Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wrath of Bile - Path of Exile Review

   Path of Exile is an action RPG developed and hosted by Grinding Gear Games, which is based in New Zealand, and currently in its open beta phase. For crimes (or whatever) committed in your past, you have been exiled to the continent of Wraeclast, where you are to serve your sentence and preferably die. Of course, you aren't just some street rat who stole a coinpurse, you're a hardened fighter. Just keep fighting and you will make it out okay.

Hardened fighter, evil witch, whatever.
   It is very similar to the popular Diablo series, where you pick a character and click-spam every monster you see on a linear story path until you reach the end, then start all over again. However, don't let that description skew your view of this game too much. While it is very similar to Diablo, I would dare to say that the student has surpassed the master...

   Gameplay: Where to Begin
   When you start the game, you pick one of six characters off the prison ship and then wake up on shore without any armor and having dropped your weapon in favor of clutching a few wisdom scrolls. First guy you meet gets eaten by a zombie, and you move on from there. You slowly amass power from the various items you find until you are able to fight huge mobs of monsters with ease.

Try harder, I'm not even feeling this.
   Combine this with the lack of a grind (just kill every monster you see and you're fine), the smooth flow of the voice-acted story, and the pleasing graphics and you're in for quite the experience.

   Difficulty: Just Right
   This game hits the perfect, thin line between too easy and too hard. It is easy enough for new players to get into and understand, while still difficult enough to please players who want more of a challenge. Normal monsters almost always come at you in large mobs which can overwhelm you if you aren't ready, and bosses will spam their skills just as much as you do. However, get the build and play-style you're comfortable with and you will find that the game has a nice sense of satisfaction when you realize "I'm overpowered". And if you are having a hard time? Get a friend. The way the game works encourages both single and multi-player play equally. If you play by yourself, you get to keep everything you find. If you play in a party, you will earn more exp and get better item drops in return for giving the enemies noticeably more power. No friends? Talk in the global chat. They're nice people, and they will help you out.

   Flexibility: Everywhere
   You can play however you want to play, with relatively zero problems. To start off this topic, let me start off by showing you the skill tree:

Sorry, I couldn't zoom back far enough to get the whole thing.
   Every node on that tree is a passive skill, and the tree is shared across all classes. What class you pick only determines where you start off on the tree, along with some base attributes. Each class can use any weapon and any skill in the game as long as they meet the stat requirements. You get the stats from the passive tree (pictured above). This means that with enough dedication, you could get a Witch to use a giant battleaxe and still win.
   At this point, you may be asking "if all of those are passives, then where are the active skills?" All active skills (including auras) in the game are "gems". These are crystals that you get from quest rewards and monster drops and must be inserted into slots in your equipment to use. Don't worry though, you can freely insert, remove, and trade gems (and everything else) with no extra crap required. When you can ask any question in the chat and your answer is always "depends on how you're building", that is truly a great thing.

   Randomization: It Fits
   Most maps in Path of Exile are instanced and randomized. This keeps things fresh and, to an extent, helps to speed things along. Keep in mind, leaving an area does not instantly reset the instance. If you are gone from an area for about 15 minutes, then a new map is generated and any portals you had leading to the area are erased.
   More importantly, equipment is randomized with all of the gratuitous adjectives and adverbs that dungeon-crawl players have grown to love.

What man doesn't want to wear a belt called a "Behemoth Leash"?
   But it isn't just all luck. There are various items, mostly "orbs", that you can use to turn what would be terrible equipment, into high-quality greatness fit for a king.

   Leagues: Interesting
   This idea hasn't been fully fleshed out yet at the time this review was written. A "league" is chosen when you create a character and basically puts your character in a separate server where they can not communicate with players from other leagues and can not access the stash from other leagues (those are the only differences currently, but leagues with rules are in the works). The purpose of this is mainly for use in events, but there are plans to let players create their own leagues as well. Outside of events, there exists the "Default" and "Hardcore" leagues. The Hardcore league gives the game a pseudo-permadeath aspect, where if you die, the character is sent back to the Default league.
   The system hasn't been fully realized yet, but it sounds awesome in my opinion.

   Classes: Gender Locked
   There is no male ranger, no female marauder, etc. This also means that the game currently features very little in terms of aesthetic customization, so keep that in mind. Don't expect to look cool. There is a little available in the cash shop, though, if you're willing to spend a little money.
   In this same vein, skills aren't exactly flashy either (though some later bosses are practically light shows). The animations are nice and killing things is enjoyable, but I can't help but think a few more particle effects would have been nice.

   Mouse Control: Clicky Clicky
   Click where you want to go, click to attack, click to attack again, click to use a skill, click click click. While this doesn't personally bother me, I've known a few people that considered this a major turnoff. If they could release some controller support or even just some simple keyboard movement controls, it would be a vast improvement.

   Looting and Desync: I Am Mildly Annoyed
   There are minor problems with the looting system. If you're in a party, certain item drops will be reserved for certain players for a few seconds so a single player can't just pick up everything. However, the programming on this is a little dubious. The reserve timing is noticeably short, and it will sometimes reserve items for players who didn't contribute.
   Many people also experience frequent "desync". As in, they were desynchronized from the server, which can either disconnect you or get you killed depending on the severity of the situation. For some, this will be the game's absolute biggest problem, and should hopefully be fixed as soon as possible.

   Final Score: 5 out of 5

   The enemies, the skill tree, the bosses, even the community. It's all done so well, and really gives off the feeling that the developers put a considerable amount of effort into this. Of course, I tend to be pessimistic about these things. If you're reading this, play it now. Who knows how long it will stay this good?

Bonus screenshot! Oh man, I'm gonna be rich!
Okay...I guess not. I wonder how much bones sell for...
   Extra Things to Know
   - The game contains PvP, but it is in an extremely early stage so just consider this a PvE game.
   - Potion flasks refill as you kill monsters. One less thing to worry about.
   - Gems can level up and earn exp as you do. Gem requirements also go up as they level up, though, so keep that in mind. Gems also have the same effect no matter where you insert them.
   - The max level is 100.
   - You start off on Normal mode. Every time you complete the game, you start again on a higher difficulty level. Everything is kept.
   - There is no gold or coins. All trading (including NPC trading) is done using items, usually orbs.
   - Press TAB to open the map, and use the arrow keys to move it around.
   - Always save waypoints (find them and click on them).
   - Control-Click when using a waypoint or moving to a new area if you want to manually start a new instance without waiting.
   - Every time you move to a new area, you change global chats. Try to avoid leaving the map you're in if you're trying to hold a Global conversation. Or just whisper people.

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