Hi, I’m Jeremy “Danger” Tharp and this is my first published review! Please let me know how you feel about my style as I feel out what that is exactly. I think I’ll always try to focus on fun, gameplay, graphics, and the normal review pros/cons stuff. But, I also want to focus on the future and the developers themselves, to highlight the people behind the games we know and love (and sometimes not so much) to get a taste of some of the behind the scenes stuff (if I can). So with that, welcome to my first review!
Let’s take a moment to review my most played game on Steam (to date). Path of Exile is a free-to-play action RPG developed by Grinding Gear Games, most closely related to Diablo II. It features a dark and mature storyline that takes different tones depending on your starting class. The graphics also reflect this dark tone, especially compared to Torchlight or even the cartoonish demons of Diablo 3. There is lots of loot with many different modifiers, randomized maps, and a skill/leveling system second to none. The robust passive tree is both the game’s greatest strength and the largest barrier to newcomers. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of nodes available to shape your character as you level. This, combined with unique items, creates endless possibilities for builds. Also, it is worth noting all characters have access to the same passive tree, so if you wanted to be a meme-barbarian caster you can do that (I’ve played a very fun incinerate build with the big warrior type marauder). The downside is all this freedom can lead to confusion and fear in misspending your points, resulting in a disappointing character build and time wasted. I would highly suggest looking up character builds when first starting in Path of Exile, this will ease you into the gameplay and passive tree choices for the type of build you are going for. Another barrier to play is the game’s “currency”. The in-game currency is many different items that players themselves have agreed have value and are willing to trade for items. The currency also acts as useful mods to enhance items, whether it be re-rolling stats on an item, adding more affixes to an item, or upgrading a normal rarity item to rare; just to name a few. The currency types and how some alter rather than upgrade at different levels can be fairly daunting to a brand new player, especially if you are new to aRPGs in general. The final thing new players should be aware of is in-game trading is an important aspect of getting needed items in most modes, yet is mostly handled outside of the game. The majority of all in-game trading is done through a website called poe.trade. The site reviews all publicly made available stash tabs and reviews the set costs associated with each players’ items and advertise them in an easily searchable archive that will even have an auto-generated chat message to ask for the item in-game. Path of Exile does have in-game trading support through, but it pales in comparison to poe.trade’s ease of use. I know it may seem I’ve highlighted a bunch of barriers here, but as mentioned in the beginning, Path of Exile is my most played game on Steam. Considering that I have hundreds of other games I’ve paid for and should be playing, that should not be taken lightly. The addicting gameplay of a pure aRPG combined with such freedom in builds keeps me coming back for more every time.
Now let’s talk about a dirty F-Word, Free-to-Play. Just look at most mobile games or even worse on PC an MMO or FPS can become pay-2-win very, very quickly (Looking at you Black Desert Online). Free-to-Play generally means one of two things; either an extremely watered down experience compared to paying or subscribing members, or a disadvantage compared to those that have invested more money into the game. I am very happy to report that Path of Exile is fully playable without any investment whatsoever. The only thing I would say is extremely nice to have is the currency tab for your stash tab, which on sale will net you around five dollars or less. This makes inventory and currency management much much easier. That said, I had played a good two hundred hours before I learned the beauty of the stash tab. Rest assured your money is safe with these developers, the only micro-transactions available are cosmetic, skill effects, or extra/specialized stash tabs. Considering this is a very deep game with ten acts and end game in the form of map running in the Atlas and beyond, free is a pretty good price tag. There is a character amount cap that can be expanded as well, but by default, you have the ability to make around twenty characters without expanding the character slots. I think Grinding Gear Games really hit it out of the park with their model, I find myself wanting to buy the supporter packs so my character can look cool, have interesting skill effects, or have some currency to spend on my guild’s tabs. Other developers should take notes, good free-to-play makes me want to support the developers, while scummy free-to-play practices make me want to alt-F4 and uninstall as soon as I catch wind of it. Grinding Gear Games has shown over the years since they first released Path of Exile in beta that they are one of the few trustworthy developers when it comes to free-to-play games.
Finally, I’d like to look to the future of Path of Exile by looking at it’s past. I first tried Path of Exile a few years ago; back when it was in beta and there was a fraction of the acts, features, and balance there is now. Since then they have consistently added many game-changing features, such as delves, new skill gems, and most recently the legion league. Every few months there is a large new patch that introduces a new aspect to the game and most recently they have reworked melee skills to be much more viable compared to ranged and spellcasting builds. They also introduce leagues that have their own leaderboards with each themed patch. These leagues consist of standard, solo self-found standard (no partying or trading), hardcore, and ssf hardcore. It’s worth noting that when hardcore characters die they don’t fully die, they just get switched to the standard league so you are able to continue with your character, just not in the hardcore league any longer. This serves to lessen the blow that is normally suffered when losing a character in hardcore mode. Grinding Gear Games’ history of constant updates and player-friendly practices serve as a reliable predictor for Path of Exile’s future. It can only continue to expand and be further refined as time goes on. Speaking of which, with it’s newest update they have added even more skill gems and items such as poison-based skills (my favorite builds!), a tower defense mechanic with blights and blight maps, and still more coming in about a month from now! The game currently already has solid gameplay, hours of content, infinite build possibilities, and one of the best business models for a free-to-play game. I hope I have convinced you to spend the zero dollars it takes to give this great action RPG a fair shake, and I’ll see you in Wraeclast!
Jeremy “Danger” Tharp is currently a Technical Sergeant in the USAF working as a Ground Radar Systems Evaluation Supervisor (1C873). A gamer for life, his first systems were the Atari 2600 and the Apple IIe. Go ahead and ask him how he feels looking back on Hitchhiker’s Guide on the Apple IIe (VERY challenging for a ~5yr old). Since then, he has grown up gaming through all console and PC generations, with no intention of stopping. These days he has way, WAY to many games to work through and less time to do it. Regardless, he has a few genres that stand out as favorites today. Roguelikes, Action RPGs (especially with a hardcore mode), FPS, MMO, MOBAs, TBS, RTS, Soulslikes, and more. In fact, the only thing he won’t claim to be well versed in is the sports genre. He enjoys a challenge and an engaging, deep story. He believes at their greatest heights video games can be art, especially when you consider the connection a player has to the protagonist they control. But, that’s getting a little deep for a biography. Suffice it to say, he enjoys a great many games and would like to share his joy with you.