Path of Exile (not Blades of Exile, that's an entirely different game) is an online action role-playing game made for PC. In the vein of games like Diablo or Torchlight, players take the role of a hero destined to save the world of Wraeclast. Well, not quite. In all my time playing Path of Exile, I never quite understood its story line. It's interesting in the way the show Transparent is: self-centered, but after a while it feels unwieldy and difficult to follow at times. Or maybe I never stopped enjoying the action long enough to listen to the lengthy in-game narratives.

Anyway, if you've made it this far, you are exiled from a place known as Oriath for committing a crime. Each character class has committed a different crime and is more than happy to describe it to you during class selection. From there, your adventure beings on the Twilight Strand in Wraeclast. Now, being that the game touts itself as dark fantasy, you quickly find yourself surrounded by the bodies of fallen exiles who didn't make to shore after being thrown off the exile boat. You and one other person, who promptly meets their own death, are the sole survivors. At which point you take over playing the game.

I'll cease any further discussion of the story at this point, because you can completely ignore it if you so desire. It's worth noting that many of the game's antagonists aren't explained all that directly to you. It might be a little off putting to find yourself fighting a man taking up the mantle of God without context.

The game itself plays a lot like any other action role-playing game. The camera is positioned so that your character is centered on the screen at all times and angled ever-so-slightly isometrically. You have the option of using the scroll wheel to zoom into see the equipment your character is wearing as well. The game's generic enemies mostly come to you, range in variants of weird and weirder, and sometimes shoot at you with wildly colorful projectiles.

Bizarre Creatures

Where the game excels is in it's character development. Characters have three main statistics: strength, intellect, and dexterity. These values form the basic foundations of all the character classes. The Marauder is a purely strength based hero, the Ranger uses dexterity, and the Witch focuses on intellect. Hybrid classes exist as well, forming combinations thereof. These include the Templar (str/int), the Shadow (int/dex), the Duelist (str/dex) and the Scion (str/dex/int).

What makes this interesting is that any class may perform any skill. For example, if you chose to specialize your strength-based Marauder as someone with dexterity-based weapons like a bow or a pair of daggers, it's totally feasible. The skills your character has access to are based entirely on your stats.

Skills were designed to work together too, coming in the form of gems. These gems are placed into sockets on your equipment granting your character the skill the gem contains. Additionally, gems can be linked to other gems, known as support skills, to modify the behavior of a given skill. One fireball will become three with an attached multiple projectiles support gem. This allows players to create unique variations of any given skill.

This type of system has been used before in other games, like Final Fantasy VII which provided the player with a skill system known as "materia" to grant various magic spells and abilities to their characters. However, I feel that Path of Exile extends the idea by allowing more than one skill to be supported at a time. Players can find or craft gear with a maximum of six linked slots. This means that some late game players might be able to do very intricate things with their skills. Path of Exile expands on everything that system offers and gives back a little more variety.

Skill Gems

However, character development doesn't end there. Remember how I said that it's feasible for a class to focus on an entirely undesirable stat? That ability comes from the use of the passive skill tree. The passive skill tree is an interconnected web of stat improvement nodes which a player can choose from to build their character.

As the player levels up their character, points are granted to the player which may be applied to the passive tree to grant that character any of the available stat improvements. All classes share the use of the tree, but each class has a different starting location. Every node on the tree is accessible; therefore, with enough points you can stretch into the starting areas of some of the other classes, granting your character that class's passive skills and stats, but all nodes you choose must connect in one continuous line. Furthermore, if you decide you don't like a particular passive skill, you can apply a refund point to remove it and apply the refunded point somewhere else. This is particularly useful when you're first trying to learn how to play the game. It offers new players the ability to mess around a bit with one character and learn the ropes. Later on, using refund points is a strategy advanced players may use to open and close areas of the grid their character no longer needs.

What you end up with is a collection of class choices limited only by your imagination. In my most recent play through, I chose to play the Witch and focus on converting her cold spell damage into fire damage. It's pretty effective, too. I'm also in the process of mimicking a character design I found online which allows you to create ten siege ballista totems when you should only be able to create one. In the past, I've seen some people use a skill called Blade Vortex that interested me as well. These examples may seem a little farfetched, but consider that none of my characters have ever reached the level of complexity they contain. In fact, I'm still much of a rookie as far as Path of Exile goes, but I keep learning more and more ways to develop my characters and the game allows me to do that.

Trapped Treasure

If I had to provide criticism, I might say that Path of Exile's learning curve is pretty high due to the amount of customization and the number stats to balance. Besides that, I think a conscious decision was made to reduce graphical fidelity for the sake of functionality. The game isn't that old, but it could definitely use some visual enhancements. Fortunately, the company behind the game, Grinding Gear Games, makes regular improvements on Path of Exile. In their most recent update they provided DirectX 11 support over the original DirectX 9 support. This will, in effect, allow them to improve their graphics engine over time by introducing more complex physics routines and shaders. However, none of that attempts to address the complexity of the game for new players. My advice for them to take it slow, allow yourself to make mistakes, and don't be afraid to start over if you feel like something isn't working properly.

So, if you're looking for something to do this weekend or any other, why not check out Path of Exile? What other game allows you to combine interesting character development concepts for the sake of defeating crazy godling creatures? And did I mention the game itself is free to play? You can find more details about the game here.

Finally, one more selfish plug, I'm usually online at least once or twice a week. If you feel like playing together sometime, please hit me up in the comments below for my contact information.