Wednesday, January 22, 2014

3 days of...Path of Exile!

Catching my interest from the get go.

I seem to be on a Free to Play run lately. After playing Rift for a few days, I wanted to see if any other similar models could convey quality and zero investment. It has got to be difficult to balance that model, and there are a very few that get it right. Based on what I've read and finally getting the chance to play, Path of Exile by Grinding Gear exhibits the ability to strike that balance well.
Despite the poor reputation of Free to Play games, Path of Exile is immensely enjoyable. The Diablo formula of the isometric dark adventure definitely influenced the game, but it takes it's own spin just enough to make it fresh. I daresay they improved on the formula, much in the opposite direction that Diablo III seemed to take.
Each new area looks amazing, interesting,
 and different than other areas.
Path of Exile is designed to the smallest detail to generate a constant interest in consistent play, and keeping the player in their seat for as long as possible. There are regenerating flasks that keep your character steam rolling through enemies, and nearly no preparation before a large battle keeps down time to a minimum. This lack of preparation time isn't a bad thing either. It keeps you playing and exploring, enjoying each new turn or mob of enemies until you check the clock and you've suddenly lost hours of your life.
I experienced this plenty of times through the last 3 days. It seems that Grinding Gear has created a time machine, if only in one direction. This isn't a bad thing however, because each moment is memorable, and each new area of the world is different and new. When you perish, the levels are generated randomly so each time you return it is a slightly different map.  Fresh enemies litter the landscape at each stop, and way stones let you travel quickly in case of a full backpack or death.
On the topic of selling items, gone is the days of gold and silver. Now when you sell items you trade instead for rare stones or shards that eventually add up to become a useful item to change your equipment. So if you get that rare item that doesn't quite have the right gem slots, you may want to keep it until you can sell enough trash to re-equip it with a rare stone you've assembled.
Losing health means that this light bubble
gradually goes away in the dark. Nice touch!
This adds complexity to the stone system that installs gems that give your character his/her skills. Skills are entirely removable, so your set of armor and it's capabilities becomes important because if you don't have your skills equipped properly, they won't improve. So you may have to pass on that unique item if it doesn't have the two gem slots you need instead opting for a statistically less useful pair of boots or belt.
Deeper still is the spider-web inspired skill tree that allows you many different directions in which to customize your character. These skills however are entirely passive. You earn nothing from them that activates an ability, but they greatly change the way in which you should play each character.

The quest hub is also a multiplayer area, where
as the combat areas are instanced.

If you're like me at all, you enjoy this desperate balancing act at each turn, and the character screen luckily has statistics on your equipment to help you optimize your build. Just this aspect alone keeps me coming back, as I know that each new helmet or shield can add to or take away from the synergy of what may be a balanced set I currently have.
All this makes the Path of Exile addictive, and because of this I wanted to invest in the time that the developers have put into it through their in-game store. But when I turned to the store I saw that most items, even though many of them were aesthetic, cost upward of $15 for a single item, to $50 for a set of them in a supporter package. Many of those were single use, so I didn't want to waste that investment on a low level character after 3 days. Later, after I've pushed my character to a higher more proficient level, I might invest in these items, I just wish the store was a little more immediately accessible for casual players.
Overall though, I will come back to Path of Exile. Partly because it's one of the only isometric adventures that I truly enjoyed, but mostly because of it's deep character building and unique continuous gameplay elements. There are so many other subtleties that I didn't cover that make this title worth looking into, especially since it's free.
You'll like this game if: You always wanted to combine Lego's and statistical analysis. Or if you enjoyed the Diablo-style market and want to see if a Free to Play can pull it off right.
(If you had a different experience or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below!)

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