First steps on the Path of Exile

After some experimentation, Kateri and I have discovered that Diablo-esque games seem to suit us really well for playing together. We’re having a lot of fun with Torchlight 2 at the moment, and I’ve been a long-standing fan of Diablo III since it was released.

With that in mind, last night I installed Path of Exile and took it for a spin. My first impressions are very positive, especially for a Free to Play title that seems to get micro transactions right.

Grim. Grim and dark and brooding

It’s much more reminiscent of the first two Diablo games than D3, in that it’s very, very grim, and very, very dark, with a totally muted brown/grey palette and even a skull here and there decorating the UI. That’s okay, but it might get dull if the entire game stays this monochromatic. When you’re in underground caverns or dungeons, it’s actually dark. Or maybe my gamma settings just need a bump.

I really like the skill gem system that lets you slot your abilities into your equipment and then augment them further by placing support gems in connected slots. Your equipped gems then level up as you earn XP. It’s all a bit reminiscent of the materia system of Final Fantasy VII. Also very appealing is the fact that skill gems, gear, and passive skills are not aligned specifically with any of the classes; there’s a huge amount of leeway to build unusual or hybrid characters if you’re willing to put in the effort exploring the vast passive skill tree.

Arise, my minions!

Brutus, the Lord Incarcerator, who by all accounts is not a very nice man.

I created a Witch for my first character — and here’s a rare gripe: all of the classes are gender-specific, so no male witches or female marauders. Several happy hours later, I stopped playing after defeating Brutus, the Lord Incarcerator, which seemed like a decent break point. When given the choice, I specialised in necromantic minions and fire, so I now have a standard fantasy trope fireball, the ability to raise up to four zombies, and a really fun spell that rapidly summons a group of floating, flaming skulls that chase down enemies and bite them. As my quest reward for slaying Brutus, I took a further gem that lets me summon skeletons, so I’m well on my way towards an undead army.

Likewise, I threaded my way through the passive skill tree to pick out some bonuses to the number of zombies I could control, as well as their health and damage. My play style now is to stay at the back of my pack of four zombies, raising another should one fall, and create a never-ending stream of flaming skulls to chew through my enemies. If there’s a specific monster that needs to die quickly, then I’ll lob some fireballs from behind my fleshy guards. It seems to be working very well so far, so I’m going to continue hunting through the skill tree for bonuses to minions, and then go for fire elemental damage.

Path of Exile shares it’s passive skill tree (which has 1,325 nodes!) between all of it’s character classes, which makes it incredibly flexible. Sure, there’ll be community-recommended “best” builds, but where’s the fun in that?

The faint sound of cash registers in the distance

Before I logged out for the night I took a quick look through the micro-transactions on offer in the cash shop. The game specifically refers to them as “micro” but — well, that’s got to be measured relative to your income, right? Overall though, I was pretty pleased. There are only a handful of account-based improvements, all of them increases to your item stash size, and the rest are purely cosmetic. There’s weapon and armour skins, plus various glowing cosmetic effects you can apply to your character, and even reskins of abilities. If I do end up playing Path of Exile for any length of time, I can see myself dropping some money on some of it, but I was really pleased to see this really is a Play for Free game that you can actually Play for Free without being nickel-and-dimed every session in order to make any progress.

We’re still not done with Torchlight 2 yet — there’s a chunk of storyline left to go, and then we might hang about for some addition endgame grind with the random maps system — but I’d like to get to Path of Exile eventually. It’s definitely got a deeper skill and character building system than Torchlight, which means there’s way more scope for re-playing. I noticed during character creation there are timed ladders and challenges, which further expands its lifetime. One of the frequent complaints I see on the T2 forums is the lack of a true endgame, but the developers already have your money, so perhaps they (rightly?) feel their time is better spent elsewhere. Path of Exile being micro transaction based means the developers have a vested interest in keeping you around so they can tempt you into spending some more money.

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