Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review - Path of Exile

  • 0:38 - Gameplay
  • 2:05 - Pros
  • 6:10 - Cons
  • 12:33 - Final Thoughts

I am currently nine hours into a video game called Path of Exile. This game is broken into three acts, I am on the precipice of starting Act II.

In this series, you never have to wait for my opinion: in this case, Path of Exile is an excellent game that proudly reflects the quality you would expect from a title that was in development for seven years.

But is it right for you? Well let's find out.


To begin, Path of Exile is an on-line free-to-play RPG where you play as a criminal castaway -- left to rot on an enchanted island full of thousands of creeps which you must navigate in order to discover the secrets of the island.

The on-line aspect of the game allows you to band together with other players to explore areas and conquer bosses. Sadly, there is no standalone version of the game, so you must have an Internet connection.

As in most RPGs, you must upgrade your character as you go along using the game's massive skill tree -- which contains about 1,300 nodes that alter various aspects of your characters performance.

The key to victory is to balance the need to fight two different types of enemies -- massive hoards of creeps that pour in from all around you as well as single, mega-buffed bosses that can be found at the end of most locations.

You also have a plethora of weapons, upgrade gems, and armor to keep you preoccupied in between scripted revelations of a frankly very interesting plot that revolves around the deaths of many of the exiles who came before you.

This game was developed by Grinding Gear Games -- a company out of Auckland, New Zealand. If you've never heard of them, you shouldn't be surprised -- this is their first game. But don't let that fool you, Path of Exile is as polished and well thought out as any AAA title and a must play for RPG enthusiasts.


  • For me, first and foremost before all other aspects of the game is the passive skill upgrade system which allows you to customize your character as you go along. The level of customization is staggering -- with a skill tree composed of some 1,300 nodes. The skill tree is a game unto itself, as you must navigate the tree very carefully without running out of skill points. It's glorious.
  • The options menu is fantastic. It covers a wide variety of user interface settings that let you get pretty specific in terms of upgrading your HUD and when you roll over something it tells you what it does. There's also rekeybinding -- which is always a plus and a connection to Twitter just in case you have friends who would like to watch you play thirty hours of a video game.
  • There are seven different classes in the game -- six that you can chose from initially and then a seventh class (called the Scion) that you can chose after you've beaten the game. Each of these classes has it's own location on the skill tree making each class unique in how you upgrade it. No class is pigeonholed in what it can do -- so if you prefer to have an archer that can summon totems, that's doable provided you're lucky enough to find the right spells.
  • If you're an archer and you miss with your arrow, it may continue onward and strike the guy behind the one you were aiming at. Also, you can shoot through closed doors if they have holes in them.
  • You can upgrade almost anything in the game, including you, the gems, the flasks, the weapons, the armor, and the spells. Half the time you spend in this game will be just standing around altering various things in your inventory. In fact, you can take the lowliest tree branch and carry it to the end of the game -- converting it along the way into a horror stick built for the most frightening witch you've ever seen.
  • Along the way, you'll meet mysterious strangers like Piety of Theopolis that both advance the plot and keep you excited about what's up ahead.
  • The lighting in this game is phenomenal. There are reflections, shadows cast onto the camera, and refractions of light in liquids like blood. There are even places where enemies approaching from off camera will cast a shadow letting you know they are there.
  • The game appears to be about 30 hours in length -- a great amount of time for an RPG -- and has infinite replayability as the zones are procedurally generated making them new each time you play them and the skill tree means that you can even play the same class in multiple ways.
  • When you complete a mission, you can choose from a variety of rewards -- further adding to the already vast number of customization options you have for your character.
  • You can own a pet kiwi!
  • Even if you leave the area, the bodies of the creeps and bosses you've slain remain where they are. They don't disappear. This is amazingly awesome as it helps you to identify places you've already been and navigate the area easier.
  • The sound effects and the music are fantastic. The ambiance is forlorn. When you walk by birds, they squawk as they fly away. Ambient rain and ocean sounds. It's really well done.
  • In the HUD, you can click on your hotkeys directly and swap out spells or attacks at will without having to pull up the options menu. This is actually very convenient and a nice touch.
  • Finally, the world itself is just a gorgeous place. There's all kinds of vegetation and different biomes. Sometimes you're in sand. Other times you're in buildings. Sometimes it's raining. Other times it's a sunset. It's a great variety that keeps the path moving forward. Very fresh and interesting.


  • Not that the game is complicated, but there's no help file. For people who aren't familiar with roll-playing games (RPGs), they might be in the dark a bit.
  • Inventory tetris is a nice way to add challenge to the game, but it becomes repetitive after a while. I can't swear that they don't have backpacks, but any way to upgrade how much you could hold would be sweet.
  • While you eventually become used to it, the isometric camera is a pain. If they could pull the camera back even a few feet, that would, in my opinion, improve the game immensely.
  • When you start playing, they tell you that holding down "ALT" will allow you to see the objects in the area. What they fail to tell you is that by holding down "SHIFT", you can prevent yourself from running into a crowd of zombies should you misclick on an enemy you're trying to kill with a bow and arrow.
  • The plot of the story is excellent, but it comes to you via voice over. So if you're deaf or have the voices turned off, your only other choice is to read the pop-up box. Sadly, the text scrolls in the pop-up box at an achingly slow speed. This is my chief complaint about the game, as most of these boxes occur right after a boss battle when you're all amped up with adrenaline and then you have to calm down to wait for the plot. I read incredibly fast; just give me the whole block of text.
  • The standard keybindings are uncomfortable; expect to spend some time after the first act rekeybinding everything.
  • The overlay map that you pull up to see where you are is often times very difficult to see. I'm a little biased because as a gamer I hate overlay maps, but this one is particularly difficult to use against the backdrop of their complex terrain.
  • Though my love of the skill tree knows no bounds, if it was color coded so you could see the areas where the witch should focus or the duelist would be most at home, that would help new players. Also, there should be a way to click on the node you'd like to get to eventually and have a "ghost" path that shows you which nodes to buy in order to get there the fastest.
  • When you start a new character, you can't use numbers in your name, so you couldn't be, for instance, Mike1 or Mike29292 -- which is going to cause problems if this game becomes popular.
  • If you fail to click on a gem to upgrade it while playing -- perhaps because you were trying not to get hooked by a corrupt prison warden -- that gem will stop accumulating upgrade points until you finally remember to click the button. That's more a problem at the start of the game, but I wish they would fix that.
  • The game is online only. This means it comes with the same trappings as all other online games. Lag causes the game to do odd things like display creeps that aren't there. If your connection craps out or your log out, a certain amount of your progress will be lost. There is no save button and the zones you visit are procedurally generated so if you do get booted and try to go back, the zone will be completely new and you'll have to start it again. Also, on day one they had some sever drop issues but I haven't seen anything since so I feel safe in saying that they seem to have fixed those problems. This stuff is the nature of the beast, but this game would be almost perfect if they had a standalone version.
  • When they called the game Path of Exile, they weren't kidding. It's a path. I really wish there was more in the way of side quests and alternative plot decisions, but for the most part it's all about the primary path and the diversity comes from how you build your character.
  • There are times where you'll enter a new area and find yourself standing in a massive crowd of creeps. That's a bad thing because then you end up dead. There should always be a landing point even if it's immediately followed by chaos so players can get oriented.
  • Finally, the only technical problem I had in the game was in attempting to use certain upgrade gems. Sometimes the gem tells me it can be used on unequipped magical items, but when I attempt to use it nothing happens and I get an error message. I don't know if it's a bug or I'm doing something wrong or if my shield is so upgraded that it's run out of room for more awesomeness, but I need someone to fix it.

Final Thoughts

Often in RPG games, there is a shallowness in each aspect of play -- plot, upgrades, weapons, so on -- that while they may be successful together, each will fall to pieces upon closer inspection.

This game is deep on every level and it creates an experience that is incredibly fun and exciting. This game is free, but I personally will be investing in several of the items I found in their store not only because I want desperately to own a pet kiwi but also because I want Grinding Gear Games to make more of everything.

When it comes to nerd porn, the passive skill upgrade system is absolutely masterbatory. For that reason alone I recommend this game. But from the sheer scope of weapons to the engaging three-act plot, this free to play offering will simply blow your mind.

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