A Scion to Try On: Path of Exile Previews Release Content
I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Path of Exile when I sat down in a San Francisco hotel to sample the free-to-play Diablo homage from fledgling New Zealand studio Grinding Gear Games. But I walked away very impressed with what I saw.
The title entered beta in January 2013, and the user-base quickly swelled into the millions. Fans (some of them no doubt disappointed by Diablo III) flocked to the title for its meticulous tribute to Blizzard’s 2000 masterpiece, and found a dark-fantasy ARPG that offers both familiar comforts (hello procedurally generated levels!) and clever innovations.
Most impressive is game’s skill system, which offers over 150 “skill gems” that can be swapped and combined on the fly to create unique results. As managing director Chris Wilson sat beside me at the controls, I saw how a simple fireball gem could be combined with other “support gems” until a single click sent multiple fireballs flying across the screen, each hit turning its target into a walking bomb that went off when the creature died. Sharp graphics — at once classic- and modern-looking — and gorgeous spell effects made combat look immediately appealing.
These creative combinations keep the player-base working hard to devise new synergies, augmented by the game’s gargantuan “passive” skill tree, whose 1350 nodes look like someone threw up a spaghetti dinner on a micro-chip. It’s an impressive piece of game design, though it can easily lead to a kind of “I don’t want to build a gimped character” paralysis in new players, as I soon found while playing the game at home.
After nine months in beta, Grinding Gear is finally ready for release. The full version of Path of Exile will become available on Steam and on the official website on October 23, 2013. Players both old and new can expect a range of new monsters, skills, and areas, including two new tilesets — a rain-soaked garden and a creepy library full of “exhibits” that may not be fully dead — that I saw on show at the event.
The devs on hand were also keen to show off the game’s new Scion class, a prestige class that will only be available to players who have completed the game once through. In contrast to other characters, the Scion sits in the exact middle of the passive skill tree, encouraging creative, hybrid builds that take full advantage of the game’s profusion of nodes, as well as its jeweler’s hoard of different gems.
The 1.0 version will also come with a wealth of new PvP options, including tournament seasons, Capture the Flag mode, and a time-limited mode that will reward teams that can kill quickly and efficiently. PvP bragging rights are supported by a new guild system, which offers guild banks as well guild-specific PvP and PvE challenges. Rewards for the latter pair will include character-pimping accessories that will act as a testament to players’ Path of Exile prowess.
As if this all weren’t enough, Grinding Gear is promising “fortnightly” content patches and major updates every four months. These thrice-yearly overhauls will coincide with the beginning and end of the game’s four-month “Challenge Leagues,” special game modes that enable the developers to hit a kind of economic reset button. Ideal for new players and old players who want a fresh start, the league system also helps the devs test new mechanics, folding the successful ones into the main game and abandoning those that don’t work.
Path of Exile may not win any points for originality, but I’d give it full marks in practically every other area. If you’re a fan of the Diablo series or other action-RPG’s, I highly recommend downloading the client on October 23. After all, it’s free, thanks to people who shell out hard currency — up to $75, in some cases — for cosmetic weapon effects and halos and other such nonsense. Let’s all take a moment to thank those people. They’re crazy, but still: thanks!