Path of Exile Review
Mechanics9
Technical5
Content9.5
Community8
Gameplay9
Support9.5
Strengths
  • Passive Skill Matrix
  • Items, Slots, Links & Crafting
  • Graphics & Combat
Weaknesses
  • Desynch
  • Death Penalty
  • Lack of Managed Trading System
8.3Overall Score
Reader Rating: (138 Votes)
8.6

Started by a handful of developers in New Zealand roughly six years ago, their creation and company has grown since then, resulting in a game which I believe has the potential to become the most successful Action RPG (ARPG) ever made; and I do not make this statement lightly, especially with the behemoth of Diablo 3 currently shadowing the ARPG genre.


Path of Exile

Created by: Grinding Gear Games, Est. 2006
Release Date: October 23, 2013
Game Type: Action RPG (Isometric Hack and Slash)
Custom Features
: Passive Skill System, Item Slot Links & Skill Crystals, Rogue Exiles, Leagues & Events


 Sections: ContentEconomyMechanicsGameplayCommunityTechnicalSupportConclusionResources


For links to guides and builds, please check out the Resources section at the end of this review!

Let’s first talk a little about the history of ARPGs and the games on which PoE is based. Released in June of 2000, Diablo 2 is held as the finest ARPG created, holding a special place in the hearts of all. Not just because of gameplay, but the community aspect of it – namely the chat lobby and ladder system which brought players together. After Diablo 2, we have Titan Quest, which is held as the second best ARPG. Other fun ARPGs have come since then including Dungeon Siege 1 & 2, Sacred 1 & 2, and Torchlight 1 & 2. Let’s take a quick look at this timeline. The Diablo 2 expansion, Lord of Destruction, was released in June of 2001; just a year after Diablo 2 was launched. Dungeon Siege 1 was released in 2002, then for roughly two years we had no activity. Sacred 1 was released in 2004, Dungeon Siege 2 in 2005, Titan Quest in 2006, Sacred 2 in November 2008, Torchlight 1 in October of 2009, Diablo 3 in May of 2012, and Torchlight 2 in September of 2012. While this may seem like a lot of games, it’s really not. Sacred, Dungeon Siege and Titan Quest (while good games) failed to capture the community aspect of Diablo 2. Torchlight 1 was a single-player only game, and Torchlight 2, while allowing multi-player, didn’t really “bring players together”. It wasn’t until Diablo 3 was released with its Battle.net support that the “community was back” for the ARPG genre, but there were also problems with Diablo 3. They dropped the chat lobby and ladder systems (which people are still upset about today), and injected a real money auction house which had adverse affects on the game the developers are still trying to address to this day. While Diablo 3 is a good game, and Torchlight 2’s addition of multiplayer paired with its customization and “fun factor” earn both products proper credibility, none of these products “brought the players together” like Diablo 2 did; until now.

I have come for you, Dominus!

I have come for you, Dominus!

I am unaware of any character building fantasy RPG on the market that has the level of customization and interactive experimentation that PoE offers. It is truly unprecedented and the game’s greatest strength.

PoE is an evolved mixture of Diablo 2, Dungeon Siege, Sacred, Titan Quest, Torchlight and Diablo 3. Take the best from all of these games, wrap them into a new game designed by an independent group of passionate developers and you have this fantastic product.

There are also a number of key features in PoE which set it apart from the other games: (1) they have a slotted and linked action skill gem system; (2) they feature a truly innovative (and massive) character customization & progression system; (3) they have dropped the traditional gold economy and replace it with an item economy; (4) the game is designed so any level character is capable of finding items that could be beneficial to any other level character; and (5) the game supports unique events and leagues which offer fun races and gameplay styles beyond the traditional softcore and hardcore modes.

As mentioned, one of the important mechanics is the fact any level character can find items beneficial to any level character. This is very important. No longer do new characters grind to get to the “good stuff” nor do high level characters find items completely useless to alts nowhere near their level.

PoE is not an easy game; as a matter of fact, it is rather complex and can be very challenging. It is quite possible for a player to choose a set of passive skills that makes it near impossible to play on the higher difficulties of the game, thus resulting in a character that must be rebuilt. I’ve had to do this a few times as I experiment with different builds, however part of the fun is in trying new builds in this immersive game.

The game also has two fundamental flaws. First is that of desynch. Never have I experienced an ARPG with the synchronization issues that PoE has. The second issue is the death penalty, which doesn’t really become an issue until late-game (level 70+). I’ll cover these issues in detail further into the review.

Because it is a complex game, this Path of Exile Review can also serve as a guide. I hope there is information in here that both new and experienced players can benefit from.


Content

Story & Lore, Classes & Passive Skill Tree, Quests, Hubs, Environment & Ambiance, NPCs & Enemies, Rogue Exiles, Treasure, Maps | No Tutorial

Curious how much I've played the game? Here is a list of the characters I have created and played.

Curious how much I’ve played the game? Here is a list of the characters I have created and played.

PoE takes place in the dark fantasy world of Wraeclast where you are an exile who was aboard a ship that sank. The Story and Lore begin here. You swim to shore and begin your adventure. There are currently 3 Acts to the game. The first takes you up the shore through the prison and into the lair of Merveil, the Siren. Act 2 takes the player through the monkey-infested Forest and into the mainland to deal with undead, bandits, and finally the Vaal Oversoul, which is inside the top of a pyramid you must climb. Act 3 takes the player through the city of Sarn, overrun by numerous nasties, and then through a terrible palace with horrific torture and mutilation in its depths. The first big confrontation is with the antagonist named Piety. When she’s been taken care of, you go after the king bad guy who banished you, a nasty guy named Dominus. And I will say, the end-game fight with Dominus is one of the best I’ve seen. The voice acting and quests which bring it together are all well done.

Character Creation is very simple. You pick a starting class, choose your league (covered below) and name your character. There are seven classes to choose from: (1) The Marauder, (2) The Ranger, (3) The Witch, (4) The Duelist, (5) The Templar, (6) The Shadow, and (7) the Scion (which is unlocked inside the game through a quest). The starting class defines the sex and voice of your character as you play the game, but the next part is where PoE is very different from other games. While other ARPGs and even MMOGs factor in numerous static/starting actions, skills and abilities relative to your starting class, PoE does not do this. Instead, the starting class defines your starting point in the massive skill matrix and what quest rewards are made available when you complete a quest. A player can turn any class into pretty much whatever they want. For example, while a Witch traditionally goes the route of Magic, the player can branch out and create a melee tank Witch. On the other hand, a player can also turn their Marauder (traditionally a Melee class due to its starting point) into a spell caster or ranged warrior. As such, there are no class-specific actions, skills, or abilities. The chosen class defines your starting point in the massive passive skill system. I will cover all of this in detail as PoE is a complex game, especially to new players.

The Passive Skill System (aka “Skill Matrix”)is the most unique feature of the game, allowing for unprecedented character and class customization more in-depth than any other ARPG. The depth of this system is so extensive some even refer to it as esoteric. While other class-based ARPG games (including MMOGs) define a preset template for their classes (of skills, abilities, traits, etc), the starting class of PoE only defines the starting point within the massive Passive Skill System Tree. This means a player can plan out more than 100 points to spend in this comprehensive skill matrix of 1,350 nodes, and if planned properly, can blend together benefits revolving around different classes. While the nodes around the starting points are related to the particular class (e.g. a ranger has dex and ranged-related nodes around their starting point), the player can quickly break out of their surrounding class nodes and shoot into other nodes wholly unrelated to their core class. This ensures all nodes can be accessed, but must be chosen with thought and planning. When a player starts PoE for the first time and sees the passive skill matrix, they are often overwhelmed, but each starting location can only branch out in two directions (except the Scion which has 6 starting points), simplifying the initial exploration into the system for the new player. This is how players raise their stats and obtain everything ranging from increased attack speed to additional mana and life. Characters can also acquire special abilities such as “Hex Master” (curses never expire) or “Blood Magic” (which removes mana and uses life to cast spells). While a player acquires “refund points” as they progress through the quests (and through Orbs of Regret) which can be spent to “take back” a spent point, because of the depth of this matrix and the difficulty of the game later on (level 50+), many players choose to rebuild new characters rather than reverting their current one as they better understand the Skill Matrix and nodes that are very important (such as stats to support item use, and life & resistances to support survivability at higher levels). But this isn’t a bad thing; the game is so expansive and immersive, players enjoy creating new characters and “doing better’ each time around. It is nearly impossible for a new player to plan out a solid skill build that will be viable at the highest levels and difficulty of the game (70-95) without having spent weeks playing the game, getting a feeling for it, and understanding the mechanics and veritable threats that exist through the game world. When looking at the Passive Skill Matrix, you will notice three types of nodes: Normal, Notable and Keystone. Normal nodes are the standard looking circles (usually stats, life, etc), notable are the circles with the flashy gold border (usually bonus stats and modifiers), and keystone nodes are the ones with the big thick borders. Keystone nodes are the most unique and powerful nodes in the game, offering game-changing modifiers to the character. You can see a list of the nodes and their bonuses here.

To provide some guidance for newcomers, there is a website that has numerous builds a player can follow from the start in order to create end-game viable characters. Two of these sites are PathOfPoE and PathOfExileBuilds. Players can study these builds and decide what suits them best. But be warned; many builds require skills that must be acquired to make the builds viable – this is why a “starter” character is always a good idea – so the player can get a feel for the the game, find skill gem drops that may be necessary for following a template, and thus gather the necessary items to make the next build viable. New players – be patient! After a few weeks of play, the Passive Skill Tree won’t seem nearly as intimidating and you’ll have a great time creating your own builds. Once you are ready, you can build out your own Passive Skill Tree here. As you build it you’ll notice the site changes the URL; when you’re done, simply save the URL and you can now share the tree with anyone by giving them the URL. Characters gain one Passive Skill Point point per level and also gain additional points by completing quests. The total amount of points a character can currently achieve is 120, but it’s more realistic to plan around 100-110 since the last 10 levels take a monumental amount of time to achieve.

The Quests in PoE are pretty simple and straight forward, yet well-done. There aren’t a lot of them (the game really is about exploring, fighting, and finding treasure), but they are designed to guide the player through the world. Act I has 9 quests, Act II has 7, and Act III has 10. The quest/travel map provided within the game makes it easy for players to see where they need to go and how they need to get there. While most quests involve killing boss mobs, there are some which require the player to secure items, open a passage, and make choices (such as the Bandit quest). You can see a list of the quests here.

There is a quest called “The Way Forward” that you complete in Act 2 but need to go back to Bestel in Act 1 to get the Skill Book. Don’t forget to pick it up!

Each Act has its own Town Hub that serves as the point of operation. Within these hubs are the quest givers, merchants, stash access, and notice boards. When players are in a Hub they will see other players running around, which is a nice touch and gives the feeling of a living breathing world. Note however once you leave the hub, unless you are in a league that shares areas (covered below under Gameplay), you will only encounter other players you are grouped with.

The Environment & Ambiance of each area is very well done and contains a fantastic combination of visual and audio components all based on the area’s theme. While the game doesn’t have destructible objects to the extent of Diablo 3, each zone is refined, the colors are vibrant (especially in the City of Sarn), and lighting/time of day is a big factor in the game, adding an extra solid feeling to each area the player explores. Shadows are also very well done in PoE, adding an extra level of depth and overall immersion to the game. The forests in PoE feel like forests (especially when monkeys swing off the trees down on top of you), and there seems to be more variation to the random layout of the zones compared to other ARPGs, most of which are very large. When you run through a nasty wet cave or the ruins of an ancient city, there is no doubt the developers put meticulous love into the refinement of the overall look and feel of the areas.

Chamber of Sins Level 3 is when the game begins to get difficult. Once you start encountering difficulties, it’s a good idea to open a portal as you enter a new area/level, that way if you die, you can quickly and easily return.

NPCs in PoE are pretty standard for ARPGs. Most of the NPCs are in town and act as quest givers and merchants. There are also a number of nasty creatures in the game, all of them Enemies, and out to kill you. There are four difficulty types monsters: (1) the normal (white) mobs, which are the most common; (2) magic (blue) mobs which have basic affixes in their name (such as deadly for more damage, or hexproof if they resist curses) and are usually identified by their darker texture (which often shifts and moves) and size; (3) champion (yellow) mobs which have a number of modifiers including auras, and usually glow; and (4) unique (gold) mobs which are essentially bosses with special and often unique abilities (there are currently 53 Unique Bosses in the game). If the game feels too easy at the beinning, don’t you worry, the enemies get very nasty later on in higher difficulties. I’ve found groups of blues to be the most dangerous overall because of their enhancements paired with the fact you can encounter substantial groups of them. One thing I like about this game is the behavior of the monsters. The animations and actions tied to their special abilities (such as charging or jumping or laying eggs) is very well done, and it’s quite satisfying to shatter cold enemies, destroy those pesky octopus creatures which seem to cover the ground, and crumble the living statutes . You will quickly learn what different monsters can do, which includes learning how to avoid their nasty abilities. One of the first nasty attacks agile players are exposed to is Puncture which causes you to bleed/lose hits profusely if you move around while afflicted. Monsters can also carry with them inherit resistances which can make them challenging for certain builds. There’s nothing worse than specializing in lightning magic and running into a room of lightning resistant monsters that do high damage and are blue (thus enhanced). But that’s part of the fun of the game. The other thing I really like is the bodies (or what’s left of your victims) stay… all of them. They don’t disappear until you load a new version of the zone (covered below). Be wary of Necromancers and other monsters that can raise the dead; there’s no limit to the number they can bring back! Another thing I like about PoE is the wander radius of monsters. More often than not, right in the middle of combat, another group of creatures will come out of nowhere, as if they’re drawn to the sounds of combat. One must also be very careful leaving an unattended character as PoE has mobs which like to wander. If you think you’re safe because you cleared the mobs out around your area and get up to get a drink, by the time you return, you might be dead. It’s also important to point out monsters will use the very same skills you do. They will curse you, cast frost pulse, shock, fireball, and cleave you and anyone who fights with you. It’s fun!

Careful! If you’re playing on Cruel or Merciless difficulty, it’s important to port back to town if you’re going AFK because wandering mobs may kill your character, which will result in experience loss!

Rogue Exiles are custom-built AI-controlled characters that can randomly appear throughout the world. They are mean, have their own unique set of actions based on the numerous skill gems within the game, and behave as if you have encountered another player. At this time there are 14 of them, and each one is different. There are tanks, ranged shooters, shield slammers, DOTters, and more. They are a lot of fun in normal difficulty, but can be very dangerous by the time the player reaches merciless. The good news is when you kill one, they explode like a loot piñata and give up at least one item per character slot, often resulting in numerous valuable drops.

Well now... that was worth it!

Well now… that was worth it!

Of course Treasure is one reason we play the game, and while I will cover rewards under Gameplay, the world is littered with chests and other “lootable” objects, and I mean a lot of them. More than I’ve seen in any other ARPG. Not only can you encounter small and medium chests, you can also occasionally find the rare Large Chest which will spurt out a good 10-15 items, some of which may be very good. The game also has boulders, bodies and other objects that are often hidden which can cough up valuable orbs and items. I have found unique (legendary) items in caskets and exalted orbs under stones. Always open/break every lootable object you encounter, you never know what could be inside/underneath!

Remember! You can open portals during boss fights to return to town and recharge!

Maps are end-game item drops which open up the highest level and most difficult content available in the game. When a character has completed the quest given by Lady Dialla in the Solaris Temple (level 3) in Merciless difficulty, they gain access to the Eternal Laboratory. To run a map, the player enters the laboratory and throws their map into the Map Device. The result is six portals into the map world, and each portal can only be used once, which means only six trips back and forth can be taken. This also ensures players cannot engage in too many “recharge” runs back to town if they are too weak to handle the bosses of the map. Maps start at Level 66 and currently go to level 77. They are custom drops which can only be found in Merciless difficulty. All initial map drops are only within 2 levels of the current area you are in. The only exception is to initial 66 map drops which can drop in areas under level 64. This means locations like the Docks can drop level 66 maps (even though it’s a 62 area). In order to find higher level maps, they must drop within the map runs. Normal mobs drop within their level, magic mobs drop within a +1 range and rare/boss mobs drop within a +2 range. This means a rare mob in a level 66 map can drop a level 68 map. Within the 68 map another rare could drop a level 70 map. This is how players progress into the more difficult maps. Just like items, players can find and manipulate maps to be magic, rare and unique quality levels. Maps can feature up to six modifiers which define the overall item drop quantity bonus. The harder the map, the more loot, and the additional chance even more maps will drop. Most high-level players prefer to do maps with a group because there’s more drops (covered in party benefits below) and it’s just more fun. Check this thread for the ultimate map guide.

There is a very basic Tutorial for PoE as you play and progress, but it doesn’t cover numerous aspects of the game such as gem linking, the economy, and other important aspects of general gameplay.


Economy

No Gold, Items (Sockets, Item Level and Links, Quality), Item Identification, Inventory & Stash, Crafting (Orbs, Merchants & Vendor Recipes), Marketplace, Trading | No Auction House

There is No Gold in PoE. The economy revolves solely around items (namely Orbs) which come in 24 different variations (I am counting the chisel and prism as orbs and omitting the fragments and shards). These orbs are designed to change/augment items (or refund a skill point) and can do numerous things including re-rolling the colors of the slots on an item, upgrade a white item to a unique, provide Passive Skill Point refunds, and even give the player a chance to roll a unique (or “legenday”) item. The orbs serve as the root of the crafting system (which is covered below). Orbs can drop in anywhere in the game, so this means a level 1 character in the starter area can overturn a stone and find one of the most valuable orbs in the game. This economy works because all of the orbs are valuable and can be used in one way or another to enhance, prepare, or upgrade an item (which is also covered below). You can see the latest trade rates here at ExileStats. This system also creates a form of haggle-based bartering among players who must determine how many orbs a unique item is worth. It’s hard to encapsulate how expansive and complex the economy is with the item-based system.

The item-based economy of PoE means that a starting character has the same chance of finding currency as a veteran. This ultimately rewards the player for simply playing, not for playing at max level.

As with most ARPGs, Items are everything in PoE, especially due to the fact that action skills come from gems which are either item drops or quest rewards. The “gear” for PoE includes: Armor (head, chest, gloves, boots), Jewelery (Amulet, and 2 rings), Weapons (1H, 2H, Shield), Quivers, and Flasks (Mana, Health, Resistances, bonus Armor, etc). Sockets are a big deal in PoE as they are required for the skill gems to function, and come in three colors: Red for Strength, Green for Dexterity, and Blue for Intelligence. Head, Chest, Glove, Boot and Weapons/Shield items can have sockets. Jewelry, Quivers and Flasks can not. The Max number of sockets for items is: (4) for Head/Gloves/Shoes, (3) for one-handed weapons, and (6) for chest, bows and 2H weapons. Items are one of four levels of quality: Normal (white), Magical (blue), Rare (yellow), and Unique (Orange). Most items have level and stat requirements, but some do not (quality items without level or stat requirements are highly coveted as a starting character can use them and benefit greatly). Rare items can have up to 6 properties, and given the right combination, can result in the most powerful items in the game. Unique items (or Legendary, if you’re a Diablo 3 player) can have enhanced/unique properties which give Passive Skills. Unless a player is crafting, Blue items are generally disregarded except for selling to the Vendors or “scouring” to take advantage of a socket/link configuration (covered below). All items have an inherit Item Level which is different from the required level. The Item Level is what defines the values of the item properties and how many sockets it can have. Item Levels of 1-14 can have 2 sockets, 15-27 can have 3, 28-34 can have 4, 35-49 can have 5, and 50 and above can have 6 sockets. The interesting part about this is a player can find items with a high item level (and thus better properties, sockets, etc) yet with a low level requirement. This is one of the great features of PoE; no matter what level character you are running, you have the potential of finding something useful to any other character you already have or plan on creating. Item Quality is also a factor. Weapons, Armor, Skill Gems and Flask can have no (0%) quality or up to 20% quality. The higher the quality, the better the properties of the item. Blacksmith’s Whetstones are used to improve Quality on Weapons, Armourer’s Scraps are used to improve quality on Armor, Gemcutters Prisms (very rare and valuable) are used to improve Quality on Skill Gems, and Glassblowers Baubles are used to improve the quality of Flasks. Skill gems are the most difficult and costly to upgrade, and 20% skill gems are some of the most coveted items in the game.

Here’s an important note on Quality! It’s always better to bump Weapons or Armor to 20% quality before you use an Orb of Alchemy on them; you get 5% per use vs. 1% once it’s rare. Remember! Quality before upgrade!

Magic, Rare and Unique item drops are unidentified until a Scroll of Wisdom is used for Item Identification. Items cannot be equipped or manipulated via crafting until they are identified. Scrolls of Wisdom drop throughout the world and can be acquired by selling items to the vendors. Also, a player will not gain the benefits of an item’s properties when selling to a vendor when the item is unidentified. In other words, if you’re going to sell an item to a vendor, make sure you identify it first as it may have properties which the vendor provides some great rewards for! (covered in more detail below under Vendor Recipes)

There is no binding of items on use, so you can transfer/trade any and all items anytime you want!

Socket Links serve as a core mechanic for PoE which allows for dynamic customization of all actions in the game. This system is fantastic, innovative, and allows for a grand level of customization. Sockets can be stand alone or linked. You can tell if they are linked by the line between them which also shows for items on the ground. If you want to cast a spell like fireball, you throw a fireball gem in a blue socket (since it’s INT based) and you can now queue that action to cast/fire with your mouse buttons or by loading it into one of the five QWERT slots (the game will auto-load the action in the first free action slot). Want to enhance your fireball? Find an item (let’s use a Helmet, for example) that has 2 blue slots linked together and throw in a Chance to Ignite support gem which gives a chance for your targets to ignite when you hit them with your fireball. Let’s take it one step further, say you have a helmet with 3 blue linked slots (or 3L as people refer to it). Now throw in a Faster Casting support gem. Your fireballs now cast faster and ignite their targets. Now imagine having a chest piece with 6 linked slots (6L). You could have Fireball+Ignite+Faster Casting+Life Leech+Mana Leech+Stun (for example). I am going to cover the skill gems in more detail below under Mechanics, but this gives you an idea of what is possible and why the Socket Link system of PoE is fantastic and fun.

Must find more items!

Must find more items!

Inventory & Stash is similar to other ARPGs. It is cell based (character inventory is 12 x 5 in size, or 60 cells), and each item you find takes up a certain number of cells. Amulets, Rings, Orbs, Skill Gems, and such all take up one slot, and many items are stackable (some to 20, some to 40). Bows take six or eight, Quivers take six, 1H items can take three or six, 2H items take eight, chest armor take 6, gloves/boots take 4, and Flasks take 2. The starting Stash has 4 tabs with 12×12 (144) slots available for storage, shared between all characters. There is also a Guild Stash, and that’s covered below under the Guilds section.

You can purchase additional stash tabs through the PoE Marketplace.

And now we get into one of the coolest parts of PoE, yet another unique feature that sets it above and apart from the competition: the Crafting system. Players don’t actually create items, they manipulate them. Firstly, all items in the game (regardless of quality) are based on core item types. This part is not really any different from other ARPGs (I’ll get to the unique part shortly). Thicket Bows, Gut Rippers, Poignards, Tribal Clubs, Vile Staffs, Spiked Mauls; these are examples of weapons in the game. Each weapon has a range of values for its damage, attacks per second and requirements. These core items are what become the awesome rare and unique items people are constantly searching for. You can learn what core items exist by checking out the WeaponsArmor, and Jewelry Lists. The next step is to review the unique items list and look at the core item name which is listed under the unique item name. The reason this is important is because you can create a unique item with an Orb of Chance, but it must be used on the proper core item. While the chance of getting a Unique from an Orb of Chance is not known, some players have gotten the exact unique they’re looking for after just a few tries while others have never gotten what they are looking for after going through hundreds of orbs.

As mentioned before, the economy revolves around Orbs. These orbs are all designed to manipulate items and can do a myriad of things including upgrade an item from a normal white drop to a rare, add properties, sockets, links, and more. The Orbs are capable of creating every item in the game, thus giving players the ability to actively pursue and obtain the best items for their character. This system also addresses the “junk white item” drop problem because the white items can have sockets, certain links, and can be of certain item types a player is specifically looking for to craft and augment. The player can then take these specific items and use the orbs and upgrade and manipulate the item. For example, Orbs of Alchemy are very valuable because they take any white item and convert it into a rare item. Here’s an example of how a player can use Orbs to get what they want. Say a level 28 character wants a new bow and they are using Rain of Arrows, Blood Magic, and Faster Attacks (2G + 1R, 3L = 2 Green Skills + 1 Red Skill with all 3 Linked together). A Royal Bow is perfect since it’s Level 28. So, a white one drops with 4 sockets, two of them linked. But the sockets are RGBB. The player wants RRGG with the RRG being linked (3L) because he wants to link RoA+BM+FA together and also throw in a support Aura gem (G) which doesn’t need to be linked (it operates independently). He runs back to town and first bumps the bow to 20% quality by using 4 Blacksmith’s Whetstones. He then uses an Orb of Alchemy. Unfortunately he doesn’t get the properties he wants, so he uses an Orb of Scouring to strip the item back to White without affecting the slots or links. He uses another Orb of Alchemy and this time gets the properties he wants. Now it’s time to get the Slots taken care of. He uses a few Chromatic Orbs to randomly roll different socket colors and finally gets RRGG. Now it’s time to get the links. He uses a number of Orbs of Fusing which re-link the sockets and finally gets the RRG linked. He now has the item he wants! This is just one example of how the Orb/Crafting system works in the game. If you want a more in-depth explanation on how many orbs you might need to get what you want, read this forum posting. 6L items are the most difficult to create/find and valuable in the game, and often take more than 1,000 Orbs of Fusing to achieve! But imagine taking a 5L action setup that does massive damage and boosting it with a 6th support action that affects all 5 other gems.

Players can also obtain Shards of orbs which automatically stack and translate into a complete orb when the number of shards required (usually 20) is achieved.

Chromatic Orbs have a higher chance of procuring sockets based on the core stats of an item. For example, a piece of Armor that requires both Int and Str will more often roll blue and red than green whereas an item that only requires Dex will often result in green. Of course this means a RGB+ combo is one of the most difficult to achieve given items only carry one or two stats, but never three.

Merchants also play a very important part in the game as they serve as the “conversion” base for items to orbs (or Scrolls of Wisdom for identification). When you sell items to Merchants, they reward you based on the type of item and the combination of items you are selling. This is where Vendor Recipes come into play, allowing the player to focus on gathering very specific items in order to acquire the Orbs they are looking for. For example, if you are looking to get your hands on Chromatic Orbs, pick up every 3L RGB item you see. When it comes to acquiring items based on vendor recipes tied to properties (such as attribute or resistance mods), you must first identify the item to get credit for the properties (whites of course do not need to be identified). Players who are actively looking for any and all orbs they can get their hands on will often pick up all blue items and identify them in the hopes they can acquire the orbs they are looking for. The recipes a player can pursue are very extensive.You can also create Rings, Amulets and random Magic/Rare items, and decrease Skill Gem levels and increase the level of a Map by selling a combination of items to the Vendor. You can even take a level 20 normal skill gem and convert it into a level one 20% quality gem by selling the gem plus a Gemcutters Prism (GCP) to a merchant.

The Marketplace for PoE currently sells Pets, Skill Effects, Item Effects, Animations, and Account Features. Players can purchase Marketplace Currency for the following rates: $5 = 50, $10 = 100, $20 = 200, $50 = 516, $100 = 1065, $250 = 2850. There is a Custom Content section that has one entry, the ability to design a Unique item for $1,000, but that’s the only thing currently available in that section. The boons within the marketplace are neat and seeing others in the town hubs with these effects and pets adds a ton of diversity to the game. I found the extra stash tabs to be fantastic, and am more than happy to spend a bit of cash to support the great team of developers who have made this game. I recommend everyone who enjoys PoE make some sort of purchase; let the developers know you appreciate what they’ve done!

Ready to run a few maps?

Ready to run a few maps?

Because there is no Auction House, Trading between players is the only way for players to exchange items. The actual act of trading is easy; you simply form a party with another player, meet in the same location (usually the hub town of a particular act), and right-click on their name in the party window and initiate the Trade. It is a common and secure “accept” interface, but one interesting part is the game requires you to mouse over the items you are receiving in order to ensure they are what was agreed. This is a nice check to support honest trading and to make sure each player actually confirms each of the items before approving the transaction. There are also numerous public Trade Channels which are extremely active (covered below under Community).

Unfortunately, trading is not easy in PoE. Because it is an item-based economy, there is no real consensus on the value of items. While there are websites that attempt to represent the value of currency (such as poeex.info and exilestats.com) and even items (poespreadsheet), players still bicker over value and price, usually using the site that shows a lower value to purchase and a higher value to sell. While many players will agree upon general “ranges” of value (such as Chaos to GCP ratios), each item transaction usually ends up being an effort of bartering and haggling. While this may be fun and interesting to some, it’s actually quite burdensome to most and players must spend a large amount of their time haggling with others for acquiring or selling items. Right now, players can create store fronts in the PoE forums and then use tools like POE Goods to browse those stores, but it is still very clunky and burdonesome to contact the owners of the stores as you can’t tell if they’re online until you attempt to send them a tell.

I hope that GGG adds some sort of storefront or auction house system to the game, that way players can put items up for a specific price (e.g. a unique bow for 1 orb of chaos) and even when that player is offline, the item can be sold.


Mechanics

Attributes, Elements & Charges, Level, Experience, Skill Gems & Quality, Auras & Curses, Resistances, Companions (Minions & Totems), Pets, Regeneration & Consumables (Flasks), Travel  and Death (Hardcore), Challenges | No Item Repair
There are three core Attributes in PoE: Strength (Red), Dexterity (Green), and Intelligence (Blue). As mentioned above, these attributes support the Socket and Skill Gem system, as well as define requirements for items (e.g. a bow can require 156 dexterity to use). Starting attributes are defined by your class, and raised through the Passive Skill System and item stat bonuses. Unlike other ARPGs where the stats directly affect nearly all sub-attributes (such as armor and DPS), the stats in PoE have the following affects: Strength (every 2 points = +1 life, and every 5 points = +1% Melee Physical Damage), Dexterity (every 1 point = +2 Accuracy, every 5 points = +1 Evasion), and Intelligence (every 2 points = +1 Mana, every 5 points = +1% Energy Shield). As you can see, the stats don’t affect Armor, Block, Resistances or other sub-attributes. The sub-attributes are broken down into four categories: Offense, Defense, Charges, and Misc. Offense includes the DPS, Chance to Hit, Critical Chance & Multiplier, Attacks Per Second, Weapon Damage, and support damage such as Life on hit, or Stun. Defense includes Armor, Evasion, Resistances, Block and Movement Speed. Misc includes flask recovery rates and magic find. Critical Strike chance is based on the core weapon’s crit chance paired with the character’s increased crit chance. If a weapon has a 5% critical strike chance and the character has a 50% increased chance to strike, the critical strike chance will be 7.5%. Crit damage multiplier is pretty basic: a multiplier of 150% means a critical strike will do 150% more damage than normal. For example if you have a 250% multiplier, a Critical Strike attack that normally does 100 physical damage and 10 fire damage will instead do 250 physical damage and 25 fire damage.

Your movement speed will decrease the more armor you put on! A “tank” in plate with a big shield will find themselves plodding along much more slowly whereas a wizard or shadow in light armor will incur little to no movement penalties.

Armor, Evasion and Energy Shield are the three primary forms of defense for characters, and all pieces of armor have one or two of these values. Armor is for physical damage mitigation, but it doesn’t affect elemental damage (which is resistance related, covered below). Evasion (not to be confused with Dodge) defines a character’s ability to avoid being struck by attacks, but it’s countered by the enemies accuracy. Dodge is treated as a separate roll from Evasion, but ends in the same place – did the attack hit you? And finally, we have Energy Shield. This acts as an additional buffer of hit points on top of a character’s base hits and is usually found on casters. Players will notice monsters can also have an Energy Shield, represented as a blue border around their feet and in the hit bar. A character (or monster) won’t take damage until their shield is knocked down unless it’s chaos damage (which bypasses any shield). Energy shields recharge if no damage is taken for a few seconds. If a character has an energy shield up when they are struck, there is an automatic 50% chance to avoid being stunned. All of the defensive attributes have numerous Passive Skill Nodes that enhance and manipulate how they work. One most common Passive Skill is Iron Reflexes, which converts all Evasion to armor, but removes all Evasion bonuses, leaving the 5% minimum chance. This gives a huge boost to physical damage mitigation if the player has outfitted their character with a combination of Armor+Evasion equipment.

There are four main Elements in PoE: Fire, Ice, Electricity and Chaos (Poison). Weapons can have bonus damage on them tied to these elements, increasing the damage by quite a bit. Pair that with specific Passive Skills that increase elemental damage (some give bonus damage to all elements while others give bonus damage to specific elements), and weapons which do both physical and elemental damage are highly useful, especially when one is fighting monsters that have vulnerabilities or resistances to specific elements.

There are three kinds of Charges and they are a big part of the game, representing a temporary amplification of abilities. Endurance Charges are associated with Strength, Frenzy Charges are associated with Dexterity, and Power Charges are associated with Intelligence. Endurance Charges grant +5% Physical Damage Resistance and +5% Elemental Resistance per charge. Frenzy Charges grant +5% Attack Speed and +5% Cast Speed per charge. Power Charges grant 50% increased critical strike chance per charge. Charges are accumulated by the use of certain skills and equipment, and last only ten seconds; but gaining another charge within that time frame both stacks and resets the timer, allowing characters to build charges and keep them up during combat. Charges can then be consumed by specific actions, which can amplify the results of the action taken. For example, Immortal Call consumes endurance charges to make the character invulnerable for a short period of time. At level 11 the gem will provide 0.50 seconds of invulnerability per charge. If a player has 5 charges up, that’s 2.5 seconds of invulnerability, which can make the difference between life and death in a tough fight.

PoE follows the traditional model of killing monsters to gain experience. Once enough experience is gained, the character will gain a new Level which also provides a passive skill point. When a new character starts the game, the levels come quickly. This is exciting and rewarding because the player can start building out their Pasive Skill Points at a steady pace. The amount of experience a character receives is based on the difficulty of the monster and whether or not there is any penalty (from a character running an area either too high or too low). For example, a level 24 character receives 100% experience from monsters level 20-28, but would receive 95% for monsters 5 levels above or below, and 52.5% for monsters 7 levels above or below. By the time a character reaches level 90, a level 77 map will only provide 50% of the experience whereas a 66 or lower map or region will only provide 2% of experience (which is the minimum). You can see the death, penalty and party play experience details here.

The maximum character level in PoE is 100. Prior to the 1.0 release, the first player to reach 100 was HvR. He had 2,800 hours of in game play and 1,426 hours of XP play (e.g. separating the time he spent in the game altogether including trading, waiting, etc. vs. actually fighting and acquiring experience). For comparison purposes, my Diablo 3 Level 60 (Paragon Level 53) Barbarian (that runs MP10) has 213 hours played. In other words, PoE is designed for extended gameplay. HvR wrote a great overview of his experience reaching level 100 here.

skill-explosivearrowSkill Gems are the center of all action within PoE and they come in two types: Active and Support. Want to cleave a group of monsters, curse them, cast a fireball, shoot explosive arrows or throw an array of knives? Those are all active skills. Want to leech life or mana, catch your enemies on fire, blind them, or increase the speed of your attacks? Those are support skills. Link life leech to your fireball and now you’ll gain life for the damage you do with that fireball. This allows players to build their own action skills complete with specific benefits. Support skills must be linked to an action skill in order for them to work with that skill, and you can link multiple support gems to your action gem. There is a limitation that prohibits using duplicate support gems (e.g. 2 fire damage support gems) and while you could link two of the same kind of support gem to an action, you will only receive the benefits from one. Skill Gems are acquired either as drops in the world or are provided as quest rewards. Like a character, slotted Skill Gems level up based on acquiring experience (which is 10% of the amount received by killing monsters). When a gem is approaching a new level or is ready to level up, it will appear in the upper right side of the interface. Once a + appears, you can click on the + and level the gem. Don’t put off leveling a gem (unless you specifically don’t want to) as once a gem has enough experience to raise in level, it will stop receiving experience until you level it. All slotted gems receive experience from kills equally. The reason gems don’t automatically level up is to give the player a chance to decide if they want to accept the extra costs of using the ability provided by the gem, which could throw off the build of a character. For example, the mana cost of an Aura may be at a level that is perfectly balanced for the character’s current status, and leveling up the gem by just one level could throw off that balance. If leveling up a gem would result in requirements that exceed the character’s current attributes, the gem will grey out and leveling up will not be permitted. Skill Gems also have level and stat requirements which raise as they do. This means one character can’t take a Level 1 Skill Gem (like Cleave), level it up to 10, and then give that to another starting character. While a number of skill gems only require level 1 and starting stats (and can thus be used by any new character), a number of gems require higher levels with the current maximum “starting level” of certain gems being 31 (for auras such as Haste and Grace). This means a skill such as Cleave which has a starting requirement of level 1 will level quicker than a skill such as Haste which has a starting requirement of level 31. Leveled skill gems retain their properties when taken from their slots and traded with others. The maximum level for a skill gem is 20.

Skill Gem Quality is a very important part of the game and adds another fun layer of leveling and goal setting for all characters. Every single gem in the game has a unique modifier relative to the quality of the gem. For example, Fireball provides a 1.5% chance to ignite enemies per quality level, so a quality 0% Fireball will never ignite enemies without a support gem, but a quality 20% Fireball will ignite enemies 30% of the time. This is a huge difference and can completely change all aspects of a character, especially when you begin to take into account the custom quality modifiers for support gems, auras, and other essential actions. But obtaining 20% quality on a gem is very costly (1 Gemcutters Prism per 1% of quality), and most experienced players won’t put a GCP into a gem to “max it out” unless it’s already at 15% or so. As mentioned earlier, if a player levels a gem to 20, they can turn that gem into a merchant with one GCP and receive a level one 20% version of that gem, allowing the player to level everything up once again at a 20% quality value.

Auras and Curses are a big part of PoE. Auras are beneficial buffs and Curses are harmful debuffs, and not only do characters have access to these spells, so do monsters. Many characters run Auras (Haste is one of the most popular, raising attack and cast speeds) which also benefit other party members, and can change the outcome of any battle. Curses are also a huge benefit for characters to take advantage of as they start running more difficult content. For example, a character that deals fire damage may come across a boss or champion that has fire resistance paired with life regeneration, and as a result may not be able to do enough damage to kill it. Hit that monster with either Elemental Weakness or Flammability and it could tip the balance enough to allow the character to kill its target. Curses are all AoE (area of effect) spells which grow in the size of effective coverage as they level.

Only one curse can be active on a target at once unless a character can support multiple curses either through unique items or passive skill points. This includes being in a party, so be careful you don’t override your other party member’s curse!

Resistances are another key factor in the game since elemental damage is such an important part of combat and cover four types: (1) Fire; (2) Cold; (3) Electricity, and; (4) Chaos. As with any ARPG, it’s always beneficial to have the highest resistances possible, but also with a focus on what type of monsters you are fighting. Resistances play a part in preventing afflictions such as burning, freezing and shocking. This is why players like to use resistance-related curses and why they also try to get numerous +% all resistance nodes in the Passive Skill Tree. While there are no penalties in normal difficulty, Cruel has a -20% all resistance penalty and Merciless has a -60% all resistances penalty. As you play the game, you will find certain monsters are deadly due to their elemental attacks, and others are very difficult to kill based on their resistances. Not only are there curses which lower the resistances of the monsters, there are also support skills which penetrate certain resistances. An example of this is a ranger using electricity-related actions and plugging in a Lightning Penetration support gem to ensure if a lightning-resistant mob is encountered that some of the lightning resistance is ignored by the supported attack. Chaos is a unique damage and resistance type which ignores energy shield. As you may guess, monsters that do Chaos damage can be very dangerous to characters who use their shield as a buffer for damage. Players can do Chaos damage as well through certain skills, unique items, and even link a Chaos Damage support gem to their action skills.

All Companions in the game must be summoned (or created) by action skills and come in two categories: minions and totemsMinions include Zombies, Skeletons, Specters, Guardians and Dominated creatures. All minions (except for Dominated) must be summoned with a spell (or totem) and have their own damage/actions separate from the character that summoned them. There are numerous passive skills that affect minion damage, health, and even the number which can be summoned at a time. Dominated creatures are “created” by using the Dominating Blow action skill, and it’s quite a sight to see a player turn a gaggle of monsters into their own personal army. Guardians are created with the Animate Guardian and Animate Weapon skills. Animate Guardian allows the players to actually “build” a complete humanoid using random pieces of armor laying on the ground, and as the guardian is built it takes on the armor-based values of the equipment used. So a character running around and selecting random white boots, gloves and chestpieces (for example) will piece together a guardian composed of those respective pieces.

Witches are the commonly used class for a minion build. Totems are summoned structures that come in seven variations: Decoy, Devouring, Flame, Rejuvenation, Shockwave, Ranged Attack and Spell. Some of these totems cause damage while others provide auras which benefit their summoner. One of my favorite totem combinations is a Spell Totem with Skeleton Minions. It drops a totem that continually casts summon Skeleton; this is an excellent distraction for any monsters that are trying to chew off your arm!

Me and my trusty baby rhoa pet with pin-on wings.

Me and my trusty baby rhoa pet with pin-on wings.

There are Pets in the game that can be acquired through the Marketplace, but they are only aesthetic and provide no combat support.

Regeneration is key to survival in PoE, and to address this there are three sources of Health and Mana regeneration: (1) passive skill points that increase the regeneration rate; (2) item attributes which also increase the rate, and; (3) the most important – Flasks. While other ARPGs follow the traditional small/medium/large/huge, etc. potion structure, PoE has taken this a step further and instead of forcing the player to forage for potion drops and eat charges which ultimately run out, Flasks constantly refill their charges when you kill monsters and can have enhancing attributes. There are four types of Flasks: Life, Mana, Hybrid, and Utility. Utility Flasks can do a number of things including giving 40% movement for 5 seconds or adding +4000 armor for 4 seconds. For Life, Mana and Hybrid, there are multiple sizes of flasks which have level restrictions, and the size defines the amount of life & mana restored when used. Flasks generally have between 21 and 32 charges, but the amount can be changed based on magical attributes. Killing a normal (white) monster will give one charge, a magic (blue) will grant 3, a rare (yellow) will grant 6, and a unique (orange) will grant 11. Note the charges are spread across all flasks, so if you have 5 flasks equipped and kill an orange, all 5 flasks will receive 11 charges. This system works fantastically as it automatically resolves whether or not your character can handle the monsters it’s fighting. If you can survive but run out of flasks (using all 5) and can’t recharge them, that means you’re probably in over your head even though you may still be alive (i.e. it’s costing you more resources than you can recover). One technique players use when fighting bosses is to port back to town in the middle of the battle (which refills all flasks) and then immediately return to continue the battle. Orbs of Alteration are the most commonly found Orb in the game, and while most players think they are useless (they reroll properties for magic items), they are the primary source for rolling solid flasks (and maps) with great properties.

Flasks restore life and mana over a period of time. While some can provide instant restoration through modifiers, for tough battles many players “queue” up multiple flask uses which “feed” health or mana during combat!

Travel is managed the traditional way, through waypoints the player must discover as they explore, but PoE also allows players to travel across difficulties (e.g. you can go from Act I in Normal to Act III in Merciless if it’s available). The player can also open a portal to go back to the hub town for the act they are in, and then return to the spot where they opened the portal from (which closes it). However, PoE does something more than the other ARPGs when it comes to travel. The game allows you to reset the areas you are waypointing or walking to. Simply hold down CTRL as you either click on the waypoint destination or the portal entry point and you will be prompted to either create a new instance or enter an existing one. This is a great feature that allows players to run the same areas again and again (with a reset each time, if they desire) and makes it so they don’t have to exit to the main menu and restart a game instance (as Diablo 3 requires).

When it comes to Death, the game has two modes which define what happens. Softcore (the default mode) and Hardcore mode. In PoE, roughly 33% of the player base plays in hardcore (this was confirmed by Chris Wilson via private message). This is important because it shows PoE has created a very sizeable hardcore group whereas a game like Diablo 3 has only ~10% of its player base in Hardcore.

Unlike other ARPGs (such as Diablo 3) when a Hardcore character dies in PoE, the character is converted to a Softcore character so you can keep playing. This is very cool and ensures all if your efforts in Hardcore aren’t completely lost; you just won’t be able to use that character in Hardcore anymore. In Softcore mode, death is just an inconvenience in Normal difficulty, and can require the player to do quite a bit of running if they died far away from a waypoint. There is no durability or item loss, however once you enter Cruel and Merciless difficulties you will lose 5% and 10% experience per death. While these numbers aren’t really a problem prior to end-game, once a player gets into the high 80’s, the penalty becomes a serious problem that has driven many players away from the game (and rightly so) because the death penalty in non-hardcore mode for level 75+ character is far too harmful and in my opinion a grave design flaw. Let me elaborate.

At level 78, one death takes roughly 20 minutes for a “farming” character to recover (L78 requires ~60M experience). Now what if you die 3 times as a L78? That’s an hour of gameplay. Let’s roll ahead. You’re level 85, which requires ~110M to make level 86. At level 78 you were receiving 61% of your experience running a L67 area (Catacombs or Library). At level 85 that’s now 10%. So you now need twice the experience and gain at only a 10% rate instead of a 61% rate. That 20 minutes of loss has now become 4 hours. Let me say that again. One death can cost you 4 hours of progression at level 85. Granted if you’re running level 73 maps you’re back to gaining ~63% experience, you’ll still need 2x the time to recover a single death, and level 73 maps are not only very dangerous, but costly to run. What if you’re level 90 (you now require 160M experience) and die? Running non-map areas you now get 3% experience. that one death just turned into ~15 hours of lost progression. If you play 2 hours a day, you just lost a week of progression. Running a L72 map? 1 death is still ~4 hours of lost time at level 90. So there you have it. This is not fun, and I’ve seen more people get infuriated over this flawed system and quit than any other game I’ve played. I recommended alternatives to the GGG developers to address this issue, but they refused, believing lowering it from the original 15% to 10% would somehow address the problem (right; a player is so much less inclined to quit due to losing only 15 hours vs. 20). I’m hoping they wake up to this problem and do something to address it over the next few months.

Another key issue with the death penalty is the game inherently punishes players for any form of reckless fun at the upper levels, a place where players want to have more fun because the content can become repetitive. If you’re a L88 Ground Slam Marauder and you want to mess around with your gems and perhaps a few of your passives, or run a new map with a boss you’re not familiar with, you could very well lose ~5 hours of progress due to a single death. Want to run in and do a Leroy Jenkins on a map? Forget it. This kills a certain “fun factor” these games are supposed to provide. This forces all end-game players to play in a semi-hardcore mode. So if you’re a casual gamer and you want to do more than run the catacombs but can only play an hour or two a night and don’t have the best gear, PoE will drive you away from continuing to play your character when you realize you’ll never be able to experience the end-game content without having hours and even days of your time ripped from you, all for trying to have some fun. Sadly, because of this system, the only people who are able to play and enjoy the end-game are hardcore players, even in non-hardcore mode. There is no “casual” play at level 85+. As I mentioned, this is a grave design flaw that drives players away and must be addressed. Ultimately, this is a terrific game that will drive the softcore and casual players away once they realize the endgame is designed for hardcore players only.

Each Season, PoE adds a new set of Challenges (Achievements) to the game. The current Season 2 challenges include: (1) Killing rare monsters; (2) Using Shrines; (3) Slaying Nemeses bosses (Hardcore); (4) Reaching level 65 with all classes; (5) Owning unique items; (6) Killing unique bosses; (7) Using currency items, and; (8) obtaining Items from Vendor Recipes. The reward? GGG will send a t-shirt to all players who complete all eight challenges.


Gameplay

Combat & Weapon Swapping, PvE, PvP, Rewards, Learning Curve, Difficulty, Progression, End Game, Replayability, Leagues, Events & Races

PoE is all about Combat, and boy does it do a fantastic job. Combat is everything it should be: fun, strategic, involved, intense and rewarding. Normal difficulty is more like training than anything else because once you enter Cruel and Merciless, the game takes on a whole new dynamic, requiring strategy, planning and quick thinking on your feet, regardless of the build you run. When it comes to merciless difficulty, there really is no “faceroll” build for everything. Every build has its strengths and weaknesses, and the combat system takes advantage of that. Stun is a big factor in combat and will interrupt any action you or your target is engaging in. The default “stun length” is 350ms (or .35 seconds). While this may not sound like much, if you get stunned multiple times in a row by multiple mobs, it can often kill you as it prevents you from reacting. Learning which monsters can stun and how to avoid the stuns is critical, especially on higher difficulties. Players are first introduced to stun by the charging monsters outside of the Act 1 town. The champions and their properties can also make for very engaging combat, especially when they boost the surrounding monsters with frenzy, endurance and energy charges, amplify their damage, or even prevent them from dying. When you get 2-3 champions together with a group of blues, it can be quite a mess, but it sure is fun.

A character can equip two sets of weapons and swap between them by pressing X. What’s nice is the player has instant access to Weapon Swapping and doesn’t need to train any skill or level up to use it. This is very useful when a melee character comes across a very dangerous high damage melee monster that can be kited and killed with a ranged attack, allowing the melee character to switch to a ranged weapon to take the mob out.

Many players are unaware you can level up gems in your inactive swappable weapon while you’re playing; the gems in that weapon will receive experience just like your other items! This is very useful for players who want to level up gems they are not currently using to take to level 20 in order to convert to 20% and then sell on the market or use on another character.

The game is currently PvE by default, but there is the option to engage in PvP through Maramoa in Act 3. When you enter this option, you are presented with a list of PvP matches; generally 1v1-3v3 Open PVP or 3v3-6v6 CTF (Capture the Flag). As long as you meet the level cap (which is based on the difficulty you are in), once enough players have joined the queue, the fun begins! At this time very few people seem to participate in the PvP matches and instead focus on the PvP events when they come up. There’s no question PvP is going to evolve substantially over the next few months as things get balanced out and the different Leagues (covered below) go live, which will include entire leagues dedicated to open world PvP.

Rewards are why we play these games, and PoE is no lack luster experience in this department. Making levels, spending Passive Skill Points, finding awesome items with numerous properties including the right socket or link combination, crafting your own items with orbs, stumbling across the very rare large chest that spits forth a dozen or more items, slaying that nasty group of critters only to see a unique gold item drop, watching dozens of monsters fry, shock and freeze shatter as you destroy them with weapons and spells, and running custom maps to get some of the best drops in the game — there’s plenty to reward your playing experience. There’s even a reward structure set up for those who participate in league events and races, and with the upcoming Leagues (covered below), there is no doubt PoE is planning on creating extended gameplay experiences with extensive rewards that appeal to a much broader group of gamers; much more than any ARPGs that has come before.

As mentioned at the start of this review, PoE is a fairly complex game and has a substantial Learning Curve due to the Passive Skill System, Skill Gems and Socket Links. Learning how all of the action and support gems interact with each other can take quite a bit of time. While the core gameplay is easy enough to understand, the Difficulty increases dramatically as the player enters Cruel (which starts at monster level 33) and Merciless (which starts at monster level 52). If the player has chosen a build that does not support survivability, they quite often have to start a new character, or spend a lot on purchasing Orbs of Regret to do a substantial respec.

The Passive Skill Tree for my Level 79 Explosive Arrow  (EA) Scion.

The Passive Skill Tree for my Level 79 Explosive Arrow (EA) Scion.

The Progression in the game is very well done prior to end-game; not just with leveling but with monster difficulty, item drops, quests and overall exploration. By the time the game begins to get difficult for new players (which is towards the end of Act I on normal difficulty), there is still a good sense of advancement and accomplishment due to the rate of character and skill gem leveling. Things do begin to slow down after a character gets into their 50’s and 60’s. Leveling up skill gems is also a very nice touch to progression as it happens while you’re working on your level and is a great mid-level reward system. With the existing content and experience model, once a player passes level 80, the game begins to slow down monumentally, and due to experience penalties for running lower level area, progression crawls to a snail’s pace. Once a character approaches 90, the only way they can make reasonable experience is to run high-level maps. For example, a Level 90 character will gain 50% experience from a level 77 map, but only 3% experience from the Catacombs (the highest level non-map area in the game). By level 95, the player only gains 12% experience from a Level 77 map, and 2% from Catacombs. And remember, high level maps are ultra rare, so most players usually run L69-71 unless they have a group of friends who harvest and upgrade maps. A level 80 character receives 47% experience from the Catacombs. By level 85, it’s dropped to 10%.

This brings us to the End Game, which really revolves around running Maps and collecting the best gear possible. The highest level area a player can run outside of the map system is 67 and the most popular farming areas are the Catacombs and the Library (both are level 67). If you want to pursue content higher than level 67, you can only do it through maps, and the map system does add a high level of Replayability to the game, but so does the overall economy. As previously mentioned, a high level character can receive item drops that a much lower (or even starter) character could use, thus enticing players to create multiple characters and try out different builds. Add the massive 1,350 node Passive Skill matrix to the mix with 90 action skill gems that can be augmented by 54 support gems and you have the most extensive customized action system of any ARPG ever made.

Another unique feature PoE brings to the ARPG space is that of Leagues, Events and Races. This is very cool stuff, and represents yet another reason why PoE has the potential to dominate the ARPG market. Right now there are only two parent Leagues available to players; that of Softcore and Hardcore. With the 1.0 release, they launched two new 4-month sub-leagues: Domination (Softcore) and Nemeses (Hardcore). Both leagues feature new items, monsters, challenges, and shrines, and when they end, all characters revert either to Softcore or Hardcore and the stashes convert into  “remove only” within their parent league. There are Events planned almost every day, and sometimes multiple events in a day. Participants can receive Season Reward Points which provide fantastic items they can use on their other characters. The Event Calendar shows what is planned for the “Season” (which is currently a month), and upcoming events are broadcast in the game so players can prepare if they want to participate. When the Event has been announced and is ready to start, players can create characters in the temporary league for the event and either wait in-game, or run the character after the event has started. If the character is run before the event starts, the character cannot move until the event starts, and a countdown is provided informing the player when the event is starting. Right now, all events are Races to see who can achieve the highest level. Some focus on groups, others on melee, and some on pvp. Each event has a timeframe. For example, one day there may be two events: (1) a 45 minute Turbo Solo event to see how far players can get in 45 minutes from the start while mobs move, attack and cast 60% faster, and; (2) a 12-minute Solo BLAMT which defines the mods available to characters (in this case Blood Magic, Letha, Ancestral, Multiprojectiles, and Turbo). The longest event I’ve seen is an 8-hour party event.

Over the coming months, PoE will make additional Leagues available, such as: (1) IronMan – players are unable to trade with vendors or refill their flasks in town, and mana is disables; (2) Cutthroat – all world areas are public with full PvP enabled by details, and slain characters drop all their items upon death (memories of Ultima Online anyone?); and (3) Attrition – A short duration league that starts with a fixed number of players and eliminates the player with the lowest amount of experience at periodic intervals. PoE also has Competition and Paid Leagues (which can be private) planned. One interesting note is when a character is “ejected” from or “completes” an event, they are reverted to their parent league so the character isn’t lost. Very cool indeed!


Community

Parties & Friends, Party Item Drops, Guilds, In-game Chat (Global & Trade), Help, Population, Forums, Spam, and Quality

Forming Parties with up to 6 other players provides great bonuses for the game. For example, each additional player gives a +50% item quantity modifier on drops. Item Rarity only counts from the player who lands the killing blow. Experience is split between all members in the party with the amount you get depending on your level relative to party members and monsters. Only the character landing the killing blow on an enemy will gain Flask charges. The same goes for all +Life and +Mana gained on killing blow. Flasks have a +75% charge recovery bonus for each party member. Not only can you form private parties, you can also form public parties, and when you access the Social window (by pressing S), you can see your Friends list, create your own public Party, and view/join public parties. To create a private party, just right-click on another player’s name either in chat or on the Friends tab and select the popup menu option. The Noticeboard found in town is just a list of the public parties which is also available through the social panel, but it serves as a good reminder public parties are available and can easily be joined.

Act II is a busy hub with many other players.

Act II is a busy hub with many other players. Oh look! Canhead Axe girl just leveled!

Party Item Drops can be set by the party leader via the Party Window to: (1) Free for all; (2) Short allocation (default), and; (3) Permanent allocation. The allocation model applies to rare or higher items, Currency, skill Gems and Maps. Other white and blue items (regardless of sockets) are up for grabs to anyone in the party. If an item belongs to a player, it will appear in its normal color. If it does not, it will appear faded. If a party is using Short allocation, if the player the item belongs to doesn’t pick it up in the 3-second window, the faded color will change to the normal color of the item, showing it’s available for pickup. If an item isn’t picked up after five minutes, even with Permanent allocation, it will be made available for pickup by all party members.

Guilds can be created by any player for free and allow up to 30 members (additional member slots can be purchased from the market). Guilds allow the use of a guild chat channel (accessible with &) and a Guild Stash (tabs can only be purchased). There are two ranks: Members and Officers. The ranks only apply to Guild Stash tabs and can be customized allowing the ranks to View, Add, or Remove items. Any guild member can buy marketplace points for the guild (the founder must accept them though) to purchase more member slots or stash tabs. If the founder accepts points from another, that member cannot be kicked for 3 months. Guilds also allow the creation of a Guild Tag, which will appear by your name in all chat windows. Tags can have up to 6 characters and the characters are assigned by submitting Maps into the Guild Tag Editor. A list of the maps and corresponding tag letters can be found here. GGG has stated they are going to add guild challenges and other “events” to the game in the near future.

One issue with the initial guild system is the lack of a transaction history to show who has taken or withdrawn items from the stash tabs. Also, no achievements or other events are announced. GGG should enhance the guild system to show when a member engages in noteworthy actions such as making a level, looting a unique item, or killing a unique boss.

Need directions to redeem points sent from a Guild Member?  (1) go to www.pathofexile.com; (2) log in; (3) click on your name (top left); (4) on the right side under Guild click on the name of your guild, and; (5) click the Guild Transactions tab.

The Chat system of PoE is well done, allowing players to define the chat type with the leading character. # goes to Global, % goes to Party, $ goes to Trade, and %<name> whispers to a character. Without a chat prefix, the default is Local. Global and Trade chat channels are busy as can be and the player is automatically entered into the next available channel with an open slot, creating a lively community combination of fun, helpful, annoying and rude people. As with everything that is the Internet, you get it all. The good news is you can easily toggle the Global and Trade chat on or off via the Chat UI or via the options. Trade chat is disabled by default because it is often slammed with a nonstop stream of postings. There is also a comprehensive right-click menu for characters in chat, allowing for whisper, party invite, trade, friend, report and ignore. You can change Global and Trade channels by typing /global ### where the ### is the channel you wish to join. Since you can join any channel, some players make up their own channels and invite their friends to meet in those channels (e.g. 7836).

The global chat can be quite useful for providing Help to new players as long as one ignores the trolls. Since PoE is a complex game, new players are always asking questions, especially as it relates to skills and how they interact with each other. I found many helpful people in the game and overall had a good experience in global chat asking questions. However the undeniable best source of information is the Path of Exile Wiki. You’ll find answers to nearly every question you have except those related to builds; but don’t worry, as already covered herein and at the end of this review, http://pathofpoe.com and http://pathofexilebuilds.com are great sites to visit for build details.

The Population of the game is very large and growing each day. The chat channels are never quiet and you see many players in the hub towns. In March, it was announced that more than 2 million PoE accounts have been created, and that was 8 months ago from BETA. While that doesn’t represent the “active” amount, just 10% of that is 200,000 players, which is substantial. PoE also launched on Steam and is regularly on the top ten active games. As I write this, the Steam peak today was 27,182. The Forums also show a highly active community on par with commercial product releases. When I wrote my initial review of the BETA in June, there were nearly 3 million posts with more than 610,000 posts in the General Discussion forum alone.  Today there 5.3M total posts and the general forum has 821,792 posts. These numbers speak for themselves. The Forums are a great source of information and are active not only with the community, but with updates from the developers. Discussions about bugs, issues, events, and patches are posted regularly, and there’s a nice feature on the PoE website: when a patch is being deployed, it notifies you through the UI of the countdown to server reset.

Because the population is so large and the game is so popular, Spam is an issue. While reporting has been built into the chat interface (just right-click a name and report) due to the Free to Play (FTP) nature of PoE, junk accounts are being created like crazy. But it’s not so bad it drives people away, it’s more of an annoyance, and one can disable global chat if they’re tired of seeing the spam posts. My understanding is the PoE team has already nailed a ton of the spammers, and I have confidence they will do everything they can to eradicate the spam over the next few months.

The Quality of the community is a mix. Because the game is free to play there are plenty of obnoxious people who engage in mindless banter and insults when they have the opportunity, but on the other hand, the game is of such quality and sufficient complexity that it attracts plenty of quality players. I’ve met some very nice people through Global chat, and it’s easy to put the obnoxious folks on /ignore. I think the quality of the community will always be a mix, but the tools exist within the game to build a solid friends list and play only with those you trust and enjoy the company of; and when you’re ready to be social and adventuring, public parties are waiting!


Technical

Graphics, Sound, Interface, Connectivity (Desynch), Downtime, Security, Patches and Bugs

The Graphics of PoE are very well done; this includes all visuals, ambient lighting, shadows and physics. While there’s definitely room for performance improvements, the core look of the game is solid and only enhances as you play through the acts. The Graphic Options are fairly basic, revolving around Shadows, Anti-aliasing and Textures. Make sure Screen Shake is turned on as it’s great to get that shake when you score multiple critical strikes! I am running the game on a 780 GTX and never have the frame rate drop below 30 (I did a few times on my previous 460 GTX).  All settings are on max except for Anti-aliasing which I have set to 4. The game looks great.

You can press F1 to toggle the stats UI on/off, which will show your frame rate and network latency!

I think PoE has the best Sound representation I’ve heard in an ARPG. Not only are numerous sounds perfectly synchronized with the animations, the developers have gone the extra mile by adding those little enhancements that make a difference, such as being able to hear monsters that are off screen (and what direction they are) as they move around, playing a tone when your charges wear out, and providing ambient sounds that correspond with the area. Hearing the screams of torture and anguish in Piety’s dungeon is eerie and terrifying, and adds an extra layer of immersion to the game. While the music isn’t as unique and memorable as that of Diablo and Diablo 2, it is well done and also adds to the overall feel of the different areas.

The Interface is simple, intuitive and very easy to use. By default, keys 1-5 are for flasks, left, middle and right mouse buttons are for actions, and QWERT are for 5 additional actions (you can remap the bindings in the Options->Input screen). If an action has support skills, small letters will appear in the upper corners of the action icon. Items that drop on the ground show their slot color and (if applicable) their link association, making it very easy to see 4L and above. Hold down Shift to attack while standing in place, TAB toggles the minimap display, and you can access the following interfaces: Options (O), Character (C), Social (S), Inventory (I), World/Travel/Quest (U), Passive Skills (P), and Microtransaction Stash (M). You can also take a screenshot by pressing F8 (default directory for screenshots is \Documents\My Games\Path of Exile\Screenshots). At this time there is no way to toggle the UI on and off. As mentioned above, F1 will toggle the stats display. To socket gems, simply drop them in open sockets, or right-click a socket to pull a gem out. Mousing over actions will give you all the details you need.

Press Z to toggle the automatic display of all items on the ground!

Connectivity for me averages 45-60ms from San Diego, and save the known server bugs which were fixed shortly after launch, I never lose connection. The servers are hosted by Softlayer in Dallas, TX . The only connectivity issues I’ve heard of are from people in other parts of the world, namely Australia and South America; they often ping at 250 or higher and experience a lot of synchronization issues. But even with a good ping, desynch is a serious problem (which is usually server based for me, not connectivity based). On average the game transfers and receives roughly 2,000 bytes per second. This is fairly standard.

The Library is a very dangerous place...

The Library is a very dangerous place…

While there’s no doubt PoE is one of the strongest ARPGs ever made relative to features and customization, Desynch is one of the biggest problems currently facing the game. It comes in waves; sometimes there’s no issue at all, and other times it gets out of synch with nearly every round of combat, regardless of the ping (which reaffirms the issue being more than just latency). Note it’s not so bad the game is unplayable, it’s just problematic for certain builds, and when you’re melee in merciless with a party and a desynch happens, look out. Desynch results in monsters hitting you when you can’t see them, or you trying to hit monsters that aren’t there. It is so bad that the game often feels as if it’s still in BETA. The issue isn’t just a synchronization issue and interpolating as other games do, it’s bad code. Proof of this is easily found after certain battles where the majority of the mobs are dead, but some of the slow and aggro-challenged types (e.g. necromancers) float off, reset, and can’t seem to properly move – all while the ping stays steady at 60ms (with no spikes). I’ve seen this time and time again. Vaal Pyramid? Forget about it. Desynch central. In many regards, GGG’s excuse regarding desynch is no different than a company saying “our game is so graphically intensive and beautiful – so much more than any other game, you will often drop below 10fps and stutter. That’s just the way it is. There’s no way around it.” Yes, there is. Optimize your polys and remove features which impede and degrade gameplay, no matter how “cool” you think they are. GGG has been seen stating their unique system allows for combat beyond any other ARPG, including the use of doorways, etc. in a strategic fashion. This is hogwash as anyone who has run through the Vaal Pyramid knows there’s nothing special at all about using doorways; as a matter of fact, you stay away from them because they cause massive desynch.

While I acknowledge there are fundamental challenges with synchronization of data, the current problem is more than that, and until GGG fixes this problem, PoE will always be a desynch-laden ARPG that’s fun to play but lacks the necessary refinement to “feel” like a AAA title.

One of the most useful and unknown commands currently in the game is /oos. Type this in chat when you’re out of synch and it will reset your synchronization! Desynch is such a common and known issue, many players have gone as far as assigning /oos to a hotkey.

I have not seen any Downtime since I started playing except for a few bugs tied to launch which were quickly fixed.

There isn’t a great focus on Security beyond username and password. As such, there is currently no external authenticator support – however due to the nature and popularity of the game, I hope the developers add authentication sooner rather than later as a lot of time, energy and effort can be lost through hacked accounts. The good news is I’m not hearing about hacked accounts through Global chat, so I think it’s a rare event.

The developers generally provide Patches on a weekly basis and are very good at notifying the community with patch note updates before the patch goes live. Patch deployment is nearly seamless with a 30-minute warning (with countdown) that’s conveyed both in-game and through the website. The PoE team has done a top notch job with planning, executing and managing patches and updates.

The Bugs in PoE are few and far between, and save the desynch issues, I haven’t personally encountered any other than server issues they had shortly after launch which have been completely resolved. Simply put, except for the desynch problems, PoE is just as solid as most commercial games.


Support

Forums, Moderators, Bug Reporting, Wiki

The Forums are a great place for support, offering subsections for classes, discussion, bug reports and trading. While Moderators do occasionally show up in chat to make announcements, they really aren’t available to interact with. Bug reporting is a weakness; right now, the only way to report bugs is via the Forums. When you do a /bug, it asks you to take a screenshot and includes a reference number. This doesn’t make much sense because if a reference number with stats and data is generated and sent to the team, why does the user need to take a screenshot and post it on the forum? This is one weak area of the game that should be enhanced during the Beta process and automated with an in-game bug reporting window.

The PoE Wiki is fantastic, providing almost every bit of information a player could ask for. All new players should definitely check it out.


Conclusion

If you like Action RPGs, play this game. You won’t be disappointed. But be patient; it is much more complex than its predecessors given the Skill Gem and Passive Skill Point system; systems which are still evolving.

PoE is top quality work of art and passion by a group of gamer developers who want to make the game they want to play. This is when the best results are achieved. While there are serious synchronization issues, trading can be burdensome, and the current end-game death penalty is far too harsh and will drive players away, the game is being enhanced on a regular basis. The next expansion is due in March of 2014, the core of the game is as solid as any commercially released ARPG, and the developers are patching (and enhancing) the game on a near weekly basis.

If GGG fixes the desynch and death penalty problems, I believe they will have the finest ARPG ever created on their hands.

Resources

Guides

  1. Path of Exile Beginner’s Guide
  2. Diablo Player’s Guide to Path of Exile
  3. Great Reddit thread talking about why people like PoE
  4. Path of Exile Complete Game Map

Currency & Item Value

  1. It’s worth keeping if…
  2. A list of all Orb and their effects
  3. ExileStats Latest Trade Rates
  4. POE Item Shop Browser (poe.xyz.is)
  5. PoExplorer Item Shop Browser
  6. PoE Item Value Spreadsheet

Tools

  1. How many Orbs will you need to get what you want?
  2. Experience Chart (how to guarantee 100% experience for your level)

Builds

  1. Spin to Win Cyclone
  2. Scion Explosive Arrow
  3. Solo IIR/IIQ Groundslammer
  4. All purpose Spectral Throw Duelist
  5. Low Life Sporker
  6. Summoner
  7. Facebreaker
  8. Lightning Arrow Frenzy Ranger
  9. Infernal Blow Marauder

 

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About The Author

Mr. Allen has an extensive background in technology spanning 20 years including software architecture, design and development, project management and leadership. He specializes in corporate planning, productivity and collaboration, and is the creator of the games Mordor, Demise, Horizons, and Alganon.

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One Response

  1. loveless

    First off, I must say I am very pleasently surprised by this review. I’ve seen many reviews of this game (and many other games) that are halfassed, written in hurry (deadlines…) or/and by authors that haven’t spent more than couple of hours playing the game…this review is not one of them. It’s probably the most in-depth review of Path of Exile I have seen so far…so, props to the author.

    As a player, I am delighted that this game have seen the light of the day. Since Diablo 2, I haven’t played an ARPG with so much depth of gameplay and character customization (ok, Titan Quest deserves an honorable mention)…it feels so great to once again have a game that forces me to actually think about things, game mechanic and my character, in order to do good in it. Path of Exile is not the game which you can play absent minded and feel like a god…you have to work for it. It’s not your ordinary “hack and slash”…and, in my opinion, that’s it’s biggest appeal. I actually spend hours theorycrafting builds and enjoy it, a feat not many games are capable of…

    Path of Exile has, maybe, the best community I have seen in an online game. I have yet to meet a “rotten” specimen of community and people have been very helpful, either through advice or items given to me…Granted, global chat can from time to time turn into a heated debate (Diablo 3 vs. PoE, LoL vs. DotA, politics in general…), but nothing out of the ordinary…it is, after all, a free to play online game and gathers all kinds of people. It can be a lot worse, trust me. The biggest stars, however, are the devs. GGG is a studio that takes pride in their work, and it really shows. I doubt you’ll see a developer get so much love from the community as GGG is getting, and with good reason. So far, I’ve spent around $100 on PoE, with zero regrets, and I will continue to support them…because I’ve got a lot of fun and well spent hours in return, and I want to reward the dedication I see from devs.

    Now…PoE isn’t that perfect. It has been in development for quite a while, and some of the weaknesses are still present. Desync, for example…there is a very good post by the devs on the forums which somewhat explains why is desync such a problem in Path of Exile, more so than other online games, like Diablo 3. There are multiple reasons and many have to do with core mechanics of PoE (no skill cooldowns which would allow for servers to sync better, for example)…they are not easy to adress but the situation is somewhat better than before (I played in closed beta) and devs continue to work on it. There are tricks to circumvent desync, to work around it (/oos macro, for example), and players learn to deal with it…aside from that, I feel that technical part of the game deserves more than 5…it makes up for desync with it’s overall graphical/audio quality and art style.

    As for death penalty…while it really isn’t that harsh (no penalty in Normal, 5% XP in Cruel, 10% in Merciless), it can pile up if you’re not careful. And being careful, having your character planned out well, is kind of a mantra in PoE. You quickly learn that glass cannons don’t do well. Also, if you reached high level, you should already know that either you’ve built your character well or you have messed up and pay for it by dying a lot. It kinda goes along the “hardcore” theme of the game…
    Speaking of hardcore, people who play in Hardcore leagues have their characters removed from the league…an XP penalty seems mild now, doesn’t it? And even then, they get to keep those chars in Standard league instead of permanently losing them, like in every other game with hardcore modes, so GGG has taken a fairly “mercifull” approach to death of your character.

    The most painfull part of the game, and the biggest issue myself and many more have with Path of Exile is trading. While replacing the gold system from virtually all RPGs with “currency” that also serves as crafting tools is genius and genre changing, it’s also a pain in the ass to work with. Many people, even those who aren’t new to the game, simply don’t know what is stuff worth…everything comes down to bartering with other players. It strenghtens the social component of the game, as GGG has intended, and having things done “face to face” with fellow players is cool, but not having milestones when it comes to prices and items is making all that very difficult. Half of the chat consists of “price check, pls?” posts…and often the one asking doesn’t get a straight answer because many are not sure what to answer themselves.
    The tools players have at disposal when it comes to trade are not adequate…trade chat is flooded with offers, trade forums are tedious to browse every day…if there weren’t for 3rd party community driven sites indexing things on trade forums and serving as “search engines for bying stuff”, I feel like PoE economy would collapse. Ok, I may be exagerrating, but trading is one of the things that needs most polish in Path of Exile.

    Having said all this…if I were to rate Path of Exile, I would give it a strong 9. It is amazing what a small development team has accomplished and how they earned love and respect from the player base…and things will get even better, as GGG is constantly working and improving the game. I really suggest people to try it out, even if it’s not “their cup of tea”…they might just like it for it’s complexity and “attachment factor”.

    Reply

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