Saturday, February 25, 2012

Path of Exile beta

I feel my luck has turned. I'm still not in the Diablo 3 beta but yesterday I had the good fortune to win a beta key for Path of Exile, an upcoming action RPG with a punch. This game, from a small New Zealand company, has been in the making for 5 years if what I hear is true. I signed up for a beta a year ago but never got an invite and promptly forgot about the game. And then yesterday, I stumbled across a batch of 1000 beta invites to which I immediately applied and got my key.

I've been playing Path of Exile since then and I can't get enough of it. This game seems to be the true spiritual successor to the original Diablo. It's gritty, dark and gory. It has me hooked.

The beta seems incredibly stable so far. I run the game at maximum resolution, slightly less than 1920x1200 because I run it in a window, and there are no hiccups or stutters. In the roughly 10 hours I have played it, it hasn't crashed or become unstable and I haven't even found the slightest issue with it. It feels rock-solid.

Path of Exile has a character level limit of 60 as far as I can determine at this point. There are only 3 attributes in the game: Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity. This keeps things simple but it also helps to clearly define the available classes. Each primary class is associated with an attribute and in addition there are 3 hybrid classes. A pure Strength class is called a Marauder, the Witch is associated with Intelligence while the Ranger uses Dexterity. The 3 hybrids are Strength-Dexterity (Duelist), Strength-Intelligence (Templar) and Dexterity-Intelligence (as of yet unannounced).

I started the game with a Marauder which was fun up to level 13 or so, fighting with a massive 1H weapon, after which I switched briefly to a Ranger which primarily uses bows and finally tried a Witch. Witches, of course, use magic to great effect and here's where I got even more hooked. I couldn't stop playing the Witch, it's so much fun.

Right off the bat I noticed that Path of Exile, while created by a small team with limited resources, has introduced a whole bunch of innovations to the genre. It's quite ironic if you think about it. In contrast, Diablo 3 which is run by a huge company with practically limitless resources has produced a game which, while still awesome, fails to innovate, unless you consider the Real Money Auction House and perhaps the skill/rune system. Path of Exile has several tricks up its sleeve that make it stand out of the crowd. I will talk about these features in future posts because right now I'm very excited about going back to play it.

One of the best things about Path of Exile, and something that I should have probably stated at the beginning, is that it is free to play. Yep, it's an online Action RPG which will be completely free to play. The devs are relying on micro-transaction to cover their expenses. But don't think that they will sell items to players. Nope, they have emphatically stated that they will only sell cosmetic stuff which doesn't influence the game one bit. You know what? After playing the beta, I would have no problems paying for it, it's that good.

Path of Exile is also broken up into Acts and at this point I assume that it probably has 4 Acts, similar to Diablo 2.

It is a lobby game, in the sense that you can see other players only around hubs, while the zones are all instanced. You can obviously group with others but I haven't tried that yet because I'm still getting the hang of things.

In all, the game seems very solid and well-made and the grittiness is quite refreshing considering that developers are playing it safe these days, without showing a lot of blood and gore. There are a few things here and there that need to be improved, especially around the interface which is a bit bland and doesn't show character information to the best effect. At this point the biggest nit I have to pick is the lack of a "compare" feature, like many games have, where you can see the equivalent equipped item when hovering your pointer over a piece of equipment in your inventory.

If you are a fan of the Diablo series then I seriously recommend Path of Exile. Go to the site and sign up for the beta. You probably won't get in immediately but when you do, you won't regret it.

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