Path of Exile: The Awakening (PC) Review

By Athanasios 16.08.2015

Review for Path of Exile: The Awakening on PC

In the not exactly overcrowded world of ARPGs, most would claim to be the next "Diablo-killer" - a term that clearly referred to the undisputed champion, Diablo II. Some, like Titan Quest, Torchlight, and Torchlight 2, were very good, but just couldn't dethrone the Lord of Terror, and while many expected Diablo III to do the deed, that was actually done so by a handful of people working at a small New Zealand company. Grinding Gear Games managed to create a product of such an unprecedented quality and depth, that it's easy to forget that it's free. However, while The Awakening, which is the first major update of Path of Exile, has made things even better, is this a Diablo-killer, or is it just the first one that got really close?

Diablo II was a dark fairy-tale all right, yet it begun with an air of confidence, with all its heroes standing proud in front of a crackling campfire, and with the night sky above their heads, while in Path of Exile: The Awakening the heroes aren't even heroes; they are exiles, and as such, they just wait in a shady corner of a ship's hold, while wardens walk around them, shouting something about "The new life" that awaits everyone in the land of Wraeclast. The one chosen steps forward, gives a bit of personal history, and the story begins. A moment later, the protagonist is laying face-down on a moon-lit beach, next to another exile who explains how a storm destroyed their depressing excuse for a vessel - right before a nearby corpse decides to sink its teeth into his neck.

The selected exile grabs a nearby weapon, kills what cannot be killed, and starts exploring around, slaying anything more violent than a chicken, and the journey towards the first town clearly shows that Path of Exile's main inspiration is none other but the Diablo franchise. Especially those coming from the magnificent second title of the series will find a lot of similarities between these two, both in terms of controls, and gameplay mechanics. This isn't a blatant copy, though. While it's pretty easy to pick it up and just start playing, and although the main deal is still all about killing nasties by the dozen and collecting gobs of loot, there is more than meets the eye here, since this is actually the most complex and challenging ARPG that currently exists on the market.

Screenshot for Path of Exile: The Awakening on PC

The chosen character class isn't a class in the traditional sense, since, besides the appearance, gender, voice, and initial stats, it only affects one thing: the initial position in the vast Passive Skill Matrix, which is a web of more than 1300 interconnecting nodes, with each node representing a skill like "+10 Dex," "+5% Fire Resistance," and so on, or even game-changers like "Use Life rather than Mana for skills." While this can be mind-boggling for newcomers, the philosophy behind it is simple: the starting position of each class means that, as an example, Marauders are closer to strength and melee-based skills, while Witches are near wizardry-oriented ones. The awesome thing about this system is how it's very easy - and recommended - to break away from the standard skills of a class, and just experiment with all sorts of character builds - the possibilities are endless!

Another thing that enables an insane amount of ways to customise a character, are some gems that can be placed in a socketed piece of equipment, and grant a skill ready for use. These Skill Gems have a wonderful variety, can level-up, be removed at any given time, and also used by any class, as long as the stat/level requisites are being met. Furthermore, the inclusion of Supportive Skill Gems, which can be linked to other Skill Gems and improve them in all sorts of ways, adds a whole new spectrum of depth. An Active Skill like Poison Arrow, for instance, can have a bonus of fire damage, leech Mana, or split into three projectiles. Finally, The Awakening expansion adds Jewels; gems that can be placed in the Skill Matrix and add a unique perk, or affect the surrounding skill nodes.

Screenshot for Path of Exile: The Awakening on PC

Class and Skill mechanics are the backbone of PoE, yet they would all be pointless if it weren't for the great combat, which, even in the Normal difficulty setting, is pleasantly challenging. The fantastically diverse roster of baddies can use the same skills that Skill Gems provide, are quite aggressive, can be possessed by Tormented Spirits and get twice as lethal (and rewarding), can also spawn from a specialised treasure chest called Strongbox, and, generally, they demand gamers to always be alert, ensuring that there will never be a dull moment. The way flasks are used is another great aspect of the already great gameplay, since, be it a health, Mana, elemental resistance, or movement speed potion, flasks recharge by killing enemies, something that encourages a more strategic style of playing, while removing the need to go back to the town to resupply - and get a drop in adrenaline levels in the process.

What about the booty, though? Oh, it's great, no doubt about it. The loot drop-rate is awesome, and there's always the chance of finding something useful. Even better, everything can be altered via Orbs, which can reroll the initial attributes of a piece of equipment in all sorts of ways. Don't want an item? No problem. There is no binding, so everything is tradable - just bear in mind that instead of money, there is a bartering system based in Scrolls and Orbs, meaning that days don't need to spend farming for money, since even with a couple of Orbs a useful purchase can be made. The only problem is the lack of an automated Auction system, which would decrease the boring haggling/bargaining that must be endured when trading with others.

Screenshot for Path of Exile: The Awakening on PC

The plot is very good - not Diablo II-good, but it's certainly very interesting, and the various NPCs have a lot to add to the mythology of the game, and the same goes for the voice acting, although, once again, there won't be anyone more memorable than Diablo's Deckard Cain. The visuals are also a treat, with each location being very detailed and pleasantly bleak and dangerous-looking, whether that's a swamp with a poisonous mist, a dungeon full of corpses, or a grandiose castle decorated with golden Greco-Roman statues that come into life. The greatest thing of all, though, is that this wonderful quality comes at no price, with all micro-transactions being of aesthetic nature (like different equipment skins, better special effects, or even pets), or additional tabs for the stash that is tied to the player's profile. Cubed3 advises everyone to spend a pound or two on a purchase, and support this wonderful business model that other companies should follow.

Levelling-up is very balanced, always keeping gamers on the edge, but at the same time giving a sense of progression - up until level 70+, that is. The final 30 levels require gathering an insane amount of experience - something that can even mean whole days of constant playing for level 90 characters. Generally, the biggest flaw of Path of Exile is the death penalty, which takes away a percentage of the character's XP, and will discourage lots of non-hardcore gamers from carrying on, but at least creating a new character to start all over is actually insanely fun. Another great thing about PoE is the inclusion of the daily challenges called Events, which are usually Speedruns with newly created heroes - all very tough, but also very rewarding and fun. For those who just can't get enough, six more Acts have been promised, and judging from what has been done up until now, things are looking pretty good for hack 'n' slashers.

Screenshot for Path of Exile: The Awakening on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The island of Wraeclast is dark, gritty, and primal, the music is epic, and the sound effects are cool. The enemies are diverse, the combat is awesome and involving, and the hunt for loot extremely addicting. All these wouldn't matter, however, if it weren't for this game's core mechanics. The excellent Passive Skill Matrix and the unique Gem Skill system work in unison and let everyone experiment with all sorts of characters, raising the replay value to a sky-high altitude in the process - and never ever dare to forget that this is actually a 100% free-to-play product. In conclusion: Path of Exile is fantastic, and The Awakening update has made it even better. However, can it be regarded as a Diablo-killer? Not really. It doesn't blow Diablo II out of the water, but it's so freaking good, that it's actually the only thing that can have the honour of standing side by side with it - and that's definitely impressive.

Developer

Grinding Gear Games

Publisher

Grinding Gear Games

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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