On first finding out about Path of Exile
, my initial reaction was, "Why the hell haven't I heard of this game before?" The game's already in closed beta, and screenshots on the official website show off the graphical quality we'd expect from polished AAA titles. When I got into the game, I found the same gorgeous scenes enhanced with atmospheric effects like lightning strikes and rain. Although our livestream stuttered and skipped at times, the game was smooth and extremely pretty when I wasn't streaming. PoE
's art style is dark and gritty, but I found the lack of contrast did make characters blend in a bit with the background and with monsters.
It's likely that Grinding Gear was aiming for the dark and dirty style of the Diablo
series, from which it seems to draw much of its inspiration. If this is the case, we have to remember that Diablo
's graphics had a huge contrast range, made good use of bright colour shades, and seemed to always make player characters pop out of the background. Where the graphics in PoE
really stand out is in the sharp shadows and beautiful lighting effects. The viewable area on the screen is quite small, but this may be required to let the game play on anything but high-end machines.Gameplay
Although we only got to play through the first area of the game and test out a few skills, that was enough play time to see that Path of Exile
's gameplay is strongly inspired by the Diablo
series. Where it differentiates itself is in the skill system and how players group together to play. Skills are itemised as gems set into sockets in gear, with intelligence-based skills going into blue sockets, agility-based skills filling green sockets, and strength-based skills fitting into red sockets. Every piece of gear seems to have a socket, and the skill gems level up as you gain XP. It's a very free-form system, and I grew to like it when I got my second skill gem and was able to raise zombies. Items with blue sockets seemed to be itemised better for spellcasters, though that may have been a coincidence.
As an old-school Diablo II
addict, I found Path of Exile
really did scratch many of the same itches that Diablo II
did. The instinct to scramble for items when you hear a ring drop, the OCD indulgence of playing inventory Tetris, and the never-ending quest for slightly better gear are all things Diablo
players are familiar with, and they're all in Path of Exile
. Players still group together in Path of Exile
, but they do so through Guild Wars-
style communal towns rather than just a game lobby. This further blurs the line between hack-and-slash action RPGs and standard MMOs. If Guild Wars
is an MMO with its district system and heavy instancing, is Path of Exile
an MMO with the exact same system in place?Final thoughts
Grinding Gear Games clearly used Diablo
as its model when developing Path of Exile
, and it's a decision that might just pay off. Basic gameplay will feel intuitive to any fan of the genre, allowing developers to test out new gameplay ideas like the skill gem system without alienating its core audience. Things like the health and mana flasks that charge up as you kill monsters are clever iterations on the classic action RPG model. Path of Exile
is currently in the closed beta stages, putting its potential release window dangerously close to Diablo III
's predicted due date. PoE
will be free-to-play on release, however, and is definitely worth playing on its own merit.
I have a mixed opinion on the game's visuals. They look very polished, and I'm sure that a lot of people are really into the gritty Diablo I
style artwork, but I'm not a big fan of nearly monochrome gaming. I think that gameplay elements don't differentiate themselves enough from each other in Path of Exile
. It's hard to see things moving when they're the same shade as the background, which I find sort of annoying. If you compare it to Diablo II
or what we've seen of Diablo III
, foreground elements stand out in those games and are easy to differentiate from each other. That's not really true of Path of Exile
, and I personally dislike it. However, there is a lot to be said for taste; some people will really enjoy the gritty visuals, which are lavishly detailed. They're just not for me.
Another thing that bothered me is the lack of character customization. Although Diablo
-esque games mostly focus on customization through gear, I noticed that a lot of higher-level players looked remarkably similar to lower-level ones. In other games where gear is the primary source of visual customization, high-level gear looks more epic and dramatic than lower-level gear. In PoE
I couldn't tell the difference between myself and a level 50 except by mousing over. I'm not sure whether this is a long-term issue, though, and I suspect that more cosmetically interesting equipment will be produced as the game moves closer to launch.Gameplay
My real criticisms are gameplay-related. This might come as a shock because the game is really cool and has a lot of unique abilities, but my problem comes with the lack of class diversity. It's hard to tell what the difference is between the classes other than starting stats. Any class can use any gem, so you can make a Witch with bow skills or a Marauder with magic as long as you have the gems in your storage. The passive skill tree is also identical for all characters, so you can easily make a Templar with dagger mastery and run around stabbing stuff. While this is cool for making characters flexible and versatile, it also makes them feel homogeneous. The passive skill tree system is being changed in patch 0.9.3 to give each class more identity, so this is unlikely to be a problem at launch.
is a grab bag; it's going to appeal to some people more than others, and I'm not sure that I'm the target audience. It has a really, really elaborate skill system with a lot of complexity that I barely had time to explore. I also don't think a first impression is particularly fair because it doesn't cover the layers of gem combos and such that make the high-level game interesting. The game may also be lacking a bit in its new-user experience, though, and that might color my first impressions.Final thoughts Path of Exile
is a worthy Diablo
successor with a lot of depth. Grinding Gears really took the existing Diablo
formula and tweaked it in many ways to make it more interesting, but does it match up to the hype? I'm not really sure. A first impression doesn't really do a game like Diablo
justice, and Path of Exile
is no different. Nobody judges Diablo
on Act 1, so it might be unfair to do so for PoE
, especially when it's still in closed beta. If you're looking for a good game that really hearkens back to the old Diablo
is probably for you. I am not so sure it is the same for me, however.Join us every Monday for Not So Massively, our roundup of the top news from popular online games that aren't quite MMOs. If you think there's a game we should be covering in Not So Massively or you've found some interesting news you think deserves attention in the next roundup, please mail the details to firstname.lastname@example.org.