Video Games

Beta to Omega: Path of Exile Pre-Release Review

On August 21st, 2012 I completed a Marauder (read: standard warrior) play through of the current content allowed in the Path of Exile Closed Beta. This currently consists of two very large acts. My Marauder made it up to level 30 before completing the second act, which then unlocks “Cruel Mode” and allows me to start the game over on a higher difficulty setting. This is pretty standard for hack and slash games, but I am very much interested in checking out the other classes I haven’t played much. I have reviewed the game before from an early public beta test, but now that I have completed it, I have a few more things to say about it.

First, I have not ever played a Hack and Slash genre game that has done what Path of Exile does with their second act. The second act is not linear, and instead is a sprawling trident of choice that allows the player to not only advance down one of three different paths to first begin the act, but also introduces a small amount of faction joining and decision making that could put you at odds with other players in your group. While the core functionality is still click the mouse to slash at monsters that spew treasure, Act Two feels incredibly different. There is a lot of discovering of places, random exploration, and putting together items to use at different junctures.

The way the creatures appear in Act Two is fairly innovative at times, too. It’s pretty cool to see bandits coming out of the huts they presumably live in, even if it is very “clown car”, and for the large gorillas to shout their cries and summon monkeys that repel down the trees to come and attack you. It doesn’t clutter the screen with monsters, and it does a good job of making you pay attention to the scenery and environment. Speaking of bandits, there are three bandit lords in the act that you can either choose to side with, pitting you against the other two, or just outright slaughter. You may only side with one of the three, and if the rest of the party doesn’t agree with your choice, then you become PVP active and duke it out. Now, I realize this is not for everyone, but it is still interesting to see any sort of choice mechanic and faction assignment in a Hack and Slash.

Second, the game is difficult. I started the game on Hardcore and got killed by ranged weapon shenanigans around level 14 or so as a melee character. As a Ranged character, a Ranger, I have yet to die and the game is seemingly much easier for ranged characters. This was never more clear to me than at the end of the second act where I fought a guy with spinning lasers, two different terrain effects, a melee only explosion and two different types of add summoning. I finally defeated him, but it was quite hard until I figured it out. There are also some monsters that run to you and explode, which can be kind of obnoxious if you are colorblind and can’t quite tell at a distance which ones are which. This isn’t even mentioning the phallic vagina snakes from Prometheus that are in the game and spit Chaos Damage (ignores all of your resistances). It’s not an easy game at times is what I am saying here, and I think the game benefits from that.

Third, the game support for crazy builds is pretty off the charts. You want to play a wand duelist and use two wands? You can totally do that and be pretty good at it with a number of builds. I decided to be a big beefy tank as my Marauder and it’s pretty damn awesome. My witch was all about raining down fire and having minions. The way the skill tree is laid out, and the way you obtain skills makes for a very, very diverse game. Better yet, the “end of tree” skills are really not “big whammy” skills, but instead massive shift in gameplay skills. One of them sets your life to 1, makes you immune to Chaos Damage, and gives you 50% more energy shields. Another makes it so you never miss, but you can never critically hit. Another is you raise the elemental resistance of the thing you are attacking by 25% after you hit them with an elemental effect, but lower the rest by 25%, making it so you rotate through elements. I think only one of them I saw out of all of them is “do something better with no trade off” and that was “minions explode at low life”, which is pretty swank, I admit.

I personally went wide with my skills, rather than deep, and picked up a lot of the early big money points and never did I feel gimped because I wanted diversity. I even picked up skills that increased my secondary and tertiary stats so I could use more abilities, and I never regretted it. I feel strongly that this speaks to the balance and structure of the skill system in this game and it’s very nice to feel like I am never wasting points. If you do, for whatever reason, regret a purchase you can unspend the point by using the respend points you pick up in the game through quests. I think I ended Act Two with four of these guys. Now, I would like a confirmation box on skill expenditure, and perhaps some UI love to see your last purchase, but these are pretty minor things.

Fourth, the loot system is incredibly interesting to me. I adore the fact there is no gold, but the vendor buy system is a bit inconsistent and obtuse. Items seemingly require random objects to purchase, and sometimes there is just no way you’d ever exchange an item for what’s on the vendor. The clearest case of this is a magic item, blue quality, requiring an Orb of Alchemy to purchase. Orbs of Alchemy allow you to upgrade a normal item to a Rare (yellow) item. In short, it’s just much better than a standard magic item. The relative objects you receive from sale could stand a bit of variance, as well. You end up with a plethora of Orbs of Transmutation, but a relative dearth of all other orbs, particularly the Orbs of Abjuration (add a random property to an item). Orbs of Alteration play oddly with Orbs of Abjuration on top of that, as Orbs of Alteration are item stat rerolls and it’s really just another random generation instead of a reroll of the number of existing abilities.

Don’t get me wrong, I use all of my Orbs pretty consistently, and creating or modifying items is very satisfying. It does a great job of getting you to care about even white quality weapons, as you might find one that is great quality, but has no stats, and you hang onto it to enchant it or upgrade it. It’s pretty damn ingenious game play. I would like to see stacks of 100 be the limit rather than stacks of 40, but it’s again a minor complaint and it’s simply a quality of life issue.

Fifth, the stash is great, but go ahead and make it accessible to all characters on an account locked by game mode. It’s kind of a pain to mule items around, but you know it’s going to happen anyway. My guess is that this will become a purchased upgrade available through the in-game store, but we can see. This is a quality of life change, but it would improve the experience of starting a new character by a boat load. It’s certainly not bad now, mind you, but I’d like it to play with items, weird builds and so forth. The skill system means you might re-roll more than normal for this game, and I think having some nice features like this would go a long way. I will reserve judgement on it for the future, but it’s not as if it is bad. It’s standard, but I would love to see it expanded. That’s all. Stash is shared.

Sixth, I see this game as a lot better than Diablo III. It’s more interesting, while maintaining a lot of the original feel of Diablo and Diablo II. Now, the story in this game is basically non-existent as well, and there is next to no writing, but that’s kind of ok, because it doesn’t try to be a story driven game. You still have limited skills, so you are making choices, but it’s not in that slowly-unlocked way that drove me crazy in Diablo III, and the way in which you pick skills to use at a time is a better UI experience. It doesn’t have anything like the complexity of the Diablo III rune system, which was one of the cooler things about the game, but that’s ok too. The Materia-driven build your own class is a feature that I dearly love.

In short, I like this game a lot and I will continue playing it for quite some time. I look forward to seeing Act Three in the next major push, and trying out even more of the characters and builds. I love the ability to play for fifteen minutes and make progress thanks to copious way points and the general hop-right-in feel of Hack and Slash games in general. I hope that more people end up giving this game a shot. It would be a lot of fun to play with a group of people.

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