Personally, I had not heard of Path of Exile before it was given to me to write about. I knew nothing about the game and wasn’t sure what to expect. I do know that I did not expect to refer to several of my favorite games to help explain it (more on that later). In the most simple of terms, Path of Exile is a game in which you explore areas, kill monsters, complete quests, and collect loot. This is standard practice for RPG’s and is what is expected. How character skills are determined and how much a player can customize their character truly impressed me. There are several games out there with complex leveling systems or gear customization that take players forever to master, but this title has something a little different.
First off, you will get a cubic butt-tonne of gear. This gear could be weapons, armor, or accessories such as rings and necklaces. Each piece has different stats that come with them and lots of other possible modifiers. Unlike some games that make class specific equipment unusable by other classes, Path of Exile uses an almost Dark Souls-like take on equipment by having each piece have a stat requirement that determines which players can use which equipment. While this may seem limiting at first, it quickly becomes obvious that any character can use any gear if enough time is put into a particular path in the leveling grid. Honestly, this grid might be the most interesting part of this game.
Being strikingly similar to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid, Path of Exile puts all characters on the same massive leveling grid. Whichever character is selected will start from their designated starting point and work outward from there. This means that any one character will only have immediate access to certain nodes, but this does not necessarily determine what skills they have. While the leveling grid is large, it doesn’t seem to give out any skills itself although I can’t say for sure as it is really, REALLY big. Instead, the skills characters use come from the gems they have socketed into their gear. While this isn’t a wholly unique idea, I believe this system most resembles Final Fantasy VII’s Materia System in which a user could only use Fire if it was socketed into their weapon or armor.
Path of Exile expands on this by having most weapon and armor having sockets and those sockets being color coded. The number of sockets, whether they are connected, and what color they are determines what gems or combinations thereof a piece of equipment can accommodate. For instance, a piece of gear may have two individual sockets that are red and green, which allows for one strength-based gem, and one dexterity-based gem. On the other hand, another piece may have two connected green sockets, allowing the user to put either two skills on or one skill and a support gem to improve that skill. Personally, my favorite combination was the skill Split Arrow with the Pierce support gem. This made it so I could shoot multiple arrows that would go through several enemies, destroying hordes in seconds.
“But how do you get all this gear?” I hear you ask. Simple, you go out on quests for people and kill a stupid number of monsters along the way. So many of these will drop loot that you’ll soon find yourself heading back to town after only killing a few groups. Part of this comes from how the item management took a page from Resident Evil 4 and has the player move items around in their inventory to make the most of the available space. Even though this can become frustrating, it does look nice and makes the player really evaluate the value of every piece of gear they pick up. The interesting thing about putting value to anything in this game is that there isn’t any strict money to horde. Instead, vendors will give out various things that can be stacked to make other things or just give you the thing they combine into outright. Most commonly, items will be traded for scraps of Scrolls of Wisdom. Get enough of these and you will get a Scroll of Wisdom that can identify the magical properties of equipment or be used to buy items from vendors (although they will often ask for other items as well).
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably very curious how the game actually plays. Best compared to Diablo III, Path of Exile gives the player a top-down view of their character while they run around, using the various face buttons (sometimes with the right trigger held) to perform the various skills they have equipped. For me, this meant my A shot a normal arrow, X used Split Arrow, Y triggered Caustic Arrow, and B performed Puncture Shot. This can be customized and will probably be different between any two players. Either way, I used those four skills the most as I took out hordes of minions, elite enemies, and the numerous bosses I took on. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the cooperative multiplayer, but I can say that I never hit a point in my adventure where I got stuck due to difficulty. This may have been due to my dedication to complete side missions and explore every area I came across, but either way, I never felt like I had to worry about grinding for too long.
To be honest, I don’t have many gripes about Path of Exile. I grew to enjoy the gameplay and found myself highly invested in the interesting leveling/skill allocation systems. I enjoyed taking out large enemies and large groups of enemies. Exploring a new area for the first time was always interesting and provided my character with much-needed experience and loot. I can say I don’t enjoy how areas reset after 8-15 minutes of inactivity, but beyond that the individual areas aren’t that bad. Although I enjoyed how the game handled shops and currency, I didn’t enjoy how often I found myself coming back to town just to sell a bunch of gear I had collected. If it weren’t for a few minor annoyances like this, I could say this game is truly great. Even if I can’t explain wholly why, I did have fun playing Path of Exile and can’t wait to play it more in the future.