A few months back, I wrote a post about how I would probably never play Path of Exile. From that point on you had to know it was inevitable that I would.
I did not, for the record, end up trying PoE because my view of it had changed. Instead, it was due to my job with Massively Overpowered. MJ provides most of our PoE coverage, but since ARPGs are one of the main genres covered by my column, I feel I should have at least some minimal experience with the big names in the genre, including PoE. And since it’s free to play, there’s not much to lose by trying.
Path of Exile is not entirely what I expected, though it is pretty close.
Given its popularity with the “uphill in the snow both ways” crowd, I was expecting this game to have some quality of life issues, but I was not prepared for just how bad it would be. What stands out for me about Path of Exile more than anything else is just what an absolute nightmare inventory management is in this game.
Maybe it gets better later on, but at least to start, inventory space is severely limited. Making matters worse is that there’s no gold in this game; it’s all barter. Yes, really. So your “currency” also takes up inventory space.
The barter rates aren’t exactly generous, either. Town portal scrolls, for example, are actually fairly pricey, at least from the perspective of a low level character. I quickly realized the optimal way to play was to just not pick up the large majority of loot. It doesn’t sell for enough to justify the cost of taking a portal back to town to sell it.
For a loot-grinder game, this feels downright bizarre.
Oh, yeah, and unlike any other game made in the last twenty years, you can’t double click or right click to sell things, either. You have to click and drag each item over to the sell window — which is entirely separate from the buy window, because screw you, that’s why — which itself has limited space.
On the subject of items, I do want to note how irritating it is to have your skills tied to socketed gems. Nothing like not being able to equip an item that’s an upgrade because its sockets are the wrong colour.
I also quickly realized that there isn’t actually much depth to PoE’s massive and much-applauded skill web. The large majority of the passives are very simple, and it’s not hard at all to figure out a build. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to figure out that if I’m playing a class focused on magic and pets I should take the passives that buff magic and pets.
The only thing that makes it challenging is the fact that the damn thing is so huge and is not exactly laid out in the most logical fashion.
The really funny thing is that the actual gameplay — at least at low levels — is really easy. Right now I don’t even have to push buttons on most fights. My zombies can just mow down everything for me.
Near as I can tell Path of Exile’s vaunted challenge is based almost entirely on bad UI design. Clear up some of the QoL issues and you’re left with a relatively simple and pretty easy game.
Not that I’m really surprised. The kind of people who speak most loudly about games being too casual these days are generally not the upper tiers of players. They’re people who want gatekeeping so they can feel elite regardless of their actual skills.
All that said, there is one thing that impressed me about PoE: The world-building actually seems really good. The setting seems quite deep and fairly original, and I found a lot of interesting lore snippets out in the world. Each is narrated by some surprisingly strong voice acting, and as in Diablo III you can keep moving and fighting while you listen to the narration. It’s great.
Based on its reputation, I had not expected PoE to be a game that puts any effort into story at all, but instead the story seems to have had quite a lot of love poured into it.
This is a world I would like to spend more time in. I am more than a little tempted to keep playing based on the strength of the story alone. I’m just not sure it’s worth fighting with the gods-awful UI and inventory issues.