“Path of Exile:” A new take on MMORPGs

The title may read “new take on MMORPGs”, but it is very interesting to note that Path of Exile is actually almost ten years old! Well, at least, the PC version is. The PS4 version was released on March 26, 2019, while XBox users have had access to the game since 2017. It seems to have been catching more fire on the PS4 version, as the game has experienced a large spike in its playerbase since launching on that system.

Funnily enough, this old relic has been a breath of fresh air for PS4 users. It’s an MMORPG, for the most part straightforward within the “fantasy” genre, but it is largely different from the competition on this system, mainly consisting of the decaying Neverwinter and the somnambulant TERA.

Path of Exile has some similarities with those two titles, but is overall drastically different. Let’s talk about the game in a more in-depth manner:

Starting off with classes and characters:

Characters
A lengthy journey for each class and several to choose from gives the game a lot of depth

In Path of Exile, you have the choice between one of several completely different classes. There are the Marauder, Ranger, Witch, Templar, Shadow, Duelist and Scion classes. The Witch class is more support oriented, the Templar is more of a Tank-esque build, and the others are more DPS-heavy. They are gender locked, however; you cannot play a Male Witch, nor a Female Templar for instance. The single player experience is quite lengthy, so your journey with each class, should you choose to embark upon it, will keep you playing the game for a very, very long time. Ultimately, this is probably the most barebones part about the game. They do a sufficient job in offering the player enough choices in-between classes to give them the best shot at picking something which really reflects on their personal playstyle. To that point, the class availability is sufficient, and does not draw any criticism in particular.

Now we have arguably the most important part of any MMORPG, the combat system:

Combat
A parkour, open world game gives lots of freedom, a dynamic setup, and endless possibilities for a given fight.

As the caption suggests, the combat system is pretty bare-bones. Ultimately, it’s lacking in any critical issues or bugs. It’s live-action, the player can equip as many as seven powers to go alongside a basic “X-button” strike, which is a basic attack against whatever the player has targeted. In order to use a different power, such as the Fireball spell, the player must use a portion of their Mana. If the player runs out of Mana, they will be unable to use any of their powers aside from their basic striking maneuver. They could also be temporarily put on hold if one of their powers is on “cooldown.” Like with any combat game, you have a set amount of Life. When you run out of Life, your character “dies” and the game gives you the option to respawn at your recent Checkpoint or to respawn back at your “Town.” To defend against these two worst-case scenarios, players have the option to equip up to four Flasks, any combination of which can heal the player’s depleted Life or Mana. The Flasks are, in essence, unlimited; the player recharges the amount of charges their Flask has by killing enemies. If you find yourself running low on Life and use a charge on your Life Flask, you could earn it back immediately if you were to kill a handful of enemies in front of you. For melee attacks, simply turning your character to face your target and getting close enough to strike is the extent of what you need to do to successfully hit them. For projectiles, the game has a built in auto-aim function. When your target is outlined in red and their name and health are displayed at the top of your screen, the game has auto aimed you towards that target, enabling you to freely fire without fear of missing.

Ultimately, this is a pretty straightforward, glitch-free combat system. It’s live action and generally affords the player to approach a situation however they’d like. A player could decide to ignore enemies, running past them in an effort to draw a “train” which the player could deal with entirely in one sequence at the end of the map. The player could methodically dispatch of each group of enemies as they are encountered. A player could take a melee-heavy or projectile-heavy approach. You get the idea: the game gives countless avenues for the player to approach a given situation with. To that extent, that gives the player more freedom, and the combat system as a whole feels free and loose.

Talking about gearing your character up:

Weapon
Keep a sharp eye out for Rare or Legendary drops while out in the world

Of course, the same gear which helped you in a Level 1 zone is going to be insufficient for a Level 10 zone, and so on, so forth. The need to optimally equip yourself grows more and more prevalent according with the increase in difficulty you experience. This is another area where Path of Exile generally keeps players satisfied. There are numerous avenues the player can acquire good gear, reasonably easy. Here’s the best part; you don’t have to hit your wallet to keep up with the best of the best gear. The most common way to pick up good gear is simply in the game itself; strong enemies can drop good loot. You can also participate in a Memory Fragment mode- a mode where Cavas, a key NPC, spawns you inside a forgotten Memory of his which you must help to stabilize. Along the way, you can kill enemies which will drop good loot, and succeeding in stabilizing the memory will almost always convey at least a decent item or two in reward. Another option, albeit somewhat rarer one, is to enter a zone’s Corruption zone. Here, enemies get slightly harder to kill and appear in greater quantities, but killing them all and killing the zone’s boss will always yield at least a single Rare quality item, with a great chance to also give a Legendary quality item.

Alternatively, one could take part in the Trade Market. Here, players list their items and can request a specific in-game item or currency in return. Again, this does not cost actual money, but rather, currency the player can only obtain playing the game. The cost of each item, predictably, is up to the player selling it in this instance, but will normally involve a selection of either Scrolls of Wisdom, magical alteration Orbs, or another item or weapon for a simple 1-for-1 trade. The type of equipment a character is aiming for is dependent on their class, as well as their general combat strategy. A tanky Templar, for example, is going to want to lean heavily on gear which grants them Armor, HP, a boost to their maximum Life, and other defensive attributes.

Ultimately, this system is once again pretty straightforward. Clearly, the Legendary items are going to be better than the Rares, which will subsequently best the Regular quality items. The game does not hide these better items behind a paywall, it simply rewards players who play the game more by affording them better, more frequent access to more, higher quality, currency and items. This way, a player investing time in the game does not have to groan in contempt when the new player gets everything they got by using their parents’ credit card in half the time. This also adds incentive to actually play the game and commit to the “grind” in a healthy, typical, inexpensive way.

Let’s talk about a character’s skill tree:

Skill tree.jpg
Countless options!

These skill trees are massive. Seriously, you can go a bajillion different ways in constructing your character. While “generally” your choices should try to optimize your class, you could, say, decide you want your Witch to be able to take a couple more hits than she currently can, or maybe you want your Templar to dish out just a little bit more pain. Builds are fully customizeable, and while there are clearly “optimal” singular builds, there is so much freedom that no one character is truly the same as the other. To that point, while there are indeed “this is THE BEST way to build this character’s skill tree” situations, it generally isn’t such a noticeable different that you’ll need to micromanage each and every point spent on your tree. In other words, while your build might not be 100% without a doubt the best, it’s generally going to be good enough to perform adequately in this game. This gives the player more freedom, free of being essentially blocked from higher level game content because they didn’t watch some 45 minute YouTube video about how their build is terrible.

These skill trees are definitely bigger and more in depth than the typical MMORPG’s is. While this could normally be viewed as a bad (or sometimes pointless) thing, Path of Exile does a good job offering a skill tree which can tailor to just about any playstyle conceivable.

Touching base on the game’s microtransactions:

Microtransactions.jpg
An optional way to make your character look a little bit nicer

As has been touched base on earlier, Path of Exile has essentially no paywall, as the player cannot use money to buy their way through any parts of the game, nor can they use money to buy anything which would give them an actual advantage over a player who decided not to buy money. So then, how does Grinding Gear Games make any money off of this game? Sure, they probably did okay back in the earlier part of this decade, when this game could be purchased off of shelves, but that’s not a viable way to sustain a game for nearly ten years. So, they give the players the option to purchase cosmetic upgrades for real life money. There are countless ways a player could give their character cosmetic upgrades. However, these upgrades do not actually modify a character’s performance in combat. EA Sports and other MMORPGs in general could probably serve to learn a thing or two from this setup, because it has actually made the company decent money while not disadvantaging players who opted to not spend any money on an otherwise free-to-play game. After all, the game launched in 2010, and here it is now.

Finally, the single player experience:

Single player.jpg
Numerous “Acts” and a very large map in Wraeclast sum up the very deep, engaging single player experience

While the game is multi-player, and players can choose to pair up to enter the world or to engage in commerce, most will find the majority of their experience in this game actually comes playing it single player. The story is very immersive and deep. There are several “Acts” — or, chapters — which make up the overall journey. The player will tackle numerous different quests, many of which are actually quite different and dynamic from one another. You have quests like the Trials of Ascendancy — one you begin near the beginning of the game and only actually finish towards the end. You have compelling “Choose your own adventure” moments, such as the decision regarding Bandit Leaders in Act 2. Do you help Kraitlyn, Oak or Alira in killing the other two? Or do you help the Forest Encampment rid the area of bandits completely and kill all three? Your choice in this situation will dictate various aspects of gameplay moving forward, conveying unique benefits and story arcs depending on your decision. While “the grind” has a reputation for being tedious and somewhat monotonous, in Path of Exile, they keep things in a unique twist, with different challenges and stories coming about consistently. This keeps the player immersed and engaged; their decisions and playstyle actually matter. A particularly combat-heavy player, one who opted to kill all three Bandit leaders out of the joy of simply fighting them, will appreciate a totally different experience from a player who decides to help one of the Leaders. This general sentiments will follow you around the game a lot, and it gives the game a lot of replay value as well. Replay value is a challenge for lengthier games, one which this one seems to have knotted down pretty well.

Overall grade: B+

Explanation: There really isn’t a “Wow!” factor too, too much throughout the game, but this is offset by the sheer fact that there really aren’t any downsides to it. If you enjoy fantasy, especially immersive fantasy, you’ll get hooked on Path of Exile extremely easily. It’s a nice, truly free-to-play game which can be played any number of ways. It’s receptive to multiplayer, it’s receptive to strictly single player, it accommodates just about any playstyle out there, and it does so while offering a dynamic, user-friendly combat system and story arc. Simply put, investing yourself in this game is really quite “safe”, in the sense that you truly have nothing to lose by playing it. For these reasons, it’s not surprising to see it has aged so gracefully.

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