Path Of Exile is an excellent Diablo 2 inspired ARPG

"You Should Try" is a series of articles where I'll showcase you a game I really enjoy while explaining what exactly makes it fun. This can be any game, new or old, indie or AAA, the only requirement is that it has to be something I've found myself greatly enjoying and in need of sharing with the world.

Today I think you should try Path of Exile, a free-to-play ARPG that draws its inspiration from Diablo 2 and features a frankly ridiculous amount of viable character builds, spell combinations, and most importantly, content to enjoy.


Video version of this article (8 minutes)

As with all free-to-play games, the one big question I can imagine forming on everyone's lips right now is "Can you buy your way to the very top?". The answer to that is thankfully a resounding no as Path of Exile has one of the best micro-transaction models in the entire industry, overshadowed only by Dota 2 and its hat-based economy. You can buy cosmetic armor pieces, new effects for spells, different decorations for your personal hideout, minor account upgrades such as stash increases, and best of all, a whole array of cute little pets to follow you around! 

During the two years I've been with Path of Exile I've never felt forced to buy anything from the cash shop, and the only reason I've even spent money with the game was purely to support the developers who had managed to earn my loyalty relatively early on... well, that and the little kitty-cat that was far too cute to pass up on.

Path of Exile black cat pet

Two daggers, a loyal cat, and a funny hat. All one should ever ask from life.

If you're wondering why I've stuck around with Path of Exile for so long, despite there being hundreds of ARPGs out there, the answer is the sheer amount of choices you have when it comes to building your character, both in terms of offense and defense. If you think I'm slightly exaggerating here, allow me to just say that there are 178 unique active skills to chose from, with each and every single one of those then being further improved upon through the use of 87 support skills. Deciding what exactly you're going to play with is an entire game on its own!

To demonstrate how all this works let's take the most generic ability in every ARPG, the humble Fireball. The Fireball in Path of Exile is nothing special, its a simple projectile that goes forward and then explodes if it hits an enemy, causing them to light on fire if the hit was a critical strike. However, once you start introducing support gems things begin spiraling out of control very quickly, as I'll show you in this brief example:

Fireball + Lesser Multiple Projectiles = You shoot a trio of fireballs, one going straight ahead, and two at a 45° angle from the central one.

Fireball + Lesser Multiple Projectiles + Spell Echo = You now shoot the same trio of Fireballs, but twice in quick succession, though with slightly reduced damage.

Fireball + Lesser Multiple Projectiles + Spell Echo + Chain = All of the above, but the Fireballs no longer stop if they touch an enemy, they instead keep bouncing around in order to share their fiery love with anyone willing, or unwilling to accept it.

Fireball + Lesser Multiple Projectiles + Spell Echo + Chain + Trap = All of the above, but instead of personally casting the fireballs they will be deployed from a trap that triggers when some unlucky bastard steps on it.

Keep in mind that this is just a small example for one single spell. There are hundreds, or even thousands of potential combinations out there, all waiting for you to discover them, optimize them, and then use them with extreme prejudice against anyone that dares stand between you, and loot!

Gems in Path of Exile allow you to go crazy

I'm sure at least one of them went where I was aiming!

If you're at this point baffled at the paralyzing amount of decisions laid upon you, allow me to send you straight in to a coma by saying that the "Skill Tree" you might know from other games is less like tree, and more of a fully grown forest. Instead of having classes that are all completely distinct from each other, the ones in Path of Exile only determine how you will look, and where in the gigantic net of skills and passive abilities you will start.

While there are certainly plenty of boring talents such as +10 Strength or +5% HP, there are also plenty of unique and character defining ones that all come with a massive upside, and an equally terrifying downside. A good example of how build-defining these talents can be is Ancestral Bond that makes it so you can spawn a second attack Totem, but at the cost of losing the ability to attack yourself. An incredibly harsh penalty, but completely avoidable if you design your build around it, and that is something I absolutely adore seeing in my ARPGs.

Path of Exile skill tree is ridiculously big

This isn't even half of it...

All the spells in the world would not save a boring combat system, however, so its a good thing indeed that Path of Exile is a joy to play. Ever since last year's update lag and issues with dysncing have mostly been fixed, and the combat has been buttery smooth ever since. There are some small annoyances related to a few specific abilities and combinations, but overall Path of Exile controls exactly as you would want it to, and outside of some insanely specific circumstances (or low durability character builds) you won't find yourself dying out of nowhere.

When you combine all this with some rather atmospheric audio-visual design you get a game that's both interesting to play from a mechanical standpoint, but also from the perspective of exploration and lore-seeking. This might not sound very important, and to be honest it really isn't, but compared to Diablo 3's cheese-fest of a story the one found in Path of Exile is mature, ominous, and told subtly through character interactions and snippets of lore found on various unique items. In many ways its similar to how the Dark Souls series handles its lore.

There are things to speculate about, villains that are, for the lack of a better word, completely fucked up, as well as locations that make a lot of sense both thematically, and in terms of lore. None of this is important when it comes to the gameplay, but the feeling of immersion and understanding I have in Path of Exile is far, far greater than what I've ever experienced in Diablo 3, despite it having insane amounts of plot-exposition and evil-monologuing.

Path of Exile has some messed up imagery

Sometimes its better to not think about it...

As for the core gameplay loop, that's going to come down to personal preference. For me, the reason I really enjoy Path of Exile is because every single item you find on the ground, from the humble common drop to the extremely rare unique, has the potential to be useful at every single point in the game, something that is almost unheard of in the ARPG genre as a whole. This is done by completely removing gold, or any equivalent it might have, and instead basing the economy on currency items that can actually be used to upgrade gear, which then removes them from the game forever and keeps the economy fresh. It might not sound like much, but being able to get excited about currency drops all the way from level 1 to level 99 is a wonderful feeling!

The second, and probably more important reason is that Path of Exile actually offers a decent amount of challenge throughout the entire game, and then finally culminates by ramping up the difficulty to 11, breaking the handle, and then going even further. There's no need to worry about being smacked down with a giant hammer the moment you log in, however, as all of this is introduced gradually, first through standard zone-to-zone progression, then by switching from a lower difficulty to a higher one by defeating the final boss, and in the end through the extremely well designed end-game mapping system.

While you might disagree on the difficulty, I feel its an immensely important aspect of Path of Exile as it ensures that you will constantly be searching for better items and spell combinations, while also making sure that each and every rare encounter or guarded chest comes with a certain amount of risk, because you never know if fighting those elite enemies will be worth it until you're actually through with them. Naturally, you can just play in Softcore difficulty where dying is only penalized with an experience deduction, but I'd heavily recommend playing in Hardcore instead as the constant risk of death adds a whole new layer to the gameplay, and to your own personal attachment to your very fragile in-game avatar.

Path of Exile totems

Why fight your own battles when you can use Totems instead?

Closing Thoughts

Path of Exile has some notable flaws, and plenty of little quirks that require getting used to, but even with all of that considered I still believe its the true successor to Diablo 2, and to me personally the best ARPG currently available.

If you enjoy the "shoot & loot" style of gameplay, deep character customization, or just a game that respects your abilities as a player, then I think you should try Path of Exile. Its an excellent game, its absolutely brimming with content, and most importantly, its completely free to try out, so give it a look.

Looking for more interesting games to play? How about Divinity: Original Sin, a combat orientated turn-based RPG that offers you a myriad of ways to blast your enemies in to teeny-weeny bits and pieces.