MSRP: Free to play with in-game purchases.
For a free to play title, Path of Exile is huge and complex. It’d be hard to give a good assessment with 20 hours in, and I haven’t had nearly that much time to spend on a game in quite awhile. If you’ve ever played another ARPG (such as any of the Diablo iterations, Torchlight, Titan Quest Gold, Victor Vran, or The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing), Path of Exile may feel both comfortably familiar and strangely alien due to some of its more unique takes on the genre.
Now, I’m absolutely an advocate for spending money on good free-to-play games. Personally, I like to look at free to play as a really really generous demo, that allows you to decide for yourself how much the game is worth. As a result, I’ve been known to spend significantly more on free-to-play titles than their pay-to-play counterparts. Since I don’t know what I’ll actually be getting, I tend to look for the cheapest price possible, so I don’t feel as if I’ve wasted my money.
The problem here, at least for me, is that there isn’t a whole lot I’m interested in spending my money on, assuming I fall in love with the game. The developers take their commitment to staying away from pay-to-win very seriously, which leaves only cosmetic and convenience items. Normally, the first thing I drop a bit of cash on in a game like this is extra character slots, and the extra slots here are very reasonably priced. The “problem” comes from the fact that you’re given 24 character slots for free.
Oddly enough most of the convenience items (such as additional stash tabs) are fairly reasonably priced, while some of the cosmetic flair is absurdly expensive. It’s even stranger, at least to me, in a game where you get zero default cosmetic character customization. Although both male and female player characters are represented across the class selection, gender is determined by class, and there is only one default appearance per class. While I understand that in an ARPG, there are better uses of time than creating unique player character appearances, I also find it surprising that in an MMO (and make no mistake, Path of Exile is an MMO), that so little effort was put into making characters aesthetically customizable. Maybe they sell more cosmetic upgrades this way.
… but I wander off. The game itself is very dark and full of things that will eat your face, if given half a chance, so in that at least, it fits comfortably in the standard APRG tropes. Early killing is the massive click-fest you might expect (although I am still boggled by the decision to bind an ability to scroll wheel click – if there’s a way to change that, I haven’t found it yet). The skill trees are massive, but unlike it most ARPGs, the points you get from leveling up won’t give you shiny new abilities – the entire skill tree is full of passives. And it’s immense.
Instead, active skills are obtained through the looting and equipping of skill gems. When playing as the Witch, I obtained a fireball gem almost instantly, and socketed it into my weapon, opening up the ability to right-click cast fireball. Gems can be easily and instantly unsocketed if, for example, you find a better weapon, but want to continue using the ability from the gem in your previous one. Gems also level up as you gain experience, improving your abilities.
Like many ARPGs, your inventory in Path of Exile is cripplingly small, and you will want to collect Scrolls of Wisdom as well as other components in your travels. However, since there is no monetary currency, at least not that I’ve found, you don’t have to feel so bad about leaving behind non-magical items, or even magical items you won’t use. Items can be sold in towns, but all your receive for your trouble is fragments of Scrolls of Wisdom (which are used to identify magical items). So far, I haven’t found them to be in short supply, but I do try to make sure my bags are full when I return to town, just in case.
Probably my biggest complaint is how many convenience features in the UI are turned off by default. I found myself getting frustrated early on, but when I went searching in the options menu, I found tick boxes for most of the things I thought were missing (like health bars and a mini-map). I like that there’s options for people who prefer to play with a less cluttered UI, but it was off-putting as a new player to feel like information was being withheld, and I would have greatly preferred more information initially with the option to turn things off instead of on. But it’s a small gripe – after all, everything I was looking for was there, I just needed to activate it.
Path of Exile is extremely robust for a game that asks nothing from you up front. Almost three years post-release, and it’s still getting frequent updates – including a new expansion pack due out early next month. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like a good introduction to ARPGs – in this respect, it’s uniqueness and depth work against it. But if you’re already an ARPG fan, and you haven’t tried Path of Exile, I certainly can’t fathom what you’re waiting for.