We're little more than two weeks away from the launch of Grinding Gear Games' Path of Exile and last week, company reps came to San Francisco to show off the dark and dynamic online role-playing game. From that day's demo, Path of Exile appears to be one of the most complex role-players around, with a skill tree featuring more than 1,000 passive skills. It also promises to be the RPG for power-levelers, economy-dominators and lore-lovers alike.
Path of Exile is set in the murky world of Wraeclast, a land not only populated by, but formed by monstrous horrors. Those souls unlucky enough to be exiled to Wraeclast have two choices: be tough or be dead. Fans of the Diablo series will be immediately drawn to Path of Exile because the two are without doubt, graphically and game-mechanically related. Seen from an orthogonal view, the game's fiery blasts and crumbling stone walls (not to mention its interface) bring Diablo instantly to mind. There's also some affinity between both games' typical fantasy classes of which Path of Exile features six: Marauder, Ranger, Witch, Duelist, Templar and Shadow.
Where Path of Exile strikes out into its own territory is in the construction—and player usage—of its skill trees. Seen all at once, this crazy-complex collection of passive abilities looks something like a free-form computer chip and as such, can be overwhelming. Starting from a central class-based hub, players work their way across the tree. Three of the characters—Duelist, Templar and Shadow, are hybrids and the demo suggested there to be no limitations on their builds, beyond your willingness to spend the points needed to make it happen. While the look of the skill tree is a clear indicator that Path of Exile isn't meant for the casual player; devoted RPG fans will likely eat it up.
Something else the practiced role-player is sure to enjoy is the game's skill gem system. Skill gems represent the characters' active skills so instead of each character having a slate of skills set out for it that over time grow increasingly better, collectible, tradeable skill gems are socketed into their gear. As characters grow stronger, their gems grow stronger with them.
During the demo, Grinding Gear Games showed how all of this works using a “prestige class” called the Scion. In a bid to increase replayability, the Scion can only be unlocked by finding the Scion in game and by beating the game at least once. Once they've done it, players can enjoy a class that's a fresh combination of ranged and melee. On show was a female Scion who cast lightning strikes all around her while whaling away on monsters. Scions have something called “trigger guns”, which are a setting within the character's inventory that can set attacks like Lightning Strike to trigger in conjunction with melee attacks. The Scion can also teleport hither and yon, and can auto-cast a spell that sends copies of his or her weapon hurtling out like a sharp-edged boomerang.
The coolest thing about the Scion though, and a great answer to the “too much loot” problem, is the Scion's ability to animate items. Whenever the Scion finds extra gear lying around, he or she can—for a one-time mana cost—magically make that gear come together to become a kind of temporary pet. Just like in Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, armor and weapons jump up and march on the enemy. Awesome.
For completionist gamers who love a good backstory, the Scion has far more vocal commentary than any other character class and the new Imperial Gardens and Library areas are chock-full of both lore and startling surprises. Path of Exile is currently in open beta but in two weeks, players will enjoy five new monster types, three new tile sets and nine new skill gems. They'll also get to start formal guilds, participate in more arcadey capture-the-flag PvP tournaments, and jump into a new boss fight that wraps up the story begun during the beta. Most interestingly, players will be able to join new Challenge Leagues.
The focus of the new Challenge Leagues will be shrines. Shrines are objects that do things like rain fire all around them; they're hazardous to get ahold of. but whoever takes possession of those shrines will earn a sizable advantage over other players.
Grinding Gear Games made clear at the San Francisco event that their intent is to cater to the community and encourage them within Path of Exile, to feel ownership. To that end, players interested in spending $1,000 get the right to design an item that will be implemented in-game (it might sound crazy, but 340 people have already done it!) and a larger package priced at $12,500 gives players the right to design their own in-game monster. (Incidentally, three people, including Minecraft creator, Markus “Notch” Persson, have already done this.)
At 3.1 million registered players, Path of Exile is pre-release, already one of the biggest free-to-play (Mind you, not “free-to-win”. All purchasable items are strictly cosmetic.) online games out there. This is a true “gamer's game” kids, and no true RPG fan should miss it.
For more information about Path of Exile, visit the official Path of Exile website.