Path of Exile, a true successor to the likes of Diablo.

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This game is essentially the history of Australia with more zombies.

I reviewed the travesty that has become Diablo 3 last month, and one of its more criminal offenses was simply not feeling like a proper Diablo game. At its core it’s a hack and slash that bears little visual or gameplay resemblance to its predecessors, and worse still is that that since the game focuses so much on the loot lottery the game has absolutely no soul. What if I told you that there was a game that really captures the dark atmosphere of the original Diablo?  What if I told you that it took the best elements of Diablo 1 and 2 merged them together like peanut butter and jelly?  Best of all, what if I told you it was free?

Path of Exile came out of beta and went full release October 23rd, and it does everything Diablo 3 didn’t do in spades.  It’s a dark and atmospheric journey to the prison island of Wraeclest to which your character has been exiled for reasons they probably deserved.  You get to pick from seven classes (one of which is locked until you progress further into the game), all with their own history, personality, and starting play style.  Unfortunatly, you can’t choose the gender of each class, which might have been an artistic choice to give each character more individual life, but I would rather have had the chance to play a male witch or ranger.

This game is essentially the history of Australia with more zombies.
This game is essentially the history of Australia with more zombies, or less depending on who you ask.

Notice I said starting play style.  That’s because this game merges the best aspects of Diablo 1 and 2 and allows you to heavily customize your character in a ton of viable ways.  The skills you use are collected, like the tomes of Diablo 1, and bound to your items like gems in Diablo 2.  Truth be told, they operate a bit more like materia from Final Fantasy VII in how they operate and level up as you have them equipped, and that’s not all they borrowed from the Final Fantasy series.  Your passive bonuses improving your speed, strength, defense, and various other factors are handled via a sphere grid style tree ala Final Fantasy X.

As you can see, this templar doesn't have to stick with a mace.  The Staff, Axe, and Sword are readily available with a little bit of branching, and no two characters of the same class will likely be the same.
As you can see, this templar doesn’t have to stick with a mace. The staff, axe, and sword are readily available with a little bit of branching, and no two characters of the same class will likely be the same.  Best of all, no Blitzball playing whiny little pansies!

These two systems allow you to take your character in a ton of diverse directions.  The duelist is depicted as a sword wielding speed based combatant, but you aren’t locked into that archetype.  I bypassed all of the sword options and went for the punching dagger/claw option a bit off the beaten path.  Claws steal life, and my buddy likes to play monks so I decided to give the build a shot and fell in love with it.  I could have gone with just about any weapon specialization, or honestly stayed away from them and went for other passive buffs to sink my points into that would boost my core stats or other abilities.  He’s even decent at magic, something outside of most of the standard choices, but I love controlling monsters and found a zombie gem usually reserved for the witch class and I’ve had quite a bit of luck using them to help me when I don’t have a party.

I had difficulty choosing between cleansing the damned with hellfire or bending them to my will, so I chose both.
I had difficulty choosing between cleansing the damned with hellfire or bending them to my will, so I chose both.

So you aren’t locked into specific choices that seem like static subclasses, you can really experiment, and passive resets are common enough to revert most changes you’ve made if you don’t like the way things have worked out.  Combat itself feels great too.  Hits feel like they have impact, and spell and ability effects look great, as does the diverse set of environments you journey across from act to act.
This is one of the things you can augment through the cash shop, in a bold move to ensure the game doesn’t become pay to win, all of the purchases are cosmetic but aren’t just costumes you wear.  You can buy a completely different set of combat animations and spell effects that can change magical balls into bats or dragons, make your rough and dirty duelist fight with finesse and play up the crowed, and have a verity of themed pets that follow you around.  If you have some serious cash to the tune of a solid thousand bucks you can design your very own unique item to appear in the game.

I can’t recommend Path of Exile enough for fans disappointed with Diablo 3, and really anyone else looking for a good action RPG set in a dark and gritty world.  Everything from the voice acting to the lighting is leaps and bounds above the $60 Blizzard catastrophe and this game is fully free, but worth putting some real cash down to support its development and future growth.  I’ll see you on the other side of Wraeclest.

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