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A Quick Look at Path of Exile
From its expansive and near-limitless customization of a character’s build to its in-depth skill-based gameplay, Path of Exile is an example of great design choices by the developers, Grinding Gear Games. I have been playing this game since it came out in the public beta test back in 2012. I will say that it is not new player friendly, though, as the sheer quantity of available customizations tends to overwhelm newer players rather quickly.
For most of my life, I have had a hobby of playing video games. There have been a lot of amazing experiences and a lot of expectations thoroughly disappointed. In this review, I want to talk about one of those fantastic experiences. The game in question is Path of Exile, and it is quite possibly one of my all-time Favorite video games to have been released.
From its expansive and near-limitless customization of a character’s build to its in-depth skill-based gameplay; This ARPG is an example of great design choices by the developers, Grinding Gear Games. I have been playing this game since it came out in the public beta test back in 2012. This was back when the community of Diablo 2 players was searching for the true successor to the Diablo Series, having been let down by the early version of Diablo 3, myself among them.
I’ll quickly note that Diablo 3 has since been totally revamped, and is actually kind of fun in and of itself, but it isn’t quite what I enjoy in an ARPG – It just feels too linear. I’ll explain what I mean in a later review of Diablo 3.
With over 3,700 hours sunk into this game, I can say that Path of Exile just has something that ticks all the right boxes for me to keep coming back.
With that said, it isn’t without its caveats either – there is no such thing as a perfect game. Without further ado, let’s get started with the Path of Exile Review!
- Extraordinarily Customizable and in-depth character building
- Somewhat meditative grinding – It is strangely relaxing
- Creates a Sense of fulfillment when a build you make works well
- Free to play
- New league and new mechanics are added to the game every 4 months.
- Incredibly complex skill tree
- Will frustrate the ever-living crap out of new players if their builds aren’t built with enough defenses.
- A ton of Skill gem options available, adding another layer of complexity
- Horrible performance on lower-end computers – You have to drop the graphics settings relatively low to get a usable framerate, and even that won’t help if your build is very visually demanding
A Massive Skill tree – 1325 Passive nodes to choose from
For me, this tree is one of the most outstanding features that this game has to offer. However, it serves as one of the most significant entry barriers to this game for new players, and for a good reason. It is incredibly overwhelming, even to us veteran players— a staggering 1,325 nodes to choose from.
With a hard limit of only 123 points to allocate total at max level, or 128 if you’re a Scion, it is hard to know exactly what path to take that will yield a workable build.
This very tree is actually the namesake of the game itself; the path you take here determines how strong your character ends up being. The Path of Exile – You will Exile characters to non-existence when their path fails to meet or exceed your expectations. The developers practically designed this game to make it hard to succeed.
When I first laid eyes on this tree, my first thought was, “Holy crap!”. I was thoroughly deluged by its size and complexity, but I was also intrigued. I made several different characters, each of whom had reached a wall where I could go no further. They died so often that, at times, I quit from frustration for months at a time.
But I always came back, even though every single one of my characters hit that wall. Here’s why:
The Passive Skill Tree Is a Custom Builders Dream
It is this very same complex amalgamation of the skills on the tree that gives players variety and the ability to customize a character to their exact specifications. This level of customization is what I love most about this game. What looks like a complicated mess of nodes is one of the most open-ended approaches to character customization that I have ever seen in a video game. Honestly, it would be better to call it a skill web.
…you can… use those 123 skill points to make your character absolutely broken in that it completely wipes the floor with all content that the game has to offer.
The first game that I know of that utilized a skill tree like this is Final Fantasy X, which I have also dropped an obscene number of hours into grinding out Blitzball games and dodging lightning strikes as a kid.
Can you combine 123 skills together to make an absolutely broken character who can’t hurt a fly?
Yes, and in fact, a good portion of my characters ended up this way. I like to experiment. >.>
But you can also use those 123 skill points to make your character absolutely broken, in that it completely wipes the floor with all content that the game has to offer. It all depends on how you combine game mechanics into what is known as a character build.
The Build Process – An Exercise in Theory Crafting in PoE
If there is one thing Diablo 3 does better than Path of Exile, it is its ability to make the three essentials obvious to the player – Toughness, Recovery, and Damage. These all matter in Path as well, but they are broken down into different sub-systems to allow greater levels of customization.
|Life||Life / Energy Shield Leech||Critical Chance / Multiplier|
|Energy Shield||Life / Energy Shield Regeneration||Spell Damage|
|Armor||Life / Energy Shield on Block||Physical Damage|
|Evasion||Life / Energy Shield on hit||Attack / Cast Speed|
|Physical Damage Reduction (Armor also Gives this)||Life / Energy Shield on Kill||Elemental Damage|
|Elemental Damage Reduction||Life Flasks||Cooldown Reduction|
A Layer of defense that all builds need is resistances – Elemental resistance is one of the most powerful defense mechanics that you want to immediately prioritize over all others. For every point you are under resist cap, you take 1% MORE damage, it is a damage multiplier.
In order for a character build to be successful, you need several layers of toughness, recovery, and damage. When you fail to properly balance a character between these three, then your character will develop weaknesses.
Not only that, but you need enough of each layer for it to be effective.
For examle, say you get a ton of life leech and damage, but not enough life itself. Well, now you’re open to possible one-shots (Or at least a very swift death from a spike of damage from multiple sources) because you didn’t have enough life to handle the incoming hits.
Of course, if you add a second layer of toughness, like armor, then each point of health is more valuable, and more able to absorb hits.
I absolutely love the theory crafting metagame in Path of Exile, this is just a small taste of what is possible. Make friends with the Path of Exile Wiki – It is the door to really digesting everything this game has to offer.
The Key to a Successful Build in Path of Exile
To help you avoid the frustration I felt as a new player if you decide to give this game a shot, I want to give you a brief overview of things that you’ll need to know. A typical successful build has three to four layers of toughness, not including Elemental Resists:
- Life + Armor + Block
- A balanced approach of improving the value of hitpoints with Armor and using block to eliminate a portion of the damage
- A good quantity of life to aim for is 150%, or at least enough to have 5k life.
- Block cap is 75% – Aim to reach block cap if you’re going to invest into block.
- I’m not sure how much armor% is needed, but I know that you need at least 4 different nodes on the tree. If you find yourself dying, drop some damage and get more armor and/or life.
- Life + Energy Shield + Dodge + Evasion
- A buffer approach – A large quantity of life and ES combined that soaks large hits and dodge/evasion combined to give you time to recover before you get hit again.
- Energy Shield + Armor + Dodge
- A more advanced approach is heavily reliant on good gear to get the buffer you need to forgo life. Energy Shield-focused builds are not recommended for new players because of this.
- Life + Block + Dodge
- A somewhat chance-y approach where you stack life to an extreme and use block and dodge together to eliminate a large portion of incoming hits.
Each of these approaches is then supplemented with one major and one minor recovery method. The difference between major and minor methods is based on how many points are invested into it. Almost every build also needs some mana nodes on the tree to have the resources it needs to actually attack. Several of my early builds failed because I thought I could get away with no mana nodes on the tree. Don’t make that same mistake.
Some recovery methods can only be a minor method. Life on block, for example, is a rare trait that only items can have – you can’t get it on the passive tree. But it is extremely powerful if you invest heavily into blocking.
Once you have your defenses set in stone, and complimentary recovery methods, then you drop the rest of your points into dealing as much damage as possible. If you don’t, then you’ll end up with a glass cannon, and if you’re a new player, then it will be frustrating to deal with, as later in the game, you lose experience on death.
Trust me on that one – Glass cannons get old quick.
The Gameplay Experience – Path of Exile Review
Making a character build from scratch is one gameplay aspect that really hooks me, if you hadn’t noticed. But not everybody enjoys this aspect of gameplay. If you don’t like theory-crafting new builds, then that is a large portion of the game you won’t care for.
With that said, there are character builds that players have created to get you in and going with a minimal understanding of what all the mechanics of your build actually does.
These players make it possible for a larger subset of individuals to experience the other major part of the game that most people care about – Slaying monsters and getting loot.
So how is that part of the game?
Well… It is fantastic!
Path of Exile is classified as an Action Role-playing game or ARPG for short. This game genre is a monster-blender dungeon crawling type game, where your character will slay monsters by the tens of thousands. Each “pack,” as they are called, tends to only take a couple of seconds, if not a couple of hits, to dispatch. Upon killing a monster, it has a chance to drop an item. What that item can be is randomized based on a ton of parameters.
Stronger builds can clear entire maps in under a minute, which is absurdly fast. This gameplay style makes it to where I feel extremely powerful, especially when compared to a less action-oriented RPG, such as World of Warcraft, where combat is much slower-paced. It also serves as a great stress relief activity, as there is nothing like taking out pent-up frustrations on pixel monsters en masse.
There are more challenging encounters, Rare packs, and Magic packs, but also Unique boss fights with intricate mechanics involved. I won’t spoil anything, but suffice it to say that you won’t always feel like a steamroller – Bosses add an element of difficulty that adds to the challenge. Some builds struggle with bosses but steamroll packs. Other builds annihilate bosses but have a tough time with packs.
If a bit laggy at times with certain builds.
The cause of the lag
See, with the number of monsters that are on screen at once and the number of hits that you can do to those monsters in mere seconds, there is a metric boatload of computational calculations that need to be done within those short seconds. This results in markedly higher demand on your hardware, and as a result, your game will lag, even on the best of machines running an RTX 3090 (If you were so lucky as to be able to find one these days).
Mix in the fact that Path of Exile is now 8 years old, its continual upgrades to the graphics, and making build capabilities even more absurd; this results in times where your framerate can tank to single digits in certain situations.
The solution is to drop your graphics settings lower – a compromise that many of you with high-end video cards aren’t keen to hear, but again, this is only necessary for builds that are littering the screen with skill effects.
I will mention a sense of satisfaction you get from a build that can bring your computer to its knees, begging you to stop. Before the firestorm and cast on critical strike rework, I had a Spectral throw character that made a literal pillar of flame from the absurd number of firestorms on screen. Unfortunately, I do not have a screenshot of this in action, but just imagine your screen is just a blazing orange/yellow, changing slightly once every 3 seconds: that right, 1/3rd of a frame per second. By the end of it, either the enemies or I was dead—every time. That, or the game kicked me out because I was overloading their server.
IT WAS GLORIOUS!
Gear Crafting – The Final Gameplay Element In Path of Exile
Another aspect of the game is the crafting of great gear. In Path of Exile, you can create items by consuming a multitude of different orb types. These orbs have varying effects, but ultimately, the goal is to make the item better. They also serve as the game’s currency system among players, with the venerable chaos orb being the gold standard.
Crafting is also the most expensive activity to take part in, as once you use a currency item, it gets destroyed. This helps to balance the in-game player-run economy built around these orbs. This is designed to avoid the issues that Diablo 2 had, with its ever-inflating economy, to the point where many would simply drop loot in a “Free items here” server just to clear their stashes to farm more loot.
|Orb Type||What it does|
|Transmutation Orb||Converts a Normal (White text) item to Magic (Blue text). Can roll 1 Prefix and / or 1 Suffix.|
|Alteration Orb||Rerolls a Magic item, with the same outcome possibilities as a Transmutation orb. Will remove Crafted Effects|
|Augmentation Orb||Adds a Prefix or Suffix to a Magic item, if it is missing any. Does NOT remove crafted prefixes or suffixes|
|Alchemy Orb||Similar to Transmutation orb. Converts a Normal item to Rare (Yellow Text) with a possibility of 1 – 3 Prefixes and 1 – 3 suffixes, with no less than 4 total prefixes and suffixes|
|Chaos Orb||Same as Alteration orb, but only works on Rare items. Will remove crafted effects.|
|Exalted Orb||Same as Augmentation orb, but for rare Items. Will only add up to 3 prefixes and 3 suffixes.|
|Jewelers Orb||Rerolls the number of gem sockets on an Item, to a maximum of 3 for small weapons, 6 for large weapons, 6 for body armor, 4, for gloves, 4 for boots, 4 for helmet. Colors that appear are based on the attribute requirements of an item.|
|Chromatic Orb||Rerolls the colors on an item with sockets. Colors that appear are based on the attribute requirements of an item.|
|Fusing Orbs||Rerolls the number of socket Links on an item. Links allow an active skill gem to be supported by multiple support gems, which modify its behavior in some way.|
For some people, crafting is the main part of Path of Exile, because it is always fun to make one of the best items in the game by pure chance of the dice. It is all RNG-based, and it is a common practice to do your crafting in the presence of Lord Kuduku. (An ongoing meme in the community. Not actually required – Some Profanity within the video.)
Personally, crafting is one of my least favorite activities. It isn’t that I don’t like to craft items, but it is often prohibitively expensive to do so, often requiring that I grind for 7 hours just to have around 20 chances to get a good item from the currency orbs I managed to find. It takes approximately 150 tries or so to get an excellent item to roll for some perspective. Sometimes, this number can be higher than 1,500 tries, such as when you are trying to 6 link a chest piece. It is this absurd possibility that the Kuduku crafting meme is a thing, to begin with.
This number can be reduced dramatically using league-specific crafting methods, such as Harvest crafting or Betrayal crafting – named after the leagues in which they first appeared in-game as options.
How Streamable is Path of Exile?
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Streamer’s Haven article if I didn’t mention how good or bad this game is to stream. If you are theory crafting your own build, and showing it in action live. I would say that this game is a good candidate to live stream.
Because of the fact that there are so many different things you can try, and that there is an audience out there who enjoys watching content from this game, I give this game an S-Tier Rating for Streamability.
Not a fan of making new builds? Then you can get creative! With a game like this, there is a lot of opportunity to roleplay your character. If you wanted to put on a show for your audience and basically end up screaming like some Dragon ball Z character as you annihilate the hordes of enemies that swarm you, then you can do that. There is even a skill that looks similar to the Kamehameha wave and Final Flash.
Here is a fun fact – One of the in-game NPC’s was voiced by a popular live streamer who did a lot of Path of Exile streaming by the name of ZiggyD.
Should you Try Path of Exile?
Look, I know this game isn’t for everyone, but there are several different ways you can play this game. It is fairly in-depth, and GGG is constantly updating the game with new content. Every four months, there is a new league with new game mechanics. It has a lot to offer you. Plus, you get to satisfyingly purge tens of thousands of monsters from the land, all the while feeling like a total badass in the process.
The main challenge besides the complexity is the story. The first 10 acts feel like a bit of a chore after having done them for the 90th time, but they are fun the first time around. The endgame is mapping, and that is arguably where the real game begins.
Oh, and it is 100% free!
You’ll probably be well served to buy at least a few more stash tabs for you to squirrel away your loot. The Currency specific tab is almost a necessity, if I’m honest. For the stash to really feel good, Around 12 tabs should be plenty, especially if some of them are Quad Tabs.
This will give you ample room for alt gear and crafting stuff. I have all of the different specialized tabs, and from my personal experience, you don’t need most of them. Only the currency tab has any real use, and maybe the map tab. The rest of them are just tools of convenience. They have stash tab sales every other weekend, so you can get them at a discounted rate.
They last forever, and this game is worth spending the $40 it takes to get those tabs one time. That’s all for this Path of Exile Review. Be sure to join our community Discord to be notified when the next article is released, and meet other readers of Streamer’s Haven.