The reality is usually somewhere in the middle of these extremes, but extremes are fun. So let's examine the top 10 things we love and hate about Path of Exile.
The good: Potions
Every Path of Exile character gets a belt where she can store potions. No big deal, right? The impressive bit here is the implementation. Empty flasks of varying sizes and for varying purposes (like health or speed) drop from mobs and serve as quest rewards throughout the game. Just equip the flasks, stab monsters in the face, and watch your potions refill as you go. No extra drops. No stacks taking up space in your bag. It's old-school, it's slick, and if you imagine that you're filling your vials with your enemies' essence and/or blood, it's FDA-certified organic.
The bad: Inventory
Unfortunately, the inventory system hasn't improved since the days of Diablo II. You'll find yourself tediously fussing with your Tetris-like inventory and stash, trying to jam in one more copper sword to take back to the merchant without the benefit of an industry-standard "sort all" button. Oh, and don't think you're going to get modern conveniences like "right-click selling" at the merchant. Expect to play the inventory minigame while selling off your junk, too. (A reader's told me that there's a quick way to sell, so instead, I'll grump about its not being telegraphed intuitively.)
What was the last game you played that didn't have a basic currency? As an economy junkie, I didn't think it would work in a dungeon-romper like Path of Exile, but it's a surprisingly fluid system. Instead of exchanging items for money, players trade for goods with enhancements and scrolls, even from NPCs. Sure, it's a little weird to be trading scrolls of wisdom (identification clickies) for weapons, but at least the game's avoiding a formal RMT market. Still, I'm coining "scrollcreep" and "scrollflation" to be safe.
The bad: Chat
Sadly, bartering with other people means you'll have to look at the chat window, which just might turn you blind. Let's just say that you're probably going to want to turn off general chat until the shine wears off the game and no one's left but embittered veterans too weary to call each other "scrub" or lie to unsuspecting newbies. I'm fairly certain Cokaroach will outlive us all.
And this is not even a joke with a punchline lying in wait at the end. The cash shop is truly one of the least offensive I've ever toured, owing at least in part to the limited nature of the game, but hey, props to GGG anyway. Stash tabs are pretty cheap, and there's a ridiculous number of cosmetics -- like pets, animations, and special effects -- to buy, plus a luxury $1000 option to commission a custom weapon designed just for you. It's absolutely not pay-to-win; if anything, the game's not demanding quite enough from those folks who can manage to cope without a dance emote and blue fire spells. Still, there's a lot of angry chatter from players upset over the studio's decision to charge guilds for adding members.
The bad: Minimap
It's just a pity the effort that went into the cash shop and the waypoint map wasn't put into the minimap. Sporting jagged, Minecraftian graphics, it floats above your character uselessly, without descriptive symbols or consistent hard delineations that show you where the edge of the zone lies. I've found myself backtracking more than once. Backtracking sucks.
Much ado has been made over Path of Exile's talent web, and while it's not really the second coming of skill trees and does frequently represent merely minor incremental improvements to stats, it's still an MMO marvel and fun to play around in. I'm a particular fan of the clever implementation of easily swappable socketed gems as a means to equip skills on your character.
The bad: Balancing said character development
A game with such depth to its character customization is basically impossible to balance (cue all the complaining on the forum when the launch patch hit). Worse, respecs are incredibly limited, and the prevailing player wisdom is that if you screw up, you'll be rerolling, so get used to it. Such an unforgiving system verges on being unforgivable.
There are zones in the game where the sunlight hits the scenery from the side and lights up the water and trees like some glittering dawn. It's really pretty, even if it is incongruous in an isometric game that's otherwise mostly about gothic gore.
The bad: Lightning
No, seriously, guys. Kill the seizure-lightning. It makes your tutorial almost unplayable even for people who haven't destroyed their eyes staring into the abyss of a monitor for the last 15 years.
That's our 10 -- let's hear yours!
Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?