Remember The Butcher? No, not Diablo III’s Saturday morning villain. The Butcher that scared the crap out of you at sweet sixteen. Diablo I–old school. Playing Path of Exile, an indie action-RPG, brought those memories back. In other words… I died. On the second boss at level three. Twice.
With the game just finished a public weekend in its closed beta state, I dove in again to see how it’s shaping up.
The aforementioned deaths were caused by a recent overhaul to enemy AI. Rather than come at you in simple waves, enemies will now try to surround you, so you need to watch your back.
Fortunately, players have also received upgrades, with more skills to counter with. Using the new fire traps with my ranger Kellygrrl was great fun, as I’d lure packs of enemies into the fire while shooting them with poison gas. Combat felt more tactical than it did when I played last year.
The next big improvement—added this month—is the lower latency. Path of Exile has a server in Singapore for Australians, and I was pulling a steady 170ms latency with no spikes. While not a true local server, it is the next best thing and makes the game more responsive than Diablo III.
This is commendable. The game is privately funded, developed, and published by New Zealand’s Grinding Gear Games. As a self-publisher, Grinding Gear Games has limited funding, and the game is taking some time to release as a result. Yet still they’ve done for us what Blizzivision, with all its excessive means, did not.
Path of Exile also has true multiplayer features to justify its online-only status. Global chat is actually global, and always hopping. Towns are not instanced, so serve well as social hubs, especially with the new looking for group bulletin boards. Both world and arena PvP content is also being tested.
The online leagues are especially integral to the game. The developers run regular competitions, with prizes awarded at the end. A two-week one-life-only hardcore league is running right now, with the winner being the highest, still-alive player at the end. All this together means the game actually feels like an online game, rather than a single player game with online DRM.
The fourth obvious improvement is the streamlining of the early game. While starting Path of Exile last year was akin to being thrown off a short pier and told to “Have fun!”, these days you’re given tooltips for everything. Levelling up skill gems, for instance, is not the mystical process it once was.
The huge passive skill tree has also been given an overhaul. Now only two paths are given at the start—damage and surviving. This lets you progress quickly towards perks that feel powerful for a set purpose, without worrying about choosing the wrong path and gimping your character. The tree still branches out into a massive number of options, but only once you’ve found your feet and have the basics needed to survive.
Some minor story improvements continue this streamlining. New quests have been added to give the game an actual story now, rather than being a random collection of maps. Even so, however, the story still feels incomplete. Voice acting is still not in, and the entire third act is missing. These will be added when the game goes into open beta later this year.
As a genre, action-RPGs are getting long in the tooth. Modernisation was not kind to Diablo III, with Blizzard apologising for the lack of a WoW-esque ‘endgame’.
Arguably, however, Blizzard left out many of the features that made Diablo II’s endgame what it was. Ladders were removed from Diablo III, PvP is non-existent, and boss runs are almost discouraged. At the same time, the addition of mandatory American servers drew criticism. Diablo III, then, was an uneasy—even almost bizarre compromise between the old and the new.
Path of Exile approaches the issue in a completely different fashion—include the old features and don’t fix what ain’t broke. As previously mentioned, the game has ladders in the form of leagues, and world PvP is set to make an entrance soon. Even the inventory is old school, with loot Tetris alive and well.
Path of Exile knows its market, and is a great game if you want to return to the golden age of action-RPGs in a modern online form. It feels just like Diablo I, and makes no apologies here. You can either pay $10 to get access now, or wait until the game goes open beta later this year. It’s well worth a look.
Find out more at the Path of Exile website.