Wot I Think: Path Of Exile

By Adam Smith on April 15th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Sometimes it takes a while to make a judgement. I spent a fair amount of time with Path Of Exile’s beta but hadn’t revisited the release version for more than seven or eight hours in total until I decided to write something about it a few weeks ago. Now that I’ve been back to the grim shores of Wraeclast for a long vacation and have stared deep into the heart of the passive skill tree’s labyrinth depths, I’m ready to tell you wot I think.

I can only imagine what Path Of Exile would do to a person determined to build the most capable character possible. ARPGs in the Diablo mould are often comparable to a city of slot machines or endless piles of piñatas. You, the player, make an occasional choice as to how you’d like to insert your coin or crack open the containers, but you’ll mostly be hovering up whatever’s inside, your role set by the contents as much as your actions. We don’t own loot, loot owns us.

Path Of Exile is different. You’re taking the contents of those piñatas and trying to make a five course gourmet dinner or slumping in front of the slot machines and hoping to find the final pieces of a numismatist’s dream. This is a game packed with tricky decisions, though they’re set within the webbed matrix of an enormous skill tree and studded Tetris block inventory system rather than the shifting sliders of a mechanical moral absolutism.

Rather than asking if you want to kill the monster or kiss the monster, Path Of Exile asks if you’d rather freeze your enemies with a cone of cold or obliterate them with explosive fire traps. Character customisation is far more important than it ever was in the Diablo series or Torchlight, with a passive skill screen that looks like the night sky, pricked with shining possibilities forming constellations that grow and spiral from each of the character classes.

It’s easy to forget that the classes exist after playing for such a long time. They act as starting points rather than blueprints, malleable clay rather than vessels to be filled with slightly different flavours of battle-soup. My first build* was a Shadow, which is basically a goth bastard type that likes to stab and claw people while dropping mines at their feet. As a former goth bastard type in the real world (it was the nineties, I was young and slightly in love with Robert Smith and Trent Reznor), I felt that it was important to be true to my roots. The roots quickly became tangled, as did the branches and the twisting of the trunk. Guiding a character through the levels isn’t like riding the escalator to legendary hero status – it’s more like navigating the Escher-Penrose Memorial Tower Block.

Passive skills are selected from the aforementioned night sky. The system isn’t as bewildering as it appears, with each class acting as an island and anchor point amidst all the choices, but it’s entirely possible to build a bit of a duffer. Balanced characters are all well and good during a first play through, on normal difficulty, but the meat of the game is found on the more challenging settings.

That’s irritating, particularly for someone (like me) who doesn’t have hundreds of hours to sink into the game. It’s taken me half a year to find time to play for long enough that I feel justified in casting judgement, but to explore every cranny of its crafty item sets and skill combinations would require full-time commitment for several weeks. I’ve been grazing on Path Of Exile for months (a few withered shrubs break through the paving) and that’s how I tend to enjoy this kind of game. A varied diet keeps me keen on all manner of pointing and clicking.

Enough of that diversion though because there’s more to say about skills. In fact, I could write thousands of words about the skills and how clever the two systems behind them are. Alongside the passive set, which form a character’s bedrock, there are active skills, which sit along a hotbar at the bottom of the screen, ready for fingers to stab them into action, attaching to the cursor and dealing all kinds of dazzling death. You don’t get to choose those skills though, not in a conventional sense. Instead, they’re part of your equipment, affixed to equipped items to allow new actions.

Such a simple idea but superbly executed. It prevents loot from being nothing more than a series of pluses and minuses, and encourages experimentation with new equipment sets. Fancy converting your beefy marauder into a force of fiery elemental doom? Fiddle with his mace and just the right set of components and you might just manage it. The real trick lies in balancing the passive and active skills to create a fearsome golem, fused with just the right powers and abilities to take down everything in its path while remaining flexible enough to switch when the opponents change gear.

Path Of Exile is an elegantly designed ARPG, which ensures that there is a meaning behind the decisions about which skill to activate and which loot to equip. It’s a game about clicking on grisly things repeatedly until they explode in a shower of gore, and it doesn’t do much of anything else, but it does ensure that the moments in between the mostly mindless combat demand actual input from the player. The environments and enemies are occasionally attractive, in their grimdark way, but they’re not the source of appeal – this is a game about exploring the possibilities of its numerical systems rather than about exploring a world.

There are other clever touches. The world doesn’t have a currency system so ‘merchants’ will swap unwanted loot for fragments of scrolls, and other bits and bobs. Potions regenerate so that restoration is effectively on a cool-down system, neatly circumnavigating the busywork of stocking up and arranging inventory space. I haven’t dabbled with multiplayer a great deal, except to trade, which is easily done and a fine way to strengthen a build.

I almost forgot to mention that it’s free to play. That’s because it hasn’t once begged me to spend money, cap of +6 freemium fuckwittery in hand. In fact, the monetisation is so slight and invisible that I couldn’t even tell you what it’s possible to buy without looking it up. Extra character slots and stash space – that sort of thing. Considering how easy it’d be to exploit the randomised drops of the genre by adding premium petards and poleaxes.

Like Card Hunter, Path Of Exile does free to play the right way, as far as players are concerned. I worry about how the profits will arrive though, and whether this is the right way for developers and publishers. Updates have been regular and impressive though, so it seems Grinding Gear have found their market. I always find something to worry about. I’d happily have paid for the game as it stands if there’d been an offline mode. I suppose the fact that it’s an online game with multiplayer that was peripheral to my playtime is another worrying point, as is the zoom level of the camera, which is far too close for my liking and means I tend to play with my eyes on the overlaid map most of the time rather than looking at the scenery.

Oh dear. I seem to be ending on a negative note, which is silly because if anyone were to skip to the end they might think I’d been grumpy throughout. Go and read the rest if that’s the case because Path Of Exile is a smart and content-rich ARPG. It doesn’t rewrite the click-for-loot formula but it does tweak just the right parts to make the repetitious hacking and casting a more involved and intricate experience. Those interested in the multiplayer and scientific analysis of character builds could spend hundreds of hours happily enthralled. I’m just happy to have found a conventional ARPG that managed to hold my interest for more than a couple of hours**.

Path Of Exile is free and you can sign up for an account right now.

* I’m wary of using that word, ‘build’, when discussing characters in many games. ARPG player characters are often discovered rather than built, a series of happy (or at least tolerable) accidents with an occasional nudge. They’re like two Duplo blocks glued together rather than a construction. Path Of Exile earns ‘builds’.

** Interested in Reaper Of Souls despite myself.

, , , , .

77 Comments »

  1. aliksy says:

    I’ve tried the game a few times since it was available, but something about how most of the level-ups are disappointing (oh boy, another unnoticeable damage boost) and something about the pacing stopped it from really hooking into me.

    • Dominic White says:

      You do realize that the number of ARPGs where your character undergoes visibly major changes every single level can be counted on the fingers of my foot, right? I see this complain about Path of Exile all over, and it makes no sense because at least in PoE you’ve got a goal in sight, and are working towards those big-ticket passive skills.

      • Commander Gun says:

        I’m wondering, if you see a complaint all over, doesn’t it makes (a little) sense per definition? I mean, even if you can objectively prove otherwise, the fact that lots of people complain about the same thing does mean something, right?

        • Premium User Badge

          SuddenSight says:

          In my opinion, people tend to be great at noticing issues with games (in this case, leveling isn’t that exciting).

          However, people tend to be rotten at suggesting fixes (making a graphical change at every level is very expensive and difficult to keep consistent).

          Furthermore, one game cannot solve all problems. In other words, every game will always have parts that people don’t like. To have a game that gets finished you need to give up on making it better at some point.

          I have no experience with PoE. I just think “it’s a common complaint” *does* mean a lot of people dislike something or wish for something, but it does *not* always mean “it must be fixed!”

          • aliksy says:

            Off the top of my head I can think of two possible solutions, but they’d be pushing the game towards something I’d like, not necessarily what the developers or audience like. And I’m sure they’d have problems, too. Just problems that I wouldn’t mind as much.
            - Give more than one skill point per level. Leveling becomes more exciting because you can do more. You spend less time looking at the grid and thinking “oh boy, in 3 levels I get that cool thing.” Probably not very disruptive, so long as the total points at the end is the same.
            - Remove the boring skill nodes. Roll the stat boosts into the interesting nodes, or collapse them into one larger node. Instead of 5 +10 strength nodes, have one +50. Probably breaks things, upsets people who get excited by tiny changes, ruins the marketing oomph of “look at this giant skill web!” Still, I’m not very excited by small, incremental changes.

            I’m sure I could come up with other ideas, just like any other armchair designer.

      • tetracycloide says:

        In fairness the big name in ARPGs just released a set if updates that dramatically improved pacing while leveling up.

      • aliksy says:

        Other RPGs having boring progression doesn’t make it less boring. I am reminded of when people defend fetch quests in RPGs because “that’s how they all do it.” That is not enough.

        Having the “reward in sight” doesn’t really help. Pretend all those little level-ups where all you get is +3% damage or +10 strength didn’t happen, and you only got the ‘level up’ reward when you hit a big node. How would you feel about that pacing?

        This also has to be considered in the context of the rest of the game. Sure, d1 only gave you five skill points per level up, but that was almost 20 years ago, in a game with less focus on leveling, and different pacing/difficulty. Path of Exile’s web makes leveling a big thing, and then drags it out.

        • aliksy says:

          Oh, I meant to also add that I didn’t find the core gameplay of killing things all that fun. It wasn’t as rewarding as shooting lasers in torchlight or sucking things into black holes in diablo3. If I enjoyed the core gameplay more, I’d be more willing to overlook my problems with the leveling.

          • Baines says:

            That was kind of my issue. Path of Exile is made of various underwhelming parts. It has some interesting bits and decent ideas, but also has a lot of mediocre stuff.

            Gems were nice. It was interesting mixing attacks. Then several hours later I realized I was still using the same attacks, just that they had bigger numbers now. The same tactics against enemies that were graphically different but died pretty much the same. Then I tried making a couple of other classes, and found that most of the variety appears to have gone into a few gems and the skill tree, because the classes (and weapons) just ran together.

            Grimdark graphics might have won the attention of people who don’t like color, but the game is just kind of graphically boring. Areas are dull. Some color and a little less realism might have helped in that area.

            The vaunted skill tree is big just for the sake of being big. It is largely composed of small stat boosts acting as filler between what other games would call skills.

          • jha4ceb says:

            The point about colour has some merit — one of the game’s big problems is that it’s front-loaded with the grim and dark areas. Once you reach Act 3, (and even act 2 to some degree) things are much more bright and colourful — the various areas in the City of Sarn are some of the nicest-looking I’ve seen in an ARPG.

            I say this as a big fan of the game — it reveals its charms once you’ve passed the early game, however.

      • monomer says:

        Does that make it any less valid of a complaint though, if the complaint is true of many games in the genre? Incremental statistical bonuses are an archaic way of doing ARPG character advancement, and it’s something that kept me from sinking too much time into Torchlight 2 or Path Of Exile, even though I liked plenty about both games. For all the things Diablo 3 missed the mark on, every time I level up in that game is potentially changes the way I play the game, and I dig that a lot more than passive skill bonuses.

        That being, said, it’s unfair to compare other games’ full skill systems to just the passives in PoE, as the skill and support gems are also a huge part of the character building process, and I thought those were brilliant.

    • Vinraith says:

      This is basically where I landed, as well. The skill system and sense of character progression is really unsatisfying IMO (linking active skills to loot just makes character building feel random), and the difficulty curve seems completely flat (my frequent co-op partner refers to PoE as “that clickfest game” because we never encountered a moment of challenge in the span of about 15 hours play). Still, even if it’s not my cup of tea it’s easily the best F2P game I’ve ever encountered.

      • tattertech says:

        Please feel free to discount this as PoE-Fanboyism as I’ve been playing fairly regularly since closed beta 2ish years ago, but I wanted to share my perspective on a couple points you bring up:

        Path of Exile is the first ARPG in recent years that has had any meaningful character progression in my opinion. But it causes a trade off lots of new players complain about: Early levels suck. Really hard. In fact the first time I tried to play the game I spent about 15 minutes on it and quit for a couple weeks until a friend convinced me to power through.

        What you eventually learn is characters don’t start to feel effective until later in the game, probably minimum of level 30 for some builds but much later for others (level 60+). This actually carries a pretty big benefit though – you feel like your character has actually progressed. In D3 for example my character starts as a super powered fast killing machine and graduates to be a even more super powered faster killing machine. PoE starts you as a dude on the beach with a stick and you grow into the super powered fast killing machine.

        This would be really hard to defend or deal with long term except PoE does another thing right in my opinion. Once you know what’s going on and how to play you can get to those higher levels in mere hours. Levels 1 to 30 might have taken you a week or two at first, but with experience will only take you a single session. You can get to “end game” content (say level 65 or so) easily within a week at pretty “casual” playing (casual in the scale of ARPG playing – so maybe an hour or two a night).

        Also, I wouldn’t call active skills tied to loot anymore. During the beta periods there were some crucial skills you could only get via world drops or trade. However, everything now is tied to quests (and based on your class). So you can plan out every reward you’ll want – although some gems may only be available from other classes. You can trade for gems you’re missing or just level alts. But all skill availability is tied to progress – just like any game. This one just let’s you shortcut with trading instead.

        Re: the difficulty curve – how far did you play? Almost every complaint about the game with regards to difficulty is the exact opposite of your complaint. Normal is almost universally easy. Cruel (the second difficulty) becomes a little bit tougher. Completely unplanned or faulty builds will start to fail here, but may be able to limp through to act 3. Most will die there. Then you hit the last difficulty, Merciless. Particularly at A3 (the biggest difficulty jump in the game between acts within a difficulty level) will absolutely shut down any weak builds. Act 3 in Cruel and Merciless are tremendous difficulty spikes and many, many characters get to them just to die & get stuck.

        In any case, PoE is definitely for a niche audience. It’s complicated with lots of mechanics interacting in potentially unexpected ways to a new player (or just one who doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time theorycrafting). And the game is certainly not without its flaws. Desync is a MAJOR issue and apparently not going anywhere any time soon. I’m also starting to believe while itemization is amazing and provides great customization the drop rates and mechanics could use some work. How some of the content is balanced is starting to raise some questions.

        I’ve now expanded this to a silly length as a reply just to you, and probably could have stood to make a lot of these points (or expanded some) as a top level comment. Oh well.

        • ShadowStar says:

          This doesn’t make it sound difficult. It makes it seem like you have to do some research before you build your character so you can get the proper build and get lucky with the right drops. I’m not saying this is the case, just going by what you said.

          ARPGs really aren’t about skill anyway and that’s why none of them are hard. The entire point of the genre is to build/gear your characters so the content is as easy as possible with the least amount of effort. I mean builds are pretty much the best passives + a couple attacks. Compare that to skill based games such as fighting games where the difficulty is completely based on your skill and the skill of your opponent. That is a difficult genre.

          I guess it’s all relative.

    • Fenixp says:

      It is a bit more of a game for people who like toying around with numbers, then again it’s the best executed system of passive boosts I have ever seen. See, in most games, passive boosts you get are relatively negligible. Not so in Path of Exile. Even damage increases can often be as much as 10% for normal nodes, which sounds ridiculous, until you realize that most games give you about 2. And then there are ‘big’ nodes which can completely change how you play the game.

    • Chalky says:

      I played through to the end of the content and it was a pretty enjoyable game – however, the content seems pretty brief and apparently the expectation is to repeatedly re-play the same content over and over on increasing difficulty levels in order to fully explore the skill trees.

      That seems pretty lazy to me – but then again, it’s a free to play game so I guess you can’t really criticise them for that. Still, it made me tire of playing it after a single weekend.

      One big criticism – the randomly generated levels in this game are infuriating. I can’t remember how many times I had to return to a map I had already explored (either due to death or simply because the story makes you re-visit maps) only to find the place I knew I wanted to go to wasn’t there any more. Repeatedly searching the “same” map for something you’ve already found several times is so infuriating and their waypoints are so badly placed that if you don’t find them you end up having to trudge over multiple random maps to get back to where you were before your last death.

    • gradyjames says:

      The excitement and “visible” improvements in POE come from getting great unique/rare drops and gems IMO. Anyway, “true” ARPGs are genetically closer to games like Minecraft or Simcity (than, say, Call of Duty) in that the real fun comes from building something and not instantly smashing your way through a horde of monsters which, although cathartic, gets old pretty fast. Hence the “RPG” part of the genre. Diablo 3 is a failure (for a lot of D2 fans) because it wanted to make the player feel powerful from level one at the expense of meaningful and measured progression.

  2. Alevice says:

    Part of the charm for me is how elegant its systems are. The so called currency items (scrolls, orbs that modify item properties) are both the foundation for the economy as well as they are for the crafting mechanics. They are also integrated into the end game (map portals, which, like almost every single item in the game, can have random magical properties) and into the new features like the strongboxes (which are much like cursed chests on d3, you check the chest, trigger a trap/ambush and after its been cleared, pick up the loot; oh they have random magical modifiers too!). It’s all so intertwined and simple it becomes such a crucial foundation of the game.

    The gem slots can render great equipment into worthless crap (or vice versa) depending on which slot configuration it has, because that determines your skill set. The support gems certainly add variety to builds; for example, I have a duelist that dual wields and is focused on dealing as much fire damage as possible.

    Kinda like how the lore and even bits of the plot are never truly exposed to you, rather you have to piece most together through books, character tales and certain lore items here and there. I wish it were a bit more interesting, but its decent enough.

    The new mini expansion adds the Vaal orbs (which are currency items that can drastically modify an item for the better or worse, at the cost that you can further modify it anymore) and vaal gems (which are standard skill gems that require “souls” -that is, kill a set amount of baddies- to activate, and in return, trigger additional effects, like spawning a copy of you) improves the game in very interesting ways.

    • tetracycloide says:

      As an economist once I played long enough to take in the entirety if the currency system I was blown away by how beautiful it was. It’s sad they still don’t have an auction house though and sadder still that Diablo III’s abortion of a managed currency soured so many to the idea even though it wasn’t the system if exchange itself that was really the problem.

      • Noburu says:

        poe.xyz.is (thats a website and the full webaddress) is just as good or better than an in game AH and all you will ever need.

      • MaXimillion says:

        An auction house would absolutely ruin the game’s economy, unless implemented in a very limited fashion. There needs to be enough of a barrier to entry to trading that people don’t dump most of the stuff they find on the market, or everyone will just be buying gear updates every few levels for a negligible cost and never getting any good drops.

  3. Horg says:

    A wonderfully crafted game with a consumer friendly FtP business model. You have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

  4. derbefrier says:

    Good review. PoE is an awesome game with a great F2P business model. They dont really give specifics but they seem to indicate that they sell a lot of stash tabs and glowing but they also sell a lot of supporter packs and last time I saw them comment implied they were doing pretty well.

    I have put a few hundred hours in it myself. leveled multiple characters some which kick ass and some which get to the harder difficulties and get owned no matter how good my gear is. I like the fact is possible to screw up and that choice matters. I like hat the game actively encourages making multiple characters through their race seasons(which give out prizes and stuff) and the 3 month leagues to keep the game fresh. This is not a game were you are not meant to make one character and play it and nothing else keep reading to find out why…

    This is fair warning for those who havent tried it. Many people who play for 100s of hours at end game not seeing substantial gear upgrades(IE not getting BiS gear dropping) tend to get pissed, then get bitter, then troll the forums for months after they quit the game. This game does not hand out gear to you at all and getting the best gear on your own is next to impossible(as it should be IMO). You are meant to trade for the 6 link uber DPS weapon you want if you want it quickly if not expect to spend the next year grinding for it. This is not a Blizzard game getting OP characters is not meant to be something every one can just log in for a few hours a week and accomplish. It takes a substantial time sink to be among the best but all the content in the game can be cleared in average gear if you play smart and use the environment to your advantage just dont expect to faceroll mobs in your 80s until you get all the loots. this game will kick you in the nuts and stab a sword in your neck while laughing at your silly expectations.

    • Commander Gun says:

      “This is not a Blizzard game getting OP characters is not meant to be something every one can just log in for a few hours a week and accomplish”
      I was rather looking forward to the ceremonial RPS Blizzard flame and was surprised to only find it in the 4th comment. Still, gg to you sir :)

    • tetracycloide says:

      Ironically 100s of hours without seeing an upgrade drop and having to trade i.e. use the auction house, was one if the major critiques of Diablo III 1.x. I find it pretty damn funny you’re trying to use that as a point of contrast between the two. It’s piss poor design in both cases by the way.

      • derbefrier says:

        Its a bit of a different situation. You couldn’t even beat D3 initially withoiut going to the auction house. This isn’t a problem with PoE. All content is accessible for a self found player. What I was refering to is the now expected ease of getting best in slot gear in these types of games thanks to a generation of gamers raised on WoW. I am fine with the best gear in the game being difficult to get as a long term goal as long as all of the content is accessible with gear you can pick up off the ground as I think most people are. This is the difference. I just wanted to touch on it since this along with desync are the two biggest complaints you hear about the game.

        • ScubaMonster says:

          What? Not be able to beat D3 without going to the AH? I pretty much never used the AH and found the game ridiculously easy from the get go, played from day one of release. Not even Inferno gave me much trouble. Not trying to be rude, but if you couldn’t make it through the game without AH loot, your skill level must be low.

          I play solo pretty much exclusively. On rare occasions I played with one other friend but I pretty much played D3 99% of the time by myself and just loot drops. I bought maybe a grand total of 4 or 5 items on the AH and they weren’t even good items. The good ones were usually priced extremely high so I said screw it.

          Loot 2.0 makes it even easier. My level 45 monk is already playing on Torment 1 and I feel the need to crank it even higher because I’m still not being really challenged.

          D3 has to be one of the easiest ARPG’s I’ve played in quite some time.

          • Dances to Podcasts says:

            You’re only about halfway up in the difficulty scale and saying it’s the easiest you’ve played? o.O

  5. bhauck says:

    I got tired of the game after a few hours (I don’t think ARPGs are for me anymore), but I’ve spent probably twice as long just playing with the passive skill tree. It feels like deck building even if I never use the builds for anything.

  6. Freud says:

    It’s got some interesting ideas. The skill tree looks more clever at first than it really is. It’s mostly passive bonuses. In reality it felt like you had to go for a more or less cookie cutter build to have any chance of managing the higher difficulty levels.

    The combat feels a bit slow and repetitive, which is what eventually made me quit the game. I wasn’t having particularly fun playing it. It lacked satisfactory gameplay of D3, which plays so much better. Even T2 felt better at it’s core. The regular desync problems is also a big minus. It’s very discouraging to die because your game state is completely different from the servers.

    For a small team it’s an impressive feat to put together a game like this. It’s got some good ideas but.I doubt I will go back to it now that RoS is here and it being amazing.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      The combat in PoE is horribly monotonous, slow, and clunky. I really liked everything else about the game, but one of the appeals of ARPGs for me is fast-paced combat, and PoE does not have that. I made it to around level 30 before I gave up.

      • Prolepsis says:

        Funny, I found it to be slower than modern ARPG’s and therefore more deliberate. I’ve also noticed that which PoE it really depends on your build; some of mine are slow and almost boring, others can really move through things. Regardless, for myself, having played the tar out of Diablo, slower combat is more satisfying it breeds intentional actions. I find that the quicker the combat in ARPG’s, especially when everyone is using some form of AOE, the more haphazard things get.

        An illustration: When Torchlight 2 came out, I was playing with two friends. After a few hours, I said: “I hope I’m helping you guys, because it just feels like I’m clicking away and stuff just so happens to occur.” They each said something akin to: “Oh, I was thinking and doing the same.” Then we all just kind of stopped playing together. In single-player it was not as bad, but the more players you add to a fast ARPG, the more no one really knows what is happening. Sure, things are dying, but “did I do that, or was it someone else?”

        I by no means hold Diablo up as the standard, but even moving to Diablo 2, there was something missing from the deliberate nature of the combat. Instead of feeling like we were cooperating, it felt more like we just so happened to be playing the same game, at the same time, in the same server, on the same screen, but were still not really playing together.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          Good points. I too found the combat in Torchlight 2 to be a little more clicky-festy chaotic than what I normally enjoy, but I still prefer it over PoE’s systematic pacing.

          I’m playing Diablo III right now, and oddly enough I find the combat in that game to be about perfect for my taste. Not quite as satisfying as D2 or Sacred 2, but pretty damn close.

        • Baines says:

          Torchlight 2 had some rather poor design decisions. Doesn’t make PoE interesting, it just means T2 was less interesting than T1 despite looking like it offered more.

          • Prolepsis says:

            Which is why I called it an “illustration” and not “evidence.” I used it to show why I find faster paced ARPG’s less interesting. I did not use it to demand that others see things the same way. Me, myself, I, subjectively find PoE’s combat to be more fulfilling because it is slower and more deliberate. Subjectivity is a jewel, you should check it out some time.

  7. Einhaender says:

    Adam Smith on ARPGs.

    Whenever I read your articles about them I get the impression that you’re desperately chasing a version of yourself that used to enjoy these games back in the day.

    I mean you’re clearly jumping at pretty much every ARPG out there but each and everytime you fall back to the “new” you that simply grew out of the genre. Just look at the articles about D3 or that other game – something with “marsh” in the title maybe? I don’t know I can’t remember the name but the article was about them getting another act done or something.
    But that article, if I’m not mistaken showed the same amount of hope that other articles about the genre had in them before you played them.
    But everytime I read one of your articles about games of the genre I get the feeling that it isn’t the games that fail to deliver new content or systems to keep things interesting but rather a guy who used to love those games and can’t get over the fact that he doesn’t enjoy them anymore.

    You have to let go man. Let it slide into the ocean….just like Winslet did in Titanic.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Never let go!

      (I think you’re at least partially right)

      • Moraven says:

        Let it go, let it go
        Can’t hold it back anymore
        Let it go, let it go
        Turn away and slam the door

    • dudleyisasillyname says:

      Lol, that sounds like me, I played a ton of Diablo 2 back in the day but grew out of it, but I still bought Diablo 3 (and hated it). I tried PoE while it was in beta but couldn’t get into it. Then I bought Torchlight 2 for cheap during a Steam sale, but stopped playing that as well. I guess ARPGs just aren’t my thing anymore.

    • mouton says:

      While there might be an issue with Adam getting olderexperienced, I believe the genre itself is not that appealing by itself. The ARPG formula is very simple – for many people it was fun once or twice but at some point it is possible to get tired of clickclickclicklootlootloot and it seems Adam is wearing thin on the edges in this respect. Of course, some people seem to enjoy them endlessly, so what do I know.

      • UncleLou says:

        I seem to be the opposite. The older I get, the less interested I am in anything where I can’t just turn my brain off and collect new gear. My time spent with PoE, D3 and Torchlight 2 in the last 1-2 years is exponentially higher than the time spent with games in any other genre with the exception of the Souls games. Which are also about collecting new gear, admittedly. :p

  8. Philomelle says:

    As beautiful and elegant in its complexity as the gameplay is, what made me stick with Path of Exile in the end was its world, characters and plot.

    It’s basically Diablo meets Dark Souls, but boy is it beautifully executed.

    • Nenjin says:

      And what’s kept me away are the desyncs.

      I’ve probably put 200 hours into PoE since early beta. Have a Merciless Scion at 65 or so.

      But when death at that difficulty starts costing you experience, you start to notice every single instance of desync that contributes to it. And that’s pretty much every fight worth mentioning. Trying to use terrain against the AI just results in more desyncs. So when really hard fights come up in Merciless, you can a) do the fight meticulously for 20 minutes, and probably die due to a desync eventually or b) just face tank him and eat the deaths as the cost of doing business.

      If PoE solved their desyncs (something defenders of the game will say is completely unavoidable and happens in every APRG bar none all the time), I’d be playing a lot more. But right about the time the difficulty spikes is when the desyncs become the most intolerable.

  9. TehK says:

    Apart from being a genuinely well crafted ARPG with a very, VERY fair business model, I just love how all the slight system changes come together: The gems, the currency system, the passive tree… it’s amazing. I really like those changes on their own, but it took a while to figure out that everything is really connected.

    For example…
    I had a certain piece of armor and found a better one. But that new piece didn’t have the same sockets, so I really had to think about that choice. This isn’t something I had experienced in Diablo (haven’t played D3) or Torchlight before.

    And this is the basic example… Now think of the socket-links that are used for support gems, think of the leveling of the gems and the fact that you might lose a certain stat requirement when you equip a new item and think of how you have to use the “currencies” to “craft” your own equipment and you will start to see how intricate the whole system is.

    I got in there with no expectation and it was just a huge, very pleasant surprise.

  10. defunct says:

    I only have 53 hours into the game at this point, but I’ve enjoyed it. I only made it through the first difficulty level, and it was quite hard enough for me. I couldn’t finish the last boss fight without joining a group to help me beat him, because I kept dying. I was playing a witch. I’ll try to bring my archer through it next.

    Build in this game isn’t important. It’s critical. You mess it up, and you’re in trouble. Better just restart, too, because there’s no way to easily respec. You can remove a few points with items you find, but you can’t reset the tree, unless you wait for a major version release that respecs your tree for free. Although, build also includes gear, and gems, too. Gems determine skills you can use and they can vary. It’s all very complicated, and even the sites dedicated to builds for this game are all over the place with decisions, because there are so many to make.

    Unfortunately, I chose some of the harder classes to start with. Apparently, one of the melee classes (I forget which one) was the one to go with because of health regen and overall survivability. But for me, the game was about discovery, too. I learned a bit about how the game is played, and it’s nothing like Diablo ever was. Or Torch. I liked both games, but this is another animal, where you can’t just go mindless into it, hacking and slashing and looting.

  11. pepperfez says:

    I’d happily have paid for the game as it stands if there’d been an offline mode.
    Me too! Not that I begrudge them running a non-abusive free online game, but were it up to me I’d pick playing offline and paying in advance.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      I might consider playing it if it had a price tag.

      I refuse to play F2P games because I don’t want to encourage that business model. Ain’t nothing free. All it means is that the cost is hidden. And whether you pay or not, you are contributing to the transference of those hidden costs to teenagers with the password to their parents PayPal account.

      On principle, I won’t play F2P.

      • Premium User Badge

        golem09 says:

        This is free to play, yes, but considering how little point there is in buying ANYTHING, I’d rather say it’s pay what you want. That’s how I treated it. I gave them 10$ for the effort. Then I played and decided to stock that up to 100$.
        You’re welcome to play PoE for 50 hours, I paid for you, gladly.

        I bet PoE makes more money with big supporters than it does with the usual F2P 1-3$ crowd you know from other games. There were about 250 supporters that paid 1000$, because they could afford it, and because they cared. That how they make their money. Not because they offers stuff players desperately need.

        • pepperfez says:

          The reliance on ludicrously high-spending “whales” in F2P games is actually one of their more ethically troublesome qualities to me. Not to accuse PoE of it, but a lot of F2P is designed just like video poker to identify the vulnerable and suck them dry.
          Not every one, obviously, and anyway my issue isn’t that. I just don’t enjoy having to make purchasing decisions while I’m playing a game – that’s just the sort of thing I’m playing to get away from.

      • bwion says:

        Your principles are your principles, but this is probably the least exploitative F2P game I have ever seen. To the point that, like Adam, I’m honestly not sure how they’re making money at all. (Aside from, as above, people who drop money on it specifically because they like the game that much.)

      • dudleyisasillyname says:

        I totally get where you are coming from, but there are different F2P models, some more exploitative then others. I think it is a little unfair of you to generalize like that, do you also not buy anything when it’s on sale? I mean, I don’t like how big business like Apple are able to use loopholes to avoid paying US taxes but that doesn’t stop me from buying from them. Not all F2P games are created equal, some are really good and some are bad, but it’s your decision if you want to punish the good F2P games for the actions of the exploitive business model F2Ps.
        Here is what I mean by good and bad F2Ps. In my mind there are 3 main types of F2P business models of varying degrees of evil. The most evil are games that make you pay money to progress in the game, like Candy Crush, or games like Blacklight: Retribution which will take away the items you’ve unlocked unless you keep playing but still gives you the ability to permanently buy items. The 2nd type are the pay to win games that give players 2 options to unlock equipment, a lot of time spent grinding or spending real money. The third are games like PoE or Team Fortress 2 which are mostly cosmetic based micro-transactions.
        Sorry that was kinda long but I just can’t stand people who say things like they wont play a F2P game because they don’t agree with the business model that a few (not all) F2P games use.

      • drinniol says:

        Sheesh dude, just realise in the old days it would be called Shareware and get over it.

        • pepperfez says:

          That’s…the opposite of this? Shareware still had a one-time price to own the game.

  12. jasonisme84 says:

    I’d love to spend more time with this game, if it weren’t for the always online. I don’t mind that if I don’t notice it, but the constant desyncs between computer and server are a nightmare, especially if you decide to try a build which involves rapid movement. This got particularly annoying in higher difficulty setting when you get quite large XP penalties when you die. Getting killed by a pack of monsters in another room because your computer and the server disagree on whether you walked through the door or not is beyond frustrating.

    • bwion says:

      Yeah, the desync problem is (or was last time I played, which was admittedly a while ago) the game’s biggest flaw, though it’s one that the developers clearly want to fix as much as the players want it fixed.

      • Nenjin says:

        It’s still a thing.

        And afaik, the developers have done everything they can at this point and are now just trying to get people to understand why PoE has these problems. I’ve seen a lot of fans defending the desyncs as just normal for any game, but PoE seems to delight in sticking it to you at the exact moment it would hurt you worst.

  13. DatonKallandor says:

    Yeah I would pay full price for a Path of Exile that was offline, adjusted the drop rates to make sense for a singleplayer game. As it stands the inevitable choppyness of always-online plus the drop rates (especially for skills and literally game changing uniques) just make it too much of a chore to play. That and the backwardsness of “no respecs, if you want to change a skill point decision make a whole new character”, which the genre has rightfully grown out of a decade ago.

    • dudleyisasillyname says:

      I completely agree with you. I played this game for awhile in beta and really enjoyed it, but I stopped playing after I got my character to the next difficulty level and discovered that it sucked. I was really bummed because it had taken me sooo long to get through the first difficulty due to the slow drop rates, the need to find items with the correct slot combo, and mostly the fact that I could only play 1/2 – 1 hour each night. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great game but It can be frustrating for someone to spend several weeks playing a character only to discover that your build wont work and you have to start all over again.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        PoE is designed around the really hardcore diablo 2 crowd who have tons of time to spend playing.

        It’s part of the devs’ philosophy and it won’t ever change. If you hate limited respecs you may as well not bother. They want you to be rolling new characters as it keeps you in the game longer (and therefore tempts you to pay money.)

  14. sharkh20 says:

    Just want to point out that this game has some of the nicest developers I have ever seen. They listen, reply, engage in normal forum conversation with the fan-base. While giving them money isn’t required, I find that I want to just because of how they treat their players.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Faldrath says:

    Thanks for the review, Adam. I love PoE (even though I’m currently on a RoS break), it has tons of good ideas that are mostly mentioned in the review and the comments, and it’s an impressive achievement for a small studio that does F2P right. I’m glad the game has been successful.

    That being said, it doesn’t avoid the endgame pitfall – after a certain point, finding upgrades through playing the game is much, much harder than just trading for them, and that’s something I don’t like at all. Thankfully PoE is one of the few ARPGs out there where rerolling is always an interesting option (because of the diversity of possible playstyles and the way the currency system works), so at least there’s that.

  16. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    I spent nearly as much money supporting this game as I did on the entirety of my 500+ game Steam library, at over $2k. I now plan to support it annually with $~200-300/year. I view it as a long term patronage opportunity — the game is a flawed masterpiece, but the flaws are being smoothed out at one by one, and Grinding Gear Games have their heart in the right place.

    And even with its flaws it’s really become the king of the genre for me. The core systems, the layered interactions and the consistency of its ruleset is just too beautiful. I support it so that the team does what they need to to keep the crown on PoE’s head.

  17. Corodix says:

    I’ve player it for several hundred hours, since closed beta. Unfortunately the game still suffers from some very annoying desync issues, which can get you killed quite easily. Crafting is also a bit too slot machine’ish for my taste, it’s often cheaper to buy an item from another player than to try to craft it yourself. Trading is seriously overpowered/unbalanced in PoE and that’s a real shame.

    Overall I’ve enjoyed my time in PoE, but since closed beta I’ve never managed to get to the end game. The third and final difficulty level is where I drop out every season. Not because my characters are too weak, last few could have easily completed it, but because loot wise it was so unrewarding every time and gaining new levels becomes very slow at that point. It just didn’t feel rewarding at all anymore around level ~60. It’s not uncommon to still be walking around with level 30-40 equipment at that point because you haven’t found anything better for that slot since. The socket and link system with equipment doesn’t help there either, as the currency which is used to link sockets is reasonably rare and often fails to get you a 4+ link. Due to that, even if the item has better stats, if it doesn’t have sufficient sockets/links then it’s just not usable and you will need to keep using the lower level stuff…

    Overall I think it’s a really interesting game, but it also has some serious issues (desync being a really annoying technical issue which they can’t fix) and some aspects, like the links between sockets, are just too customizable. I think the progression would be greatly improved by removing the currency used to link up sockets and just let sockets come fully linked up by default.

    I also miss spears as a weapon type, but that’s just personal taste as spears and polearms are some of my favorite weapons.

  18. Minsc_N_Boo says:

    I am so pleased PoE has finally gotten the “Wot I think” treatment. I have been playing regularly since the end of closed beta (Nov’12), and I still feel like i have just scratched the surface of the game.

    It may not be as shiny as Diablo 3, but this game makes up for it in terms character progression. The passive skill tree is a bit daunting at first, but once you start to allocate a few skill points it will all fall into place. It allows you to tailor a character around a certain skill, or unique item. There are regular updates with new skills and weapons, and some of them change the balance of the game completely.

    I could ramble on for hours about how awesome it is, but you are better off trying it for yourself. It can be very slow to start, and unless you follow a guide your first character will suck. Stick with it though! Once you have the right gear and right skills working together the game comes alive.

    It is not perfect – desync can be an issue, especially for hardcore characters. The difficulty can spike in places, mainly in the harder difficulty settings, and gearing your charcter is not always easy without venturing into the trading side of the game.

    Overall though I think this is the best ARPG on the market. I have clocked up over 300 hours since the Steam launch, and there are still games I bought in the xmas sale that have not gotten a look in because of PoE

    If anyone wants to add me to their friends list to show them the ropes my in game name is currently “PewDiddly” :-)

    • eroticfishcake says:

      As someone who’s literally played hundreds of hours but never gotten to the end-game I need to know how on earth people are managing to get past the later part of Act 3 on Merciless without being murdered so easily. Even with 75% I can’t seem to avoid them deaths. Desync certainly doesn’t help…

      Also how do people even put a price on items? I like the object based economy but it does make it tricky to gauge an item’s worth. There’s so much meta gaming it’s hard to really know how to play well.

  19. Cytrom says:

    This is such a smartly built game, and you can create an infinite number of absolutely wonderful and powerful characters in it like in not other game of its genre before or since… but after a while, playing it just felt like work, rather than fun.

    Constantly trying to get to the point where my character actually works like how I planned it, and when it does, thats wonderful, but then the game becomes harder and harder, and i had to focus all my energy on just tweaking my character for pure survival, and all my original goals for my characters slowly faded away, and turning into something else. it just sucked the fun out of it all.

    You really have to perfectly design your character even before you start playing, for the long term, because otherwise its just a matter of time before it becomes apparent that your whole character is a total failure for certain difficulty levels. (not to mention that many builds are entirely gear dependant… which means a lot of work)

    Its a great game, but it takes a really dedicated player to truly enjoy it. Preferably with lots of free time.

  20. Artificial says:

    F2P ARPG’s just don’t work for me. I mainly enjoy ARPG’s because of the loot and trying to get my character to look as bad ass as possible. When you can just go and buy cosmetic items it sort of just takes the fun out of it for me.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Add to the fact that most of the dropped “free” loot is in the game’s drab art style for atmosphere reasons. There’s very few non-pay items that also have interesting looks.

  21. Neurotic says:

    Yes, the too-close camera is a bit of a bugger, I have to say. But the rest of it is aces.

  22. Hunchback says:

    There’s an RPS guild, in which it’s only me and my wife playing the last couple of months…

    Would be nice if some active peopled joined us, to run stuff…

  23. Premium User Badge

    Martel says:

    This was a fun game, but it’s designed around playing 4-8 hours a day.

  24. MkMax says:

    its that game with the D word, it is more D than D3 will ever be both in style and mechanics
    i loved it for that, i got more than a hundred hours out of it without dropping a cent, i couldnt ask for more

    that said, im not a huge fan of the passive system, the way it works makes it kind of underwhelming, every point takes you 5-10% higher in something or gives you a +0.1 in some other thing, with some exceptions they are all incremental and pretty irrelevant on their own, you have to spend a lot of points raising something to actually feel the change and even when you finally achieve your goal and get one of the big abilities on the sides of the tree, they are not that awesome, although i do appreciate that many of them change the way you play, they are not as extreme as the game seems to think they are

    the freedom given by the skills system is something i like a lot but it has 2 huge drawbacks, they are too random, you cant count on getting a particular one (other than the ones given by quests which might take too long to get) so you cant plan ahead and getting a weapon to put them into can be extremely hard after 4 gems, the game intends on you to use currency items to “craft them” but they also work too randomly so you cant plan with those either

    its weird that out of all the reviews ive seen about poe nobody goes into detail about the paid items, here is my experience with it :

    after dropping about 80 hours into the game i thought “well i know i have a lot of storage space but i might as well buy more instead of selling items, they earned it” after looking up about it i discovered not only that buying a bunch of storage is ridiculously expensive (about the price of a full game, nothing out of that is *micro*) but that you also need to buy “currency” that you cant fully spend, always leaving you with “left overs”

  25. Yglorba says:

    It’s basically Final Fantasy 7′s materia system fused to Final Fantasy 10′s sphere grid system.

    Why are people having so much trouble describing it? That’s all you have to say.

    • pepperfez says:

      This is PC Master Race gaming, heretic. Expect a visit from the Inquisition.

      (They’ll be in a black and white VW)