There's no reason in the world that anyone reading this would know how much I love dual wielding but let it be known that I've just finished eating a bowl of cereal, a spoon in each hand, and immediately afterwards I gripped brushes akimbo as I cleansed my mouth-rocks. Last night was mostly about dual wielding as well, as I prepared myself to share some details about Path of Exile's
soon-to-be just-this-moment revealed sixth class, the Shadow. With the instrument-laden, blood-stained appearance of a man keen on the unanaesthetised study of other fellows' entrails, he's often seen surrounded by maiming traps, a metal claw on each hand, although more often he isn't seen at all.
I've been planning to revisit Path of Exile for a while now and it's usually the sneaky, sinister, sorry excuse for a hero that I hold out for. It's either that or, being a contrary sort, the holiest of warriors. I either want to smite evil for all the right reasons or be just a little bit evil myself, but acrobatic and stealthy enough to avoid any of that smiting if it happens to be coming my way.
In keeping with Path of Exile's gruesome and unpleasant world, the Shadow does seem like Quite the Cad. Here's the official word:
Lurking in the darkness, the malevolent Shadow silently stalks his prey with dagger readied. Grinning with anticipation, he follows his target towards the deadly traps he has planted in advance. Already, his subtle spells work their dark magics, heightening his senses and dulling his targets. The trap springs, and his surprised, mutilated victim barely has time to utter a final, desperate gasp before the blade punctures his lungs, stealing away both breath and life.
This isn't the hood-wearing assassin of somewhat noble intent, this is a butcher and purveyor of pain who, in his most naked state, could be mistaken for a sadistic surgeon, bristling with cutting and sawing implements, or a butcher, a torturer. He kills more for the pride of a perfect execution and the thrill of bringing about elaborate endings than for money.
That pride has become a sort of arrogance, leading a client to suspect the Shadow may brag about his latest arterial assaulting accomplishments. That's how he finds himself bundled on a ship and destined for the horrorshow that is Path of Exile's grim, undeadly setting of Wraeclast.
All well and good, I shall pretend I hear a chorus of voices crying, but what's it like to be the murderous blighter?
You've asked quite a difficult question there, a chorus of imaginary voices, but I'll try to answer as best I can. Given the mighty galaxy of skills open to Path of Exile's characters, your Shadow won't play like Harold Tuppence's Shadow and Tuppence's might have very little in common with mine.
I'll be trying to build a creation of poisonous, two-fisted stabbing, dropping a trail of traps as he retreats, light-footed and armoured, and then returns to put the finishing touches to the ruined remnants of those foolish enough to pursue. This being an ARPG, everyone is foolish enough to pursue so I think he'll fit right in. So far I've been collecting claws and daggers, and then slotting in gems that allow me to slash and stab simultaneously, while also magically burning flesh into bacon. It's as efficient a method of slaughter as you might imagine.
The traps aren't working out quite so well as the stabbing yet, which is slightly problematic because he's a rather flimsy individual. With previous more brutish classes, I've spent a good five minutes musing over skill point expenditure before noticing that a couple of cannibals have been chewing on me the whole time. Not a problem for those manly men. The Shadow is pale, slim and heavily into Depeche Mode though. He lacks muscle.
Even if lobbing them into a packed room wasn't reward enough, traps seem a decent investment to protect that slender frame and they are effective, but there's so much variety in the way they're constructed that I'm experimenting rather than settling on efficiency. Any spell can be converted into a trap, with varying sorts of trigger available. I've mostly been chucking mines around the place, although that relies on more accurate monster-herding than I seem capable of at times. Maybe I'll steer away from the trap skills and concentrate on agility and the purer joy of stabbity stabbity.
The way skills work in Path of Exile isn't quite as simple as choosing a class and working your way up a tree though. Start as a Shadow and it's entirely possible to work your way across the web of possibilities to the preferred skills of the more hulking Marauder, or concentrate on sorcery rather than sadism. Here are three examples of Shadow builds, mostly shared in order that we can all stare goggle-eyed at the starry sky of possibilities.
If you haven't played the game, that may look incredibly confusing. What it shows is a character based around speed. He'll be fragile but later in his career of clawing and gouging, Soul Raker abilities will allow him to leech life from his enemies as he tears them apart, which should counterbalance his physical vulnerabilities. Let's look at another.
That would be a Shadow more in tune with the arcane arts. He favours spells that freeze his enemies because then he can shatter them into millions of pieces and that's the kind of thing he loves to do. Skills like Pain Attunement increase the power of his spells when he's low on life, proving there's a little M with the S.
The final example is the trap build. Speedy as Usain Bolt, dodgy as a two pound note and trappy as a trap build, this is the most bastardly of the lot. More than discussion of the specifics of the builds though, this is just another excuse to look at the many possible trails and constellations in that gigantic set of skills. It's still bewildering.
As there are all sorts of exciting hacky, slashy, looty events occurring in the near future, it seems only right that I continue with my Shadow character and return in a week or so with an updated report on the state of the game. I'm particularly interested in seeing how much difference a class makes in a game of so many skills, but there's more to see. From the trade system to the grim atmospherics and cleverly complex gem manipulation it should be an interesting journey and, really, where else would I be going anyway?
The Shadow will be unlocked to those in the beta on Friday, at which point there will also be another public weekend.