Walking the Path of Exile

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.

The character select screen in Path of ExileI 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.

My witch in Path of ExileOh, 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.

Combat in Path of ExileNot 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.

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Retro Review: Torchlight + Anthem Revisited

I have at last bowed to the inevitable and installed the Epic Games Store. It joins Steam, Uplay, Origin, and Battle.Net as other game launchers that I have installed just at this moment.

My character in TorchlightThis madness must end.

Like most people, I was drawn to the EGS by its promise of free games. The first I picked up was ARPG Torchlight. I’ve nursed a mild curiosity about the Torchlight franchise for a while, recently intensified by the buzz around the upcoming Torchlight MMO, Frontiers.

Torchlight is a very, very traditional ARPG in pretty much every possible respect. I could describe to you its gameplay or its story, but honestly whatever you’re picturing in your mind is probably accurate.

This is both Torchlight’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Torchlight works — it plays well, and it has no major design flaws.

However, it does feel incredibly samey. There’s very little here you haven’t seen in any number of other ARPGs. Torchlight doesn’t even do much to shake up its formula relative to itself. Boss mechanics aren’t really a thing, and if you’ve played one level of Torchlight, you’ve played them all.

I found this sense of repetition grew increasingly oppressive as the game went on. The early levels feel plenty fun, but after a while it just turns into pure grinding. The story is too paper thin to add any texture to the later levels.

Combat in TorchlightThere are a few little things about this game I appreciated. The most notable is that Torchlight is the first game I’ve ever played that offers a choice of death penalties. When you die, you can resurrect at your body for a loss of XP, at the start of the current floor for a small fee of gold, or in town for free. Clever — I like it.

Torchlight’s one nod towards setting itself from the pack seems to be that every class gets a pet that can help it fight, carry loot, and go back to town to sell stuff. Truthfully I found this impacted my experience of the game very little, but I do feel the need to point out that the pet I chose was a ferret with steampunk goggles, and that is definitely The Best.

I also did like how my class — vanquisher — played with positioning. A lot of her abilities can pierce enemies and ricochet off walls, which raises some interesting tactical options. It’s hard to aim, but being able to get the perfect ricochet off and tear through a whole cohort of enemies is pretty satisfying.

Torchlight was a decent ride early on, but by the end I was glad to be done with it. I’m still kind of curious to check out the sequel at some point, but I hope it improves on the first.

Overall rating: 6/10

A return to Antium:

A sign of things to come...In other news, the beginning of Cataclysm pre-events has caused me to start playing Anthem again, albeit on a pretty casual basis.

I’m glad I took a break to prevent burnout, but I’m also glad to be back. This game remains as fun as I remember it, and while the new content is very minimal right now, the lead up to Cataclysm does nonetheless provide some extra spice.

The main feature right now is a number of new free play events, but alongside those are subtler changes to the world. Strange crystal formations have begun to appear all over, and sometimes you can literally see a storm forming on the horizon.

As much as the game definitely needs a big new content update, I kind of like this slow rollout. It makes the world feel very alive. There’s some special about flying around free play and suddenly bumping into new enemy types without any fanfare at all.

The howls those new lightning wolves make are horrifying.

This also gave me the opportunity to check out the new stronghold, The Sunken Cell.

The bad news is I had a hell of a time trying to get a group for it. I did some reading and discovered Sunken Cell is considered an inefficient place to farm due to its puzzles, so I’ll try not to assume anything dire about the game’s population based on this (free play, for the record, is still hopping).

The Sunken Cell stronghold in AnthemThe good news is Sunken Cell is my favourite stronghold so far. It has a very twisted ambiance that I really like, the final boss arena is spectacular, and the story is intriguing, if inconclusive.

Here’s hoping Cataclysm proper keeps up this momentum.