Path of Exile reviewed: A perfectly balanced action RPG aimed squarely at the hardcore crowd

Path of Exile

By on October 31, 2013 at 11:25 am

Here’s an action RPG with funny accents, large flightless birds, and more than a few nods to Diablo. Path of Exile is New Zealand-based Grinding Gear Game’s lovechild, often heralded as finally giving hardcore sheep action RPG fans the game they deserved since the rest of the industry cruelly abandoned the supremacy of Diablo 2.

However, Path of Exile must stand alone. I didn’t want to be playing Diablo’s “spiritual successor”. I stopped playing Diablo 2 a decade ago, and might I add—for good reason.

On its own merits, Path of Exile succeeds in giving an action RPG experience not achieved by its contemporises. If you love action RPGs you’ll love Path of Exile. However, it is iteration, not innovation, and reminds the rest of us why we’ve moved on from action RPGs.

Let’s face it. For all their bluster, action RPGs are single player games. Path of Exile is no exception. I was intensely reminded of this when I tried to play in a multiplayer party. With Americans in the group my latency shot to 400ms, most challenge was removed due to heavily twinked-out characters, and the game devolved to a boring spamfest as I raced to get a few kills in.  Maybe multiplayer action RPGs just aren’t my thing, but I was almost ready to can the game.

These problems vanish in single player. With Australian servers, you can play at a smooth 30ms. Compared to Diablo 3, the difference is pronounced. This allows the game to be challenging without latency making it exasperating.

But why not just make the game offline like Torchlight? Well, two reasons. First is the constant league restarts. Action RPGs often suffer from a boring endgame problem, where you have an uber character with no motivation to reroll, progressing along at the pace of an armoured snail. Path of Exile constantly runs new online leagues—with their own unique rewards—giving you incentive to start new characters and compete and trade with other players, even if you play by yourself. This is the way to do multiplayer in an online action RPG.

Second is the constant tweaking. Load up Path of Exile, and you’ll probably find a small new patch to download addressing even minor balance issues. You won’t find this in any offline game. This is a game loved by its own developers, and it undergoes constant improvement.

Think of the possibilities

This constant tweaking has made a game that after years of beta, is fun. Everything works pretty well, and the game balance is exceptional. You have a huge range of possible skill builds. While Path of Exile is known for its massive passive skill tree, it also has a wide range of active skills, most of which are quite viable. Most of which you can design a strong character around.

This gives the game an outstanding feeling of possibility. You’re not locked into a few ‘flavour of the month’ builds. There is real choice, which for an action RPG, is quite the accomplishment.

When you combine this with the active leagues, the smooth latency, and the vibrant in-game economy, Path of Exile just works as the model textbook action RPG. Ironically, this is also its big problem.

More repetitive than Diablo

Most everyone has fond memories of Diablo. That is, unless you thought the burning crosses were satanic, as did my friend’s dad. Still, the gameplay was good—for the 90s.

Unfortunately, time can be a cruel mistress, and just like my friend’s dad, many action RPG conventions have not aged well. The problem is further compounded by the genre’s incessant need to pay homage to old games.

In its early game, Path of Exile feels like you’re in control of a tank. You run up to a zombie and you attack. A few times. Then it dies. You repeat the action. I am using full stops as this appropriately describes the pace of gameplay. Compared to a modern RPG like The Witcher, where combat is flowing with constant dodging and skill combos, action RPGs seem strangely devoid of, well, action.

This becomes less pronounced as you get higher movement speed and a few more skills, but never really goes away. At its core, Path of Exile is kill. Find new target. Kill. Whether you’ll enjoy Path of Exile really comes down to how much you can enjoy this.

I enjoy Path of Exile, in small doses. I like competing in the leagues. I won’t be deleting it from my drive anytime soon. But unlike a good MMO, RPG, or strategy game, I can’t sit in front of action RPGs for hours anymore. Path of Exile is clearly aimed at the hardcore action RPG aficionados, so perhaps satisfying their target market isn’t much of a criticism. However, I’m still waiting for the day when action RPGs stop paying homage to outdated gameplay and show real evolution.

Good:

  • Australian servers means 30ms
  • Regular leagues give reason to create new characters
  • Lots of character development choice
  • Great voice acting
  • Is free to play

Bad:

  • Gameplay feels outdated
  • Makes no attempt to break up repetition
  • Multiplayer is spam
  • You won’t keep low latency in most multiplayer games

Path of Exile is completely free to play. You can download the client from the official site or through Steam.

Despite this, the reviewer no doubt spent some of his own money on buying extra bits here and there.

Screenshots used in this review taken by the reviewer.

12 comments (Leave your own)

played many hardcore chars to lvl 80… game was really good but feels like it should have come out 10 years ago

 

*shrug* been playing since closed beta and still enjoying it.

 

SP is much more fun for me so far too, but would people be interested in playing with other people from here?

Forum thread about character names, and maybe starting a GoN guild.

 

The early game slowness is why I never got into this beyond the mid teens of character level, I just wasn’t finding combat fun, which made the game not fun. I didn’t feel like sticking with something I didn’t like to get to where it got better, as many people say it does.

 

I have sunk probably one hundred hours into this game since I started playing in closed beta. This by no means makes me a hardcore player and yet I still login to play whenever I feel like it.

This “review” doesn’t make much sense. The game has an incredible amount of depth and the reviewer doesn’t even scratch the surface. It sounds like you wanted a completely different type of game and just glossed over what PoE actually has to offer and unfairly dragged it down because of it. Apples and oranges as the saying goes – that’s not an objective review.

For those who are interested, Forbes published their review of the game today and it was authored by somebody who played enough to write a properly considered and fair review: http://www.forbes.com/sites/games/2013/10/29/path-of-exile-review-indie-arpg-greatness/

 

klas,

Not agreeing with a review doesn’t mean it’s unfair or not properly considered, this review sums up how i felt about the game with my time with it.

 

makena,

Not about whether I agree with it or not.

It doesn’t even cover the very basic game features or mechanics. For example the fact that they have completely done away with a gold-based economy and replaced it with an item based one, driven by special consumable currency items. This helps to lessen the impact of inflation over time while at the same time providing a deep crafting system which melds almost perfectly with the inherent item progression.

Also the fact that skills and abilities come in the form of gems which again bolster the item economy and provides another sense of character progression.

Boss fights.

Unique items and keystones that can change core mechanics in often dramatic ways.

End-game maps – items, the best of which are crafted, which takes procedural generation of the levels to whole new heights by actually tying it in with item properties.

Much, much more.

You don’t have to go into a lot of detail to cover this stuff. The facts are missing. I actually agree with the main point, this is a game designed to cater for a hardcore audience.

At the end of the day, the game is 100% free with no-bullshit. There’s not much to lose and I’d encourage everyone check it out for themselves.

 
James Pinnell

I agree with Pat, this game is truly for those who were obsessed with D1 and D2. I struggled to enjoy it for longer than a few hours.

 
Patrick Vuleta

Klas, I have a level 52 ranger. I’m sure I played it “long enough”. ;) I also enjoy action RPGs to a point.

The things you mention I see as not really addressing the main point of whether the game is fun. Yes, it’s fantastically balanced, and I did mention there is a good economy.

But reading the Forbes review, I have to say it covers a lot of stuff I just don’t care about. I’m not just writing for the hardcore crowd who might appreciate all those features. Whether it has a flask or currency system simply doesn’t matter if you don’t get the basic gameplay.

I think it’s good to have that perspective as opposed to the Forbes’ review’s one line of “Might not be everyone’s cup of tea.” I mean… what might stop me enjoying it? Why wouldn’t it be my cup of tea?

 

klas,

I wouldn’t have commissioned Pat for the review if I thought he hadn’t played the game. I know he’s been following it for a long time and has written all of our previous articles on it. You have to draw a line in a review between depth/detail and readability, and Pat drew it correctly.

He has outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the game in broad strokes which, as you say, you agree with. That’s what a review does :)

 

Damn I wish Diablo 3 had leagues like PoE. Too bad PoE feels about as fluid to play as Diablo 1 did on the playstation otherwise I’d play it.

 

Gave this a quick bash this morning for an hour or so, nearly made me late for work dammit!

Looks pretty good, will have to sink some more time into it to see how I like it.

 
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