I like action RPGs. I can clearly remember high school when Diablo first came out and there was an internet arcade (well, just desktops) a few blocks away. Our group of friends ended up spending a LOT of time there over the years. Diablo, Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2. When high school ended, I found another spot to play, though that was mostly StarCraft by that point. It’s what really cemented my passion for games and computers I guess. Now that I think about it, I guess I spent about 6 years doing that…hah.
From that point, I have played the majority of ARPGs that have come out over the years. Diablo 2 is certainly the one I played the most of but other notables include Darkstone, Nox, Torchlight, Sacred, Dungeon Siege (1 & 2), Marvel Heroes and now Path of Exile. There are certainly a ton on the console, think of the Zelda series…
While I enjoy Diablo3, well since the RoS expansion at least, there are still some gaps in the game. I do enjoy Blizzard’s penchant for a simple interface but a complex game but D3 really went a little too deep on the simplification of mechanics for my taste, a massive pendulum swing from initial release. Torchlight 2 was/is a much better implementation of that model, it’s too bad that after launch the only support was from the community.
Marvel Heroes does scratch an itch and the game is honestly getting more and more complex as time goes by, which is a good thing. I think it’s a rather solid implementation of the ARPG and the IP and recommend everyone take a pass at it. It does F2P really well.
Path of Exile
This is the game with the massive skill tree. It’s a much more hardcore ARPG compared to other games. Torchlight 2 is really the closest and even that is comparing monkey bars and a minefield.
The game is an odd one, as the concept of classes exists but it doesn’t have a massive impact other than some minor stats and the look of your character. When you select the class, you’re placed in a particular spot on the skill tree, so you may have more Dex nodes around you as a Ranger than as a Marauder for example, though all the nodes are accessible. With 80 levels and quite a few quests that reward extra skill points, there’s a near stupid amount of customization available. The kicker here, which is a drastic change from other games, is the complete lack of any respec. You can roll back a dozen or so points by the tail end but that has minimal impact on the grand scale.
The compensation for this is two-fold. First is that you can create up to 24 characters and that the leveling process isn’t terribly arduous. A dozen or so hours to max level, if you’re optimal. Second is that trading is completely open. There’s no money for one, so it’s 100% bartering. But the actual items, they can be changed between anyone at any time, as long as they meet the stat requirements – clearly a model that’s required if you’re going to barter in the first place. The neat side effect here is that there’s no gold spam, or hackers.
The game also takes a harsh (in comparison) approach to defense and death. As you increase in difficulty, defense becomes more and more important. As nimble as you are, you will be taking damage and a solid resistance set is needed. Dying also causes you to lose experience but not to lose a level. Stuns, roots and slows are all over the place. Enemies with big hits, massive spawns, you name it. It takes a smart build to survive and with so many options, it can seem daunting.
I do need to take a minute to talk about art because if you’re going to play a game for dozens of hours, it needs to look good. Diablo 3 isn’t unicorns but there’s a fair chunk of enemy variety and clarity around them. The artstyle is clean enough and varied enough to no strain the eyes and be recognizable. Maps are generally open, and those that aren’t funnel you to the goal. Torchlight 2 has a sort of hub/spoke model where the main zones are open but the dungeons are tight/varied. I like the artstyle but there’s a definite lack of variety in the enemy types. Marvel Heroes has a ton of art that’s very vibrant. If they could have added lens flare, you’d see it everywhere. It makes things pop. But there’s only about a dozen or so enemies, and they are either human, moloid or insect. I think that’s more an IP restriction than anything else. It can get long in the tooth after your 800th yellow humanoid kill in a row.
Path of Exile has a lot of different types of enemies, some of which seem more inspired by horror than fantasy. The maps are more often closed than open, but offer a lot of branching paths, making for frustrating dead ends. The map itself isn’t much use as it shows you the building structures (bricks and all, though hollow) rather than a crisp “this is the wall” type of map I’m used to. The game is also very dark, so you’re not looking for enemies as much as you’re looking for movement. It’s thematically consistent but more akin to Diablo1 for those with elephant memories.
The meat of the game is in a skill gem system. Anyone can use any skill as long as they have the attributes to (str/dex/int). Gems are slotted into items, who have randomly assigned slots. Slots can be linked, allowing combinations of gems to work together. My ranger has a tornado shot (a shotgun like attack) linked to a greater projectile (+5 more shots) linked to a pierce (each shot goes through 1 enemy) linked to a physical damage (+50% more damage). So why Tornado might be a so-so skill, with the appropriate paired gems, it becomes a lawnmower. There are over 100 skills that can be combined… so have fun with that.
Finally back to the economy basis, stones and gambling. There are dozens of types of stones that all have a random effect on items. They may randomize: number of sockets, colors of sockets, links between sockets, the stats on an item. They can also wipe stats clean, upgrade an item to magic or rare, upgrade a skill gems, upgrade armor quality and a whole lot more. It is theoretically possible to find a grey-quality item and turn it into a monster of a piece of gear. That means that every piece has potential value.
There are quite a few more sub-systems I could talk about but they get a fair bit more complex. And that complexity is something I’ve been looking for, given the more brain dead games of recent years. Both have their place but right now, Path of Exile is scratching an itch oh so good.