Now, with a week of experience under my belt, I can safely say that Path of Exile has swiftly become one of my current favorite games outside of the Fighting genre. What I initially took to be a Diablo clone and nothing more has swiftly proven that it can stand on its own within a genre that it certainly didn’t create, and could even prove to bolster that genre in the coming months, or even years if Grinding Gear Games plays their cards right.
Beheading hordes of undead and unraveling thousands of yards of demonic ribbon is inherently fun, but Path of Exile offers more than hour upon glorious hour of mindless slaughter through it’s incredibly deep character customization system–the depth of which can only be matched by the now decade-old Diablo 2. Now, I’m not going to rag on Diablo 3 for lacking character build customization, because it does have a lot to offer, but what it offers is very modern and, well, “softcore,” when compared to PoE. PoE takes a step away from modern gaming norms of easy respeccing, quick fixes for bad decisions and clear-cut, obvious paths of progression and forces players to–at least attempt to–map out a build for a character before making it. It doesn’t have to be anything complex: for example, I wanted to play a Ranger based around the idea of a high mobility archer (cliche, but a simple place to begin). So I took to the passive skill tree builder with this idea in mind and set out a rough path, read a couple of guides on the official forums, tweaked my build to suit what I had read and then I got started. Thus far, I have taken skill nodes that involved bow damage increases, accuracy increases, critical hit chance modification and projectile speed modification, as well as evasion nodes for defense. It’s not a perfect build by any means, but I’m having a great time launching volleys of arrows at anything that wriggles toward me from the darkness.
Character build planning like this appeals to the mathy side of me–friends and family might note that I inherently hate math, but, for some reason, if the math involves betters my ability to fell swarms of demons with some sort of magic, it’s way more appealing. Who could have guessed? Theorycrafting has been a favorite activity of mine since the days of Dungeons and Dragons, where I would map out an entire character up until max level (and sometimes beyond, just for kicks) after one evening of play. These sort of things excite me. I have applied this side of my brain to MMOs as well: the Burning Crusade era of World of Warcraft stands out in my mind because that’s when I discovered the website Elitist Jerks and found out that I’m not entirely crazy for desiring to build the perfect character (maybe on a little bit).
If you’d rather just hop right in and get to playing, as opposed to poring over text to find the best build for you, the official forums offer an insane amount of builds that have become popular since release, as well as archives of builds that have fallen from popularity due to changes in the game’s mechanics. To give one such build a try, just for kicks, I picked (mostly at random, but sort of based on this picture) a Shadow that revolves around heavy evasion/mana shield (standard, I know) and uses a single claw weapon and a shield for forcing its way through the armies of of the undead. For new players, I’d recommend trying an established build like this one before moving on to trying one of your own. Chances are, through playing the game with a build that works you’ll learn why such a build works and will, in turn, learn what makes a build truly good within this engine.
Once build choices like these are made, they do become, more or less, “locked in.” Builds can be changed through Orbs of Regret, but when a full build at max level contains 120 points which would need to be refunded in order to completely start over, it’s quite a bit more efficient to just remake a new character and try again. To give an idea of how rare Orbs of Regret are, in a playthrough of the game on normal difficulty, I came across two of them. This can be offputting to new players, but if you’re on the fence about playing PoE simply because of the system’s lack of respec ability, I encourage you to give a popular build a shot. If you like Action RPGs, especially with a touch of different flair than Diablo 3, I can only imagine you’ll love PoE.