Friday, November 15, 2013

Path of Exile

I wonder if I should give Path of Exile another go. After my quick dip -- about a month ago actually; a week before the beta ended -- I have learned that the game has more depth in its mechanics than I thought. Then again, there are also reasons why I never got beyond Act 1 in the first place.

The main reason for that, though, is how I pretty much fucked up my character's build. Well, it did work fine all the way until the end of the act, when I discovered that the next tier daggers (and probably the following ones, too) would require Intelligence to equip. I had gone full Dexterity and invested too heavily into dagger passives for the two refund points to be able to save my character anymore. And so I thought I might as well play Torchlight 2 instead.

I don't think there's nothing wrong in PoE per se. It does its thing quite well, in fact, being what "Diablo 3 was s'posed to be". It certainly looks the part. And the game felt right and played smoothly. At least once the it was done with its hard drive torture. I always felt like it would unpack the whole damn game every time I launched it.

I also got an odd Titan Quest -esque vibe from the game. Which might not be a good thing. The distortion effect, monsters, and the character stances looked familiar. And how your characters and their gear always look like shit. Spell effects -- the ones I got to see, anyway -- were fairly nice, though. Much like in TQ.

I assume that's where Grinding Gear Games get (or hope to) the profit and money to run the game; by selling cosmetic improvements and vanity stuff. Path of Exile is a free-to-play game that prides itself in having only "ethical" micro-transactions. You can buy more stash space, but I think that's the only one with an actual (albeit minor) benefit. (I didn't fully explore the options available.)

While similar to Diablo 2, there are some differences in Path of Exile. The biggest one is how your character choice doesn't affect the skill set you get but merely the spot where you start the in colossal passive skill tree that each character shares. Active skills are gained by socketing skill gems in your worn equipment. The gems gain levels with you, which I found troublesome and reminded too much of Sacred's rune system with how the gems' requirements also grew bigger with levels.

Skill gems can be further enhanced by placing support gems into linked sockets, possibly radically changing how the skill works. Also -- a thing I learned later from watching some PoE videos -- there are actually passives that do that as well, called keystones. There are things like Blood Magic, which makes your skills use your health instead of mana. I, however, never discovered these keystones since they were hidden among the boring "+x bonus to something" ones. I think that the size of the passive tree a silly gimmick. They could cut down it to a reasonable size and format while still retain the depth the keystones offer.

Another thing different in Path of Exile is how it doesn't use a traditional currency, like gold, for trading. Instead, it has orbs and scrolls that modify other items. In my opinion, it's quite the difficult system for a new player; grasping the value of items takes time. It's pretty interesting nonetheless. Though I wish the game had moved on from the identify-every-damn-magic-item-with-a-scroll nonsense.

Healing potion chain-chugging doesn't exist as such for they've been replaced with flasks that are placed in your belt where they gain charges when you kill monsters. The question that immediately rises from such a solution, is what happens when you get into an extended fight -- say, a boss -- and can't kill monsters while still having to use the flasks. (They lose their charges when removed from your belt.) The answer is kind of obvious: you're fucked. Though it took the whole act before I experienced it in the first phase of the act boss that had no adds to kill, and my character died for the first time.

Path of Exile has one thing that, for instance, Torchlight 2 doesn't have, and that is unmodded and closed servers online play. Well, it's the only mode PoE has, being a F2P game. But I saw many requests for such a thing on Runic's forums after TL2 had been released, so I guess some people find it a better alternative for the cartoony (yet very meaty!) game. PoE probably has less segmentation of player base, too, although it does have the Leagues. And the Diablo style difficulty system, i.e. play the game through to play it again against harder monsters. Which I frankly am pretty tired of. I've done enough of it in D2, TQ, and Dungeon Siege 2 to bother with it again. That's why I have never started TL2 in a New Game+.

Of course, there is also the fact that you can play Path of Exile completely for free. That definitely attracts some players. I don't know. Maybe I'll give the game another go (with maybe more build research) at some point.

Oh, yeah. One small thing I forgot to mention is how the Strength-Dexterity-Intelligence trinity expands to gear. Str gear gives you damage reduction, Dex gear gives you evasion, and Int gear gives you a recharging damage shield. A beautiful, symmetric system. I quite like it.

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