Path of Exile Preview
Path of Exile Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Grinding Gear Games
Pub: Grinding Gear Games
Release: 2013
Players: 1-6
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p

More important is that mana recharges fairly quickly, but health does not recharge without specific equipment. This is mitigated by one of the most brilliant touches in Path of Exile: one’s potions, quickslotted to the 1-5 keys, regain “charges” by way of combat, refilling as you kill enemies or when special conditions associated with unique flasks are met. This completely nullifies potion hoarding, since only the flasks in your belt actually fill, losing their charges as soon as they’re removed. Given that some even provide additional benefits upon use, potions are quaffed freely in Path of Exile, making them part of the regular balance of combat rather than a hallmark of paranoid preparation.

That isn’t to say that Path of Exile is a forgiving game. It is relentlessly and intentionally difficult, demanding situational awareness and judicious use of mana and potions to make it through enemy hordes. Even the Marauder, the game’s big-and-strong class, can’t just wade into the throng and go nuts. He’ll quickly be overrun. He must use his abilities in an appropriate, effective manner, maximizing the damage he does while avoiding taking excessive damage himself.

Path of Exile Screenshot

The passive skill tree also follows this philosophy. It is a sprawling map reminiscent of the sphere grid of Final Fantasy X, allowing progress to any node as long as you have chosen a single linked one. The buffs it provides to your character, both specialized and general, are permanent, and every class shares the same grid. They do, however, begin at different points around it, minimizing overlap. That said, there’s nothing stopping one class from putting the bulk of their points into another class’ “area,” but it pays to be careful. There’s no such thing as a full respec (intentionally so, according to the developers), with respec points handed out sparingly, and only affecting the last few nodes one has selected.

And the aesthetic, as well, fits the harsh tone of the gameplay. This is a place of exile, a dark fantasy wasteland with survivors of questionable integrity working in their own interests, often at odds with one another. While the visuals in the earliest areas are fairly mundane and unexciting, the effects conjured in even the mid-point and tail end of the first act are often stunning. Overall, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Dark Souls in tone and texture, if not in gameplay. The sound design is effective, with strikes in combat sounding satisfying and meaty. The voice acting, too, is well done. It could use some more visual variety among its enemies, with a lot of reskins and recolors, but that is a fairly minor complaint, and one certainly capable of being addressed.

Path of Exile is free-to-play, and is supported by microtransactions, but these are all tangential to the actual gameplay. They provide additional account features, such as bonus character slots and customizable stash tabs, or cosmetic changes to abilities and items. Nothing appears to directly affect gameplay, except perhaps the “custom content” item, which allows a player to help design and introduce a unique item to the game. It also costs $1,000, far outside the range of most purchases for the title.

Path of Exile is a surprise. It’s addictive and wonderful, hitting on the best notes of action-RPGs of days gone by while providing a mature and enticing world (though its story is a bit thin), challenging combat, and some unique and innovative mechanics. It’s also currently in open beta, meaning it’s open for anyone and everyone to play to their hearts’ content.

Shelby Reiches
Contributing Writer
Date: February 15, 2013

Game Features:

  • The World of Wraeclast - Wraeclast is a dark, brutal continent. Scarred by mysterious catastrophes of the past and inhabited by creatures of nightmares, the very environment challenges exiles who dare explore it.
  • Passive Skill Tree - All of Path of Exile's character classes share its vast passive skill tree. Starting at one of six distinct locations dictated by their chosen class, players can focus on the core specialties of their class or travel across the tree to build complex combinations of skills from various disciplines.
  • Skill Gem System - Action RPGs have always been about two things: devastating skills and valuable items. Skills in Path of Exile are items - gems that grant abilities when socketed into equipment. A wide range of support gems allow the behavior of skills to be modified.

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