Path of Exile's achievements are glorious to behold -- but if you're not a hardcore ARPG fan, look elsewhere.
By Patrick Vuleta 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.
- Australian servers means 30ms
- Regular leagues give reason to create new characters
- Lots of character development choice
- Great voice acting
- Is free to play
- Gameplay feels outdated
- Makes no attempt to break up repetition
- Multiplayer is spam
- You won’t keep low latency in most multiplayer games
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.