The internet has a wide variety of free to play games on offer, some browser based, some requiring a “client” to be downloaded and installed. A lot of the browser based options (and I’m specifically looking at Wartune, League of Angels and all of their derivatives here) have you become nothing more than a mindless automaton, clicking the mouse when prompted. Before you spit your lunch out over your keyboard however, yes I did play Wartune, and then when it all started to get a bit silly and more desperate in its efforts to extort pocket money out of its players, I ditched it.
Quite by chance I stumbled across the Action RPG, Path of Exile, and this, this is how free to play games should be done. Path of Exile (PoE), comes courtesy of Grinding Gear Games, a New Zealand company consisting of hardcore gamers who have developed the game to be the sort of thing they’d like to play themselves. They go on to say that “the game is completely free and will never be “pay to win”. You can’t really argue with that! So now you’re probably at the same point I was at in wondering whether it’s actually any good or not.
I have to say, playing PoE has made me resent somewhat the time wasted on vastly inferior free to play games littering the internet. As far as I am concerned just because a game is Free to Play doesn’t mean it should be a lesser gaming experience, or be the case that the only way to win is to pay your way there.
First up, yes you do have to download a client. It’s not a terrifically huge file, and when the game has some updates to run, it does them fairly quickly. So far, I can report that I haven’t had any issues with it. Ironically, some of the free to play browser based games have been absolute nightmares when it comes to their use of Flash, resulting in machines locking up and incredible lag that just makes you want to hurl your laptop out of the window, or mash the keyboard.
Before I entered the world of Wraeclast I had to create my character. There isn’t a huge array of classes to pick from but given some of the other features of the game, this actually isn’t a problem (Marauder, Ranger, Witch, Duelist, Templar, Shadow and Scion). Now there are only three main attributes in the game, Strength (Red), Intelligence (Blue) and Dexterity (Green). Some character classes specialise in some of these attributes. The Marauder specialises in Strength, the Ranger specialises in Dexterity, the witch specialises in Intelligence. Others however generalise, so the Duelist is based on Strength and Dexterity, Templar is based on Strength and Intelligence and the Shadow is based on Dexterity and Intelligence. The Scion is in a whole league of its own utilising all three attributes.
Now normally I go for Ranger characters, but this time round thought I’d go for magic, and opted for the Witch (no broomsticks in sight, or bedknobs either). In the first five minutes of gameplay with my character finding themselves dressed in rags on a rather dark and desolate beach battling some zombies, the comparisons of Diablo 3 and Dungeon Siege are actually pretty fair and deserved. Instead of using WASD to move your character around the isometric view, you just click with your mouse, which is handy because the QWERT keys are used to trigger off certain attacks. It’s a proven and nice control mechanism, and it’s not ridiculously heavy on the amount of keyboard commands either.
The game is broken up into 3 Acts, each act being a series of quests for you to undertake, and 3 Difficulties. My first impressions were that I was a little underwhelmed, but thankful that there wasn’t some immense learning curve to take in. My battle up the coast resulted in lots of odd items being dropped which being a compulsive hoarder, I naturally picked up. Good thing too because there is no currency as such, no shiny gold to be collected, but instead, PoE relies on a bartering system. Having left a trail of destruction in my wake, I made it to the first “Town”, Lioneye’s Watch. It’s not a huge town, more a staging point for players, but it fulfils its intended function nicely. In Lioneye’s watch you can jump to certain waypoints (provided you’ve come across them before in your travels) in each “Act”, which does negate having to hack and slash your way through the same areas again and again just to reach an objective. You’ll also find various NPC’s in these towns who are willing to barter items with you and give you information and new quests to venture on. There’s also a “stash” where you can offload nice items you’ve found but perhaps aren’t able to equip at the time, or things you’re not quite sure on but may come in handy later.
And while we’re on the subject of quests, the maps are randomised. That’s right, you can spend hours charting “The Slums” and then logout with a feeling of accomplishment, and the next day, log back in only to find that everything has changed. It’s a nice touch. Sure, it can become a bit of grind here and there, but the item drops and passive skill tree make it worthwhile. Grinding Gear Games may have sensed the potential grind and just to spice things up have also built into the game Rogue Exiles who can appear anywhere in the game at random, and “Corrupted Areas” which are small self-contained cul-de-sacs that yield super shiny nice item drops when you kill the boss lurking in it.
Getting back to the story of my Witch, it was also in Lionseye that I caught fire. Ok, I didn’t catch fire, but for a minute I thought I had after having just successfully completed a quest, it turned out though that I had levelled up and a “Plus” icon had appeared bottom left of the screen. This had happened before, but because I was fighting for my life at the time, I hadn’t noticed it. Clicking on it brought up the Passive Skills Tree and my first glance at the magnificient and awesome web of 1350 skills blew my tiny little mind. I had three points to spend on passive bonuses for my little witch character. As it turns out, each time you level up or complete certain quests, you can allocate a skill point. At first it does seem overwhelming, but after having a better look at it, you start to see the possibilities. The same skills tree applies all characters, but the starting point is dependent on which attribute (just to remind you, Strength, Dexterity and Strength) your character is built on. So there’s no reason for example, why my witch couldn’t actually turn out to be something of an accomplished sword fighter with muscles of steel. So my initial disappointment with the character selection choices at the start, were dispelled. Indeed, my witch could be anything! BWUAHAHAHAAHA!!
And it gets better.
You can equip your character with all sorts of gear. Equipment has coloured slots that reflect the colours of the three skill attributes that can take correspondingly coloured gems. Some of those gems can be chained for more effectiveness, so for example if you put a fireball gem in one socket, and then put a fire support gem in the other socket (provided they are linked), it’s effectiveness is increased. Take that a logical step further, it’s possible for my witch to have a wand in each hand, the left wand specialised in fire, and the right wand specialised in ice. I have seen some pieces of equipment that have 6 gem slots in them too, so you can only imagine how much devastation you can unleash with all of those filled and linked.
Path of Exile also strikes a nice balance between being social with your gaming and not having to deal with idiots. If you really want to have P v P duels the option is there, if you would like to go on quests with your friends, it’s possible to do that too, and if you just can’t stand dealing with some of the usual idiocy you get online (“OMG, NOOOB”, “HAX!!” and ROFLBBQCAKES etc) you can go it alone. The other big plus for PoE is that you can play this whenever you want, for how long you want, it’s not like you have to play it every day for five hours, or have to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning to take part in a guild battle (I’m looking at you Wartune, again).
And just to re-iterate, it’s free to play, yes you can buy nice shiny equipment but Path of Exile is not a pay to win game (looking at you Wartune, yet again).
Path of Exile is an excellent game worthy of your time.
You can download and play the game from this website – https://www.pathofexile.com/