Path of Exile
So, yesterday my friends and I played Path of Exile all night in the Hardcore League (effectively permanent death). We had one fatality right after the prison: Briarstoned was pounced upon by leaping critters while most of us were selling in town and his level 12 duelist, which was built more for dishing out the beats than absorbing them, fell in a quick one-two punch.
Impressively, he was able to reroll a marauder and catch up to us in levels by the time we hit the mid-teens. We are currently on he edge of completing Act 1.
None of us (a sword & board tank, an archer, a marauder né duelist, and a necromancer) are particularly informed on the right way to min/max everything, which is making everything considerably more exciting as we stumble around Wraeclest scared for our virtual lives.
I am playing the aforementioned necromancer: A summoner witch. With the recent nerfs to Chaos Inoculation, my Energy-Shield-centric build may be less than optimal (especially in hardcore), but I’m intrigued by the mechanic and I want to explore it. Right now I’m going for pure ES and full intellect, but it’s possible that I’ll want to hybridize into Armour with the Body & Soul passives — though I think that will also require a bit of investment into Strength (which is somewhat wasted if my health will be permanently set to 1 via CI.) A “full” hybrid build, which would include more strength, more +% Life nodes, and fewer +% Energy Shield nodes is probably more appropriate for hardcore. But where’s the fun in that?
Another arguable inefficiency is that I’m already using Summon Skeleton. It sounds like a lot of people don’t bother until they get Spell Totems and until then they mostly just nuke things down with Freezing Pulse. Still, the Skeletons are FUN — and even without Unstable Minions my critters seem to do okay. They also do a great job of tanking and distracting the enemy. On top of my summons, I just lay down Firestorms and Cold Snaps, which feels great — though my single-target damage is weak and I don’t contribute as much to boss fights.
That being said, once I find some Faster/Multiple projectile support gets I suspect that Freezing Pulse spam will be the order of the day until totems (I’m still going to use Zombies though). I do have a FP gem socketed and gaining XP already.
The big question marks is whether I pick up bonus minion damage nodes or if I invest in something that will improve my direct damage output (via increased damage of a particular elements or just general casting speed/crit). I got one minion damage node early, but I should be able to undo it when I make a decision.
In terms of gear, we have crap. All of us are totally fresh accounts with nothing in our stashes. While trading may happen down the road, right now we’re just wearing whatever rags we happen to find.
I can honestly say that I had more fun on Path of Exile last night than I ever had in Diablo 3. Maybe even more fun than I had playing Diablo 2 — which is a hell of a thing to say.
P.S. Path of Exile is free to play. If you like it, you can support the game by buying cosmetic upgrades, non-combat pets, and increased stash space. There is no “pay to win”.
I was able to wrangle up a beta invite to Path of Exile, which will be a free-to-play Action-RPG (think “Diablo”) pseudo-MMO type game. A video is already recorded and should be online “soon”.
Every Action-RPG game I’ve ever played seems to bring something unique to the table. Diablo 1/2, Titan’s Quest, Torchlight, Din’s Quest…they all play with the formula in different ways. The genre is still relatively unexplored and I think we’ll continue to see a lot of different ideas in years to come.
However, out of all of those games, Path of Exiles is shaping up to be the most innovative yet. There are so many completely new ideas that I’m absolutely astounded. The most incredible part is that the ideas are all executed really, really well. I’m actually really impressed by how well put together the beta is. I’ve run into some placeholder text and images, but so far not a single bug of any kind.
As far as I can tell, there’s no game lobby: all the players are in the same game world and can hook up with each other in cities. That’s the pseudo-MMO element I was mentioning. There’s also global chatting, making the world feel very busy and alive. I’m constantly seeing people offering up items for trade, asking for advice, or looking to form groups. However, it looks like the actual adventuring areas are all instanced — which I think is ideal for the genre. You can murder monsters totally on your own, undisturbed by other people, or form parties and go as a group (though I haven’t actually done this yet).
Despite being an “indie” title, it has extremely high production values. The character/monster models are fantastic and the animation is top-notch. It suffers a little from the “brown-on-brown” colour pallet issues that more “gritty” games tend to fall into, but that’s pretty much the only thing I can critique about the look of the game (and for some people it will be a plus, since they might have disliked a more “cartoony” direction). I’ve only played for about 60 minutes, but so far there is a pretty decent variety of monster models despite the standard Action-RPG pallet/name swapping. I think the in-game music is fantastic and I have zero complaints about the sound effects for when I crush things with my giant maul.
And yes, it does have a “Hardcore” league — although dying there only kicks your character down to the “Softcore” league instead of outright perma-killing him or her. As far as the e-peen is concerned, I think that’s as good as dead for most people.
Passivity Pays Off
The talent/skill system is completely unique and novel. When you level, you do get a point that you can spend to unlock a passive attribute. There are four notable things here:
- This is only for passive effects, like +5% Two-Handed Weapon Damage or increased stun duration.
- All the 6 character classes (Templar, Marauder, Ranger, Duelist, Witch, and one unannounced) seem to have the exact same passive talent tree. This might sound like a bad thing at first, but…
- This is the biggest god-damned talent tree I have ever frakking seen in a game. Seriously. Wait until you see the video — I practically have an orgasm. So huge and interconnected. It’s a giant, beautifully laid out web that gives you many, many options about how to get to different sections of the talent “constellation”.
- Unlike games like Diablo and Titan’s Quest, you do not spend points to level up your attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence). Instead, leveling up passives also increases your base stats (there are three main branches of talents, corresponding to the different attributes, but they interconnect between each other frequently).
the biggest god-damned talent tree I have ever frakking seen in a game
The upshot of all this is that despite the fact that big-ass barbarian-type and the small-ass wizard-type both have the same passive tree, they are going to end up with a completely different selection of skills with very little duplication. Unless you want to. I’m sure someone will come up with an amazing Int-centric fighter guy who’s all about crits and elemental damage or something.
It’s too early to tell exactly how successful that model will be, but so far as both a gamer and as an aspiring game designer, I am completely impressed.
Active Skills are a Gem
Yes, I’m making a pun here. You may laugh.
Active skills are literally gems that you socket into items. Virtually all items seem to have sockets on them, and they appear to come in three different colours. After you complete your first quest (about 5 minutes into the game), you are rewarded with a choice of gems. Each gem appears to have a skill associated to it. For example, on my Marauder (the big-ass barbarian type), I chose a gem imbued with a ground-stomp move that creates fissures in a forward cone, damaging and stunning enemies. Later, I got another gem that gave me a “Cleave”, where I spin around with my weapon, damaging and knocking-back all enemies around me.
The first gem I equipped (into my weapon) automatically mapped its attack to my right-mouse-click (left-click remained my basic auto-attack). The second gem bound itself to my middle-click, which made me giddy! I never even realized, while playing Diablo and Titan’s Quest, how awesome a middle-mouse skill would have been!! It looks like subsequent gem skills will bind themselves to QWERT. I assume I could manually re-order the effect between keys.
Anyway, here’s the kicker: The gems gain experience as you fight and can level up. The longer you have them, the better they get. As I understand, you don’t have to be actually using the skill for your gem to level up — it just has to be equipped. You can remove gems from items, but while they are in your backpack they won’t gain XP.
However, this opens up HUGE strategic options, because it means that you can swap your skills based on the kind of opposition you’re heading into — though swapping gems too frequently would mean that you won’t be maxing out their level-gaining. Giving players the ability to make choices like this is key to making a deep and interesting game.
Another area of innovation in Path of Exile are the potions. This is something that every modern Action-RPG has tried to tackle, because the classic system is stupid and annoying. I’ve actually been playing Diablo 2 recently and man oh man is the potion management a huge pain in the ass. Titan’s Quest does a MUCH better job, but it still falls into the problem of just encouraging you to buy a bunch while in town and then spam your hotkey while in a boss fight.
In Path of Exile, your potion slots are very much like gear. You have five slots to play with, and so far I have found both health and mana pots to equip into those slots. The key difference is that the potions are not consumed in the standard manner. They have 30(?) charges each, and every time you use them it consumes 10 charges. Every time you kill a monster, the potions GAIN a charge. (Note that potion flasks in your inventory are always empty. You need to equip them and then start killing before they begin to fill up.)
This solves so many issues, it’s astounding. First, you once again as a player have to make good strategic decisions. What composition do you want to run with? Right now, I’m going 3 heals, 2 mana on my Marauder, but maybe I’ll want to flip that ratio around. Or maybe I’ll want a 4/1 setup. It also means that you can grind your way through a standard level without needing to go back to town to buy more potions. Obviously you still need a good character design and resource management not to run dry, but as long as your pacing is good, you can keep going forever. However, it also means that you have a limited set of resources for dealing with bosses, which is very important. One of the problems that infinite-vendor-potions leads to in other games, is that for bosses to be a challenge, there needs to be a huge risk of being two-shotted. However, with potions that needs kills to recharge, boss battles can now be designed to be a battle of attrition. Can you kill the boss before you run out of juice? Maybe some boss mechanics will involve spawning minions, which you can kill to help you recharge? I haven’t gotten to any major boss battles yet, so I don’t know exactly what Path of Exile does, but it opens so many different possibilities that I’m excited to consider.
Also: potions seem to occasionally have stats, just like magic items! For example, I found a healing flask that, during the 2 seconds when it is healing me, also gives me 25% damage resistance! Holy cow!
Now, maybe that’s the only sort of effect the flasks will ever have, but I can easily imagine that later I might find different effects. Maybe 50% magic resistance? 20% bonus damage? There are tons of possibilities, all leading to that common refrain: Path of Exile seems to consistently give you a lot of strategic choices. What combination will be correct for a specific character fighting in a specific area? Will you have a separate set of gems and flasks for bosses vs level-clearing? Already I have to chose between my “minor” healing flask, with the 25% damage resistance, or one of the newer, bigger, “moderate” healing flasks, which heal more hitpoints per use.
Path of Success?
Still, all these great design ideas won’t mean much if people don’t play the game. But Path of Exile is going to be tackling that head-on by adopting the free-to-play model which has proven to be exceptionally successful for many other games. Here’s what their FAQ has to say about it:
Path of Exile is 100% free to play, for everyone, forever. Our website will allow the purchase of many in-game perks and aesthetic upgrades, but all of these are completely optional, and players can have a complete, fulfilling gaming experience without spending a penny.
There is no catch at all, once you download the client you are free to play for as long as you like, with no charge. The purchasable perks do not convey any gameplay benefit, but help you create a unique look for your character and its fighting style.
“Free” is pretty compelling.
With the behemoth that is Diablo 3 looming just around the corner, it’s possibly *mandatory* for an Action-RPG, no matter how interesting and innovative it might be.
I, for one, cannot applaud Grinding Gear Games enough for their bold approach. Time will tell if the gamble will pay off.