Hands-On: Path of Exile
Hands-On: Path of Exile

And so the republic of hack and slash role playing gamers was plunged into despair and chaos as the evil galactic Blizzard empire announced possibly another year of development for Diablo 3. A game which we all thought was so close to completion.

ETA’s of April and March 2012 were being flung around carelessly by local online retailers such as Kalahari. I myself had already pre-ordered my collectors edition off Kalahari. But alas it was not meant to be. All hope was lost… Or was it? In what seems to be our darkest hour (or year), a challenger has appeared!

Path of Exile might arguably have the potential to overshadow the stalled ship of Diablo 3. Currently in closed beta this free to play Hack and Slash RPG being developed by Grinding Gear Games seems to hold true to all we know and love. I’ve been quite privileged to be part of the game’s closed beta recently and I’d like to tell you all about it.

Path of Exile is what Diablo 2 fans have been dreaming about for years: a dark gritty hack and slash with amazing character development opportunities that was not developed in the 20th century. The first thing that really got my mouth salivating as a recovering Diablo 2 addict was the absolutely massive passive skill tree. Unfortunately a recent update has limited the ability to zoom out all the way on the skill tree so the best picture I can give you for this is a quick photo I took with my phone when I initially started in the beta Test.

Path of Exile

Now before you get completely overwhelmed by this picture I must point out that each of those nodes can only be chosen once unlike in Diablo where a skill could level to 20. Also this passive tree is rather interestingly shared by all the characters, with each character merely starting at a different point in the tree. This lends itself to endless possibilities in paths taken on the skill tree (or more formally skill graph) with the freedom to do any kinky hipster build or cookie cutter build that your heart so desires. You gain 1 passive skill point per level as one is used to in Diablo 2. Some of these passives increase your core attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intellegence) and some of them increase other misc attributes. Of course a select few of them are what are known as keystone abilities which will completely polarize your character towards a particular style of play or build.

But what about active skills you may be asking? Well, dear reader, this is where things get even more crazy. All your active skills are acquired through skill gems. A few rarer skill gems are found but most of the stock skills that you’ll require are available to you rather easily through quest rewards. These gems are usable in item sockets of the correct colour on your items (Don’t worry you can socket and unsocket gems without any penalty whatsoever). The gems also level up when equipped while you’re gaining experience (although they won’t level if you lack the attribute requirement of the gem). Here is the really fun part though: it’s possible to link support gems with active gems to create synergies for a particular skill. For example, I have a cold spell that has an area of effect. This area of effect can be increased by socketing an increased area of effect gem into a socket that is linked with this gems socket.


The game play itself is exactly what you’d expect from the genre: a great fixed camera angle view, decent graphics for it’s detailed terrain with a variety of monsters spanning, for the moment, two acts. The game is particularly dark lighting wise, sometimes too dark for my liking. I’ve suggested a gamma slider on the forums and I’m almost sure the final game will probably have one.

One particularly unique aspect of the game is it’s game currency. There is no gold. Profound I know, but basically monsters drop orbs, items and scrolls (portal or identification). Scrolls are your bread and butter for item identification and easy transportation to and from town and are fairly common. However since there’s no gold to use to buy them you just have to pick them all up as you go since you really will need them at some point. Orbs are used to perform various upgrades on items. There are orbs to do almost anything to an item. I would list them all here but you can quite easily read about them on the Path of Exile site. Anyway orbs are used to buy items from vendors and items generally sell to vendors for pieces of orbs or a full orb if it’s a goodie. Also since all the orbs serve some sort of useful purchase they translate into a perfect currency for inter player trading (just like runes in Diablo 2).

There are currently five playable characters with a sixth character scheduled for release soon hopefully. Three of the characters specialize in pure Strength Dexterity or Intelligence, with the other three Characters being a hybrid of two of each these attributes.

Those of you who play the closed beta will unsurprisingly find it a bit rough around the edges. For example the story isn’t very well developed at the moment (or maybe it is and I’m too lazy to read what the NPC’s are saying) and the voice acting has yet to be done. There are also one or two nagging usability issues such as not being able to use identification scrolls in the sell screen etc. Nothing particularly major and nothing that I’m sure won’t be fixed during open beta or even before open beta. The game is also currently missing an act two boss and another two acts. Personally I can’t wait until they add in this extra content.

From my experience in the beta it seems the development team are really dedicated to the community and are player orientated with their primary focus being to create the most enjoyable and balanced RPG experience possible. The moneterisation of the game seems almost to be an after thought to cover their costs since their plan is to make the game completely free to play with payable features not affecting the game mechanics or fairness at all. These payable features will most likely include aesthetic virtual goods, extra stash space and private leagues with special game mods.

If you’re a Diablo 2 or Titan Quest fan, or you were planning on purchasing Diablo 3 then this game is definitely for you. Hell it’s going to be free to play so I think you should definitely give it a go. If you enjoy it then you should definitely purchase some in game content to show your support and gratitude to the developers for making an authentic and honest hack and slash gaming experience that Diablo made us fall in love with.

Sign up for the beta on the Path of Exile site.


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