Are you a PC gamer and a fan of action RPGs? New Zealand-based indie developer Grinding Gear Games have something special that’s absolutely worth your attention and it’s called Path of Exile. Path of Exile is an under-the-radar fantasy action RPG in the same vein of Diablo and Torchlight with a few notable differences and the added bonus that – like Marvel Heroes – it’s free-to-play. The Open beta launched January 23rd and players can download and jump online to test it out.
We did last night for several hours and recorded our first impressions, entering the online world with little to no knowledge of the game’s lore or gameplay features, instead opting to learn as we play, for better or worse. Like Diablo 3, Path of Exile requires an always-online connection, with the difference being it takes place in an online world where other players will pass you in hub areas. And it’s free.
Path of Exile takes place in the land of Wraeclast and is a game about looting (big focus on items) and character customization with loads of PvP features. There are six characters/classes to choose from (the Marauder, the Ranger, the Witch, the Duelist, the Templar and the Shadow), falling into the traditional tropes of the genre, but there are notable differences which make Path of Exile stand out.
Wraeclast is a dark, brutal continent. Scarred by mysterious catastrophes of the past and inhabited by creatures of nightmare, the very environment challenges exiles who dare explore it.
We’re sick of the recent trend towards bright, cartoony RPGs. The art style we chose for Path of Exile is dark, gritty and realistic. Wraeclast is terrifying, and we’ve tried hard to do it justice.
Gameplay is your standard affair, with left click as primary attack (unlimited arrows for the Ranger, etc.) and right-click for a keyed up special ability, with ‘Shift’ to hold the player stationary for ranged attacks. There’s a hot bar with numbered keys setup for health/mana potions, and lettered keys for abilities and items. The interface is very familiar for Diablo/Torchlight veterans as are the information windows, from the character screen, inventory menu to the world map/questing window. It all works very smoothly and as expected. The only problematic screen is pressing tab for the area map which brings down a semi-transparent almost DOS-like map over the entire screen. It’s difficult to read and needs improvement.
As a norm for the genre, there are item drops everywhere, occurring in every combat encounter, but what’s neat about the weapons, armor and other equippables in Path of Exile is the inclusion of a Skill Gem System. Gems can be acquired via quests, rare drops or through trading with vendors in-game and certain items contain slots where they can be inserted.
As you’ll see from the gameplay footage up top, there are three types of slots and items will randomly feature different combinations and amounts of them. There are also orbs which let players switch what types of slots a particular item has. The gems level up as the player does and the obvious benefit here outside of having multiple ties of player progression, is that as player loot better equipment, the orbs can be transferred from one item to the next without penalty, encouraging item swapping and purchasing.
One of the things that’s most fun about playing a competitive online Action RPG is taking part in a levelling race on a fresh server. In Path of Exile, we wanted to capture this feeling without constantly resetting our main economy, so we’ve created a set of race leagues that are run frequently as separate game worlds with their own ladders and economies.
In addition to regular races, leagues can substantially modify the game rules. In a Cut-Throat league, you’re able to invade other players’ instances and kill them to take their items. In Turbo leagues, monsters move and attack 60% faster than normal.
Varying in duration from one hour to several months, players can enter these leagues to show off their mastery of the game and compete to win valuable prizes.
Unwanted loot can be traded in for various types of scraps which represent the currency in Path of Exile, but in and of themselves, scraps form useful items as well, from identification scrolls to orbs that alter item gem slots. From only playing Act I of the game, all of the items and upgrades have meaning and purpose, and there’s no case of gold piling up with no foreseeable use.
One of the big selling points of Path of Exile however, is its incredibly expansive passive skill tree which features 1350 skills. All six character classes share the same tree and are differentiated by their different starting points within it. What this means is that no matter what character a player chooses, as they progress through the game and level up, they can build towards earning attribute bonuses and skills that would traditionally belong to other characters. Just to get an idea of how big the skill tree is, the size of the full map image is 16135 x 15300 so we’ve got a version that’s 7% of that size. Full version here:
As you’ll see in the gameplay video up top, the Witch begins in the top center, surrounded by mana bonus unlocks and the Ranger begins in the bottom right, with two starting paths for dexterity and evasive bonuses. Players or the simply curious can experiment with builds and plan the character build ahead of time here, with an interactive map of the passive skill tree.
So, it’s cool and free, so what’s the catch? There is no catch. From the game’s FAQ:
Path of Exile is 100% free to play, for everyone, forever. Our website will allow the purchase of many in-game perks and aesthetic upgrades, but all of these are completely optional, and players can have a complete, fulfilling gaming experience without spending a penny.
There is no catch at all, once you download the client you are free to play for as long as you like, with no charge. The purchasable perks do not convey any gameplay benefit, but help you create a unique look for your character and its fighting style.
For a beta, the servers work wonderfully and the gameplay is highly polished and easily accessibly. We’re still in Act I but will keep chugging along, as Path of Exile has left a very positive first impression with us.
Path of Exile is available in open beta for PC.
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