If you come to reviews for purchasing advice, we can get this out-of-the-way pretty quickly. Path of Exile is completely free, it’s fun to play, a single playthrough took me twenty-two hours, it never really asks you to pay anything and you should go download it. If you are coming here for more information and for a critique of what Path of Exile has to offer, then by all means read on.
Path of Exile comes across as a spiritual successor to Diablo 2 by people who really loved Diablo 2. This is something that has been levelled at the Torchlight series, but it holds truer of Path of Exile than either of those games. This is in no way a bad thing, and to a certain extent it does the game a disservice. Path of Exile is not Diablo 2 again, that just wouldn’t work nowadays. Path of Exile is a game that takes the spirit of Diablo 2 and iterates on it in some really interesting ways. It feels like a game made by people who played the hell out of Blizzard’s classic and in that time have really thought out ways they could change or improve the formula.
In the beginning the game feels instantly familiar. You choose a class and are washed up on a desolate shore where the undead want to kill you. The game doesn’t tell you what to do, but you soon realise what the deal is. You pick up the weapon next to you and click on the nearest enemy until it dies. This is the first click of many and it creates an instant sense of familiarity. Clicking on things until they die is really the core of this particular sub-genre of action RPGs, the one that has been defined by the Diablo games. Thankfully, the clicking action in Path of Exile is a lot of fun, though it lacks the impact and immediacy of some games in the genre.
On a pure combat basis Path of Exile is good. The weapons feel suitably destructive and there’s a wide variety of skills. One detraction is that the combat isn’t as responsive as you might expect. This is true of the controls in general though, as player movement doesn’t quite feel right. It’s not a huge issue, it’s just that the game as a whole doesn’t feel quite as snappy as it should. Combat is effective and fun, but there are moments when a lack of responsiveness does become problematic – though these are few and far between. The only real issue is when fighting against large numbers of enemies or very powerful enemies, in this instances the feel of the game could do with tightening up but overall it does play very well. This is especially true in the games few combats, but these encounters are never very interesting anyway and are somewhat uninspired.
There’s a lot to like in Path of Exile though, in fact there is a lot about the game which is really rather interesting. One of the most notable things about Path of Exile is that the developers have really thought out their game design, rather than just falling back on genre tropes. For example, things like skill progression and the in game economy are handled differently in this title than in its contemporaries. The impressive thing is that these are usually constants in the genre, which makes it refreshing to see a developer trying something new. Path of Exile appears to be a Diablo clone, and uses its familiarity with those titles to great effect, but in reality there is a lot more to it.
In most RPGs you unlock skills as you level up, either from scripted progression or from dabbling in a skill tree. In Path of Exile skills are tied to gems (which can be looted, bartered for or given as quest rewards) and those gems level up making those skills more powerful. Gems can be applied to items and when you wear those items you can use that skill. This makes your skill set up really fluid and gives you a large amount of control over what you can do. It allows for a lot of player expression, as it is easy to create diverse builds that compliment your play style. It also makes progression less scripted, it’s an empowering system that works really well.
The way that gems interface with items is also rather clever, and adds a nice risk reward element to the game. You may find a skill gem you really like, but it’s green and the gear you want to wear only has red sockets. This means you have to make some compromise between skills and gear, and this back and forth forces you to experiment in places to great effect. Colourful sockets in items are abundant though, so smart placement and management of your equipment means you won’t get into trouble. However it does give you something more to think about when equipping gear (especially in regard to the amount of sockets in it) and this really adds to the experience. It’s a rather unique system and it works really well.
The in game economy is also interesting. There is no currency in Path of Exile, the result of this being that you don’t sell your items. This seems very strange in a loot game, where the point is getting lots of stuff, equipping your best items and then selling the rest. There is a certain joy to returning to town with a bag full of items and exchanging them for a bag full of gold, but this feeling is gone from Path of Exile. In this game you can still sell items, but instead of getting gold you get crafting materials. These items can be used to make identifying scrolls, town portal scrolls or items that alter your sockets, add properties to weapons, enchant weapons and much more. It’s all useful stuff and it once again speaks to the developer actually thinking things through.
In loot games money was often of no impact. It’s nice to have a lot of money, but that was really the only reward. In games where you rob corpses to get magic swords, a bit of shopping rarely factors into the equation. By taking out gold Grinding Gear Games have put the focus on the loot itself. It creates a situation where you don’t just loot everything but take what you need, which is ultimately a more engaging experience. This is aided by the sheer amount of loot (there’s a lot) and by the fact that trading things with NPCs gets you useful items. In other games all you would buy would be potions or scrolls, so what they have done is taken out the middle man. The only downside really is that it devalues some loot, there is something great about finding rare loot you can’t use but knowing it’s really pricey. It makes you feel like a proper treasure hunter and adds a sense of achievement to finding otherwise worthless stuff. This feeling doesn’t come across in Path of Exile but the way the economy is handled is very smart.
Potions are also well handled, and perhaps better implemented than in any of the games contemporaries. Path of Exile doesn’t go for potion cool downs or limited supplies, instead you have five slots for potions and you can put whatever you want in them (the idea being to put better ones in as you progress). You never have to buy multiple potions but you can’t swig at one forever, as each potion has a number of uses. However, killing enemies makes your potions recharge, so playing the game well means you don’t have to wait loads to use health or mana items, and it means you don’t have to keep buying potions. It’s a really good way of handling things and should be copied in the future. It isn’t too forgiving and it keeps you in the action, and rewards you for engaging with the game. Once again it’s an example of the developer really thinking about their game mechanics and systems.
On top of all this Path of Exile has a novel approach to skill trees. The skill tree in path of exile is massive, but only gives you passive benefits; it’s full of buffs to resistances, health, damage and the like. The reason it is so massive is because it is shared across all classes. Each class starts on the same tree, but from a different point, you are tied in at the beginning but after that you have a lot free rein. The only rule is that you need to unlock the previous skill to get to the next, but if you choose wisely you can work your way round to a lot of different places. This allows the classes to feel distinct, while freeing things up if you want to make your character your own. It’s another well implemented system in a game full of them.
Playing through Path of Exile will take you over twenty hours and there is room to keep playing beyond this. Completing the game unlocks a further difficulty setting that you roll straight into and many players will want to try out the numerous classes. There is a lot of content here and it’s all free. This is really quite amazing and the game genuinely doesn’t feel like it’s lacking at all, or that you need to pay to get a better experience or the whole experience. In game transactions exist but they are mainly cosmetic, the only one that makes much of a difference is that you can buy more spaces in your stash (a chest which is accessible across all of your characters). This is great for the player and allows you to give to the developer if you think they are deserving, or to just spend money to make your character stand out.
Though Path of Exile is fun, and though it has a lot of really smart systems at play, it doesn’t feel overtly remarkable. There are new ideas in play, but it doesn’t stand out as something very fresh, just a familiar feeling title that a lot of thought and love has gone into. It iterates cleverly, but it doesn’t do enough to stop it from losing steam part way through. The game is enjoyable throughout but it never quite peaks, in fact it is rather samey, environments change but what you are doing in them doesn’t. This can be helped in other titles by impressive bosses, good storytelling or by some incentive which keeps you hooked. Path of Exile lacks this incentive, and the slightly loose combat isn’t enough to keep you completely in love throughout. The cycle of killing and looting keeps it addictive and enjoyable to play, but it doesn’t stand out as anything special.
In a lot of ways Path of Exile feels like an old game that has held up really well. It’s design harkens back to a classic era and its visuals, though proficient, harken back to that time also (in terms of art style). It’s a nostalgic experience, but it feels somewhat stuck in the past. New takes on old mechanics do add a lot to the experience, but they don’t diminish the familiarity to a great extent. This familiarity brings a lot to the game, but it holds it back somewhat. It’s an iteration of a great formula, and it’s great for that, but there’s not much more to it than going through environments and just killing things. It’s fun to do, but it isn’t enough to make Path of Exile shine.
In the end Path of Exile is well worth downloading, it’s completely free and will give you a good time. However, though it does some clever things, there isn’t enough to keep it feeling fresh throughout and to make it truly memorable. You will have a good time playing through Path of Exile, but there isn’t enough here to keep you coming back. If you want to click on a lot of enemies and level up, Path of Exile does this really well, it’s just slightly a shame that this is all it really offers.