It’s not possible to talk about the recently released free to play game “Path of Exile” without mentioning its strong resemblance to “Diablo.” In fact, lets just call it like it is and say that “Path of Exile” is, for all intents and purposes, a knockoff of “Diablo.” However, I’ve never found being a knockoff a bad thing in the world of video games, so long as said knockoff follows three simple rules:
1. Make sure you’re borrowing from an already great game.
2. Improve on any structural flaws the original game had.
3. Introduce at least one unique idea that the original game did not have.
Does “Path of Exile” adhere to all of these rules? For the most part, yes.
As mentioned, it draws most of its inspiration from the “Diablo” series (fulfilling the first rule), and does it to a degree that’s worth elaborating on. Right down to visual layout of the menu, this game has the design stench of “Diablo” all over it, to the point where a glance at a screen shot of both games, could possibly cause even a fan of the fabled Blizzard series to hesitate. I don’t really resent it for lifting the “Diablo” gameplay formula (click your way through mobs of enemies while improving your character, and getting better loot) because “Diablo” not only introduced that style of gameplay, but by an large perfected it, however I will say that the sheer amount of little design elements borrowed from that series, can cause you to roll your eyes once in a while.
Fortunately any lapses in design creativity are largely negated by the admirable way “POE” honors rule number 2. The developers of “POE” recognize that when you are making this style of game, the most important thing you can do is to get the fundamentals right. That’s why extra care has been put into making things like loot drops, enemy balance, skill risk/reward, and combat variety, as sound as possible and implemented in ways that keep you from having to consider any of those elements while playing. What I mean is, the best type of ARPG’s are built in a way that quickly puts you into a zen like focus, as your brain reshapes its perspective to hone in on the gaming world, and all of its functions and rules. The moment that you, say, run into an impossible nest of enemies or wonder why the game keeps dropping the same item, are the moments when you focus out, and begin to lose interest. “POE’s” intent on making the genre fundamentals so solid ensures that these lapses back to reality are few and far between.
Does it do anything outside of the norm to satisfy rule number 3 though, and make its own mark? This is a little trickier than the first two, but I’m going to tepidly say “yes,” and cite the skill system as my justification. See, whereas most of these games work off of a simple skill tree where you choose basic branching paths to determine how you will build your character, “POE” uses a skill grid that is absolutely massive (you can’t capture it in a single screenshot), and as far as potential depth goes, leaves the old tree design in the dust. Trying to break it down entirely would be a fruitless headache, but just know that it allows you to take any of the game’s classes (which are all admirably balanced and equally useful by the way), and build them anyway you like. For example, it might not be as easy or immediately rewarding to build a barbarian character who is also adept in magic, but with the right level of dedication you can do just that, along with any other character combination you can think of.
Despite fulfilling all three rules to this style of game design, I still find myself slightly resenting “POE” for it’s lack of creativity. Though I do really enjoy the design consistency of the game’s gothic horror elements, and the bleak world they come together to form, aesthetically speaking there is really nothing here you haven’t seen quite a few times before. Similarly, outside of the improved skill system, as far as ARPG’s go, everything here from a gameplay standpoint is pretty commonplace as well. This doesn’t really deprive the game of much at first, but as your journey wears on it becomes more and more obvious that not many original thoughts made it from the brainstorming process, to the final game.
That being said, “POE’s” lack of innovation does very little to harm the overall experience, especially once you factor in the free to play aspect. Yes I know it’s not usually a good sign when the final say on a free to play game is “It’s free,so you have no reason not to play it,” but the fact that this is a free to play game in the true sense of the word (I.E. you’re never encouraged to spend money if you don’t want to) takes it from a game that only dedicated fans will probably be interested in, to something that….well…. you have no reason not to play.
Some are saying that “POE” feels like more of a successor to “Diablo 2” than “Diablo 3” did, and while that’s certainly true in the sense that it carries on so many of the things that made that game great, the lack of progressive design keeps it from achieving the full implications of that lofty goal. However, I will say that with the exception of “Torchlight 2,” this is simply the most satisfying and consistent game of this type that I have played since the seminal “Diablo 2,” and deserves to be tried by everyone reading this.
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