse button, but I could not do it.

Loot:

Loot is your usual hack ‘n’ slash variety. Whites are normal, Blues magic, and so forth. However, all loot in Path of Exile is based on the Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity triangle. Some armour might be only Strength, which gives increased armour, while some might be only Dexterity, which gives increased evasion, or a piece might be a hybrid of the two. So a hybrid with Strength and Dexterity would give you both armour and evasion, but wouldn’t be as strong compared to a piece of armour that just focused on one attribute. I love this system because it makes things simple enough for unfamiliar users, but added magic effects give more experienced players more choices to make regarding which armour to use.

The weapons, on the other hand, aren’t anything special. They are your usual bows, daggers, hammers, axes, swords, etc. , but none of them really look that great. There hasn’t been a weapon so far that I’ve wanted to keep solely because it looks good.

Another interesting change in Path of Exile is the economy. There is no money in Path of Exile. Instead, trading to NPCs is done with various scrolls and artefacts. So instead of receiving money for your items, you might receive a scroll that lets you identify an item, or to create a portal back to town. The more expensive items have to bought with more power artefacts that do things to certain items. For example, there is an artefact that turns a normal item into a magic it, and an artefact that can change the colour of one of your sockets on an item. I like this form of economy because it makes you think whether you really need an item from the shop or if you are willing to hope you get lucky in the dungeons. It’s also a smart choice based on the setting. You are basically on an island with no actual towns (at least none that I’ve seen)- the hub worlds are more like encampments- so not trading with money makes sense.

Always online?

To play Path of Exile you must always be connected to the Internet  There are 3 game servers to play on: Europe, America and Singapore. Being located in Australia, I connect through Singapore for the best latency. When I say ‘best’ latency, I don’t mean no lag, I mean the best of the 3 servers for me. The latency for Singapore stays at around 200ms for me. For those who aren’t familiar with latency, if your latency is under about 100ms you are not going to notice much lag, but at 200ms you can notice it a bit every now and then. Sometimes, I’ll shoot an arrow into an enemy and it won’t register that the arrow has hit for about a second. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you are surrounded by enemies, seconds can be the difference between life and death. The lag isn’t really a problem, but after extended play time it starts to get harder to tolerate.

A bonus about Path of Exile being always online is other players. Even when you are playing by yourself, there is a global chat that you can talk on. Players use the chat to ask questions about different things in the game, and just have some great, funny conversations. There is also a lot of hate on Diablo 3, so D3 lovers beware.

Of course, you can always play the game with up to 5 other players. You can join your friends, or join a party of random players to fight bosses, or just run through levels. Many Hack ‘n’ Slash players would know that playing with more people means better loot, in Path of Exile it also means shared loot. Is this a problem? No, not if you are playing with friends. However, I don’t have any friends… who play Path of Exile, so to test the feature out I joined random players. The rush to get loot is frantic, and you really do end up just trying to grab everything. It’s a bit different for rare loot though. For rare loot, one player is given a couple of seconds (I do mean only a couple) to grab the loot before it becomes another free for all. In my playtime, I was never able to grab any rare loot because players grabbed it before I could even walk over to it.

There is also a trading system where other players can trade each other items. There is PvP, but I’ve yet to try it out.

screenshot-0002

This is only half of the passive skill tree!

Free to Play, or Pay to Play?

I’m happy to report that Path of Exile is 100% Free to Play! You can access everything in-game for free. You are not restricted in levelling, loot, and certain dungeons. There is a micro-transaction shop, but you can only buy cosmetic items that are like different finishes for your armour or weapons. However, If you’re willing to spend $1000 you can work with Grind Gear Games to get your own weapon design in the game.

Path of Exile is a really fun, free, hack ‘n’ slash RPG. It stands up to well known titles from the genre like Diablo and Torchlight. I can’t wait to get back into Wraeclast and continue my adventure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my extensive overview of Path of Exile. Keep it locked to AnalogAddiction for more on Path of Exile!

Nathan Manning is an Editor for AnalogAddiction. You can find him on Twitter and AnalogAddiction there as well.

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2 thoughts on “Path of Exile Open Beta Impressions

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