Well, now that I’ve finished up Bioshock Infinite, I’m in a bit of a lull.  No new games are really appealing to me so I’m looking through my backlog for stuff I’ve started but not finished.  I wanted so, so badly for Diablo 3 to grab me and never let go, especially after playing Diablo 2 so much that I had to buy a new disc because my original got so scratched, but it just never happened.  Path of Exile is a completely free-to-play action RPG that I played a while ago and decided to give another run.  I’m really happy that I did.

Path of Exile is taking a note from mega-popular Minecraft in that it’s been in open beta for a few months now and will be for a while.  It’s got an isometric camera (again, think Diablo) and some story that I couldn’t care less about.  Action RPGs need to give you the feeling of “I can tear through these 10 mobs at once without getting scratched” and Path of Exile does a pretty good job with that.  Path certainly does that, but the unorthodox game mechanics are what have pulled me in more than anything.  For one, take a look at the passive skill tree: they claim there are 1350 nodes on the tree.  It’s like the Final Fantasy X sphere grid on meth.  The class you choose determines two things: your starting stats and where you start on the tree.  After that, character building is completely up to you.  If you want to make a 2-handed barbarian (my current character), you can go right ahead.  Want to make a mage with a bow?  Ranger with two daggers?  Pantsless old man with zombies?

I’m not kidding. This is the templar character, sans pants.

Passive skills come in a few degrees: standard (+10 dexterity, +8% armor), notable (+30% critical hit chance, +15% all resist), and keystone.  Keystone skills fundamentally change how your character is played — pay for skills with life instead of mana, guarantee melee hits but take away critical chance, double your up-close bow damage but half it from far away.  Once again, with 1350 nodes to play around with, there’s always a new build to try out.

These are only the passive skills, though.  Active skills are used through socketing skill gems into your gear.  Skill gems come in three types: red (strength), green (dexterity), and blue (intelligence).  If you want to use Fireball, get the blue gem and put it into a blue socket your gear.  Bam, you have fireball.  What makes this system so interesting is the idea of linking gems together.  Skill gems can not only be active skills, but support skills.  That same Fireball spell you have?  Link it with the green Greater Multiple Projectile gem (put in a socket touching your Fireball gem’s socket) and you’ll shoot five fireballs instead of one.  How about linking Spell Totem to Summon Skeletons so you have an torrent of skeletons?  Maybe get the Minion Instability passive, which causes your minions to explode on low life, while you’re at it.  Starting to see the possibilities?

Auction Houses suck. Let’s barter!

Lest you think a game with 1350 passives and infinite active-support combinations have some lame-ass auction house, Path of Exile has a 100% bartering system.  Gold simply isn’t a concept.  Everything you pick up to sell to vendors sells for varying degrees of currency.  These currencies have different effects on your gear.  An Orb of Alchemy will bring a normal item up to rare quality.  A Chromatic Orb randomizes the colors of sockets in a piece of gear.  These 15-20 different currencies have exchange rates that fluctuate, so buying and selling items goes from the standard “Selling this dagger for 100,000 gold” to “A: I’ll take 3 chaos,  B: How about an alchemy and 5 chromatic?”  The little bit of trading I’ve done has never left me feeling poor or fleeced in a deal.

Another really cool concept is that of leveling races.  Everyone who signs up for a race joins a new league (a fresh server, if you will) with pre-determined rules.  The only league I’ve played was 12 minutes long with monsters doing 200% more damage and moving 50% faster.  Highest level at the end of the race wins a prize, with the one for my league being a unique item.  There are 3-5 races a day of varying game modifiers and length.  I hope to join another one real soon because even after dying 3 minutes into my 12 minute race, it was fun as hell.

While the game is free to play, Grinding Gear Games has to make their money somehow.  That money, up until now and as they’ve promised it will stay, has been through purely cosmetic microtransactions and not “pay to win” items.  You can pay a few bucks and add a halo to a helmet, an aura to a shield, or have a little pet follow you around.  I have a kiwi (they are based out of New Zealand) that follows me around because I played the last few days of closed beta.  He’s the man.

Path of Exile – catering to ADD character builders everywhere.

The best part about a game like this is the wide-open skill customization.  I get bored making the standard cookie-cutter builds that everyone else makes.  Sure, a fireball sorcerer or multi-shot ranger might be the best damage wise, but I’d rather utilize some off-the-wall skill like a shield charge.  Path of Exile, with it’s dozens upon dozens of active and support skills along with it’s 1300+ passive skill tree, lets me do that.  Whenever I find a new skill gem I’ve never seen before, I think of a build I could use it in.  Also, the game is free.  I really can’t recommend it enough to anyone looking for a fun hack-and-slash PC game.

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