Time is a commodity – once you spend it, there’s no getting it back. So, why you ask, have I spent 400+ hours grinding away in Path of Exile? Some simple reasons really. There’s a lot of treasure to be had within this free-to-play title, and if you’re already a fan of ARPG’s (that’s Action Role Playing Games for those folks of you out there who aren’t in the know yet), then this is my preferred one to sink in every free waking hour into. Let me tell you why.
Never have I come across a free-to-play game as refined as this – at least not one that has always been free. Sure, some games eventually go free-to-play once their subscriber base starts to diminish, but Grinding Gear Games have expended all their effort into Path of Exile (POE) from very the start, regardless of the size of the fan base or monetary gain, and it shows.
The developers are New Zealand based, so I was pleased to find that there are dedicated Oceanic servers when I stumbled upon the game. This is important, as there is no “offline” mode here, so you want as least latency as possible when playing – and luckily stable servers are available.
The game does a good job at having a lot of content, but not bombarding you with it the moment you begin. The story begins as you wash up onto ‘The Twilight Strand’, a stretch of beach where you get to experience your first skill by welding a gem into one of your starter weapons and letting loose at the zombies that are groaning and stumbling around. Tutorials are not extensive here and, as someone that has played many an ARPG, it’s something that I enjoy. The game lightly guides you, just enough so you know the bare basics. This may become troublesome later on to those without that familiarity to these types of games, because the complexity transcends many levels as you get further.
Which brings me to the complexity of the whole game that is POE. With many classes to choose from, and the biggest skill tree I have ever witnessed within a game, choices can quickly become overwhelming. Should I be a Spell Caster? Summoner? Two-handed Warrior? Archer? There are 1300+ nodes you can acquire within the skill tree, so statistically, there are thousands (maybe more?) different paths you can take within the game. Picking up these skill nodes typically boost your stats within the three key primary skills in the game; Strength, Dexterity & Intelligence. As you can imagine, these three skills all align with certain play-styles, but essentially the game allows you to pick and choose whatever you want.
The skill tree can be enough to turn a lot of newbies off the game as it can be overwhelming with choice. Diablo 3 is a great entry-level ARPG because, in comparison, there are very few skills (about 15-20 per class or so) in which you can pick from. With these restrictions, Diablo becomes more accessible to those types of players. I will say outright, POE can be extremely intimidating. But to counter that, with a bit of play, experimentation (and maybe watching some guides), it’s not hard to get over the learning curve. Once you do, the game becomes addictive. That is because of the choice – once you understand how the game works, you realise there is so much you can do. And this is where the progression starts dragging you under, and here is where you sink…
“I finished the campaign, now what?”
This is what a lot of people ask once they get through the ten very long acts. But, any fan of ARPG’s knows that the end…is really just the beginning. Where following the story confined you to following a predetermined path in the game, from here on out, you need to decide what you’re going to do. This part is what we call “the endgame”. Sounds ominous, but by now, you’ve typically got your decided build (skills and abilities you’ve been tearing up enemies with), and this is where you start to look for ways to improve your gear, which will end up improving your damage and survivability output, which will in turn, get you further and further into the endgame content. It’s all about progression.
“But, what is there to actually do?”
You’ll be overwhelmed with running maps in the mapping system (which involves a whole tier system). You can do delves, which involves running your character throughout mines, descending throughout their levels with ever-increasing difficulty. The deeper you delve, the stronger the enemies but the better the loot! You’ve got your Ascendancy dungeons, which upon completion of each one, rewards you with a specialised skill tree (that’s right, separate to the main one!). There are so many endgame systems to consider, that it would take a while to experience them all in depth. This helps with variety, because there is a lot to do to contribute towards progression. Yes, it’s a grind still, but it’s a grind with variety.
This is not going to be everyone’s type of game. And that’s okay. It caters to the hardcore ARPG audience, those that want options and complexity. Even down to its convoluted currency system, everything about the game is complicated. But, to me, that is one of its selling points. If I wanted more guided play or less decision making, I could go for Diablo 3, or in a lesser sense, the newly released Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem – these two options are more beginner friendly and take you through the basics of walking, before you can run. But as someone who come to understand the genre, POE is my preferred choice when it comes to progression and endgame content. And, for the low price of nothing, you really can’t complain with all it has to offer.