Preview: Path of Exile
Path of Exile has put a smile on my face. With all the post-Blizzcon chatter about Diablo III I got to thinking ‘where did all these Diablo-clones come from?’ In what was just a few years ago an almost extinct genre, it seems like a flood of wannabes has appeared out of nowhere following the announcement of Blizzard’s highly anticipated sequel. Path of Exile is a Diablo clone, but in this exception to the rule, I intend it as a complement. Developed by New Zealand’s Grinding Gear Games, it looks to not only aspire to Diablo, but to surpass it. The game will be online-only. It will free to play. And it also seems to be Diablo on steroids in every way imaginable.
Although a closed beta is planned for early 2011, Path of Exile will ship later that year with 6 classes. Two have been revealed to date; the Marauder and Ranger. Each fits one of the now well known ARPG archetypes, but not quite. They have their own spin on the class and so this makes predicting what has yet to be announced somewhat difficult. You can’t discount the tank, since the Marauder is not quite a tank. The Ranger is not quite typical ranged DPS either… why? I’ll get to that in a moment. Grinding Gear has promised against purely support classes, like Priests or Monks, but I’m more interested in what unique classes could arise from Path of Exile’s unique underlying mechanics than simple direct-damage dealers.
I say that because combat in Path of Exile belies a secret depth. Frost novas, firebolts and trademark ‘Barbarian’ skills like leap seem to have made it in. So have the enemies- there’s everything from humanoids, wild beasts and the prerequisite undead shamblers in what has been revealed so far. What makes the system unique, and isn’t immediately apparent, is that magic isn’t learnt or part of a class’ skill tree. No, all skills are granted by ‘materia-like’ gems socketed into armour. One gem might grant a firebolt, for example. However that gem, combined with another in a neighbouring socket might change that one bolt per cast into three. Or make it bigger. Or add armour-penetrating properties. And they can be used by any class. Let that sink in for a second. I’ve maligned the freedom in character-building that was lost between Diablo I and II; this game not only restores that level of customisation but goes a step further too.
Customisability doesn’t end there either; loot plays as important a role as ever in Path of Exile. Randomised drops, dungeons and bosses, supported by a persistent online world with a persistent in-game economy, all promise the obsessive gear-collecting fondly remembered and now expected of action RPGs.
Environments are suitably varied. Ruins, forests and so forth are standard fair, but Path of Exile seems to avoid Diablo II’s trap of an ever-brightening colour palate in diversifying locales. Even the sunsoaked coastline in the trailer manages to feel as hostile and forbidding as any dungeon in the game. This in particular is a noteworthy feat given the ongoing controversy surrounding the art direction of Diablo III. And, of course, it’s all random.
The online world is hard to fathom so far before launch but the staples; PvP and the aforementioned item economy are promised features. All will be facilitated by the fact that Path of Exile runs entirely on the developers’ servers. While the game will be free to play, it will not be dominated by microtransaction-based advancement. Developers have gone to lengths to emphasise purchasable items will be cosmetic only and will not provide any advantage to players with deeper pockets. This is always the way to go, but unfortunately an area in which all too many online games stumble. Here’s hoping Grinding Gear can stick to their convictions on this point.
All in all Path of Exile shows genuine promise, especially for a game that will be free to play. What the team has assembled stands as one of the most impressive entrees in what is rapidly becoming an overpopulated genre. I can only hope the title doesn’t lose any of its lustre between now and its live date sometime next year. Meanwhile, I’ll cross my fingers for a beta key and eagerly await the chance to take a closer look at this little gem. Until then, take a look at some of the impressive gameplay trailers released so far;
Just a disclaimer; as much as I wish they would, Grinding Gear Games has not invited me to formally preview this game. My views here are formed entirely from their public trailers and the write ups at Incgamers, PCGamer & Joystiq.