What if I told you that right now, you could be playing an action-RPG with the quality of Diablo, completely free of charge? Well, you can: Path of Exile, an online action RPG from New Zealand’s Grinding Gear Games, just entered open beta. I spend the better part of this weekend playing to see how it’s shaping, looking at whether it’s worth spending your time on.
And did I mention it’s free?
I’ve spent a whole pile of time on Path of Exile in the past, and the biggest new change here is the welcome addition of Act Three. Path of Exile is actually a complete game now, with a clear beginning, midgame, and endgame. The previous closed beta, with only two acts, forced you to just grind into nowhere. Now with a complete story, Path of Exile gives context to your time as an outcast in Wraeclast.
As an action-RPG, Path of Exile still is, admittedly, light on the story. The game is closer to Diablo 2’s six broad quests per act, rather than Diablo 3’s epic quests to unlock the gate down the road, and then find the church 50 meters east, before stopping to recalibrate your GPS.
This light approach works in Path of Exile’s favour, though. There’s enough story to hold the looting game together, without going so far you forget why you were really playing in the first place—killing zombies and robbing them.
However, it’s the little touches that make the move to open beta truly shine. First among these is the voice acting added to all characters and NPCs. The quality of the acting is surprising, for the credits don’t include any big names, and voices were all sourced from New Zealand. This makes a huge difference in moving the impression of the game from ‘cute indie title’ to ‘serious contender’.
More player skills have also been added—a lot more skills. Path of Exile used to feel lacking in the skill department, with little choice given over what skill you were going to spend spamming your way to riches. The open beta has addressed this problem, with more and more skills added to use. My ranger uses one single target skill, one area skill, one group buff, two curses, and two traps, with multiple support buffs added to the direct fire skills. It’s enough to keep things interesting.
The open beta brought tens of thousands of new players to Path of Exile. The current peak player record is 69,850 players logged on at once. This makes finding multiplayer parties extremely easy. Although this might settle down after the initial launch weeks, right now plenty are around to play with.
This influx of players allowed me to take multiplayer for its first real test. Group size is up to six people, and… it’s really spammy, in a fun, cut-throat sort of way.
Keeping with its homage to Diablo 2, Path of Exile has no permanent personal loot. When a rare item drops, it will be locked to one person to loot—for two seconds. Multiplayer basically consists of firing as many area skills as possible while constantly racing to beat others to loot. At the very least it keeps you awake.
Unfortunately, the influx of players has also brought a ton of lag. Over the weekend this server stress resulted in multiple frequent disconnections, and one very frustrated writer. Ordinarily, this would be a severe black mark on the game, with me devoting half an article to complaining about how there wasn’t even a red hair option for my ranger to make up for it. Like all Australians, lag free online play is my expected right.
However, several issues would make such a claim unfair.
First, the developers have been very active in working to scale the capacity of their servers to support more players. The problems surfaced on Saturday, and were mostly gone by Sunday. While 24 hours on a weekend is a frustrating time for random disconnects, it is only 24 hours, after all. As you’re reading this, the game is stable.
Second, half the weekend problems were caused by frequent DDoS attacks on the servers. All I can say is that people on the internet suck.
And third, the game does have a Singapore server gateway, which during closed beta reduced my latency down to a fairly tolerable 120-180ms. However, earlier this month, Australia’s undersea cable to Singapore got cut, making this gateway pointless. The estimated fix for this is sometime in February, and it’s completely the responsibility of the Singapore telcos.
And it’s free
Path of Exile is free to download and play, with a cosmetic microtransactions business model—you can buy vanity pets and new visual effects. An initial selection has been made available on the store, though what’s on offer is a little uninspiring—glowing weapons and frogs with crowns don’t scream “Shut up and take my money”. That said, in the open beta they did manage to sell several million dollars worth of kiwi pets, so it could work for them.
Minor niggles aside, for a free game, Path of Exile is extremely high quality. I remarked in my last look at the closed beta that it was an homage to the more hardcore days of action RPGs, before Diablo 3 and Torchlight cartoonified the genre. That’s still the case. Path of Exile open beta is still a hardcore, high quality action RPG, reminiscent of the genre’s glory days, which you should definitely check out.
Download the Open Beta client from our file library right now and get playing!