A year or so ago, I was looking through the free-to-play games available on Steam. A lot of games there are good examples of your typical free-to-play game. You CAN play for free, but paying gives you a real edge. That’s why people often refer to these kinds of games as “pay-to-win”, since these games almost punish you for not buying any content. But not Path of Exile. Oh, no. It’s marvellous.
If you started playing Path of Exile, your first reaction would probably be “Oh, this is like Diablo.”, and you’d be right. Like Diablo, you can pick your character from different classes. In this case, you have the usual three attributes: Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence. There are seven characters available; three who specialise in just one attribute, three hybrids specialising in two attributes, and the Scion, who is a balance of all three.
People often get discouraged as soon as they see the skill tree in this game, thinking it’s too much to handle. Trust me, it isn’t. I don’t like complicated and convoluted things, and this is far less complicated than it looks. Each character has a starting point, with the Scion in the middle. In the case below, you see the Marauder (Strength) as a starting point. From there on out, every time you get a skill point, you can choose which direction you’d like to go with your character. Do you want to use a shield or not? Do you prefer a weapon in each hand or a two-handed weapon? You can find bonuses for all those things and mould you character as you see fit.
The story won’t blow you away, but it’s decent enough. It’s serviceable to progress the game. Each character has a slightly different back story as to why they have been exiled, but the principle remains the same. You have been exiled from your homeland Oriath and the ship you were on capsized, leaving you on the shores of Wraeclast where your story begins.
Graphically, the game looks very pretty. It has a nice style to it and a distinct aesthetic. Animations are fluent, combat effects are beautiful and the dynamic lighting brings environments to life. Rarely does it feel like the screen is cluttered with enemies or effects, allowing you to always keep a clear view of things. It’s also light on resources, allowing it to be played on “grandma’s old computer” too. The initial loading time is very long, I’ll admit, but once the game is beyond that, it plays smooth as silk.
Another thing I really like is that you’re playing by yourself for most of the game. Each of the three maps has a central hub; a small village or encampment. You only encounter other players in those encampments, where you can trade or talk to them if desired, so for most of the game you can play uninterrupted. You can also create a party with friends who will then join you once you are outside of an encampment, so it’s also a great co-op game.
In honesty, I can’t really say any truly bad things about this game. Its story is probably its weakest point, but truthfully, you won’t be playing it for its amazingly intricate storyline. Its strong gameplay is what’ll get you hooked. It took me around twenty hours at a leisurely pace to beat it, and it’s fun. So fun, that I jumped right back in after my first playthrough. I love the combat, I love the locations and the visual. Mostly, I love that this game looks, plays and feels like a game designed by a passionate team. It feels like it’s a full priced, retail game all for the low price of nothing at all.
Now what does this game do that makes it stand out over other free-to-play games (aside form great gameplay)? Pretty much every micro-transaction you can buy does not influence gameplay at all. The only thing you could consider having any actual use are more tabs in your chest, allowing you to store more items. To be honest, I never even filled up my chest, so I never felt that the standard space given was unfair. Everything else you can buy is purely cosmetic. Different weapon effects, skins for weapons and armour (not changing its stats!), pets, the ability to dance, and so on. No one has an edge. No pay-to-win.
I have played Diablo. Not every iteration, but the first one, Diablo III and its DLC: Reaper of Souls. I played Diablo III after I discovered Path of Exile and every step along the way I kept thinking of PoE and how I’d much rather play that than Diablo. I think that’s a testament to how great this game is. Best of all, it’s free, and how can you beat that?
(EDIT: Just an afterthought and little tip if you do decide to play this game. The game files are packed in a single 6GB file and when it updates (which it does regularly), it tends to get very fragmented. Especially after a few updates. Make sure you defragment your disk/folder regularly.)