Well, it’s finally here. When Path of Exile originally came out on PC from Grinding Gear Games in October of 2013 it was often referred to as the spiritual successor to Diablo 2. By the time this game came out, Diablo 3 had already been out a year, and originally when Diablo 3 came out, it was met with some harsh criticisms. The game had moved too far away from “it’s roots” in terms of character progression, skill trees, and had this horrendous auction house idea that well, you had to be there to appreciate the full shit show that it was. So, when Path of Exile released, a lot of people saw this as a breath of fresh air. It came out of the gate with a fresh progression system, a unique skill system, visuals that were surprisingly sharp for a game that was 100% free to download, and considering the fact that it was free, the game was just loaded with content. With the port over to Xbox, which includes the most recent content update for the game, I was really looking forward to reliving this game again with my friends who are mostly console gamers. But, then I started playing it, and some very annoying issues started to surface.
Some Quality of Life Issues
As this game has been out for four years now, the team at Grinding gear has had a lot of time to tweak and optimize how the game plays on PC, how mechanics work, enemy AI, menu systems etc etc. So, how do these systems fair on the console port? Well, not so great. Right off the bat there’s one small design choice that drives me up a wall, the “B” button, does not close your item menu. If you do press the “B”button while in your inventory, you may find yourself accidentally equipping an items, breaking up stacks of items, choosing your socketed gems, and so on. Instead you are to use the “view” button on the xbox controller to exit your menu, or choices. However, when you go to buy items from a vendor, suddenly “B” is cancel, and you don’t choose items to sell by pressing “A”, you press “X” to queue up sold items, and then press “A” to confirm the sale of the items. Also, when you’re in your “Passives” screen (the character progression system that I’ll discuss further down) “B” suddenly does nothing. Instead you now select your upgrade with “A” and press “X” to confirm. It’s as though they wanted the least synergy possible between their menu systems, and when you’re been a console gamer for a while, these sort of muscle memory things are a minor inconvenience that kind of makes your eye twitch until you can break yourself out of the habit that almost literally every game ever besides this console port has caused you to have.
A second and obscenely annoying issue that has sort of always existed on PC but somehow feels even more inconvenient on console, is that joining friends is kind of a pain in the ass. So, you can invite a friend very easily, which is great. However, when you join a friends party, it doesn’t mean you necessarily join their “instance.” Whenever you enter the game, the game drops you into an “instance” of that map, just because you joined your friends game, doesn’t mean you joined the same instance. In fact, sometimes when you’re already in the same instance, and go to move to another map, you’ll both get knocked into different instances. Then, you have to leave the map, come back, and reload the map. Usually that does the trick, but it’s annoying every single time it happens. Additionally if you’re friend is out doing something and you can’t seem to get into the same instance (which will happen eventually, trussssssst me) they can waste a town portal for you to find them, which early on you may not have a ton of. It’s surprising to me that a game this old, hasn’t come up with a smarter system for joining friends. For instance, Diablo 3 has a “flag” system. Your friends have a flag in town, that if you click it, teleports you directly to them and you can jump in the fight. It might not be the easiest thing to code perhaps? However, four years and several expansions later, we couldn’t have made this process easier guys? Come on.
The other semi-hilarious, and severely obnoxious issue this game runs into on console that’s I don’t ever recall dealing with on PC, is the targeting is more atrocious than having to see me shirtless. Typically, in a game like this or Diablo 3, when you are facing an enemy that your spell or attack will be directed towards, that enemy will turn red, and the attacks will go directly towards that target. Well, not here buddy, not on the console version. God forbid you’re using a ranged weapon instead of an AOE or Melee attack, be prepared to stare at the screen with resting bitch face as your character fires attacks off into the middle distance, while the highlighted enemy is about thirty feet away from where you’re attacking. Who knows, perhaps mages have horrendous vision?
This is my life now
Even though it’s fun to joke about, the way the characters move on the console version don’t make this any easier to deal with. Whenever you move the stick ever so slightly in any direction, if for instance, you’re just trying to change directions to face an enemy, if you’re not holding the attack button down, your character will typically step in that direction instead, with an animation that looks very similar to if you clicked on that spot on the PC version. Somehow they managed to make stick movement feel like “click to move” on the console over short distances. It’s little things like this that will I believe could make a casual gamer look at a game in a negative way, and that’s unfortunate. That said, there’s a lot more to talk about in this game than the negatives. On console, this game still does a lot of things right, so let’s jump right in.
So , up to this point it kind of sounds like I’m generally aggravated by the game. At this point, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Quality of life things in video games are often things that I wish were different, but don’t destroy an experience for me at all. The base game play for the game plays very similarly to Diablo 2, if D2 took steroids, went to the gym, started eating right, and got rid of that bitch Brenda who never believed in it’s dreams. As per this genre of game, you have to pick a character type to start off the game. Each character starts at a different point on the passive skill tree that we’ll talk about later. After you pick your character and start the game up, right off the bat your character wakes up on the beach with the worst hangover you’ve ever seen, faced with the task of killing a zombie after it brutally murders a guy for no reason. Zombies are dicks.
Christ, how much mead did I drink?
After you make the undead, re-dead, the game starts you on a tutorial journey across the beach on the way over to the first town in the game. Through the tutorial the game teaches you about several mechanics that you’ll be using repeatedly throughout the game. The three most notable systems that will be most greatly affecting your gameplay experience are the gem and socket system, the potion system, and the obscenely large passive skill tree. The skill tree in this game is so big, you’ll be like “Woah, that skill tree is big!”
The first new mechanic you’ll be exposed to is the gem mechanic. Unlike a lot of games where gems just add some simple stat boosts to your items, the gems in Path of Exile have major gameplay implications, and greatly affect the types of attacks you are able to use in battle. For instance, if you pick up a gem that is associated with the fireball spell, putting that gem into the socket of an item will allow you to use the fireball spell as an attack, as long as you keep the gem equipped. To equip a gem, you have to have a piece of equipment on that has a socket of the same color as the gem. Say you’ve got a blue gem that let’s you do a lightning attack, you can equip that gem in any piece of equipment you have with a blue socket, and gain access to that attack. Another interesting thing about this mechanic is that, sometimes a piece of equipment will have multiple sockets that are connected to each other. What this allows you to do is augment spells that you already have equipped. Say you have a fireball spell equipped in a socket, and you place a gem that adds lightning damage to any gem in a socket that is connected to it, now your fireball spell also does lightning damage on top of it’s normal damage.
The interesting thing about this system is that, not only will you get used to spells, you’ll start to scrutinize how you decide what equipment to keep and use based on the sockets that the items have. Another cool thing about the gem system in the game is that, as long as you keep a gem equipped, the gem itself gains experience points and levels up. Whenever a gem levels up, the amount of damage or augmentation that gem does increases. This whole system by itself brings a fresh approach to attack skills and really starts to create some cool combinations as you get later into the game.
While the gem system has a lot to offer, especially when you get later in the game and have like “fifty-leven” gems, once you start looking at the passive skill tree, you realize that it has so much to offer that you’re going to want to plot out a course well ahead of time. The passive skill tree is actually quite reminiscent of the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X, if you’re familiar with that game. If not, what happens when you level up, is that the game grants you a skill point. Once you go to the skill tree to spend it, you’ll see a sprawling network of connected circular nodes. After you put a point into the first node available, going forward, you can only put a skill point into a node that’s touching a node that you’ve already put a skill point into. Each characters “starting point” in the skill tree is different. The characters typically start near nodes that are more helpful to the type of damage they will be doing. For instance, if you choose a mage, you’re starting point will be closer to nodes that increase spell damage, and maximum mana, the resource that lets you cast spells or use gem attacks. That’s not to say you are forced to stay in the area around where your character starts. You are free to sprawl out in any direction you want, and build your characters in a non traditional way. Do you want a mage who only uses traps, or uses bow and arrow attacks instead of spells and wands? Go for it. The game lets you kind of do whatever the hell you want with this, and it’s awesome. Aside from skill points, you’ll also get skill refund points. These allow you to deactivate nodes and gain a skill point back. This is useful if early on you had planned to go down one part of the skill tree, and decided not to, so that you don’t feel like you ended up wasting skill points. There’s a LOT to look at, and it’s not uncommon to make mistakes when plotting out a course.
The potion system is also something that has taken a time honored idea, restoring health and mana by drinking a liquid of varying colors, and flipped the script ever so slightly. In addition to the regular mana and health potions, the game has added other types of potions to the mix as well. There are potions that increase your resistances to various types of damage, (fire, lightning, cold, poison, etc) there are also potions that can give you a huge speed boost for a few seconds, so that you can either escape, or just get around faster. Unlike potions in most games, you don’t consume them upon use, your actual potion containers stay in your inventory and the contents slowly disappear as you use them. As you kill enemies, the contents of the potion containers begin to fill up again. At any given time you can have five separate potions that will be assigned to hot keys. The potions sit in the bottom left corner of the user interface on screen.
The rest of the game is filled with some general game mechanics you see from this genre, and some expanded version of mechanics we’ve seen before. You’re given quests to complete from important people in town, complete them, and get rewards. You’ll collect waypoints throughout the game that allow you to travel to different areas from town whenever you feel like it. While fighting enemies you’ll occasionally come across stronger versions of regular enemies who show up with different colored names depending on whether they are rare enemies, elite enemies, or legendary enemies. Occasionally you’ll come across a “strong box” which is basically a chest that summons several groups of enemies that upon killing, grant you a bunch of items. The other iteration of this that you’ll see is a bunch of frozen enemies, one of them being an elite enemy. When you walk up you’ll break them out of the ice, and they attack you. Once you defeat them you get an item that allows you to add a property to a normal piece of equipment. (Ex. Adding cold damage or Fire Resistance to an item).
Throughout the game you’ll be getting other items that can affect your equipment in different ways as well. For instance, there are items that change the colors of the sockets in your items, or how many sockets your items have. You can find items that add a magic property to one of your items, or change magic properties that your items already have. There’s items that increase the quality of your weapons or armor, which causes them to do or deflect more damage. There are several other items like these throughout the game to find out. One final interesting thing is that there are characters in the game called “masters.” You find them out in the wild while fighting enemies, and they typically give you quests that increase their level. There are eight of them, each one sells different items. When you level any of them up to level three, you can open up your own hideout, where you can have the master stay. They give you the option to buy things to customize your hideout, on top of the actual weapons/armor they sell. There’s a few other things they can do but, I don’t want to give it all away. One final, very small thing, is that this game has “good” microtransactions. Instead of “play to win” the games microtransactions are purely based around cosmetics for you and your hideout, something I wish a lot of developers would take a cue from.
Final Thoughts and Verdict
While this game is incredibly fun and there is a wealth of content to keep the game feeling fresh versus some other things in the same genre, the console port leaves quite a bit to be desired. Unfortunately, since the game isn’t as smooth as it is on PC, this causes it to feel a bit more long in the tooth than it should, and given how long the game has been out, it’s staggering how “not” smooth certain things are. The amount of content and ideas that still feel fresh years later, are possibly what will keep new players invested in the game. However, given the amount of options available right now to gamers, and how many other games are very clean and polished, this game may only keep the attention of players for so long before the next shiny thing pops up. Overall, I hope this game does well in the console market, so that the experience of this game can continuously improve over time. For now, it feels above average, but it doesn’t have me feeling like this is a “must play” for your average gamer. However, for the price of free, I doubt anyone would regret it.