I've been fortunate enough to get accepted into beta testing for Path of Exile, and I thought I'd throw out some thoughts on my experiences with it so far. To the best of my knowledge and from what I could find through forums, PoE testers are not under any form of NDA. If I'm mistaken here though, let me know and I'll remove this right away. PoE will also switch from closed to open beta "soon"!
For anyone new to Path of Exile, short and sweet description follows. PoA is an online only action RPG, with a lot of similarities to games such as the Diablo series, Torchlight and Titan's quest. It is in closed beta testing for a full year already, with open betas right around the corner. Once released it will follow a free to play business model, sustaining itself on "ethical microtransactions", hopefully meaning there will be no way to "pay to win" as many F2P games unfortunately end up as.
Here's my thoughts so far on the game itself after a few hours under the belt.
I've only rolled one character so far, a ranger. With no idea what lay ahead I figured it a safe bet to go for a class with good ranged damage and options for kiting strong enemies. I got started off well enough, having just swimmed to land after being tossed off a ship, sending me off on my path of exile. Found a bow, promptly got attacked by an enemy and whats this ? A gemstone to insert into sockets on my bow already? Cool. I merrily ran along, eager to find enemies to plink now burning arrows into.
As I'd soon find out these gems gain experience the same way your character does, and play a much bigger role compared to say, the Diablo games. The gems I find here teach abilities, and levelling the gems unlocks higher rank versions. A pretty neat system, I'll admit and so far its fun to track progress on levelling all my equipped gems along the level progress of my character.
Anyways, a few minutes of hunting various cretins later, my character hits level 2, and thrown in her face is... :
Say hello to the skill tree! Believe it or not, this is just a fraction of the skills you'll be putting points into each level, too. The tree zooms out with the mousewheel revealing literally hundreds of talents you can branch your skill choices towards. Whaaaaaat... The other thing I found out, is that with even with this staggering list of skills, and your active skills depending on what gems you run equipped, these are all passive boosts to your character, too. +10 Dex, 4% attack speed, and so forth. I foresee managing this screen turning into a game in and of itself. Personally, I thought the way I just had this screen presented, that is, no presentation at all, is rather disgusting. I do hope there will be some explanations to go with it at some point, when the game's launched and all that. That said, its very refreshing to be offered so much choice in character specialization, especially if you just played Diablo III with its ridiculously dumbed down progression system.
Another interesting feature I noticed moments later when I'd made my way to the first npc encampment, is that there's no common currency on PoE. No gold, zorkmids, nothing. Instead you barter using scrolls and different types of orbs and such that you'd normally use to imbue your gear with different enchantments. So far, this has had two noticeable effects for me. First, I found I had to examine gear I pick up closely to consider if it might be worth anything in player trading, or if I can safely barter it off to vendors for petty scraps of paper that can be combined into useful identify and town portal scrolls. Second, I quickly realized I have to grab and sell every piece of gear I come across to sell for identify scroll scraps, and this part is quickly becoming a bit tedious! Its quite common I exit the camp and find I have to return and sell just a few short moments later since I'm full on bad quality junk gear to unload at the vendors. I sure hope I'll stumble over a gem that allows casting identify item or somesuch, so I can stop picking up every piece of junk I happen to find.
So few annoyances aside, I'm actually having a rather good time with this game. It doesn't look nearly as well polished as (again.... I'll stop comparing to this game soon now, promise) Diablo III, but that's to be expected I think, given the companies between these two games are leagues apart in funding. The gameplay itself is rather smooth stuff. I've yet to notice any lags while playing despite the always online requirement, and the combat works good. Its also decently challenging, and I didn't make it that far into the quests before I had to own up to my first character death. Good thing I'm a wuss and decided to start with a normal mode character, instead of a hardcore (perma-death) one which I'd normally do on games like these.
The different areas I've seen in the game so far, having finished the first act of the story, look good. These's a good mix of colourful countryside areas, gloomy swamps and also, really dark dungeons. This last point was a particularily pleasant surprise, as I've come to grow slightly annoyed with how night time and darker areas in games tend to look in this generation of games. Night time in Fallout: New Vegas and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim look just like day time, just slightly grayer toned but otherwise just as bright. The same goes for all the interiors in Diablo III, everything is well lit up. In PoE I've once again felt that sting of unease when I scurry around in almost pitch dark dungeon caves or prison complexes, something I've missed since Diablo 1.
I think that so far, PoE is shaping up to be a good contribution to the action rpg / slash/hack/loot'em'up genre, especially considering it will distribute at the low cost of nothing. I'm definitely going to follow it onwards as beta continues, and it will be interesting to see if this becomes a successful release once its done!