Revisiting Path of Exile (again)

During the first half of April we went on vacation. When we returned home I was looking forward to diving into gaming again, but, as is often the case after such a ‘forced break’, once I sat down at my computer I wasn’t quite feeling it. To not log in and play your MMO of choice for a couple hours a day every day for a while sometimes changes your perspective on things, it seems.

I still log into Black Desert every day to get my login goodies and Boss scrolls, but that’s pretty much it at the moment. I don’t intend to quit, but I don’t want to invest the time and energy it takes to do something substantial either. For now.

Whenever I don’t devote most of my playtime to an MMO (or several) and just want to dabble for a bit every now and then my genre of choice is the Action RPG. I fell in love with the playstyle these games offer at the start of 1997 when I sunk ungodly amounts of time into the first Diablo. Since about four years ago my favourite ARPG is Path of Exile.

I started playing after I had watched a trailer for its first expansion, Sacrifice of the Vaal, which I quite liked. That many people dubbed PoE the ‘true’ successor to Diablo II, which I loved and still love, sealed the deal for me.

It’s indeed very obvious right from the start that the folks at Grinding Gear Games are big fans of Diablo II. Even the first thing you do after creating an account and logging in, namely choosing a class for your first character, looks and feels exactly the same.

It’s not a simple carbon copy though, far from it. What they managed to do is to take almost everything that was great about Diablo II and make it even better, perfect it and expand on it, while leaving out its (precious few) weak points.

For example, my most played and highest level character in Diablo II was a Frozen Orb/Fireball/Meteor Sorceress, but my most beloved character was a Necromancer with his army of skeletons, revived monsters and a golem. The playstyle of managing an army, supporting it with curses and other spells while focusing on staying out of harm’s way myself feels incredibly satisfying to me.

The Necro’s design wasn’t perfect though, especially concerning the minions. In PoE I can play an ‘Armymancer’ exactly the way I like, because the most glaring weaknesses the DII-Necro had are gone. When I revive monsters to fight for me they don’t vanish after a couple of minutes, so it’s actually worth it to take the time and hunt for the best possible monsters at the highest level for this. They even persist after logging out of the game nowadays! There are other minions which do have a limited lifespan, but I can do neat things with those too. I can for example place totems which then continuously spit out these minions, so I don’t have to cast them myself and can concentrate on other things.

PoE_Summoner
My Summoner-Witch in her element (sans minions, else you wouldn’t be able to see her).

PoE’s most talked about feature is the passive ability tree. Just one look at it perfectly illustrates why.

PathOfExile Skill Tree
My Summoner-build at level 88 with all available points spent.

It seems overwhelming at first, but you get used to and comfortable with it pretty quickly.

What it indeed does is give you a lot of flexibility to build your character of choice. In a lot of games such perceived flexibility often turns out to be pretty fake in reality because there’s just one or two ‘optimal’ paths. By not choosing one of those you’d gimp yourself, and who would want that?

With this passive tree you can fully play to your build’s strenghts, iron out weaknesses and/or let it do things that it otherwise could not. Above all it makes the character your very own. I’m pretty sure there exists no other Witch with this exact same passive tree, the same items and the same skill gems. As long as you don’t copy a character from the forums or reddit to a T it will be unique, and can still be strong at the highest levels.

Graphics, sound and moment-to-moment gameplay all feel very familiar to Diablo II veterans. The 3D-engine doesn’t quite match the level of detail Blizzard managed to cram into their 2D 640×480 pixels (800×600 with the Lord of Destruction expansion), and in terms of great, spooky atmosphere nothing beats DII’s Act 2 and 3. In my opinion these two aspects are the only ones where PoE doesn’t match or surpass its unofficial predecessor though.

PathOfExile Spectres
To be fair, PoE has some pretty creepy monster design. Fortunately these guys follow MY lead now!

Now, what about the payment model?

It’s free to play and has arguably the best (while not the cheapest) item shop of them all. Not a single item in that shop has any impact on gameplay whatsoever. GGG sell exactly two categories of items there: stash tabs and eye candy.

It’s true that you will definitely want some additional stash tabs once you play the game for longer than a couple of days, but if you wait for a sale on those you can easily nab a lot of storage space for the price of a normal game – and PoE is at least worth as much, let me tell you.

The eye candy is, as always, a matter of taste and completely optional. There are a lot of really nice armor sets, weapon effects etc. on offer, but also some rather hideous ones. Since most armor and weapons found in game aren’t exactly lookers and I wanted to support GGG anyway I’ve decked my other characters out quite a bit too.

PoE_Characters
From top left clockwise: Marauder, Scion, another Witch and Shadow.

If you like ARPGs and haven’t tried out PoE yet (unlikely but possible) I strongly recommend giving it a go.

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